Monday, 14 August 2017

Orchestral erosion

Nowadays, there are orchestras - including orchestras with an impressive history of serious music making and with a tradition of programming high-quality classical repertoire - which begin to explore the commercial, easy-listening music as can he heard to 'illustrate' TV commercials, and which is cultivated in musicals for the masses, and which is especially enjoyed by people with enough musicality to appreciate simple tunes but without the sophistication to hear more than the sound a serious work makes. Orchestral programming increasingly includes works by young composers who grew-up with pop music in their ears, translating it into some simple orchestral garb, and presenting it as 'contemporary music' - because, pop music is, for them, the ultimate and only new music there is around. All this shows a shift in the nature of the symphony orchestra from a cultural institution as something benefitting society, towards a commercial enterprise serving a clientèle, like a restaurant. To some extent, an orchestra is serving an audience, but it is supposed to be a 5 star top enterprise and not a fast food hub. But in the new populist commercial perspective, a 'new' audience is addressed, an audience without any understanding of classical music and which, like the aforementioned composers, have grown-up with pop music in the ears, as the only reference framework as far as music is concerned. The classical music audience is perceived as shrinking, and in an attempt at survival, orchestras are trying to get younger, still innocent listeners, into the concert hall, or to get their attention in parking lots, jazz clubs, railway stations or any location other than something like a concert hall.

Gradually, professional management staff at orchestras are leaving the working place, due to age or other job prospects, and younger staff is coming-in, who have studied at university or some other institution where music has been touched upon as a subject, but who also have pop music in their ears. Instead of focussing on classical music, where the symphony orchestra has been developed for, they are only too relieved to see the opportunity to use the pressures of finance and building new audiences as an excuse to follow their own pop music tastes, so that they can combine the necessary with the personal pleasures, so much more attractive than the burden of cultural heritage and the fight for artistic quality.

Here, the lack of music education across the educational board results in the erosion of one of the greatest cultural phenomenae the world has ever seen. Since politicians have also gradually been replaced by the pop loving breed, from that side there is not much appetite to support what in their eyes is merely a dying culture, for which they never had any interest anyway. And the populist mood of our times dictates gestures towards its demands of gratification, and not support for 'privileged, elitist, expensive toys for the happy few'.

What can be done? Education, information, and exploring the real nature of classical music as an art form and not as a commodity merely serving market demand. But that means a far more assertive fight against populism than is currently realized.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Understanding the future

How important is the past for our self-understanding, and for the understanding of a possible future?

“The English historian B H Liddell Hart wrote in Why Don’t We Learn from History? (1944): ‘There is no excuse for anyone who is not illiterate if he is less than 3,000 years old in mind.’ This is less an admonition to learn from specific events in the past, and more a reminder that our own mighty civilisation exists at a specific time and place within the grander sweep of history. The Roman rhetorician Marcus Tullius Cicero, writing in the first century BCE, put an even finer point on it: ‘To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.’”

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Seductive nitwit bubble

How do (post-)modernist ideologies perpetuate themselves in these days of shifting paradigmas, in spite of the deplorable aesthetics of their composing practitioners? And in spite of the indifference of audiences, and the dangers of chasing them away? And in total ignorance of the negative effects on the reputation of both the central performance culture and new music in general, thereby working against the attempts to restore the art form, and its meaning? The answer is clear: by paying budding talents: the BBC has taken steps to protect the ideology from the reality of concert life.

On 28th of July, the well-known music website 'Slipped Disc' published the following information:

The promising Mark Simpson, composer in residence with the BBC Philharmonic, has been signed by Intermusica.

He also plays clarinet and conducts.

Bio: Born in Liverpool in 1988, Simpson won both BBC Young Musician of the Year and BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year in 2006. He went on to read Music at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, graduating with first class honours, and studied composition with Julian Anderson at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Simpson was a BBC New Generation Artist from 2012-2014.

Intermusica is a music management and the registration will be, presumably, for clarinet and conducting - what could an agent do for composers?

Apart from aesthetics, this chap is certainly a talented young composer. But with quite mixed-up ideas, like this pretentious flop:

This is much better, an angstridden, Scriabinesque attempt to write Romantic Music in the Grand Manner, with enough chaos and irregularities put into the score to be acceptable for the contemporary music establishment as ‘new music’:

One can hear that the guy has understood that there is something like music, other than sonic art, because it peeps through the frightened sonic mist at places:

He also writes opera, and understands the value of contemporary, trendy subjects, so that audiences can understand what is going on and fully identify with the themes – both in the plot and the music, which is so very much harder with Mozart, Wagner and Verdi:

The British musical establishment did not waste time to press this young, promising talent to its breast, to prevent it from developing ideas of his own and (God forbid!) leaving half a century of clichés behind.

I find this really sad - can such young man only be the product of convention and add nr 1,000 of all the artless variations to the bulk of ephemeral negation of the art form? The type of success he enjoys, is created by the establishment, not by the real concert practice. Programmers duly follow ideological advise, incapable of independent musical judgement, lemming-like, and damage their own interests and the goodwill of their audiences, who will stay away the next time they see 'Simpson' on the programme.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Climate change

There is not only a problem with the climate change in real terms, but also in cultural terms, which are 'real' in another way. As in the real world sea levels are rising, people will be forced to seek higher territory to avoid being engulfed; in culture, the rising tide of populism and cultural ignorance has a similar effect: people, aware of the dangers, seek the higher territories where the accumulation of experience of the human condition as embodied in visual art, literature, poetry and music, is still intact. In the course of time, this territory will break-down in rather isolated pockets of knowledge and understanding, like isolated libraries in medieval monasteries, and they will be considered, by the masses, as 'conservative'. The rise of populism is experienced by the emancipated masses as progress, because it gives them voice, more influence, and promises the much-longed for elimination of 'elites'. The critique upon culture, and hatred even, where people are confronted with their ignorance, results from being unaware that the riches of culture - most of it created in past ages - can be greatly benefitting to us in our own times, so it is entirely self-destructive to consider the cultural heritage as being 'conservative' and 'undemocratic' and 'patronizing' and as 'hindrances' to the ever forward march of emancipation and liberation. Seeing 'the past' only as a suppressing force, and not seeing that so much has been achieved in spite of all those problematic aspects of past societies of which we are all too aware, is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

What can be done? It boils down to the challenge of protecting the masses against themselves, and informing and instructing them, merely provokes more critique and hatred, like children in a classroom protesting the answers to arithmetic questions for being undemocratic, patronizing, excluding the pupils' different opinions on the matter, and the attitude of the teacher as suppressive. As far as people are open to any rational discussion, showing the obvious advantages of certain knowledge seems to be the only way of protecting culture, and especially demonstrating that preserving precious knowledge about the human condition is not 'conservative' and thus, a hindrance to 'progress', but mere common sense and, in fact, the most progressive enterprise one could imagine, in an age of cultural decline.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Does music needs a 'now'?

On the website of the San Francisco Classical Voice an article appeared which revealed that the leftish ideologies of the 'social relevance' of classical, serious art music are still alive in some quarters, where obvious nonsense is presented as serious argument.

Such ideology, which claims that only music with a 'message' directly relating to the outside world of the moment, is 'relevant', is one of the causes of the erosion of classical music's meaning and position within the modern world. It is a result of the same materialism that lie at the heart of all the attacks upon the art form, from all those people ignorant of what the art form is and what it means, but without any inhibition to enter the field of debate and try to push music in their narrow box of understanding.


“Art needs to have social relevance,” Măcelaru insists. “It needs to have a now. Once an artist embraces that, then the connection to the audience is that much more relevant. To that extent I don’t think the art form (of classical music) is dying at all.”  

Having said that, Măcelaru feels that in the last 10 years there’s been a growing disconnect between the message of the composer and the way the audience understands it — “if only because the message itself is lacking. Which is why I’ve encouraged all the composers I collaborate with to find something that speaks to the 21st century, that’s socially relevant or politically charged — even if it’s emotionally upsetting — something that has to do with who we are in the 21st century.

“After all, Beethoven spoke of social relevance in his time. So did Shostakovich and so did Bernstein. And note how different they are from each other. Think of how Figaro was an incredible social statement at the time. This suggests how some composers have been able to stay relevant because they spoke of the people’s needs not just in terms of experiencing the art form, but also in understanding the life around them ... I don’t think it’s our place as composers to give an answer, but it’s our responsibility to ask the questions so that we as a society can have a discussion about it.”

Do we listen to Beethoven because of his social relevance? Or to Shostakovich because of his undercover references to Soviet life? No, these works have still relevance to us because they have transcended the temporal into something universal, which music - as a non-conceptual art form - can do pretty well. It is not the 'message' that gives musical works a chance to survive the passing of time, but its universal human characteristics which can resonate with people in different times and places. Music as an art form is not the place to discuss the realities of social issues, but the place where these issues are transcended into universal, timeless artistic experiences. That does not make the issues less urgent, but universalizes them and makes them accessible far beyond their initial inspirations - we don't listen to the Eroica because of Napoleon but because it is a great work of art symbolizing the heroic life with all its ups and downs.

If music would need a 'now' to be 'relevant', ALL music from before today would be meaningless.