Revitalizing Classical

What on earth are we doing?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how to restart classical music, without it being artificial.. This genre seems to be in a great confusion about its identity and function (and have been for a while). I’m trying to figure out how and why I even dare to think like this. But in some way it I think it has to be related to the actual fact that none of our traditional platforms are viable or even available to its fullest extent.

Lets talk religion

Yes. Let’s go there. Some of the main reasons that classical music has survived is because of its traditional function in religious settings, its former role as bringer of new aesthetics and new compositions that were both as enjoyable as they were bold, being (historically) the only source of new music and heavily reliant on certain performers (who also were composers). The religious heritage is still there, but we are at a secular highpoint in our civilization (which in my opinion is a good thing). In the western civilization we have a religous history and the music from the classical genre is very religious, not only in it self as an aesthetic experience – large parts of the repertoire serve a function in religious rites and holidays. Up until Beethoven (and of course with some exceptions even after that), much of the music was sanctioned and supported by the church or religous patrons. Now, not so much.

Fewer and fewer churches are using this kind of music in certain settings due to demands of more secular music being played in churches (in weddings etc.). The market for church gigs are also on the way down (especially in Sweden where most are secular Christians or atheists), for economical reasons (because of named atheists). So, that specific market is practically gone  -and so is a great part of the classical ”soul” and a natural gallery for exposition. Sure, certain great churches in Europe (who has a great following and thus the economy for performances..) can perform this kind of music. Otherwise it’s during very special occasions that concert houses are playing sacral music during holidays. (Since the dawn of new information technology and Especially since the dawn of the CD, the demand of a live performance is drastically downplayed – almost everything is recorded now). So is there still hope? Yes. But we need to rethink it and step back a bit..

Let’s talk Performers

The modern era for classical music tries so hard to focus on Performers rather than Composers, which is quite a stupid idea – since most of the best performers in history were also great composers. Old composers operated in the same way as pop musicians do these days: They wrote some music, marketed it (i.e. they wrote for Something or Someone that Paid them for the experience and/or the work) and performed it to an audience that liked (or had no choice but to like..) certain ”styles” – the material being composed and performed. That was the market then. But times are a’ changing.

We, as classical musicians, are now too focused on Recreating old works rather than using all of our knowledge Creating new works. We practitioners study over 600 years of compositional tools and advances, yet we are only practicing them while interpreting dead composers (who were creating their own styles).

Why are we doing this? I don’t see the freedom in this. I haven’t found a good answer to why we educate performers, rather than composers. For me it’s the same thing, though – in contemporary practice – it is not. Good Musicians are both performers and creators. Sure, there is a need to recreate old works and relive and celebrate our past, but not as a primary mission. There are a couple of hundered thousand people playing the same works by Bach right now. Very few of them are really good and these few people Should play them. They are specialists. But as with other markets: Too many specialists and there is a surplus that we can’t fit into the market. We also waste human capital like this. So many talented musicians could also be expressing themselves through their own set of styles, they sure do have the expertise and technique. But we are only focusing around re-creation..

Let’s talk new material

We rely on the Mythical Composer, as if the composer was a magician. True mastery and musicianship comes from Creating music.. I think most of you would agree that the Composer is something extra. The composer is the engine in every genre. In a way I think that the role of the composer has been underrated. We have, in a way, underestimated how much great aesthetics and intellectual greatness the old composers have provided us over the years. Not too long ago, we started to focus more on Performers and deter from composition – treating the composer as some magical Shaman, a mythical creature that not a living soul can compete with when it comes to expression and conceptualize an idea.

How many times have I not heard the phrase ”well, I’m not a composer.. but I did this thing..”..? And then it turns out to be Great music anyway!? You know what makes a good composer? Practice. I think many people hear Sibelius and goes: ”I will never be as great as this genious”. Hell, even Sibelius heard the old masters and thought ”I will NEVER be as great”, and then he turned out to be one of the Greatest ever lived. Even Sibelius wrote shitty music, some of which he wanted people to burn after his death.. Sadly, we are all human beings.

On topic: We are not providing an audience with new material in a way that is interesting to listen to or experience. Sure, there are effects and new cool things that have not been tried before -from a performer’s perspective – . But I seriously miss this excitement of finding new classical music and new emotional experiences. I miss the excitement to find new music to create memories to (even though I had a really good autumn discovering new choral music while being with Lund Academic Choir for some time.. That was really good). Sadly, some pop-music today provides this for me. Sure, on the radio it’s the same old story on repeat all over (often written by Producers – this era’s kings and queens of expression), but the music takes me to worlds I’ve not yet been to. Listening to very expressive music such as Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and all the way to Ed Sheeran and Bon Iver.. Well.. Discovering old music does that too, but in another way. There is an excitment to finding this new ”door” and opening it. Sure, listening to Strauss’ ”Alpensinfonie” for the first time was pure magic. But the key is: We don’t let people discover classical music and opening that door that is Their hideaway.

And mind you, I’m classically ”educated” to listen in a certain way. I love all kinds of music (and Especially classical music), don’t get me wrong.. But this phenomena of only recreating music really bothers me. A lot.

Revitalization

For real now. Look back to some of the high points of our classical and semi-classical music the last 60 years. What do we have?

  • Some new Musicals (Chess, Mamma Mia, Sweeny Todd, Hair, everything by sir Webber.. to name a few..).
  • Some new Operettes.
  • New Operas (not that many actually.. Aniara is good. ).
  • New Choral music (thank god for Eric Whitacre!).
  • New and Exciting collaborations (remember the gigantic collaboration in the 90’s between Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocceli? Sure, it might not have been the most intellectual thing in the world, but it created buzz and it Revitalized the classical industry.).
  • New arenas! (The new concert house in Hamburg is a fantastic work of art and as soon as I can get tickets to an event I will go there).

I mean, there ARE good things going on as well. Though we need to be bold and brave. Play new music, Write new music and highly support both collaborations between performers and composers as well as letting composers be performers as well. It is my belief that the era of Performers is a thing of the past and that the new age of the Composer/Performer is upon us. It is sort of a lost connection to our past that will revitalize this genre. Where true mastery of music is both in the performance and in the new compositions coming to life. Where the experience is religous, but not in the supernatural sense.

I might be naive. This is just a spontanious reflection, hoping to spark some kind of productive discussion. But in a way I hope I’m feeling the same about this in ten years from now..

One thought on “Revitalizing Classical

  1. En lång och strukturerad utläggning för att vara helt spontan (i synnerhet i jämförelse med de futtiga miniessäerna på min egen sajt). Jag tror att du vet att jag instämmer i mycket av det du säger. Musiken (liksom litteraturen och alla andra konstarter) borde inte tillåtas hamna i en steril formalism, betingad av teologi eller kommers eller endast fantasilöshet. Talangen existerar redan, det gäller att bringa den till blomstring.

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