I find it interesting that ‘modern’ classical music has become a genre where audience approval is neither required nor appears to be even wanted. In prior eras, composers felt an obligation to their patrons and the music world at large. Composers like Verdi and Mozart were able “to play to the crowd” and still put their personal stamp on their music.
This is not the case with so many of today’s composers. It feels like they totally scorn the need to build an emotional connection to the listener. They disdain all concern for meter, or melody, or tonality that could draw in the listener leaving the audience shaking their heads and muttering, “you call this music?’ I’ve heard more than one modern composer comment to the effect that they write music to satisfy their personal needs, not the audience. Well, if you don’t want to take in audience response, don’t complain that the audience doesn’t understand where you’re coming from. We understand you just fine. We just don’t like what you write.
I’m not advocating that we only play the Essential Classics and I’m thrilled that in NE Ohio, we have access to a radio station that doesn’t merely stream Classical Music’s top 100 24/7. Nor am I suggesting the today’s composers slavishly try to imitate the old masters (although Fritz Kreisler seemed to have fun doing so). However, it might be a good exercise for today’s avant garde to take a moment to ponder why is it that a Mozart concerto, or a Beethoven symphony or a Tschaikovsky ballet still resonates with today’s audiences. Perhaps that will prod them to write music that satisfies both the composers’ need to create something new and exciting and also engages the audience at large.
If that’s too much to ask then I’d like to suggest that there is plenty of modern orchestral music that connects with the average classical listener as well as the general public. It’s even programmed on a regular basis on WCLV. It’s the music of Broadway and Hollywood. I don’t understand why it’s perfectly acceptable for mainstream orchestras to play a suite from a 19th century opera or ballet but conductors shy away from looking at 20th century movies and plays for similar inspiration. Major orchestras may program a Gershwin concerto but rarely a Gershwin Broadway overture. Only Pops orchestras seem to find that music acceptable in their concert halls. Maybe if we programmed more John Williams and less John Cage, orchestras might be surprised to find there is a broader audience out there for orchestral music beyond Beethoven and Brahms.
Please don’t think I’m totally anti-new music. I do appreciate the fact that WCLV makes a point of dedicating a portion of its programming to showcasing new works. I look at it as an opportunity to hear music that I don’t know well enough to navigate to on my own. Knowing that it’s already been vetted, I figure if I don’t like the performance, it’s a problem with the music itself, not that the music was played badly. Most times, I shake my head and say, “I’m happy I heard that; I’ll be happier to never hear it again.” But every once in a while, I’ll hear a new work that totally captures my attention and excites me to down to my soul. And shouldn’t that be the goal of all music!