Journal: Don't believe the hype

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Classical music is dead. Long live classical music.

From "The Well-tempered Web: The Internet may be killing the pop CD, but it’s helping classical music," by Alex Ross, published in the Oct. 22 issue of the New Yorker. For more on Ross and his new history of classical music in the 20th century, go to www.therestisnoise.com.

Between 1980 and 2000, classical music more or less disappeared from American network television, magazines, and other mainstream media, its products deemed too élitist, effete, or esoteric for the world of pop.

On the Internet, no demographically driven executive could suppress, say, a musicology student’s ruminations on György Ligeti’s Requiem on the ground that it had no appeal for twenty-seven-year-old males, even if the blogger in question—Tim Rutherford-Johnson, of The Rambler —was himself twenty-seven.News bulletins were declaring the classical-record business dead, but I noticed strange spasms of life in the online CD and MP3 emporiums. When Apple started its iTunes music store, in 2003, it featured on its front page performers such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Anna Netrebko; sales of classical fare jumped significantly as a result. Similar upticks were noted at Amazon and the all-classical site ArkivMusic.

The anonymity of Internet browsing has made classical music more accessible to non-fanatics; first-time listeners can read reviews, compare audio samples, and decide on, for example, a Beethoven recording by Wilhelm Furtwängler, all without risking the humiliation of mispronouncing the conductor’s name under the sour gaze of a record clerk. Likewise, first-time concertgoers and operagoers can shop for tickets, study synopses of unfamiliar plots, listen to snippets of unfamiliar music, follow performers’ blogs, and otherwise get their bearings on the lunar tundra of the classical experience.

Classical-music culture on the Internet is expanding at a sometimes alarming pace. When I started my blog, I had links to seven or eight like-minded sites. Now I find myself part of a jabbering community of several hundred blogs, operated by critics, composers, conductors, pianists, double-bassists, oboists (I count five), artistic administrators, and noted mezzo-sopranos (Joyce DiDonato writes under the moniker Yankee Diva).

After a first night at the Met, opera bloggers chime in with opinions both expert and eccentric, recalling the days when critics from a dozen dailies, whether Communist or Republican or Greek, lined up to extoll Caruso. Beyond the blogs are the Internet radio stations; streaming broadcasts from opera houses, orchestras, new-music ensembles; and Web sites of individual artists.

There is a new awareness of what is happening musically in every part of the world. A listener in Tucson or Tokyo can virtually attend opening night at the Bayreuth Festival and listen the following day to a première by a young British composer at the BBC Proms

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