Live music or a museum of sounds?
It has been a good two decades since Norman Lebrecht published his sensational book “Who Killed Classical Music”, and then other works on the same topic. Soon, a wide discussion arose around the world about whether real music would survive, in which leading critics, managers and bloggers from different countries took part, including such authorities as Greg Sandow, Alex Ross, Colin Itok, Deborah Borda, Leon Botstein and others . Disputes continue to this day, the problem is actively debated on Internet forums. Our critics and musicologists are still silent …
I believe, however, that the time has come for us to reflect on whether these pessimistic forecasts come true. “Of course there is nothing to talk about,” ordinary listeners will tell me. After all, musical life is seething, thousands of concerts take place everywhere, dozens, if not hundreds of music festivals and competitions, the best musicians are very popular, they are known and loved.
All this is true, but not entirely true. If you look closely at what is happening, sometimes it seems that all the fears are by no means in vain, that classical music, although still not completely killed, but the law is on the verge of dying. There are indeed many signs of this. I would like to draw attention to only one aspect of this crisis, to the indisputable fact that the concert repertoire is steadily narrowing, the names of the same great composers of the past with the same popular opuses appear on the posters. Everything that is not profitable commercially falls out of the program automatically. Of course, there are still a few great conductors and soloists who, first of all, are interested not in success with the public, but in the music itself. But they are negligible. But the “average” musicians have no choice, and they will not listen to them in the unpopular repertoire.
Ask any of the people who even regularly attend concert halls to name the living authors. The vast majority, most likely, will not name anyone, except, perhaps, Shchedrin and Slonim. (Of course, I do not mean pop music, but real music and its audience). It is characteristic that in the plans of the Moscow seasons new compositions are almost never found, and if they are performed, then in small rooms, apparently designed for the few relatives and friends of the author, and even for a bunch of “snobs”, ardent admirers of the work of a particular author or style . Performers, on the other hand, prefer to confine themselves to the “untwisted” symphonies and concerts of Mozart and Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, referring to just that, and only this can attract the audience to the concert hall today. Well-known critic Bruce Brewbaker rightly observes: “In the repertoire of ambitious classical pianists, the prevalence of certain pieces – often the pinnacles of technical difficulty – is almost incomprehensible. Again and again the Beethoven Appathion, the Fourth Ballad of Chopin, Liszt Sonata … The impact on the listener is obvious: it is becoming increasingly difficult to even listen to this music. The brain and hearing immediately recognize – this is Beethoven’s opus 109. And then, even very carefully, listening to it tactfully, the consciousness hardly registers what is happening in this music, what it says, what feelings it awakens, and even then how it sounds. ”
Of course, this does not apply to the elders of our and world performing arts. When any program sounds under the control of such luminaries as V. Fedoseyev or Yu. Temirkanov, the work of art seems to be reborn, for it is about reading, about interpretation and invariably – about loyalty to the author’s intention. Another performance may, at best, be informational in nature, or even ward off an inexperienced listener from music in general. Once a German musician said very wise words: “It is important and you need to learn music through the artist, and not get to know the artist through music.”
Alas, the classics are gradually turning into show business: with the same repertoire, popular artists willingly make long round-the-world tours, attracting many listeners and making a lot of money. But do they at the same time introduce the general public to high music? As a rule, in my opinion, no. Another thing is also characteristic: countless music competitions are increasingly turning into a kind of analogue of sports competitions, where everything is decided not by the depth of the participants’ penetration into the secrets of music, but by the desire to cleanly, quickly and loudly perform the desired program. In my opinion, the past Tchaikovsky competition was no exception in this regard – the exception was the few who did not succumb to this temptation.
Why is this happening? Alas, Norman Lebrecht (with whom I rarely agree) was right in many respects: music is slowly but surely killed primarily by commerce. It is the financial side of the issue that encourages musicians and their customers, managers, to invariably fill concert programs with the same compositions. Indeed, ordinary visitors to concert halls have one peculiarity – they tend to act in the same way as restaurant visitors: always order what you love.