The future of classical music? Contemporary music? New music? – The Brooklyn Railroad


A classically trained, performing musician who opposes contemporary compositions is a clown who seeks to entertain the public.

Essentially, there is no need to worry about the future of classical/concert music. Among the arts, music and painting have always been in the forefront and will remain so. And the future of the arts in Western culture – which to some extent includes scientific inquiry – reflects our need for an intellectually and spiritually motivated life. It has always been at the heart of our mentality and our existence, even if only a minority of people actively participate in it.

In our culture, and I presume everywhere in the world, a minority motivated by a meaningful purpose has always played an important, sometimes leading role. Intellectual and spiritual pursuit is part of our DNA, a legacy of our Jewish heritage. It will continue to exist, despite the strenuous efforts of today’s elites in politics, education and the mainstream media to undermine it.

Predicting the future of classical music, including opera, is difficult, as are all predictions. What is certain is that the future will be different. It won’t be business as usual. But music is going to be created, musicians are going to perform and people are going to listen. We can see an interesting diversity in the aftermath of the pandemic, because the policies dealing with it have been so different in various parts of the world. The restrictions, closures and other measures imposed have damaged cultural, academic and social life to such an extent that we will see long-term effects, although they may differ from place to place. No one can say now what the long-term effects will be. The question about music is: what genre, and how much will it change? Because music – and I’m talking about live performances, not recordings – doesn’t exist as a generic entity, it’s always specific.

I am interested in the music of our time, in any type of composition, in any type of work, preferably recently completed. Without passing judgment on the style, artistic direction or genres of music – new music, experimental music, classically oriented music looking to the past. It is not necessary to judge and differentiate, time always takes care of it.

Basically, there are two very different ways of making and listening to music. The first is entertainment oriented. It stimulates us physically to the point of wanting to move in rhythm, dance, sing, etc. The other music is contemplative and meditative. The first (popular) type is self-sufficient, often geographically defined, and places a high value on business success. The second (classic) is listened to in silence, in spaces closed to outside interference. Its purpose is not to entertain. Instead, it creates the possibility of achieving a meditative state of mind. This music appeals to a limited number of people and depends on patronage for its support. It can only be performed successfully by highly skilled and well-organized musicians for an intellectually minded audience. Here, commercial success is not very important.

Focused perception leading to a meditative state of mind, limited audience appeal, and disregard for success is common to all the arts, although each discipline deals with different issues. Essentially, the way artists go about their work (and to some extent the scientist as well) requires a combination of intellectual and spiritual focus and effort, in which intuition trumps rational thought.

The performing arts face a myriad of issues. Some are symptomatic of the current situation we live in, such as the lack of understanding of spiritual matters in general, in the face of a vulgar daily mantra focused on profit. Add to that the bureaucratic mediocrity that has permeated almost everywhere, and one can only wonder about the future of works that don’t pay off quickly, are idea-based, and have spiritual depth like classical music. Can such music have a future? Yes, it can and will. Difficult, but it is not new. Dealing with difficulties has always been part of the profession of a composer, and even more so since the beginning of the 19th century.

Among the arts, music, and its practice, is the most demanding discipline. It has not always been the case. To be a musician a thousand years ago, all you needed was good ears, a good voice and a basic sense of rhythm. To succeed today as a musician, you must be a virtuoso player with vast knowledge. For some, training begins at age four and continues with a never-ending work schedule. The skill of a composer generating a musical score is enormous. In addition, a successful concert production requires considerable resources, both financial and organizational. This is what makes music such a demanding discipline.

As long as there are individuals with the proper means to support composers and musicians – or those who control those means – the future is not in jeopardy. It’s support and an audience that creates the right environment in which great works can emerge. This has always been the case. This is why Mozart fled Salzburg for Vienna and Beethoven did the same from Bonn. That is why, among artists, there are so many composers who move from one place to another. The question we should ask ourselves is whether there is currently an environment in New York, or in the United States, that would support music on a level that would allow great works to emerge. But that’s a whole other question.


Comments are closed.