Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Give Me Some Of That Old Time Rhythm (Seriously)

"After years of trying preconcert hors d'oeuvres and Mostly Mozart festivals to stem declining attendance and attract younger patrons, orchestras around the country are banking on something different: new music that audiences actually enjoy.

From Philadelphia to Sioux Falls, orchestras are embracing a growing breed of contemporary composer that emphasizes the classical tradition of writing to entertain, rather than to explore academic, less accessible theories. While the point is partly to please crowds, these new works are taken seriously. "We have to establish the works that will be around 50 to 75 years from now," says Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington.

The popularity of this new classical music -- variously called "contemporary classical," "alt-classical" or "music of our time" -- represents the latest stage in a reaction to the 1950s and '60s, when the dominant composers were academics who invented tonal structures that broke with European musical traditions....

The influx of new music comes as large orchestras face declining attendance and an elderly base of subscribers. Nationwide symphony attendance fell 13% to 27.7 million in the 2003-04 season from 1999-2000, according to the American Symphony Orchestra League. The median age of orchestra subscribers nationwide is 55 and has been for several decades. By programming new music, orchestras are hoping their seasons will seem more relevant to would-be concertgoers, particularly those from 35 to 45.

To ease audiences into contemporary works, orchestras often program them alongside pieces by the masters." ...

Jacob Hale Russell "Classical Plays a New Tune: Orchestras are embracing modern works with melody" Wall Street Journal On-line November 26, 2005.

Mr Russell's nice article helpfully includes hyper-links to audio samples by Steve Reich, John Adams, George Rochberg, William Bolcom, Joan Tower, and Jennifer Higdon; as well as a short list of "Merry Melodies" -- a sampling of contemporary classical albums (with brief comments) released since late 2004.


Albert Bierstadt, Rocky Mountains, 1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
[Click on painting for larger image]

Photo credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City


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