Classical Revolution PDX: Mattie Kaiser

Classical Revolution PDX: Mattie Kaiser / photo by Mollusa

(Originally posted in three parts at ARTSBlog: I / II / IIThis post is part of a series on emerging trends and notable lessons from the field, as reported by members of the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Council.)

In the past half century, there are some things that haven’t much changed in classical music. Big, well-established orchestras (several high-profile recession-induced bankruptcies and closures notwithstanding) continue to attract the lion’s share of dollars from funders, individual donors, and ticket-buying patrons alike. Prestigious conservatories such as Juilliard and Curtis continue to pump out soloists who are snapped up by artist management companies and shopped to those same orchestras, increasingly hungry for top talent. In the background, however, the rest of the classical music field is rapidly evolving in new directions.

Despite a long-term general stagnation in ticket-buying classical music audiences, more and more young people are taking a shine to the 400-year-old art form and wanting, nay, expecting to make a career out of it. Americans for the Arts’s National Arts Index reports a 61% increase in the number of visual and performing arts degrees awarded between 1998 and 2009, far outpacing population growth during that period. Empowered and ambitious, this new crop of conservatory graduates has emerged professionally during a time of extraordinary operational and technological change in the field. In just one generation, the young classical musicians of today have seen public funding for the arts drop precipitously in real terms; the democratization of music production and distribution through technologies such as notation software, ProTools, digital file-sharing, and Kickstarter; and the decimation of arts education programs across the country. Perhaps most importantly, the current generation of classical musicians in their 20s and 30s is the first to have grown up with genre-bending as a given – that trail having been blazed, in part, by the Minimalists and Bang on a Can crowd in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

It’s not hard to see why this combination of factors may have contributed to an increased sense of entrepreneurship in the field. Classical musicians throw themselves into creation and performance with a ferocity many of us may find hard to imagine – a deep, sustained, and personal engagement with an art form predating just about everything else they encounter in their lives besides the earth itself. And yet the language they speak is not shared by more than a tiny fraction of the people around them. Unless they have virtually no contact with the outside world, they are likely to have friends, family members, and colleagues who listen to no classical music at all and have no desire to do so. Faced with this dichotomy, one can only imagine how frustrating it must be to know that the sincere joy and fulfillment they get from their art is not being communicated to people they care about.

Not only that, but today’s conservatory graduates are less likely than ever to have illusions about the world that awaits them upon graduation. They know that the dream of a soloist career is out of reach for most. They know that steady orchestra gigs are getting harder and harder to come by, and that the ones that do exist are getting less comfortable. And they know that if they are the ones calling the shots, they can pursue their highest artistic vision without interference from directors, boards, or teachers.

Not surprisingly, then, the phenomenon of classical musicians starting their own enterprises or organizations has become commonplace. Much of the time, these projects are mere extensions of the individual artist’s identity, and may travel only as far as the founder’s fame can carry them. But others reflect long-term, strategic thinking in their design and execution, and a few offer real innovations in the way that classical music is conceived, presented, and supported.

What happens when you blow up the idea of an orchestra and start all over? Alarm Will Sound, a large ensemble performing repertoire from Nancarrow to Frank Zappa to the music of its own members, may provide the answer. In the mid-1990s, composer Gavin Chuck and conductor Alan Pierson were among the co-founders of a student new music group at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester called Ossia that solicits ideas from audience members for musical programs. Upon graduation in 2001, the two formed Alarm Will Sound in order to continue making music with the same group of musicians.

Eschewing many of classical’s linguistic trappings, Alarm Will Sound calls itself a “20-member band” performing “today’s music” on its website. Often bringing in multimedia and theatrical elements to its performances, AWS revels in conceiving unexpected and ambitious presentations, executed with amazing technical precision. “In Ossia, we had seen how responsive audiences were not only to good music, but to good musical ideas presented in interesting ways beyond the conventional concert,” explains Chuck. Among some of AWS’s more adventurous ideas have been acoustic transcriptions of electronic music (an entire album of Aphex Twin covers, plus the Beatles’ avant-garde classic “Revolution #9”) and stage directions that involve dispersal across the concert hall.

For Judd Greenstein, founder of New Amsterdam Records, explorations across genre aren’t just about bringing popular music into a classical context. Greenstein and his NewAm co-directors, Sara Kirkland Snider and William Brittelle, have classical pedigree a-plenty—they’ve done time at the graduate music programs of Yale, Princeton, and CUNY—but see their work as part of a mission to launch the music that they and their colleagues write into the same stratosphere with other forms of indie music.

“One of the points of NewAm is to move around and beyond the historicism of the classical community and the self-reflection that pervades it,” Greenstein says. He points to the label’s appearance on top 10 lists and charts from multiple musical worlds (such as the NPR and New York Times Classical lists, the iTunes jazz chart, and the College Music Journal 200) as evidence of its success at positioning music that comes (at least in part) from the classical tradition as something that people who don’t think of themselves as classical lovers can enjoy.

Now, the for-profit New Amsterdam Records has become a subsidiary of a new nonprofit organization: New Amsterdam Presents.  “We had always wanted the record company to be a nonprofit, but after two years of wrangling with the IRS, we realized we couldn’t do it,” says Greenstein. Ironically, the label’s pro-artist revenue-sharing agreement – posted for the world to see on the web – was the sticking point. The presenting organization helps NewAm in other ways, however – by expanding the roster of artists that it can represent, and providing an infrastructure for year-round rather than project-based fundraising.

Unlike Alarm Will Sound and New Amsterdam, Charith Premawardhana’s Classical Revolution shies away from neither the term “classical” itself nor the music it typically represents. Premawardhana started Classical Revolution as a weekly chamber music salon series at Revolution Cafe in San Francisco. An alumnus of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Premawardhana was frustrated with what he calls the “corporate” nature of the traditional symphony orchestra world, and longed to reach a wider and more diverse audience with his playing.

Five years and 500 performances later, Classical Revolution has performed in a dizzying array of venues around the Bay Area, “from cafes and bars to backyards and living rooms to museums and concert halls,” according to Premawardhana. Recent and upcoming programming has included tangoes, an indie rock band, and a tribute to the Velvet Underground, as well as works by contemporary composers. CR has even inspired a far-flung network of 16 like-minded chapters in places from Cincinnati to Melbourne, with six more on the way. While Classical Revolution currently receives fiscal sponsorship through San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, Premawardhana talks of acquiring independent 501(c)(3) status so that CR can provide fiscal sponsorship itself to its various chapters around the country. Up until now, Premawardhana has not been paying himself due to lack of funding; he reports that almost all income goes to pay for musicians and space rental.


The three enterprises discussed above are hardly the only examples of conservatory musicians or classically-aligned individuals shaking up the classical world with innovative ideas.

Here are a few other notable instances of classical music entrepreneurship that I’ve come across:

  • The Wordless Music Series burst on to the scene in New York five years ago, presenting a head-spinning mix of programs combining first-rate classical ensembles with esoteric indie rock bands on the same bill. Founded and curated by a former Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center staffer, Ronen Givony, Wordless Music bills have included Godspeed You! Black Emperor, composer Nico Muhly, and the United States premiere of a string orchestra piece by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. In many cases the events happen at unusual venues, such as churches, that are totally alien to the participants from the popular music realm.
  • The International Contemporary Ensemble has pioneered a remarkable hybrid structure that combines elements of performance group, presenter, and producer across multiple venues and even cities.  More centralized than the grassroots chapter network of Classical Revolution, ICE is ostensibly based in Chicago and New York, but its network of ensemble members is spread out across the country. Founder Claire Chase, as well as many of the musicians, graduated from Oberlin Conservatory.
  • The Sphinx Organization, based in Detroit, has adopted as its mission increasing the proportion of African Americans and Latinos in classical music. Sphinx’s “emerging” status is perhaps dubious at this point, with founder Greg Dworkin having been awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 2005. Yet its example is remarkable as an ambitious attempt to address the extreme lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity among classical music practitioners and audiences alike.
  • Conservatories themselves are starting to catch on to the entrepreneurial trend among their students. Ten years ago, Eastman dean James Undercofler spearheaded the formation of the Institute for Music Leadership. Much more recently, the Manhattan School of Music opened a Center for Music Entrepreneurship headed up by Angela Myles Beeching, former director of the Career Services Center for New England Conservatory. And the Yale School of Music offers a new alumniVentures program aimed at providing seed funding for recent graduates’ projects.

What lessons can we derive from these models for classical music entrepreneurship? While each of the projects is unique, I see several clear trends and commonalities among them.

  • Seeking a genuine, integrative relationship with the anti-commercial wing of the commercial music industry. Blurring boundaries between classical music and “intelligent” pop (such as electronic, indie rock, and other genres) is not only an honest expression of these musicians’ diverse aesthetic interests and influences, it has come to be seen as the key to unlocking a wider (and younger!) audience.
  • Not being locked into a single venue – or even city. Today’s entrepreneurial classical organizations exist all over the place. Boasting flexible ensembles that can be reshuffled for virtually any occasion, they are equally at home in a bar or concert hall. Some, including ICE and Classical Revolution, have even found ways to exist in multiple locations at once.
  • Welcoming a larger artistic community under a common umbrella. Most of the organizations profiled here are remarkably generous when it comes to sharing the spotlight. They purposefully and promiscuously seek out collaborations, often with artists outside of their group, their genre, their city, even their discipline.

Equally notable, perhaps, is what I don’t see. For the most part, these groups have innovated tremendously around programming, somewhat around business models, and hardly at all with legal forms. Most of them have either stuck with traditional nonprofit status, or (in the case of New Amsterdam and Classical Revolution) are moving towards it after trying out something different. For all the talk of the 501(c)(3) being “dead” or a thing of the past, perhaps the real problem has been with the institutional structures around the legal form rather than the legal form itself.

Furthermore, for all the exciting energy surrounding the programming innovations that these groups have undertaken, they haven’t yet solved the underlying economic difficulties facing classical music as a whole. All of the groups interviewed mentioned obtaining and sustaining funding as a major, if not primary, challenge. Despite boasting leaner cost structures, these groups operate without the pedigree or institutional advantages of major orchestras, and thus revenue generation is no small task. As Judd Greenstein put it, “Being successful in a small corner of the music industry doesn’t get you a free pass in the industry as a whole…you’re still left with the same challenges that others face in an extremely competitive market that is very bad at monetizing success.”

What these groups unquestionably are doing, though, is blazing an alternate path – however uncertain – for new conservatory graduates who for whatever reason do not fit into the shrinking traditional classical establishment. Besides the literal opportunities created by these enterprises, slowly but surely, they are opening up new markets for a new kind of engagement with a very, very old art form.

  • REALLY excellent article, Ian! Just wanted to point out that the Switchboard Music Festival is also a part of this exciting trend. All three of us founders came out of the San Francisco Conservatory looking to create a home for like-minded musicians, and have continued to develop that home for five years now.

    Anyway, well done. Always good to see you spreading the good word!

    • Thanks, Ryan. By no means was my intent to suggest that the groups named in the article are the only exemplars of the trend. (That’s what makes it a trend, after all!) San Francisco and New York are hotbeds of this particular strand of innovation, and the scenes there are the better for it.

  • Absolutely, just wanted to add it to the list!

  • Very nice piece, Ian. And great to read about our Board member Judd Greenstein and New Amsterdam Records. Judd is a terrific composer as well.

  • The trend you report is one that I have noted with enthusiasm and a little sadness. At times artists have taken the step into entrepreneurship only because communities have failed to understand the value of the cultural assets they have failed to support. As an arts administrator I would LOVE to work within such a structure. Often times people ask me if it is “stressful working with all those artists”, and invariably I say, “The artists are professionals who understand the business of music.” The stress in traditional arts organization, invariably in my experience comes from other places.

  • FCM

    Ian, great article. I must strongly voice my opinion, here, which I hope you might tangle with in future posts.

    I have the distinct impression that the current crop of innovators, at least in NYC, is heavily funded by their parents.

    Sorry if it sounds like sour grapes, as I obviously don’t have that sort of backing, but it’s not just a simple a matter of “if I had more money, I could do more of my art” but rather, what is possible and sustainable in this field if you’re a middle class participant? Is it reasonable to attempt to build a stable american life in this field? If the ‘meritocracy’ of music is build on such a steep pitch that only the upper class can climb the ladder, then we might as well say that it’s the same aristocratic pursuit as was in old europe. Oh no, wait — people are taking headshots of themselves in front of rusted box cars. Sometimes I forget how egalitarian we’ve become.

    I think a VERY rich study waiting to be done is the philanthropy that occurs in the familial setting. The dollars that go into the arts by parents funding their childrens’ study and professional activities. I can’t tell you the number of people I know who DO NOT MAKE THEIR LIVING through their entrepreneurial activities. They are supported, in some cases by their normal-job-working spouses, and in many cases by the financial support of health insurance, apartments purchased, and instruments purchased through their families. I’ll never forget the heated discussion I once had with a colleague who insisted that all she needed to do was cover rent, utilities, and food, and therefore, she was making a living in NYC. Nevermind her wealthy fallback: health insurance paid by parents, retirement guaranteed via inheritance, a lifetime of summercamps and quality lessons from a young age, etc.

    How the fuck does classical music belong to everybody when it’s only practiced by rich kids? How the fuck do we expect normal americans to fall in love with music that is infused to the core with upperclass money and values and arcane practices? How the fuck can classical musicians not see the appeal of pop music, it’s most “degenerate” forms, which allow people to express themselves in new ways, without the cumbersome, dinosauric, aristocratic apparatuses of the classical regime? I don’t know, but I’m going to put on my tuxedo and think about it.

    There is certainly a burst of activity going today on that fits into the entrepreneurial category. Though we say this at the risk of thinking that we are the generation that invented sex. But I have the nagging questions:

    How does ICE compare to early Orpheus? Why is it so new or different? (Really, I’m curious)
    Why did Speculum Musicae dissolve? (They got teaching jobs/kids/old/??)

    In the quasi-recent NYT article
    several pessimistic case studies (people) are examined. The article balances this perspective, essentially entirely with Claire Chase. I seem to remember her saying something to the effect of working with new models, not waiting for work to come in, getting off your butt to make it happen, etc. All good and fine. But what exactly is so different in the SUSTAINABLE sense of the word? How is ICE really any different? Don’t get me wrong – I love that group! They sound amazing! They can play the ‘standards’ as well as anyone, as they proved at this recent Mostly Mozart. But I don’t think they are a NEW MODEL of any sort… (someone happily prove me wrong?)

    Even without the support of rich parents, you can kill yourself throughout your 20’s and 30’s, making all this stuff happen, getting your reviews, building your website, and the question is: what will you be left with? (Here’s the answer: BEST case scenario, present day, is a university teaching job. How is that entrepreneurial? That’s institutional, not entrepreneurial.) I really really hope this doesn’t sound like a frothy-mouthed rant from someone who hasn’t gotten the gigs they wanted. Far from it, I’ve been pretty lucky to get what I have. It’s the road ahead that is making me think twice. It’s the realization that I’m one of the few people on this ship who doesn’t have a lifejacket or a spot reserved in a lifeboat.

    I think these organizations are very far from proving that something new is afoot. I think they are certainly wearing new clothes, and producing new types of music, and hoping that the perceptions of audiences grow, become pluralistic, and financially giving. But I don’t think we’re there yet.

    Honestly, I think the best shot that these leaders in the field have, is securing the middle-class positions that universities and conservatories provide. I hope they do. I hope I do, too.

    Now, as far as conservatories catching on to any sort of entrepreneurial trend, someone needs to take them to task in major ways. This really looks like window dressing for institutions that rely on students to buy into a ponzi-scheme. What sort of morality governs these institutions that pump out thousands of graduates into a field that can support hundreds? They are really rubbing shoulders with for-profit vocational institutes, here. Phoenix online looks saintly in comparison. Sending a student into an artistic field with student debt is one of the stupidest (and cruelest) things you can do to someone. At the age of 18, a musician in love with music can’t make that rational assessment, but the administrators who know the field CAN. Med school, law school, b school – ok, I can buy into that. It’s a reasonable investment. But MUSIC school? It’s a flat out gamble!

    If Knight, Mellon, Ford, Dorris, or whoever, REALLY wants to shake things up, they should take a critical look at the conservatory system. The conservatories and the orchestras are the institutional pillars of american classical music. The state of classical music falls squarely into their lap. I don’t see them doing anything interesting. I don’t see anything entrepreneurial going on. Just different ways of embalming the same music. New pedestal, same museum.

    Which brings us to the individuals which you profile, here. They’ve gone outside the institutional routes (to start, at least). My contention is that this isn’t a sustainable path, unless you have serious financial backing. And even so, traditionally, the most successful get absorbed back into the university system.

    Of course, I sincerely hope they succeed. A rising tide lifts all boats.

    But the longer I think about it, the more I’d rather just go the pop music route. At least I’d never have to wear a fucking tuxedo. (no, seriously.)

    • FCM,
      Thanks for your detailed and provocative comment. I couldn’t agree with you more. As I mentioned in the article, revenue has been the biggest challenge for these groups and it doesn’t look to me like they’ve figured out a real “solution” to the financial issues plaguing classical music, even though they have successfully innovated in other ways. I’m not knowledgeable about the family situations of all the groups and founders profiled in the article, but frankly it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that all or most of them had at least some degree of indirect family backing of the kind you describe (e.g., paying rent) that made it possible to do what they did at least in the early years. And I would love to see that study of in-kind contributions to arts entrepreneurship that you propose. (I would add that this issue is by no means specific to the arts. Entrepreneurs in all industries frequently rely on family wealth and/or connections to get ahead of the pack.)

      I’ve actually written about class issues and artist-entrepreneurs a lot – it’s one of my passions. I’m not sure how long or regularly you’ve been reading the blog, but I’d encourage you to check out a few past articles where I tackle this issue in depth, if you haven’t already. The first is an post called, appropriately enough, On the Arts and Sustainability. It lays out the problem and offers some personal examples and anecdotes to illustrate how difficult it is to support oneself as an artist without extra help. My TEDx talk from earlier this year puts the problem into a more systematic framework and provides data to back it up. And my article co-written with Daniel Reid for the 20UNDER40 anthology, Audiences at the Gate, proposes a new curatorial model for elevating artist-entrepreneurs that is designed to be at least a partial solution. (I’d really love to hear your thoughts on that one.)

      Thanks again for bringing attention to an important issue. I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

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  • FCM

    Long time reader, first-time caller. I’d read your Audiences at the Gate/crowdsourcing article and been mulling it over for a while; a long disgestion for me. Arts and Sustainability slipped past me (or before I started reading) but that definitely hits the nail on the head for what I talking about regarding our current classical crop.

    I hope my post didn’t seem incriminatory, to either you or the artists who are lucky enough to have familial funding. (despite my bursts personal jealousy, which I shamefully admit and attempt to deal with) Instead, I suppose that I wanted to counter certain developing perceptions in the field, which I can only say that I gather anecdotally, and are strongly related to NYC classical music, at that.

    The new groups, labels, and venues that have developed recently have garnered a lot of attention. I think people sense something new, and it IS a breath of fresh air, and I think has inspired and emboldened people to re-examine some of the perennial challenges classical music faces (“it’s always dying,” etc). The thought is that, maybe this confluence of youth/energy, bending of genres, and new media distribution can make some major changes to the way our industry operates.

    Personally, I enjoy the new sounds. Welcome new forces behind talent development and publishing. And love the idea of LPR. I mean – can we just talk for a minute about what LPR has enabled in the industry as a whole? Colored lights. I’m not being cute here. High profile performers, I’m especially thinking of the ACJW, play here under funky colored lights, in pictures snapped by the NYTimes, and young people who see this will have an entirely different imagination of what classical music can be.

    But what bothers me, and I mean, it really bothers me, is the nagging sense that some or a lot (or on my most grumpy days, ALL) of what we are seeing is window dressing on some very old models of classical music production. And that this windows dressing allows us some false comfort in these tools to create change, and by doing so, we avoid meaningful, deep engagement with our problems.

    Best case scenario: hanging some rebellious ornaments on our tree might spur us to try new things, imagine ourselves as different sorts of artists, actually push us in new directions.

    Not so good case scenario: Let’s take some headshots in some grungy part of town that we would NEVER LIVE IN and then transcribe some appropriately-artistic pop music and call it a day. (Remember, it needs to be arty rock, kids. Music of the body is not good enough, it has to be of the mind…) True, something new is better than the same old, but this smacks of pandering and the most base level of visual appropriation that has not an iota of fucking meaning in their actual work. The visual representations I’m talking about are:

    Pictures in front of box cars
    Rooftop boheme (arguably the most popular genre)
    Railroad tracks / Country Goodness (for the bluegrass crossover types)
    Headphones and Turntable and/or Adidas track suit (not kidding, I saw this)

    I yearn to name specifics, here, but the point is not to ridicule – I hope that we’re trying to make things better, even when we’re so far off the mark.

    Look, musicians have had license to play with their images for the entire 20th century. It’s part of the deal we have as public personas and performers – we weave a story. And country/blues/folk are not the least bit exempt from their obsessing and festishizing the authentic.

    Dylan was highly conscious of his image as a folk singer, but he was singularly engaged with the meaning of that image. It wasn’t a veneer over some other orientation.

    That’s why there is something disingenuous about what I’m seeing, here. Because you have to deliver the story you’ve promised to tell. Same old conservatory-bred bullshit doesn’t fly if you want to rock your boheme boxcars, ok? It smells like a corporate boy-band that’s put together for an image. If we’re not totally transcendent of such earthly diversions, I would still assume that classical musicians can deal with image in a meaningful way, instead of pandering. That’s when the colored lights look cheap and operate as gimmicks.

    Dear musicians:
    Don’t hop boxcars as you travel around the country with a stick and bulbous sack? Maybe you should stick to taking pictures of you standing in front of cars in Washington Heights. (Don’t like what that says about you? Fills you with white privileged guilt? Doesn’t look edgy? Maybe you’re not edgy!!!)

    Don’t live in place covered by graphitti? Maybe you shouldn’t advertise that your headshot. Take a picture at Starbucks, if that’s where you hang out. I mean, WTF is wrong with that?? Be who you are! Or, grow a pair and tag your street corner if you really get ‘hood on us.


    The difference between classical and popular musicians is that they take chances and we just don’t.

    The reason we don’t is that it’s too fucking expensive to bet a lifetime of training on ideas that are controversial. We tip toe. We make incremental advances, always making sure not to rock the boat too much. Our is a culture where you advance by not fucking up the notes you are playing, showing up on time always, and not pissing people off. Seriously, that’s all there is to it.

    We walk on eggshells.

    The apparatus is too big, too heavy, and too expensive.
    “But that’s what guarantees the excellence”
    Yes. I agree 100% that our institutional apparatuses are what guarantee excellence. “So what, then?”
    We’ve got to abandon excellence.
    “I shalt never!”

    Innovation occurs in popular music due to the issues of scale: there are a lot of people, they are all doing different things, most of them don’t catch wind, but a few launch to the moon. Dub, hip hop, and punk were all born in impoverished communities, and are radical departures from their musical roots.

    There’s no “audience development” grant writing for those kinds of music, because any kid, anywhere, can buy into the idea that they can express themselves through that music.

    If we want to conceive of great music as an object that ennobles its observer, we will be forever beholden to institutional inertia and the extreme aversion to risk-taking that it breeds.

    (BTW, I’m talking about institutional inertia, not just in the sense of individual 501(c)3’s, but the culture of large organizations funded by rich people and coporations )

    If we want to conceive of great music as something where [people who didn’t grow up in formal music education] can appreciate and engage in meaningful aural arts, well, that’s a different model than what we have.

    Let’s take the “Pro” out of Pro-Am.

    The “Pro” is what makes our music like highly-processed cubes of Sodexho products. The excellence is like high-fructose corn syrup. We’re trained to be attracted towards it, but when you’re saturated in it, you get fat and unhealthy. We’re meant to ‘work’ for our food, which is why ‘whole foods’ are healthy.

    We were also meant to work for our music, to engage with music within a holistic ecosystem of artistic activity: personal expression, in the gathering of family and friends, and finally, with the occasional treat of professional concerts. In that occasional treat of the professional performance, we can get the levels of musical excellence that we need, in the dosage, in the context where it can go straight into our souls and make us fly.

    We need a “slow music” movement: amateurism.

    It doesn’t happen that way now. The professional product is all we have. It’s increasingly rarefied in precision and perfection, but yet, it has less and less effect upon the world. There is no scarcity or specialness, so it’s treated like data, to be accumulated, stored, hoarded. Society has been dulled to its effects while simultaneously fattened and gluttoned on its omnipresence.

    Of course, amateurism has never disappeared, but I’m talking about changing where it sits on the hierarchy of what is important in our field. And I am most definitely NOT talking about throwing a bone to education, a ghettoized undergrad major, a ghettoized department that draws from the staff (musicians) that normally falls under operations, I’m talking about redefining the whole fucking notion of what it means to be an artist, a full artist, to break up the fucking fuckity fucked notion that a great musician does his/her work primarily on stage.

    [There’s a lot more to be said about this in relation to recorded media and Sousa nailed it when he expressed his concern that recordings would allow us to hear music without having actual musicians nearby. But this isn’t really about the technology per se, only our relationship and perceptions of it.]

    To fix classical music, we have to place concerts in their proper place, amidst an entire ecosystem of musical activity. Our slavish worship of excellence, cancerously embedded in the audition system, has to be reined in. Pardon my lack of a more focused post, but I think this is where crowd-sourced curation comes into the picture. Crowd-sourcing is a way of talking about a community, and community is ultimately what is behind the slow food movement, or the potential for a slow music movement.

    But I think this only works if we take the money out of it, and to do that, we have to let go some of our reflexive comfort in the excellence concept.

    I suggest we start by playing some wrong notes.

  • Sorry I’m late to the party! (I’m a bass player, what can I say?) But my 2 bits say that there ARE ways to monetize the social change that introducing classical music in a sports/pop culture implies. Connect with investors interested in seeing classical music reinvented WITH QUALITY for broader audiences. There are reportedly Social Venture Capitalists and they are mostly interested in having the poor feed and shelter themselves… but some are interested in what art and “art music” (my fav word for classical) can do for deserving, curious music lovers. If you’re in California, talk to the Irvine Foundation. Articulate (yes, with words) why everyone deserves the beauty and power for art music! I do this with my CutTime® brand and share this advice freely because it will take all of us to make the difference.
    So many of us are doing this for little money (also) because turning someone ON to classical is a priceless experience. Hell, I’m leaving my membership in a major American orchestra because I’ve been devoted to audience development almost as soon as I won my job 23 years ago. (Oh, by the way, I’m black.)
    The time is right for some creative destruction in the industry and my work (my comps, my words) can make a big difference… with big partnerships. The establishment MIGHT now be in the position to hire innovative groups IF they can also show high quality. My orch just hosted The Knights, for example. We’ve got to bring the WORLD into “world-class”!
    Great article Ian!

  • Laurie Evans

    Today is 14th September 2013 and I only just came across your blog and read the
    communications between you guys with much interest.
    I am in the UK and a great lover of classical music as well as being a composer of
    classical music, and I think that something that hasn`t been mentioned is that pop
    music is always creating new pieces to listen to.
    The classical field is constantly regurgitating the old which is great ! but what of
    new classical music ?
    Where are the NEW Beethovens, Mozarts, Haydns, Schuberts etc etc ?
    We have of course the great film score writers like John Williams, Hans Zimmer etc
    who are as popular today and who write memorable melodies, which is one of the things people want in classical music.
    An effort should be made to emphasise the creation of new music that is of the
    same melodic and emotional level in the purely classical field.
    Today the emphasis is on the virtuoso performer but as Mozart once said (paraphrased)
    ” One has to write melodies that can be whistled by the coach driver on first listen”
    I never went to music school and am self taught (and as far as composition is concerned I think this has been a blessing) but I constantly get comments like
    “you write like the old masters”, blah, blah blah.Your melodies are beautiful, blah,blah,blah.

    If there are not enough jobs about in just being a classical musician then
    the correct direction is composition, if the compositions are of a high enough quality then the public will be interested, the composer has a chance to make a career.
    My observation is this ;
    The reason pop, rock music, beatles etc etc has the upper hand with the masses is that WORDS are able to be used to communicate the concept of the piece as well as the music.
    What`s better ? Eleanor rigby with words or a classical version with just the melody ?. There is no story to follow without the words.
    And the reason Classical Ballet has had a hard time over the last hundred years is that unless you know the story intimately then you just get bored at not being able to follow what is going on storywise.
    Again with Opera, often you can`t hear the words or they are in another language.
    The man on the street NEEDS to be able to follow a communication with ease and then he will be able to understand and enjoy.
    If films didn`t exist do you think John Williams scores would be so universally accepted ? no, because again they are connected with visual stimulation and words
    of the films.
    Now, classical music doesn`t have words and so it HAS to be able to communicate
    at a much higher level aesthetically to reach the listener hence the attention to
    mastery of the instrument for creation of a sound that can touch the listener in a
    direct manner, jacqueline du pres is a good example.
    In my opinion we lean on the previous works too much although I do love them and will of course always be happy to experience them, I love “Classic fm” in the UK.
    It constantly plays the old masters.
    My personal goal is to create new classical music and pieces as high a quality as the masters, I am writing a ballet and a classical musical also, but this comment is not
    about me, I am just giving you guys my direction of thought, this is about the state
    the classical field in the year 2013.
    The emotional stimulation that a viewer can receive from a film is astonishing and
    people want to be stimulated !.
    In 1750 there were no films and the maximum stimulation one could receive was classical music .
    Of course !!! Classical music is going to have a hard time competing in this day and age.
    I for one will be doing my best to address this through composition for the masses.

    What say ye !