It is a truism to say that Classical music, in its tradition sense, is in steady decline and has been for some time. The Big Opera Houses and Concert Halls are finding it ever harder to put bums on seats particularly for the more traditional performance repertoire. If you talk to young people and even middle age people who have grown up through the rock and roll era during which music has epitomised free expression and counter culture, it is pretty clear that ‘Classical’ music is seen as stuffy and out of date.
When you look back to the time many of the great classical masters when they were alive, it was anything but stuffy. Concerts were social events where people could connect with these amazing musicians and celebrate their prowess much more akin to the modern rock or free jazz concert! The musicians would show off their virtuosity flamboyantly extemporising with the score – In fact classical composers such as Liszt and Bach were renowned for their improvising prowess. The great Italian Opera’s were social events – the west end musicals of the day and all the family would enjoy the spectacle.
It is only since the arrival of the 20th century that ‘Classical’ music became locked into the confines of strict ‘concert etiquette’. The music was somehow preserved in formaldehyde, with any deviation deemed a travesty. This was exacerbated by the great music school’s conservative approach to teaching, encouraging strict adherence to the perceived ‘rules’ of the great master’s scores. Improvisation was frowned upon stifling freedom of expression of the studying musicians and composers. This conservatism translated to the audience experience with the slightest cough or shuffle seen as inappropriate, and an air of the ‘elitist connoisseur’ making the whole experience incredibly stuffy. No wonder the younger generation are turned off by this alienating experience. Although the avant garde composers of the early 20th century challenged the stifling romantic music preceding it, concert music remained very inaccessible to a general audience.
Thankfully, this 20th century ‘Classical’ music is now dying. Orchestras are increasingly broadening there repertoire, collaborating with improvising and electronic artists and new immersive technologies. reaching out to audiences way beyond the formal concert hall environment and embracing improvisation and cross-over collaborations. The truth is the young and young at heart love ‘classical’ music in the modern sense. It is instrumental music free from the confines of the rock pop song structure – perhaps this is the new rock and roll where a lack of rules is spurring a whole new generations of talent and creativity. Classical music is arguably kept relevant and popular by the big orchestral movies scores making the orchstral format very much alive and well.
The most popular classical music of the moment comfortably fit into the modern ‘minimalist’ category bringing a magical, atmospheric, almost spiritual dimension to music with the great composer such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Arvo Part sitting at the heart of the minimalist movement enjoying enormous popularity – the perfect antidote this frantic modern day. Arvo part, who started his career as a avant grade serialist composer eventually decried atonal modernist music as ‘childs play’ using strict rules and ignoring the emotional and spiritual value of music which led him to music in the first place.