The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

6 June 2006

Play that dead man's song

Something I mumbled last year about contemporary music in the classical genre:

"We play what the audience wants." And if too often it seems that what the audience wants is the same old thing, it's partly because the present-day marketplace doesn't make it easy to seek out the new and unheard — but it's also partly because some people, having heard it, don't particularly want to hear it again.

One such person is Miriam:

[T]he best composers of classical music are dead. I used to attend lots of concerts, living in New Jersey, in close proximity to New York. We heard the best musicians in the world. But every once in a while, these same musicians would perform work by modern composers. I can only guess that they went to Juilliard with these composers, or had borrowed money from them. There was absolutely no esthetic reason for these compositions to be given air time. Nine out of ten — no, make that 99 out of 100 — were earscreechingly awful. If the program notes revealed that these works were to be performed after the intermission, most of the audience had departed before the concert resumed.

Seriously, I suppose these musicians are trying conscientiously to introduce modern works to a wider audience in the hope that we will learn to appreciate them. But I don't attend concerts to be administered acoustic cod-liver oil. It may be good for me but I don't want it.

One possible explanation:

Actually, I've always suspected that there is one underlying theme in all of this dry, academic, uncompelling stuff: the urge to produce the sort of music which induces foundations and other benefactors to write checks.

And this, of course, becomes a self-replicating phenomenon in no time at all. If somebody comes up with a piece for three violas and a cello that sounds like Webern on Quaaludes and manages to get a sizable grant, you can expect half a dozen more such works to be premiered to yawning audiences in the next few years.

Which suggests a return to solid Marxist principles:

Groucho: What do you get an hour?

Chico: For playing, we get-a ten dollars an hour.

Groucho: I see. What do you get for not playing?

Chico: Twelve dollars an hour. Now for rehearsing we make special rates. That's-a fifteen dollars an hour.

Groucho: And what do you get for not rehearsing?

Chico: You couldn't afford it. You see, if we don't rehearse, and if we don't-a play, that runs into money.

Not the most unheard-of thing I ever heard of, by any means.

Posted at 6:06 AM to Tongue and Groove