“Requiem,” was Slate’s headline on this year’s first grand obituary for classical music, replete with an illustration of a conductor on the verge of tears waving his baton at a gravestone etched in eighth notes. “The fat lady hasn’t just sung,” Mark Vanhoenacker wrote. “Brünnhilde has packed her bags and moved to Boca Raton.”
But the public wasn’t having it. Within days of the posting last January, the article had prompted 600 comments and more than 10,000 shares on Facebook. Countless writers sprang to disagree with varying levels of contempt and in some cases, anger. Andy Doe, a consultant in the music recording industry and one of the most impassioned respondents, began his line-by-line critique by calling Vanhoenacker’s assumption “poorly-researched, badly argued, and, well, wrong” before adding, “and you should be ashamed of yourself.”
In 2014, the debate over the future of classical music in America rages on, as heated as ever. “There is a creepy bloodlust to the doom-mongering of classical music,” wrote the musicologist and saxophonist William Robin, “as though an autopsy were being conducted on a still breathing body.”
The analyses tend to repeat familiar, well-known, and long-debated challenges for the industry: orchestras in debt, dwindling record sales, aging audiences, and a shrinking profile in popular culture. Every new technological advance over the past hundred years — from the gramophone record to CDs to iTunes to YouTube — has brought with it declarations of impending doom. In every era, whatever the technology that precipitates a new round of dire predictions, the issues read almost identically.
Seven hundred years ago, it was the Pope who was saying rosaries for sacred music, certain that the sensuous melodies of the popular ars nova would spell its demise. Or how about in 1681 when opera’s diminishing profits were “endangering the continuation of this noble entertainment”? Or in 1923, when The New York Times pointed out how “the mounting costs of orchestral performances are becoming a matter of concern”? In 1950, the Times took note of how “the economic crisis confronting the American symphony orchestra is becoming increasingly acute.” Still, 20 years later, American composer Abram Chasins wrote in his book, Music at the Crossroads of “a steady crescendo of distress.” But in the words of music critic Alex Ross, “If this be death, the record is skipping.”
An explanation offered by Juilliard professor Greg Sandow, was salient: “Classical music is changing. New things are happening, vital new things, which can — and very likely will — transform the field.” He thinks the art form is reviving, transforming, even. “When we talk about the problems that the field is having — and what dark places they might take us if things don’t change — we ought to use more measured language,” he wrote. “That’s why I don’t talk of life or death. Instead I try to say, more carefully, that classical music, in its present form, as an enterprise in our society, might not be sustainable.”
Classical performances are casting off the lofty concert halls, formal trappings, and soaring ticket prices for which they are known. Although nontraditional performance spaces are nothing new, they are increasing in popularity with performers and younger audience members. The nonprofit group Classical Revolution, dedicated to putting classical music into nontraditional settings, has facilitated the creation of over 30 chapters across the United States. Galapagos, a club space in Brooklyn, features a symphony orchestra or chamber musicians about once a month. The Revolution Café packs its bar on Monday nights with chamber music afficionados. Barbès and Freddy’s Pub in Park Slope offer “Opera on Tap” once a month.
In Greenwich Village, Le Poisson Rouge’s motto is “serving art and alcohol.” The basement club feels more like a cabaret with leather couches, candlelight and a stage awash in red light. The ticket prices are low–around $10 most nights–and the programs are adventurous. On the every couple of week occasions when the club schedules a classical performance, it’s typical for a rock band or DJ to follow it.
The club attracts not only up and coming classical artists (it was listed as one of the Best NYC venues to Discover New Musicians by the high society website Guest of a Guest) but it also attracts performers seen onstage at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall. Last month, Anna Netrebko gave a concert. Yo-Yo Ma, the Kronos String Quartet, and Nico Muhly also have appeared.
Last year, the Metropolitan Opera, not usually an institution given to collaborating with small venues, sought to gain some visibility in the hipper, younger and more contemporary music scene. It headed downtown to Le Poisson Rouge to present concert-style performances of “The Tempest” by Thomas Adès and Nico Muhly’s “Two Boys.” Each composer attended and Adès even accompanied on the piano.“It seemed like a good idea, as a way of educating the audience and reaching out to a new audience, to have performances down there,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, told the New York Times.
However the Met has not been afraid to embrace media and new technology. The Met’s extremely successful “Live in HD” broadcasts to movie theatres across the country have led a revolution in opera. Performances that could have reached a maximum of 68,000 people in a sold out run now are estimated to reach upward of 250,000 all around the world. On the opening night of the season, the plaza at Lincoln Center is packed with bodies as the performance is livestreamed in front of the opera house for all. The Met has stepped into the age of HD with incredible success rebrandingthe art form and bringing opera into the public’s eye and ear yet again in the theatre on top of live tours, radio transmissions, and television specials with the likes of Renée Fleming playing emcee to a backstage intermission tour.
Although the Metropolitan Opera is raising more money from donors and earning more from its “Live in HD” movie theater presentations, it is making less at the box office. The Met brought in only 69 percent of its total potential box office revenue last season, making the 2012-2013 season the lowest numbers in recent years.
Some of the falloff in attendance last year can be attributed to higher ticket prices (since lowered from $174 to $156), and Hurricane Sandy, a time of cancellations and low attendance for the institution as the region recovered.
However the shrinking box office receipts were offset by increased donations and HD revenues, which are still growing. Revenues from its HD presentations of operas in movie theaters worldwide rose to $34.5 million from $22 million. The Met may become more and more reliant on their HD livestream revenues to make up for shortfalls in traditional ticket sales.
Gotham Chamber Opera–“New York’s leading alternative to the Met,” in the New Yorker’s phrase–has staged performances over its 10-year history in off-beat locations from “a dinky Chrystie Street performing space” to the Rose Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History.
The managers, Justin Kantor and David Handler, have described the importance of the performance space in attempts to appeal to large, young new audiences. By presenting the music in an inviting and informal space, they believe open-minded young people will show up whether the music is Bach or Messiaen or Ligeti. Sandow recollected a night at Le Poisson Rouge during a performance of Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.” The program was part of a series that placed classical and indie pop acts on the same program. The audience that night neared 200, but most had never heard Messiaen before. The pop act was the much bigger draw. “For five minutes or so, while the Messiaen started, I heard some rustling, and some whispered conversation,” Sandow recalled.
“Then silence,” he went on. “Silence for 35 more minutes, while the piece hung in its special kind of space. And then cheering — applause, whoops. The people loved it. The piece just conquered them. So how wonderful is that? This proves, if you ask me, that nobody needs special preparation to like classical music. You just have to encounter it in the right place, at the right time, and in the right way.”
On a sold out February evening at the club, the soprano Sarah Joy Miller, who is in her mid-30s, performed selections from Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Massenet and her new album, A Glorious Dream. Her previous New York performance was in the demanding title role of Anna Nicole for the New York City Opera’s last failed effort to stay afloat, may it rest in peace.
On that cold February night at the club, the hum of typical bar chatter mixed with the dissonant twangs of a 35-piece orchestra warming up. Nearly 200 people filled every seat and all the standing room space, too. The waiters didn’t hesitate to tell arriving patrons that they were free to move around if they get bored and “the bar is right over there.” The soprano looked stunning in a floor-length black gown, her long blonde hair falling down her back in waves, and as soon as she stepped on stage, the audience was in rapture. After her first flirtatious aria (effortlessly throwing around high Cs and Ds), Elliott Forrest, a host at WQXR, took the stage gesturing at the orchestra. “I was going to say give it up for this incredible band, but I’m not sure if we’re allowed to give it up for them. Can I even call them a band?” The audience laughed and Steven Mercurio, maestro for the evening, assured him it was all right.
Miller invited a pair of well-known male vocalists to join her on stage, the baritone Edward Parks and her husband, the tenor David Miller, who is best known as a member of the incredibly popular opera pop quartet Il Divo. Parks performed a lively rendition of the most famous aria from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, “Largo al factotum.” As the orchestra struck the first familiar chords, the already high energy level rose again. Parks sang while strolling through the audience, popping up unexpectedly and even pretending to shave an audience member’s full beard. His antics left the audience howling. Rossini’s opera buffa can still bring down the house after nearly 200 years. To end the program, the Millers sang the last tender minutes of Act One from La Bohème, a choice made all the more sentimental as the couple first met playing the roles of Mimi and Rodolfo in Boheme’s 2003 Broadway run. The night with tumultuous applause, standing ovations and three encores.
When edgy experimental bars and clubs are not accessible, the Internet substitutes handily as classical performers have moved increasingly into this more conceptual performance space. The piano duo known as Anderson and Roe have used the newer medium to great advantage. Their most recent YouTube video fades in on an empty concert hall. Greg Anderson, in a black tuxedo and Elisabeth Joy Roe, in a sapphire gown, begin pounding out the jarring angular chords of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on a shared piano. Theirs was one of many performances of the work staged to celebrated its centennial year in 2013. But what sets Anderson and Roe’s interpretation apart is what happens next, when they take us beyond the stage. The final chords sound on a deserted beach, the piano set ablaze. Next comes a blur of scenes, delineating the ten musical ideas of the piece: glow paint dripping over the piano keys, performers, either in outlandish costumes or tasteful nudity, live millipedes, waves of the Pacific crashing over the artists and their piano. The real stage for Anderson and Roe is not the concert hall. It’s online. Their audience, more than 62,000 YouTube views is 20 times that of a sold-out night at Carnegie Hall.
“Believe it or not, ‘classical’ music—with its drama and substance, color and resonance—provides tremendous fodder for cinematic interpretation,” Roe wrote in Gramophone. “If the songs of Lady Gaga can engender music videos filled with outrageously creative tableaux, just imagine what the variegated music of the classical idiom could inspire.” The duo’s YouTube page has over seven million views of their “music films” ranging from covers of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Cold Play’s “Viva la Vida” to their Emmy-nominated Schubert Lied-turned-horror-film Der Erlkönig in which a monstrous instrument devours them both.
The pianists have managed to exploit YouTube in the way of pop sensations such as Justin Bieber, Psy, and Carly Rae Jepson. Less than a year ago, the Billboard top music chart began taking YouTube views into account and in early November of 2013, YouTube had its first annual music awards.
“We want to share the music we love with new audiences, audiences who otherwise might not listen to Brahms or Boulez.” Anderson and Roe wrote. “ With pop-up ads, an onslaught of user comments, and unpredictable audio quality, not to mention the quotidian commotion of modern life, classical music served online takes a special approach. Just as we cater our live performances to each particular venue, we design our music videos to thrive on the YouTube platform within its bustling graphic environment, so that the music leaps to new and energizing visual life.”
While the production values of many classical performances uploaded on YouTube involve little more than a camcorder or iPhone at the back of a concert hall, Anderson and Roe’s classical music films more closely resemble rock videos on MTV or VH1.
When the pair met as students at Juilliard, they made a commitment to shrug off the formality and conventions of classical music in their performances. The duo believes that the music is and will always be relevant. The challenge is to make the audience realize its significance and if that means giving a performance kneedeep in the frigid waters of the Pacific in the pitch dark without their clothes on, then so be it.
Their most recent album, ‘When Worlds Fade,” topped the Billboard Classical Charts, an achievement the duo attribute to their loyal fans. Anderson and Roe make a point of interacting with their fan base on their website and on their buzzing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.
Does all that social media activity pay? Thousands of artists are making upwards of $100,000 a year through YouTube’s revenue-sharing program. Once an artist begins uploading videos regularly and generating significant site traffic, they can begin to earn 55 percent of the revenue from advertisements that accompany their videos. These profits and star-generating ability are made real in every music genre.
Valentina Lisitsa is a pianist originally from the Ukraine who now lives in rural North Carolina. She began playing piano at the age of three and went on to study at the Kiev Conservatory. In the late 1990s, her career stalled on the piano competition circuit and her engagement schedule dried up. Struggling with serious doubts about her future in music, she eventually settled in the United States. In desperation, she decided to record Chopin’s “24 Etudes” on DVD and sell copies on Amazon. But nothing sold until she decided to upload all her recorded work to YouTube along with several other videos and make it available gratis.
A three-minute clip of Rachmaninoff’s “Etude Op. 39 No. 6” was all it took for Lisitsa’s YouTube channel to go viral in 2007. Her 60 million video views and 100,000 subscribers have led to a record deal, a world tour, and sold out performances live streamed on YouTube for fans who couldn’t purchase a ticket quickly enough. Lisitsa’s 2012 London debut at Albert Hall, which was also live-streamed reached viewing numbers to rival the levels of a rock or pop concert.
Yet not everyone agrees with what Lisitsa calls “the power of YouTube.” The Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman caused a stir in June when he stopped mid-performance in Essen, Germany when an audience member distracted him by recording on his cellphone. He stormed off stage and when he returned, he announced to the audience, “The destruction of music because of YouTube is enormous.” Furiously, he complained that he had been denied recording contracts because audience members and their trusty smartphones had created illegal recordings of his music that already had appeared online.
Many established musicians, including Zimmerman, are afraid Internet piracy and downloads have the potential to destroy their recording careers, but Lisitsa is rejecting this fear. She is embracing the strategy of flooding the web with free content and trusting the fans to follow, and follow they have. Many classical musicians have an online presence, but Lisitsa is one of the first to succeed at using YouTube to resuscitate her career.
In a recent live webcast of a practice session at home, Lisitsa’s long blonde hair whipped about, her eyes never straying from the page. In her hundreds of earlier videos–she posts constantly–she presents in a casual, informal way. One well-trafficked one is titled “I Hate Rachmaninoff.” In it, she talks about the music and her experiences with it but doesn’t play. Some videos provide access to her formal recitals. As she sight reads in a practice session, in bare feet, dressed simply in a long-sleeved shirt and black skirt, there are no gimmicks or scenery. These videos attract fewer viewers than the highly produced ones, but they get their share of users; her least popular videos indicate thousands of views. The music is enough, just as it has been for centuries. Sixty million YouTube viewers agree.
It’s an unfortunately familiar trend that when state governments and school districts have budget shortfalls, they often eliminate arts programs first. While New York City’s education standards require all students to receive arts training through at least through the eighth grade, an April 2014 report found that 20 percent of schools have neither a full nor part-time arts teacher.. Even if the teachers were on staff, 10 percent of schools lack the facilities to teach these subjects. The growing body of evidence shows a powerful link between arts education, student achievement, and teacher performance; but this has not taken arts programs out of budgetary danger. Even the number of instances where expanded arts programs have been extremely successful has not changed the mindset.
A case in point is The Governor’s School for the Arts, a public arts school based in Norfolk, Virginia. It offers intensive instruction in dance, instrumental and vocal music, musical theatre, drama, and the visual arts. In 2012, the school saw its budget from the state cut by more than $25,000. Instead of cutting back, the school took charge of its own fundraising and managed to raise $2.5 million to consolidate its six locations into one facility in the city’s historic Monroe Building. It offers students 43,000 square feet of art and dance studios, practice rooms, classrooms, and a black box theatre. The fundraising plan involved strategic cost-cutting but also naming opportunities, expanded to include everything from big ticket items like the theater down to the water fountains and urinals.
“The school needed funds and was willing to think big to cut costs,” explained Jeff Phelps, the chair of the program’s instrumental music department. He also conducts the school’s 80-piece symphony orchestra. In spite of budget cuts, the school found it could save thousands of dollars alone annually in rent by moving to a central location. It just had to raise the money to move in. Offering naming opportunities proved one of the most lucrative fundraising triumphs. Phelps explained it’s much harder for any institution to receive donations “in the name of just staying afloat” and attributed the campaign’s success to allowing donors to “feel like they’re doing something practical and really a part of building the school.”
A 2011 National Endowment for the Arts research report found that arts education is the single most important known factor in influencing arts participation trends. Phelps said the focus of arts education is usually the contribution it makes to the future of performers, but rarely is there focus on its importance to developing passionate future audiences, educating an emerging public to “love and appreciate it for the rest of their lives.” Phelps said GSA instrumental performance students regularly attend Virginia Symphony concerts, operas, and arts festivals. “They’ll even road trip to Philadelphia or New York if there’s a spectacular program. These students are the enthusiastic young audiences everyone’s been looking for.”
As an arts school, Phelps is the first to admit that GSA is one of the few success stories and the statistics for young performers wanting careers on stage can be bleak. Yet despite this, he said that about 60 percent of students in his department go on to careers in music.
Part of the school’s mission statement is to prepare students for the “real-life workings of professional backstage, on-stage, and gallery life.” The teachers do not sugarcoat the struggles ahead. Phelps explained the school works hard through master classes and other means to make sure students learn how to be competitive in the new music market. Successful artists coach and mentor the students not only in musicality but also in business and entrepreneurial practices. “It’s not a field for the apathetic,” Phelps said. “Over the years, the passion of the students hasn’t changed. The love for performing and the music is unchanged. We’re going to equip them to the best of our ability to defy those statistics.”
During a GSA masterclass class in March, Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull stood on a bare stage, flutes in hand, with only a sleek silver laptop perched on a black stool beside them. These two young Brooklyn-based flautists are the aptly named Flutronix who perform a unique blend of classical music, hip-hop, electronic programming and soulful vocals.
Crossover artists are starting to get a better rap in the classical world than they have had traditionally. Overproduction, glossy marketing and inauthentic interpretations of the original works have caused traditionalists to sneer. The hybrid genre is often mocked and more equated with Christmas albums than with innovation in musical sound. But recordings such as Christopher O’Riley’s solo piano versions of Radiohead songs in 2011 and Yo-Yo Ma’s 2013 Grammy-winning Goat Rodeo bluegrass collaboration have garnered positive attention and, more importantly, sales. The classical crossover contingent of Universal Classics and Jazz accounts for 75 percent of its annual business and Il Divo, the pop opera quartet, has sold more than 26 million recordings.
At the tap of a button, the speakers on the stage with Flutronix start to boom and shake a strong bass beat. Treble lines soar and twitter, but also grumble and percuss in what Joachim calls “a play on the No. 1 flute cliché”: Birds. “We wanted to do something a little different, which is sort of our way,” she said. “We were like, ‘What if we wrote our own kind of nutso bird piece that was kind of rocking that also paid homage to Steve Reich and the incredible rhythms that come out of his music?’ And so we wrote this piece and it’s called ‘Flock.’”
“Flock” is only one of the tracks on Flutronix 2.0, released this past April. The duo’s second album also includes collaboration with electronic musician Dan Deacon, an original track produced by hip-hop producer Ski Beatz, and album appearances by the Melodia Women’s Choir and drummer Joe Blaxx.
Soundcloud Tracks from Flutronix and Flutronix 2.0
Joachim and Loggins-Hull spent the last year touring, composing, producing, and publishing their own music, consulting for other artists, curating a popular concert series, and teaching along the way. The two also performed in a 2014 ESPN Super Bowl commercial and were featured on MTV’s Iggy blog, which is dedicated to finding “young musicians creating the sounds of the future.” Flutronix has found success blending classical and urban to create a new sound for flute that has cultivated a dedicated following. As a result, Flutronix was able to use Kickstarter to raise the money needed to produce both of the group’s self-titled albums. By early December 2012, Flutronix’s campaign had gathered more than its $20,000 goal.
Joachim said Flutronix audiences are not typical. They range “from flutists who are interested in classical music to, recently, we’ve gotten tons of interest from beat makers.” She and Loggins-Hull write and produce all of the electronic beats Flutronix plays but often “throw in some covers into our live show,” either of a classical song or a top radio hit. “That lends itself really well to a young audience or to people that might not be familiar with this style of music.”
Joachim and Loggins-Hull have both played the flute since their respective childhoods in West Orange, New Jersey and Poughkeepsie, New York. Loggins-Hull cultivate her wide-ranging love of music from her family’s diverse record collection but Joachim came to love eclecticism on her own. “I, oddly enough, grew up being a huge fan of electronic music, lots of drum and bass music,” she said. “I was kind of a strange child that was sitting in my bedroom at 10 years old, listening to drum and bass and also playing my flute.”
Joachim earned her performance degree at Juilliard and Loggins-Hull at SUNY Purchase, but both took their studies further. Joachim learned audio production and sound design at the New School and Loggins-Hull took composition classes at NYU. After graduation, both independently moved to Crown Heights. From there, Loggins Hull said, “It got to the point where I just really wanted to start making my own music and experiment with other genres outside the classical repertoire even though I love that as well, figuring out how to do them all.”
“The music world is small and the flute world is smaller,” she said. “It was unusual for the two of us not to have met each other earlier on in our lives.” Both women credited MySpace for bringing them together originally. Joachim heard Loggins-Hall’s music online and was ecstatic to find another flautist working with electronics. She sent her a message and the two met the same day. “That day,” said Joachim “we pretty much decided, well, I guess let’s just meet again tomorrow and keep on doing this from now on together. And it was that simple for us to decide to do but then it was a challenge to figure out how to do it.”
“As an artist you don’t really think of yourself as a business at first,” said Joachim. “. . . You can’t just say I like making music so I’m going to play 25 notes and you’re going to give me 25 dollars.” Loggins-Hull added, “It was tricky for us at first because in conservatory, they don’t teach you to be a business person.”
Eddy Malave is a Juilliard-educated violist and successful freelance musician who faced down similar struggles. When he first graduated in the mid ‘90s, finding a job wasn’t all that difficult. “You would go on to fill a vacancy in a quartet or an orchestra right out of school,” he said. Conservatory training didn’t include business classes because students didn’t need it.
“You have to create your own job now,” he said. “An entrepreneurial spirit has become essential for currently working, but especially [for] up and coming musicians. It’s one thing to learn the technique and musicality, ensemble playing, all of that, but suddenly you also needed to learn to present it in a way that will allow you to pay your rent too.”
Flutronix entered the scene like many musicians, with no formal business training, but the duo’s next move proved to be incredibly business savvy. They spent ten months solidifying not only a signature sound, but a marketing plan to promote it. For their first press photos, the two women donned sleek black dresses and headphones and held their flutes held next to a guitar amp. They’re pictured looking stoically into the distance. Before audiences heard a note, Joachim said, “We wanted people to know that it was going to be something modern and fresh-looking and a little bit edgy and all of that we wanted people to get from just seeing the name Flutronix, seeing our photo, and getting a little bit of a touch of what the experience might be.”
These marketing choices helped most recently in the ESPN commercial booking. Joachim recalls the casting agents “pulled up our website and the first picture they saw, they were like, ‘How do we get them? We want them to be hired immediately.’”
“They saw the flutes, they saw that the pictures were a little bit funky, they saw that we weren’t your average flute group and that we were a little something different and because that’s what they were looking for, that’s why we got hired. They then went on to listen to the music and thought the music was great too.”
When Flutronix took the stage at the Attucks Threatre along with a drummer this March, the vibe was relaxed. Throughout the performance, the flautists laugh and joke with each other and the audience, seeking to expand the concert into a broader participatory musical experience. “How can I bring something to the table, offer something different that all these other people aren’t doing?” Loggins-Hull explained of the women’s approach. “We just put our personalities out there and people responded really well.” When fans come to Flutronix shows, they know what to expect, Loggins-Hull said. “They might get put on the spot, we might be talking with them, they’re going to see a bit of our interaction and it’s part of the whole experience of our performance.”
Not only is their fan base diverse but so are the venues where the play, from clubs full of college kids to flute fairs for fellow musicians, who are the core of their base, to older, more dignified audiences at recital halls or even the Brooklyn Museum. “Part of staying current means revitalizing the flute for even younger players,” Joachim said. The women lead workshops for students around New York, and increasingly around the country. They recently completed a residency at the University of Michigan and headlined at the Virginia Arts Festival.
“We want all students, from kindergarten to the university to know that the flute is possible as a career,” said Loggins-Hall. “If you’re willing to open your point of view to what kind of music you are playing, the possibilities are endless.” The issues facing classical musicians are not new to the duo, but both share an optimism about the future and the future of their many mentees. Loggins-Hall continued, “Becoming a musician is risky. Becoming an artist is risky. But becoming any kind of businessperson is risky. Doing what you love is risky whatever it is you want to do.” Her advice to young musicians, “It sounds a little cliché, but staying true to whatever it is is your driving force, I think you can’t really go wrong and that’s what we did and continue to do.”
Not only the success of individuals, but the success of modern classical music may reside with this spirit and passion, consistent through the genre’s history and deeply rooted in the classical traditions of the past. In a recent doctoral forum lecture at Juilliard, Sandow reminded students that classical performances did not used to be so strict and structured. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, applause between movements and even in the middle of pieces was the sign of a knowledgeable, appreciative, and engaged audience. The biographies of major composers are full of happy reports of what would now be seen as wildly inappropriate interruptions.
“The limited role of musicians, who simply just play what’s on the page and the limited role of the audience who sit there and absorb it sort of dampens the creativity of the field and it didn’t used to look like that,” said Sandow. The whooping, hollering, and tipsy crowds gathered at Le Poisson Rouge, the interaction between the performers and the audience while Flutronix play at Pianos, and groups at “Met in HD” movie theatres across the country might have delighted Herr Mozart more than the current audiences at Carnegie Hall.
In a letter to his father in 1778 Mozart wrote, “Right in the middle of the First Allegro came a Passage I knew would please, and the entire audience was sent into raptures — there was a big applause […] I was so delighted.”
Twenty-first century innovations, massive HD screens, YouTube, and livestreaming add elements that many composers of his time could only dream of, and yet there is a lesson to be learned in how the masters experienced their music, passionately, enthusiastically, collaboratively.
Speaking to prospective musicians, composers, and scholars, Sandow concluded, “My radical idea is that our past tradition, so different from what we see in the present, could reinvigorate our present practice and that that is one of the ways that classical music will generate a new future, not simply to survive but to be reborn with renewed artistic energy.”