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Pretending to like new music

July 9, 2008
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Noted curmudgeon—and very smart and funny writer—Joe Queenan recently threw down the gauntlet at contemporary classical music and those who, in his view, claim to like it.

Some notable quotes from his article “Admit It, You’re as Bored as I am”:

“In New York, Philadelphia and Boston, concert-goers have learned to stay awake and applaud politely at compositions by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun. But they do this only because these works tend to be short and not terribly atonal; because they know this is the last time in their lives they'll have to listen to them; and because the orchestra has signed a contract in blood guaranteeing that if everyone holds their nose and eats their vegetables, they'll be rewarded with a great dollop of Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn.”

“…nothing thrills a classical music crowd more than a new piece of music that doesn't make them physically ill.”

“Why has the public accepted abstract art but not abstract music? (Discordant visual art does not cause visceral pain, discordant music does.) Why does the public accept atonal music in films, but not in the concert hall? (“Jaws” wouldn't work if the shark's attacks were synchronized with “Carmen.” We expect sound effects in the movies, but we're not going to pay to hear them in the concert hall.)”

See the full piece here.

So are audiences only pretending to appreciate new music?

Is there any serious orchestral music of the last thirty years likely to still be played and listened to by willing audiences fifty years from now?

Should orchestras stick to old school, crowd-pleasers?

How do you react when you see an unknown, contemporary piece on the ISO's lineup?

Your thoughts?
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