Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rusted-shut repertoire?

If there's any consistency to all the things I do in classical music, it's this: to make people aware that there's much more to the art form than just the basic repertoire. My radio program "Gamut" is a weekly survey of that world; the Consonant Classical Challenge offers up living composers that (I think) should enjoy a wider audience; even the CE Classical Challenge, which looked at the repertoire choices of public radio station was primarily concerned about expanding the choices for listeners.

Anne Midgette, in a Washington Post article, shows just how difficult that task may be. Little-known composers get their due in the studio if not the concert hall sums it all up in the headline. Midgette writes:
Although more music is available on recordings, it sometimes seems that less of it is heard in live performance. This is certainly true in the orchestra world, which continues to rely heavily on Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, make occasional forays into contemporary music, and have little room for forgotten composers. 
As Midgette points out, orchestras are scared of losing the audiences they have (that would be the ones that continue to shrink) and so stick to the tried-and-true. She also brings up another issue:
Performers of little-known repertory have to fight the tacit assumption that the work must not have been very good if it was neglected in the first place... [James Conlon] calls it “a misuse of Darwinism” to assume that the works that have survived are automatically better than the ones that haven’t.
But as James Conlon points out -- and it's something I continually try to communicate to anyone who'll listen:
...a more varied musical diet is simply more enriching. “I can hear Mozart over and over, conduct it over and over,” Conlon says; “I never get tired of him. Still, people need to hear new things. . . . There’s always more out there. The act of listening to something you don’t know is very different.” 
Midgette articulates some key problems facing the music world today, and I strongly recommend reading her entire article. It's a look at how recorded repertoire has far outstripped that of the concert hall. The centerpiece of the article are some new recordings of  Hans Gal -- a composer I have never heard of before. I'll be checking out those recordings. I'm always excited to find new music to explore.

How about you?

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