Sandow and His "Inconvenient Truths"

Greg Sandow’s been at the ASOL conference and blogging like crazy on a separate blog set up for it. Now he’s back, blogging about his blogging, and the frustrations of being a privately thanked “provacateur” yet feeling more lke a voice crying out in the wilderness.

Of course, maybe I’m just too extreme. Maybe I’m out beyond left field, raving about global warming, when all we’re seeing is a hot day.

Or maybe he is, as I describe him, the Al Gore of classical music: a prophet pointing out irrefutable signs of a crisis, “inconvenient truths” those in the establishment want to rationalize away.

Of course, it’s the present structure of the commercial (if officially nonprofit) classical music establishment that is melting like the polar ice caps. There are many young people who love playing classical music. I’m actually all for a world with more well-trained musicians who are happy to be amateurs and dual-career professionals.

One of Greg’s main points, that the mainstream institutions need to learn to understand the young potential audience if they are gong to bring them in, seems to go constantly unheeded. But some of the mainstream institutions are going to be like the mainstream churches who, rather than make substantial change, have adjusted to a life of downsizing.

Much of what so many people dislike about traditional classical concerts (be quiet, don’t move freely, don’t respond, restrain yourself) is exactly what bores people to tears at religious services. Spiritually, I have a Sufi-like approach which is deeply interfaith. I feel comfortable just about anywhere there is real spiritual energy. And I hardly ever go to church. And it strikes me that the decline in attendance at mainline churches and mainline classical music institutions seem to have paralleled each other.

I’m not attracted to simplistic, pop-music, evangelical megachurches, either, where there often seems to be a shallow, if powerful emotionalism, combined with simplistic and often non-inclusive theology.

Some mainline churches have “traditional” and “contemporary” services, which seem to work for them. Pops concerts seem still to be aimed at an older, more entertainment-minded, audience. Do the old institutions really need to make dramatic changes in their manner of programming to survive? Can they do so and not lose their identities? Does the end of a bigger audience justify the means of compromising the traditional format?

And would the world be a better or worse place with a smaller professional music establishment and more “regular people” playing classical music at home and in small, intimate concerts? If a some symphony orchestras have to downsize or fold, is that the end of the world? For those who work there, of course, but for society as a whole? The symphony orchestra is a nineteenth-century invention, as are the concert halls in which they play. How long can a mammothly-expensive institution born in one culture survive into a hugely different subsequent culture?



Filed under crisis in classical music, Sandow

7 responses to “Sandow and His "Inconvenient Truths"

  1. Mike Lunapiena


    What an interesting post and idea … I never thought about the the parallel there…

    Personally, that shallow emotional, but powerful setting scares me (which is why I fear & revere gospel music, so powerful, even if I disagree with its message wholeheartedly)… I’m always amazed at how powerful

    Maybe Orchestras/Concert Promoters could introduce a 3rd type of concert – the electric concert where they play a combo of classical hits & non-classical tunes … I think it has potential, with the younger audiences, what about you?

    Are you familiar with a guitarist named Yngwie Malmsteen?

  2. Eric Edberg

    Thanks, Mike. I think your idea is similar to one Greg was talking about, where there was punk rock on pops concert. But I think part of the issue is the setting. Concert halls are designed to get people still and silent and in their place, separate from the performers, and to emphasize the imaginary wall between the performers and audience. Really different performance venues are what it will take, I predict.

    And, no, I’m not (yet) familiar with Yngwie Malmsteen.


  3. Mike Lunapiena

    Ok, will Yngwie is a more or less heavy/speed metal guitarist… the reason I mention him though is because a lot of his material is arrangements or covers of classical stuff (like bach’s tocatta & fugue or some of the paganini caprices)…

    um, I guess you’ve got a point about venues, but I’ve seen Dream Theater (my favorite band) twice at what were essentially big concert halls w/ only seating (no standing area)… the imaginary wall as you put it wasn’t really there, so I feel like maybe the venue isn’t as big of an issue as it seems…

    Actually, one of the things I love about their concerts is the incorporation of video (they have giant screens on both sides above the stage, which often zoom into players when they solo, or else show a relevant or funny clip of animation…)

    I dunno, lots to think about as usual… I’m going to have a few gigs soon on cello (I think), so I’ll be giving some thought to things from the performer-side .. I realize that’s not quite the same as the symphony orchestra, but maybe solo artists will be more integral in making some changes happen… dunno

    I’m curious to see what your other readers chime in with..

  4. Eric Edberg

    The video thing is something that can be incorporated easily. I saw it done with the American Composer’s Orchestra in NY–they had videos of the composers talking about their works. I’ve been thinkng that instead of talking from the stage, it could be cool to have videos between pieces on a recital.

    And I’ll check out Yngwie.

  5. Mike Lunapiena

    I think the videos in between pieces is a really cool idea!

  6. Scott Spiegelberg

    What bothers me about Greg’s ideas are that he is advocating an artificial solution for orchestras. As you say, the identity of the orchestras would be changed beyond recognition if some of his ideas were implemented. And what is the point of saving major orchestras if their concerts are no longer orchestra concerts? I think change is needed, but it has to be organic, slow and driven from within. I see the smaller new music groups like Alarm Will Sound and Bang on a Can All-Stars paving the way to a new concert experience that will slowly morph the more traditional orchestras and opera companies, especially as the conservatories change. I’m not positive whether the conservatories will lead the pro groups or if the pro groups will influence the conservatories.

  7. Ironically, I brought up some of that very issue in a thread you responded to in cello chat about “What to play for college auditions” ( my post is here: ).

    Things are going to change whether we like it or not–but how much we are active is shaping how things change I think is the important issue.

    I’ve really liked what José Valencia has done with Orkestra Projekt in Indianapolis. And it seems like alot of the smaller classical ensembles are taking a different approach to concertizing — even Matt Haimovitz’s direction (by playing concert music in bars and clubs) is an indication that he recognizes the crisis ( the Joshua Bell subway experiment also comes to mind ) in presenting music to an audience.

    I don’t know where this will all lead, but it is certainly making for very interesting concert experiences outside of the mainstream Classical (and even Pop/Rock) shows.

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