Classical music vs. contemporary music

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Lance
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Classical music vs. contemporary music

Post by Lance » Fri Apr 08, 2016 11:24 pm

It has been noted the changes in almost every aspect of the classical music market. But I am wondering how contemporary music concerts are doing today. Are they packing in audiences. Five years ago, contemporary concerts by present-day composers (or those from the last 20 years or so) things were looking bleak. Has that changed in any way for the better? Are younger people leaning to music from their own time?
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John F
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Re: Classical music vs. contemporary music

Post by John F » Sat Apr 09, 2016 12:14 am

I don't believe there are any statistics about this, just impressions and opinions. And getting statistics would be very difficult. Much new music is performed by specialized ensembles - New York City is full of them, even the Juilliard School has a new music ensemble - who generally play in small venues. The big institutions, like the New York Philharmonic and the Met, also perform some new works, the Met about one per season, in enormous venues; what the head counts are at these performances, both the numbers and as a percentage of available seats, doesn't turn up in the newspapers. And beyond the headcount, details like the age of the audience are even harder if not impossible to find out. For example, I understand that a significant proportion of the younger people at New York Philharmonic performances are music students, who can get discounted tickets and are hardly representative of the interests and tastes of their own generation.

Going at it in the other direction, new music is very different today from what it was a generation ago. A lot of it is less forbidding (OK, less challenging) to ordinary listeners - I'm speaking of the minimalists and the neoromantics. The twelve-tone acolytes have almost all died out, barring a few holdouts like Charles Wuorinen, and I don't hear much about the appeal of atonality or serialism to younger composers. Even some composers who started out as very tough modernists "softened" in their advancing years. So new music should be less repulsive in its own right to nonspecialist audiences than in a long time. How many listeners are actually responding to this, I don't know.
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Re: Classical music vs. contemporary music

Post by some guy » Sun Apr 24, 2016 4:19 pm

I have been attending new music concerts since the 1980s, when I could, and more aggressively since 2005, because I could, and I have seen nothing like what John is talking about. Those generalizations may indeed be applicable to symphony concerts or traditional opera venues like the Met, but nothing like what I have been seeing and hearing since the late 70s, come to think of it. And the ages of the audiences?

All.

There are always some teenagers; there are always people in their twenties, thirties, forties, and all the way up. After all, some of the members of any of various twentieth century avant gardes are in their eighties and nineties. Stand to reason that some of the audience for those people would also be the same age. I have never seen anything else in these concerts than a spread of ages from quite young to quite old. The "blue hairs" who attend new music concerts are there for the same reasons as the teenagers, to hear new music. I started, myself, in my twenties. I'm in my sixties now, but little else has changed. Sure, the music is different--the actual sounds that one will hear are not what one would have heard in 1979 or 80--unless a work from then is programmed--but the idea of "new music" is pretty much the same.

In the concerts I have attended (over three hundred of them in 2009--the best year for me), there is very little if any serial music. In the concerts that I have attended, there is a lot of electronics, a lot of improv, a lot of what used to be called "extended technique" but is now simply "playing the instrument." There is a lot of dance and film. There is a lot of theatre. In a show I saw just this past Thursday, there was a piece in which a woman air conducted for several minutes in silence, then there were some minimal bleeps and bloops, then it was back to silence again. That's an example of concept music as well, the idea being that you react one way to the air conducting, another to the conducting when there are sounds accompanying it, and yet a third way when the conducting goes back to being done in silence.

The minimalism tends to be just that, minimal. Not necessarily repetitious but simply pared down to essentials. Sometimes very quiet; sometimes very loud; sometimes diatonic, sometimes pink noise, or white. The repetitious kind, the kind that gets all the press, does not figure much in these concerts. And the repetitious minimalism that does figure is not at all any "softer" than anything else.

People I know, people who take part in these festivals and concerts, are doing what they've always done. The pieces are still edgy, with the edge constantly being moved, as is normal. All of this could be seen as being just as repulsive as ever, I suppose. Except of course, all of this could be seen as never having been repulsive at all except to maybe people who want their music to sound conservative, even when it's from composers who are alive.

But new music concerts and festivals are not attended by those people, so there's never any question of repulsion. The people who attend those do so in order to hear new and interesting things. Of course we're not repulsed. We're delighted, not because we're getting what we want in terms of what the actual sounds are, but because what we want is things that are new, that are different from each other, that are surprising and challenging. In that sense, yeah, we're getting what we want.

People in the audiences in the traditional venues manage to find plenty to complain about (Britten or Janacek, anyone?) though none of it is anything like what gets played at new music concerts and festivals. The people who complain about Britten or about Janacek would never hear K.K. Null at a symphony concert because K.K. Null does not do symphonic music. And the only symphony audiences who would hear Simon Steen-Andersen or Lidia Zielinska or Helmut Lachenmann are audiences in Europe, who are much more accustomed to hearing new music at symphony concerts, and who consequently complain a lot less.

There may be some prominent names of the more well-known "new" music composers who symphony audiences know of who have "softened" over the years, though I have no idea what the unstated opposite--hardening--could possibly have entailed.... The people who do new music concerts, the ones I know, anyway, haven't done any such thing. They just do their job like they've always done, whether they're 18 or 80. No hardening, so softening, no forbiddingness, no less forbidding than before. Just doing music.
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karlhenning
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Re: Classical music vs. contemporary music

Post by karlhenning » Mon Apr 25, 2016 7:19 am

Lance wrote:It has been noted the changes in almost every aspect of the classical music market. But I am wondering how contemporary music concerts are doing today. Are they packing in audiences.
Is that the benchmark? ; )

Reportedly, the recent New York performances of Louis Andriessen's De Materie were packed.

But even shy of “packing in audiences,” I’ve never performed to an empty house. There is always an audience for new music.

(There was even an audience at Symphony Hall when Levine conducting Wuorinen. Just saying.)

Cheers,
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Re: Classical music vs. contemporary music

Post by IcedNote » Tue Apr 26, 2016 11:17 am

To get the answer I think you're going for, we won't have any way of really knowing until orchestras start routinely programming concerts of only contemporary music. We all know that most concerts go "short contemporary piece, old concerto, intermission, old symphony." This is due, of course, to orchestras believing -- rightly or wrongly -- that they need the Old Masterwork to draw in audiences.

But then you have groups like BMOP, SFCMP, eighth blackbird, etc. that perform in front of large audiences all the time. Granted, they're usually selling out recital halls instead of symphony halls, but I'd still call this a success.

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Re: Classical music vs. contemporary music

Post by SONNET CLV » Thu Apr 28, 2016 3:47 pm

I certainly notice a lot of "white hair" at the Pittsburgh Symphony concerts, but the PSO concerts are not exactly avant-garde contemporary either. But the concert hall is generally filled to capacity, and the Sunday afternoon concerts seem to have more of a family type crowd.

Still, if Sleater-Kinney, Vampire Weekend, or the Stones roll into town, they will pack the stadium. Which begs the question: What exactly is "contemporary music" (as in the title of this thread: "Classical music vs. contemporary music"), and can we honestly say the young folk aren't involved?

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Re: Classical music vs. contemporary music

Post by karlhenning » Fri Apr 29, 2016 6:36 am

SONNET CLV wrote:I certainly notice a lot of "white hair" at the Pittsburgh Symphony concerts, but the PSO concerts are not exactly avant-garde contemporary either. But the concert hall is generally filled to capacity, and the Sunday afternoon concerts seem to have more of a family type crowd.

Still, if Sleater-Kinney, Vampire Weekend, or the Stones roll into town, they will pack the stadium. Which begs the question: What exactly is "contemporary music" (as in the title of this thread: "Classical music vs. contemporary music"), and can we honestly say the young folk aren't involved?
It's young folk going to the Stones concert, then? ; )

Cheers,
~k.
Karl Henning, PhD
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Boston, Massachusetts
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http://henningmusick.blogspot.com/
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Re: Classical music vs. contemporary music

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 29, 2016 12:14 pm

I'm no authority on contemporary orchestral music, but I did enjoy the disc below by Magnus Lindberg and our very own NY Philharmonic led by Alan Gilbert:

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