Contrabass Conversations co-host John Grillo pointed an article out to me last fall about the demise (or lack thereof) of live classical music, but my insane schedule at that time left me no time for digesting much of anything blog-related, so it wasn’t until I was cleaning out my bookmarks this summer that I ended up taking time to digest it.
Written by Leon Botstein (my conductor for the American-Russian Youth Orchestra a decade ago), it describes a classical music scene that, rather than undergoing a painful demise, is actually thriving:
Nothing can reproduce the sonic and emotional power of live performance. But looking out at the audience at most classical music concerts in the United States, one sees a crowd that is largely middle-aged, verging on the geriatric. This has set off alarms within the music community, whose members are quick to blame the loss of a younger generation of listeners for the sorry state of classical music, waning ticket sales and a record market that has all but disappeared.
Memories are deceptive. Classical music has never been the passion of the young. It is an acquired taste that requires both encouragement and education, like voting or drinking Scotch. And in fact, more young people today are playing classical instruments than ever before, according to conservatory enrollments. More surprising, the classical music world has never been healthier; since the early 1970s the growth has been robust.
In this article, Botstein points out that classical music was once a profitable business but is no longer so. He refutes this claim, instead showing how the decades of the late 19th century and the rise of the recording industry were mere anomalies of profitability, and that classical music has historically been based on philanthropic giving and patronage. I make a similar assertion in my Road Warrior Without An Expense Account book, and Botstein’s description of this phenomena and the events of the latter half of the 20th century make for interesting and illuminating reading.
I also have to wonder if the economic downturn (which had started at the publication of this article but has greatly accelerated in the intervening months) has tamped down the “thriving scene” that Botstein describes. I have seen a lot of smaller companies