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Classical Notes: November 9, 2006 Archive

Ears on the prize

Posted at 5:55 PM on November 9, 2006 by Don Lee

Lamenting the lack of attention being paid to his organization's contemporary music prizes, the BBC's Roger Wright complains in The New Statesman that "modern classical music is suffering from an image problem." Whereas British fiction and visual arts prizes earn "huge public interest," he observes that almost no one knows the winners of the British Composer Awards, now in their fourth year.

Then he asks a curious question: "how has this problem arisen?"

To anyone who loves classical music, it's certainly a problem. But didn't it "arise" almost at the beginning? Hasn't the music always appealed to a relatively small audience?

By coincidence, the latest episode of critic Greg Sandow's online book-in-progress, "The Future of Classical Music?" answers Wright's question in a way that he might have a little trouble with. This is essentially a global summary of Sandow's arguments thus far:

Once classical music became a specialized enterprise, removed from everyday life -- once composers were revered as untouchable geniuses, responsible to nobody, with the performance of their music treated almost as a sacred rite, and once performances were largely of the music of the past -- living composers became more and more marginal.

You can find Sandow's arguments here.