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Classical Notes

Classical or not?

Posted at 2:55 PM on October 4, 2011 by Daniel Gilliam (6 Comments)

Il Volo consists of three teenagers: Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca. Their combined age is 49. They have a recording deal with Geffen (Universal Music Group), a worldwide tour, appearances on late night talk shows and, what seems to be, a huge fan following. So far, this could be any other "boy band" or pop sensation. Easy enough. But they're currently No. 3 on the Billboard Classical charts and No. 1 on Amazon's "Best Sellers in Classical Music." The New York Times' Zachary Woolfe profiled the group on tour, and provides a glance into their rise to fandom.



My questions to you are: is this "classical music"? Should Classical MPR — or any other classical radio station, for that matter — regularly play Il Volo or groups like it?


Comments (6)

Please! Do not allow this to be played on MPR! This music furthers the already misunderstood identity of art (classical) music in the U.S. As a Minnesotan that is - now more than ever - proud of MPR, having just moved to an area where classical public radio is reduced to having only works from the enlightenment, I hope you will continue to uphold a diverse range of musical style in your programming from Dunstable to Cage.

This music is artless. It emulates good art music and then confuses its listeners to think that their emotional reaction to this caricatural and bloated "popera" style has somehow instantaneously transformed into an connection with the works of great composers. Then, instead of going out and buying the albums of the countless American musicians who work everyday to uphold their craft, they go ahead and buy mixed and dubbed fakes sung by teenagers who are wearing headphones around there necks while deciding on the best way to eliminate flaws in their voices via computer technology.

Please, promote music as art. Not as entertainment for the masses transfixed by the technologically manipulated, consumer driven music that is coming from Hollywood. If it's not on Naxos, it shouldn't be on MPR. If it's not worthy of Richard Taruskin's or Peter Burkolder's writings, it shouldn't be on MPR. If it's not studied at schools like my undergrad (St. Olaf College) or my graduate institution (Eastman), it shouldn't be on MPR.

Posted by Russell Draeger | October 4, 2011 9:23 PM


"Classical or Not?" So, my knee-jerk/visceral reaction was to shudder in pain, puncture my eardrums, and launch my laptop out the window...But what's the best way to argue with swooning MWLFT (reciprocal of MILF) that this is not "Classical" music? Taking a historical approach, one could note that the particular track in question is, in fact, a popular tune that just happens to have a history of being covered by some "Classical" artists as a sort of "crossover" piece. But that's not wholly satisfactory, since many "pop tunes" of their day have successfully been moved into the concert hall. I might argue that the piece doesn't "challenge" the listener, but it clearly challenges me (hah!)...At the end of it, I'd have to just say that it doesn't "reveal" anything. There's nothing beyond the surface. It's a grape lollipop. Sure, some people like them on occasion, and some people don't particularly, but no one can call one a square meal in and of itself, and that is what I'm looking for when I tune into a "Classical" station. Something meaty, with a side of asparagus in a bearnaise. Hope that helps. --Joe.

Posted by Joseph Fear | October 5, 2011 3:00 PM


Russell and Joe, thanks for your comments. You both make really good points (and to be clear, I'm not looking to reach a consensus on whether we'll program Il Volo or not. We won't.).

Both of you have strong feelings against Il Volo on a classical station. I'd like to hear a good argument for Il Volo on a classical station.

Posted by Daniel Gilliam | October 6, 2011 12:32 PM


While enjoyable to listen to, this is no more classical music than Josh Groban or any other artist who has applied their talent to the exploration of classic forms. I do not associate this contemporary interpretation with what MPR provides for listeners on the Classical channel. Thank you for the thought-provoking question and the introduction to some wonderful new young pop artists.

Posted by Kami | October 13, 2011 11:59 AM


Russell's "popera" label made me smile.

I cannot make an argument for playing this on Classical MPR but if it shows up on commercial pop stations, that could be a good thing. It might make one or two listeners curious about other (real) classical music.

On a related topic, we are, bit by bit, moving toward visual communication via video images which the attractive young studlies of Il Volo "get." The classical music world needs to understand, and learn to how incorporate, varied imagery. I have a feeling that modern eyes will come to expect grape lollipops for their eye candy.

Posted by Claire in St. Paul | October 13, 2011 1:02 PM


While I do not disagree with the aforementioned, I would like to say that in their day operas were the social media. They were what everyone of any social standing did for pleasure and talked and gossiped about. The opera singers were the pop stars and they were what the young ladies twittered and swooned over. Is this any different from the reaction to Il Volo? In short, I would argue "no".

Our "modern" understanding of the operas has changed due to the introduction of amplification and electronic manipulation in pop music yet does that invalidate pop music? All recorded music has had some electronic contact due to the recording process, especially if it has be "remastered". Should we discard these new influences in classical music? If so, where is the line drawn for what IS classical music? Should Saint-Saëns have been disregarded in the '20's due to his heavily jazz-influences works? If so, we wouldn't have some wonderful pieces today.

I appreciate what Claire had to say about being able to hear Il Volo on a pop station. It was great when various opera singers gained worldwide acclaim on t.v. shows bringing more of an audience to the idea of classical music. I think that the image of classical music is one of exclusivity and not entirely welcoming to younger generations or even people who did not grow up with access to classical music. It seems that if classical music is to continue as an art form it needs to be a little more image conscious. I certainly don't want the quality to change or the past masters to be forgotten but having bridges where classical music is made more accessible to the masses can be more positive than negative.

Thank you Daniel for bringing this forum together, it is good to continue asking questions and reformulating ideas so we don't become so rigid in our belief systems that we cannot have conversations where there are opposing or alternate views. This is how we grow as a society and it seems that we have lost some of these abilities in recent years. Thank you.

Posted by J. in St. Paul | October 14, 2011 9:21 AM