January 27, 2004
Annoying Modern Art

I have a book at home titled Enjoying Modern Art. A friend misread it as Annoying Modern Art and so it has remained, at least in my mind. For some reason this rather pointless anecdote comes to mind as I read the Arts Journal piece here (and followups and responses) about modern(ist) music and modern audiences.

I'm not -- absolutely not -- saying that orchestras should play only easy pieces. But this modernist style has absolutely no audience. It doesn't appeal to mainstream classical concertgoers. They don't have modernist taste. (Neither, for that matter, do the people who run orchestras. Once, at an American Symphony Orchestra League conference, I spoke about new music on a panel, and polled the people who came to listen about their interests in art, film, and literature. They didn't spend much time reading Finnegans Wake, or seeking out films by Godard and Antonioni. Why should anybody think they'd listen to Birtwistle, Carter and Babbitt?)

These remind me of similar radio-station-programming methodology debates we used to have. My show, when I had a show, was an old jazz/R&B/soul format that ranged from the 1920s to 1980s--from King Oliver to, say, "Ben"-era Michael Jackson. It was pure fun, not educational.

E. did a show that I used to laughingly call "Difficult Music for Difficult People." In truth, I did not listen to it--but I believed it should be there, because its presence could open people up to different kinds of music, and that was the point. (There was a little tinge of what Teachout calls "eat-your-spinach" thinking there, I'll admit.)

His format (Sundays at midnight) lives on, while my format is long gone. So perhaps it's more about enjoying than annoying, after all.

More on this: ruminations on "the split between what is popular and what critics praise" here (registration required, alas).

Hmm, things are getting a bit serious. Let's change gears with this snarky Guardian piece on candidate hair:

This is all a little unfair on Kerry because, of all the candidates, he is the one who can least be held accountable for his disastrous hairstyle. The truth is, he just has terrible hair. On a bad day he looks half man, half badger.

I raise a paw to him.

Posted at January 27, 2004 08:18 PM

Ah-why is it that we always want to destroy that which immediately precedes us? One could well argue that the soothing harmonies and rhythms of minimalism or the emotional music of Corigliano are an answer to serialism, atonal music, aleatory music and electronic music by composers such as Schoenberg, Ligeti, Cage, Webern and Boulez.
This has always been the case with classical music-classical period music is refined and elegant as a reaction to flowery Baroque music and music of the Romantic era is emotional and dramatic as a response to the restraint in Classical era music. Thus has it been and thus shall it always be.
I applaud the BSO's program.

Posted by: Ilona on January 28, 2004 09:06 PM
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