The Future of Classical Music? Contemporary Music? New Music?
A classically trained, and performing, musician who opposes contemporary compositions is a clown seeking to entertain the audience.
Essentially, there is no need to worry about the future of classical/concert music. Among the arts, music and painting have always been in the foreground and will remain so. And the future of the arts in Western culture—which includes to some extent the scientific pursuit—mirrors our need for an intellectually and spiritually driven life. This has always been at the core of our mentality and existence, even though only a minority of people actively participate.
In our culture, and I presume everywhere around the globe, a minority driven by a meaningful purpose has always played an important role, sometimes a leading one. An intellectual and spiritual pursuit is part of our DNA, an inheritance from our Jewish heritage. It will continue to exist, despite the eager efforts by the present elites in politics, education, and the mainstream media to undermine it.
To predict the future of classical music, including opera, is difficult—as are all predictions. What is certain is that the future will be different. It is not going to be business as usual. But music is going to be created, musicians are going to perform, and people will listen. We may see an interesting diversity in the aftermath of the pandemic, as the politics dealing with it have been so different in various parts of the world. The mandated restrictions, closures, and other steps have damaged cultural, academic, and social life to such an extent that we will see long-term effects, even though they may differ from place to place. No one can tell now what the long-term effects are going to be. The question about music is: what kind, and how much it will change? Because music—and I mean live performance, not recordings—does not exist as a generic entity, it is always specific.
My interest is the music of our time, every kind of composition, every kind of work, preferably recently completed. No passing a judgment about style, artistic direction, or kinds of music—new music, experimental music, classically-oriented music looking into the past. There is no need to judge and differentiate, time always takes care of that.
Basically, there are two very different ways of making and listening to music. The first is oriented toward entertainment. It stimulates us physically to the point of wanting to move to the rhythm, dance, sing, etc. The other music is contemplative and meditative. The first kind (popular) is self-supporting, often geographically defined, and places great value on commercial success. The second one (classical) is listened to in silence, in spaces closed to outside interference. Its purpose is not to entertain. Instead, it creates the possibility of reaching a meditative state of mind. This music appeals to a limited number of people and depends on patronage for support. It can be successfully performed only by highly trained and well-organized musicians for audiences that are intellectually minded. Here, commercial success is not very important.
A focused perception leading to a meditative state of mind, limited audience appeal, and disregard for success is common for all the arts, although each discipline is dealing with different issues. Essentially, the way artists proceed in their work (and to some extent the scientist as well) requires a combination of intellectual and spiritual focus and effort, in which intuition holds the lead over rational thinking.
The performing arts are dealing with an array of problems. Some are symptomatic of the current situation we live in, such as the lack of understanding of spiritual matters in general, facing a daily vulgar profit-driven mantra. Add to this the bureaucratic mediocrity that has penetrated almost everything and one can only question the future of works that do not bring a quick profit, are based on ideas and have a spiritual depth like classical music. Can such music have any future? Yes, it can and will. A difficult one, but this is nothing new. Dealing with difficulties has always been part of being a composer, and more so since the start of the nineteenth century.
Among the arts, music, and its practice, is the most demanding discipline. This has not always been so. To be a musician a thousand years ago, all you needed was good ears, a good voice, and a basic sense of rhythm. To succeed today as a musician, you have to be a virtuoso player with vast knowledge. For some, the training starts at the age of four and continues with a working schedule that never stops. Just the skill of a composer generating a music score is enormous. On top of it, a successful concert production needs considerable resources, financial and organizational. This is what makes music such a demanding discipline.
As long as there will be individuals with adequate means to support composers and musicians—or those who control such means—the future is not in danger. It is support and an audience that create the right environment in which great works may emerge. This has always been the case. It’s why Mozart fled Salzburg for Vienna and Beethoven did the same from Bonn. This is why, among artists, there is such an enormous number of composers relocating from one place to another. The question we should ask is whether presently there is an environment in New York, or in the US, that would support music on a level that would enable great works to emerge. But that is an altogether different question.