Out my (Seattle) way, local composer and Seattle Weekly columnist Gavin Borchert this week offered up something titled “Small Apologies“. A few excerpts:
Not that I have anything against Tony Bennett or Norah Jones or any of the other recording artists whose work is propped up next to the biscotti, but I was wondering when Starbucks would get around to classical music. At last they have, a CD starring the home team: The Seattle Symphony and Starbucks Entertainment have announced their co-release of Echoes, containing newly commissioned works (!) from six composers [Bright Sheng, John Harbison, David Schiff, David Stock, Samuel Jones, Gerard Schwarz, with an older piece by Aaron Kernis], each one asked to somehow rework an older piece he (and they’re all “he”s) loved. As an opportunity for time-travel collaboration, a meeting of musical minds from different cultures and eras, it’s a great idea; as a concession to conservative classical fans who can’t take their new music straight, it’s dismaying. [….]
The fact that Starbucks and the SSO are giving seven living composers exposure is exemplary. What bothers me is the philosophy that seems to underlie the project, one endemic to the classical music business as a whole these days. Composers and performers alike so often present new work, whether strong or weak, innovative or comfy, timid or bold, with a tentative sort of hat-in-hand stance—emphasizing, above any other virtue the music might have, that it won’t be scary. Constant reassurance, even apology, is the tone, in media coverage, program notes, PR material, casting musicians as supplicants and listeners as 3-year-olds who have to be coaxed to finish their beets. [….]
There is an untapped audience for new classical music, but reaching them, I believe, will require a new approach. They’re the people who aren’t averse to classical music, who are interested in the arts in general, but who need a reason to give their time and money to us rather than everything else competing for their attention in our hypersaturated culture. Suppose the wheedling and cajoling with which we serve up music is turning them off. These people aren’t going to attend classical concerts or buy CDs unless they think they’re going to hear something they can get excited about. I don’t mean merely not offended, I mean actively thrilled. Which means, for heaven’s sake, we ought to start talking about something other than nonscariness, ought to start pushing aesthetic virtues other than accessibility.
The floor’s open…