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People like modern art; why not modern music?


gvopedz
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Why do people line up around the world to see canvases by post-1910 painters, why do paintings by Willem de Kooning and Frank Stella sell at auction for millions, but the orchestral music of Schoenberg, Pierre Boulez, or Elliott Carter is never played at pops concerts (and rarely at subscription performances, for that matter)?

 

https://theamericanscholar.org/the-disappearing-modernists/

 

 

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When dealing with popular tastes...a same impulse, perhaps - I know a LOT of people who love "sad" movies but can't stand "sad" music.

My hunch is that the physics of music is the physics that most penetrates the human psyche, so people are at their most guarded/defensive when it comes to sound. The other senses (with the possible exception of taste) allow for a bit of processing once received. But sound goes straight to the brain, the deepest levels of it perhaps. Sound waves/vibrations.

Or maybe its just that music as a whole has become a medium of mass propaganda. "The industry" has no interest in independent thought, much less complex thought.

Or maybe it's just that people like to look but not to be touched. I don't know. Maybe their lifes are complex enough as it is and they don't want it to get even more complex if they can avoid it.

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47 minutes ago, gvopedz said:

Why do people line up around the world to see canvases by post-1910 painters, why do paintings by Willem de Kooning and Frank Stella sell at auction for millions, but the orchestral music of Schoenberg, Pierre Boulez, or Elliott Carter is never played at pops concerts (and rarely at subscription performances, for that matter)?

 

 

https://theamericanscholar.org/the-disappearing-modernists/

 

 

 

 

Because the cats who dig De Kooning and Stella (and Kline) are not at "pops concerts". They're diggin' jazz! :excited:

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Edited by BillF
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Yeah, the 20th Century (and definitely the 21st) was all about the broadening influence of "non-Eurocentic" awarenesses. Even/Especially in "Europe"

But Elliot Carter...man, that guy is not at all "Eurocentric", imo. He's just brilliant, period. And the energy of his music feels "American" enough to me.

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Ok, I just read the linked article...this guy sounds like he's somewhat isolated from the world of music at large and seems to be wondering why.

His comments about film music being the "new classical" are interesting, though, even if the few recent movies I've seen have been scored with an overtly poppish mentality. Then again, I don't really engage in movies any more.

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Is there something here too about the differing methods of  the commodification of visual art as opposed to music.  Canvasses, sculptures etc are sold as one-offs, or at the most limited runs, which creates a sales hype and resultant more exposure and a likely more general interest.  Think of the really popular visual artists and their respective market values. It's unusual for visual art to become widely known if it's not already made a sizeable splash in the market.

As opposed to orchestral music which is initially played to an audience necessarily restricted by concert-hall attendance and maybe to a wider audience if broadcast but that's not going to be prime-time for new music at any time.  Then the audience has the potential to grow if a recording is made, likely on a specialist label. Eventually it may get picked up and programmed amongst some of the more well known composers' works and get greater exposure. Sometimes it may be championed by a conductor but it's still not getting any kind of wide exposure so who's going to hear it or hear about it enough to generate interest to attend a concert even if it is programmed?  

 

 

1 hour ago, BillF said:

Because the cats who dig De Kooning and Stella (and Kline) are not at "pops concerts". They're diggin' jazz! :excited:

?resize_to=fit&width=800&height=540&qual

That is a great photo

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One thing you may have overlooked: if the 20th century music is not yet in the public domain, it is more expensive to program, due to performance rights which the symphony or ensemble must pay. I learned this a few years ago when I asked our then local symphony conductor a similar question.

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Yes, Lacy was. He was close with many postwar artists and writers.

When I was in grad school for art history, very few of my fellow grad students had any interest in or appreciation for improvised music (which I was writing about as a component of a true art history). Similarly, a number of creative musicians I've met (especially American) have had zero interest in abstract art.

The contemporary composers' world seems a bit more keyed into abstract visual art, and abstract performance art. Boulez is certainly played at massive concert halls in Europe, though he's far less well-known here. Most of the western classical/modern composition situations I attend are pretty left-field, and those people are very knowledgable. If one is attending a pops concert or whatever, I don't think one should expect much modern music to be played, just like I wouldn't expect to see the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra play Tri-Centric Music. 

Finally, the visual art world is very much a way to move money around and it's a lot harder to funnel cash through weird music.

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How is a potential symphony audience introduced to modern 20th century repertoire? If they aren't hearing it on local public radio stations that air classical music, are recordings of such music getting widely reviewed and are people reading the reviews? No wonder concert programmers are unwiling to go to the extra expense of paying for performance rights and risk presenting music that may not draw an audience. I am not doing that much reading about classical music these days and available CDs have dwindled in numbers in the few stores that carry any at all.

I'm not saying that the music of Schoenberg, Elliot Carter or Pierre Boulez shouldn't be played. I sporadically listed to the the local classical station when taking short drives with my wife, but they seem very conservative in their programming.

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6 minutes ago, Ken Dryden said:

How is a potential symphony audience introduced to modern 20th century repertoire?

The DSO has (and has had) a policy of both comissioning new works and playing "modern" music on their programs. It's not exemplary, but if you go, you will here it.

They've upped the ante under Fabio Luisi, who has made a commitment not just to the programming and the commisioning, but also to spotlighting women composers and composers of color, both from the past and the present.

You still have to slog through a buttload of the "traditional repertoire", which I was happy to heat once. But they keep recycling it every few seasons, for obvious reasons. It puts butts in the seats. Old, rich, white butts. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

What you can do - and we have done - is to vote with your pocketbook. We're transitioning into two fixed incomes come next year, so our subscribing for an entire season is over. but we still like going, the band is REALLY good these days, and has been for a while. So we subscribed, but just for a limited number of concerts. I made it a point to select the concerts that had new/unfamiliar works on the program, and told them that when setting the subscriptions up with the phone rep. And I told her to pass it on that this is why I was deciding what I was deciding.

Now that COVID is hopefully semi-contained(???), I'd like to start engaging with a well-established local "New Music" chamber society called Voices Of Change. 

This looks like it could be fun: https://www.voicesofchange.org/events

Ultimately, though, if you like it, support it in whatever way you can. If all you can do is pull coattails, pull coattails. And if you can make a gig or three, make them gigs. Sponsorship is always going to be beyond our means, but buying some tickets here and there will hopefully never be.

Show them that if they play it, you will come.

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It must be great to live a city where the symphony is amply funded so they can take a chance and perform modern works. One of our issues here is that the symphony & opera combined decades ago and just renting backdrops for one opera can run into tens of thousands of dollars. It seems like opera lovers are dying off and not being replaced, so perhaps this albatross will no longer burden programming expenses in the near future.

I haven't attended a symphony performance in a decade or more, the programming just hasn't interested me.

 

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When I lived in the NYC area I attended many classical music events: opera, orchestral, chamber, "modern".

My experience was that "modern" classical music, especially of the non-tonal (the dreaded "atonal") variety, drew very poorly in large venues. The subscription audiences violently disliked it, and the best programmers could do was to insert a token "modern" piece into an otherwise standard repertory program.

There were some success stories in smaller venues. For instance, Miller Theatre at Columbia did (and probably still does) extremely well with attractively curated hard-core contemporary programs. But that's about 200-300 patrons, depending on whether the balcony is open (which it seldom was in my experience). When Miller impresario George Steele got hired by the now-defunct NY City Opera, a fiasco ensued. Granted the NYCO's trajectory of failure was in its terminal stage when Steele signed on. Smaller Carnegie Hall venues (Zankel and Weill) can do OK with modern music, I recall an excellent George Crumb 75th birthday program at Zankel, for instance. [Added] Brooklyn Academy of Music successfully programs modern music in a good-sized venue, though I find a lot of their stuff fits into a fairly predictable "hipster" mold.

I went to many excellent contemporary concerts where the audience was pathetically small, on the order of two to three dozen people, many of those unpaid. And that's in the Big Apple.

Jim and clifford made some good points above.

Edited by T.D.
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31 minutes ago, Rabshakeh said:

Its a good question. Is modern art just more "polite" than modern music? Attending art galleries is assumed to be something that a cultured person does.

depends on the art. Blue chip and well-hyped modern art gets people in the door, but the more difficult and left-field work or that which is difficult to categorize is tougher. Same as the music.

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14 minutes ago, clifford_thornton said:

depends on the art. Blue chip and well-hyped modern art gets people in the door, but the more difficult and left-field work or that which is difficult to categorize is tougher. Same as the music.

This.

For instance, Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall (in 2001) programmed a successful 3-day New York School program (When Morty Met John).

https://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/13/arts/music-review-a-carnegie-connection-then-and-now.html

I consider that blue chip, and it was definitely well hyped.

But there's no effin' way that venue would do anything similar for more difficult/left-field work.

 

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And you know, once you get outside of certain geographical boundaries, even Cage & Feldman still seem "left field".

From my experience in jazz, it seems to me that the way to go is to stop angsting out about ever being "mainstream. Just accept and embrace that you're underground, and then focus of growing your underground as best as able. If you can keep doing that, sooner or later you stand a good chance at reaching a critical mass, which translates into a buzz, and so forth and so on. It helps if you have a good advocate, but one person making noise is not enough. It's the sound of one hand clapping.

Of course, this may well not happen until after you die, but if you're not ready to deal with that...take up painting or something, eh? :g

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4 hours ago, Teasing the Korean said:

It's a poor comparison, because a piece of visual art is static.  It can be viewed for seconds, minutes, hours.  Music occurs in real time and must be experienced temporally.  

I think that TTK makes a very salient point. Seeing a painting or sculpture by a 20th Century artist may require repeated viewing to gain greater, or any, appreciation. One can sit in front of a piece of visual art for a few minutes at a time, and view a photo in a book or magazine.

Listening to a piece of 20th Century "classical" music may require a far more extended time committment in a concert venue or on a recording.

There is also a financial aspect. Many museums are free or the cost quite modest. Attending a concert or purchasing a recrding is more expensive.

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2 hours ago, Peter Friedman said:

I think that TTK makes a very salient point. Seeing a painting or sculpture by a 20th Century artist may require repeated viewing to gain greater, or any, appreciation. One can sit in front of a piece of visual art for a few minutes at a time, and view a photo in a book or magazine.

Listening to a piece of 20th Century "classical" music may require a far more extended time committment in a concert venue or on a recording.

There is also a financial aspect. Many museums are free or the cost quite modest. Attending a concert or purchasing a recrding is more expensive.

I never really thought of visual art as static. It all depends on how you experience it, I guess.

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14 minutes ago, clifford_thornton said:

I never really thought of visual art as static.

"Static" in that it is a still image.  It can be experienced quickly, slowly, or anything in between, however much time the viewer wants to put into it.  A piece of music is experienced within the duration of a piece.

Another reason I think the analogy is bad:  Modern art tended to simplify, while modern "classical" music got more complex.  Composers like Philip Glass and Morton Feldman are closer to much modern art in that regard, but I don't consider Glass or Feldman to be "modern" in the way that I use the term.

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1 hour ago, Teasing the Korean said:

"Static" in that it is a still image.  It can be experienced quickly, slowly, or anything in between, however much time the viewer wants to put into it.  A piece of music is experienced within the duration of a piece.

I think it's only fully experienced for as long as you really, openly listen to it. Otherwise it's just one more environmental stimulus, no different than any other noise, really.

4:33 was making a point about that. To just pay attention and not assume. To assume about what you "hear" is to tell yourself a lie 

And you can listen to it long after it is done "playing"...things don't get "stuck in your head" nearly as much as you keep listening to them.

Thus, the hook, and all that comes (and doesn't come) with it.

 

1 hour ago, Teasing the Korean said:

Modern art tended to simplify... 

Simplify or condense? 

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