New vs. Old Music Unending Battle in Classical Programming
Note from LRG: After reading “New York Philharmonic Receives $10 Million for New Music” in the New York Times, I asked Chuck to share his thoughts on the programming of new vs. old in classical music. Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.
The issue of programming performance pieces in Classical music has been a point of contention for as long as I have been in the business of music. The problem centers around conductors needing to protect themselves and their jobs. Historically, “new” pieces of music have not met with public favor in the form of low attendance at concerts.
The issue is not that the piece is “new” – the issue is the pieces and the composers that are chosen. Inevitably, a composer who is, in reality, an academic will get the call to premiere a new piece. The composer is often chosen for his or her academic credentials, not for his or her track record of writing music that appeals to listeners.
So, when the piece fails, as it often does, the conductor gets to say something to the effect of: “Well, I chose a writer who was a music professor from Harvard. I guess that the public just doesn’t like new music and so, we will go back to Mozart, etc.”
This could be solved in a very simple way. Take the example of The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, which, at one time, employed Dr. Harold Boatrite to consider and choose new material for the orchestra. He was not swayed by a composer’s academic qualifications. He only considered the musical and artistic merits of the piece. Of course, not surprisingly, his position was ultimately eliminated.
If anyone is concerned about the choices of an orchestra being dictated by one person, a group of qualified experts could be tapped to oversee the new repertoire choices. Will this ever happen? It remains to be seen.