Modern music: Two divergent views

This is part of an article in today’s Guardian by Joe Queenan (who’s featured here before with his witty-enough A-Z of composers). The gist of his article is summed up in its title (which also links to the full text): Admit it, you’re as bored as I am.

In New York, Philadelphia and Boston, concert-goers have learned to stay awake and applaud politely at compositions by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun. But they do this only because these works tend to be short and not terribly atonal; because they know this is the last time in their lives they’ll have to listen to them; and because the orchestra has signed a contract in blood guaranteeing that if everyone holds their nose and eats their vegetables, they’ll be rewarded with a great dollop of Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn.

Being fair, the Guardian also provide a rebuttal by Tom Service, which includes the following:

The problem is that Queenan seems to equate a composer making a “breakthrough” not with whether audiences actually go to hear this stuff – they do – but whether he likes it or not. If he doesn’t get on with it, that’s fine, but it makes the argument a soupcon self-aggrandising. And although he holds up the audience as the final, great arbiter of whether music survives or not, there’s some interesting language about the people who go to classical music, who are either “trained seals” or “brash young urbanites”. I’d be worried about sitting next to him at the Royal Festival Hall.

Both articles are well worth a read. Perhaps the fact that I’ve since gone to iTunes and downloaded the performance of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians on the strength of the YouTube video embedded in Tom Service’s piece gives some idea of where my own sympathies lie. (Considering that I’ve always had a blind spot where Steve Reich was concerned, that’s quite something — mind you, I haven’t listened to it yet.)

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