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Why concerts are boring

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IRONICALLY, at a time when art music seems to be acquiring a fresh, new sense of stylistic direction, I have been sensing much discontent. At least, the vogue for saying pessimistic sooths about music's survival (as a living, breathing expression for us in our own time) has not evaporated since the late ' 70s.

There is still much discouragement about the shortchanging of living composers in numbers of performances. The cry comes from many corners over declining musical literacy and taste, and over the monolithic musical-masterworks and punk-rock markets.

Many concertgoers are bored, and they don't know why. I go to concerts, and it hits me over the head that many in the audience are listlessly unleavened by a ritual (the concert) that has lost much of its relevance for them.

I don't advocate overthrowing the public concert, for, as a means of finding and sharing the nameless charisma that is the soul of musical expression, it remains potent. But people are feeling, I think, the inertia of what has overtaken concert music, slowly since the start of the century and more rapidly since the '50s. Concerts (and concert repertoire) have become reinforcers of what general musical education has conditioned us to take in as culturally legitimate music.

During the 1930s and '40s much less of that conditioning prevailed than today - and a lot of music's present-day economic and marketing difficulties come plainly to mind as reasons for this. Nevertheless, a vastly greater segment of the concertgoing public expected to hear new musical works and was rewarded, in the main, by compositions that spoke to these listeners, both stimulatingly and directly. That period, at least in American music, was a Golden Age - largely because of the palpable sense of involvement and commitment shared among performers, composers, and listeners.

It is this sense of involvement and trust - including the composing of music which incites it - that will ultimately do as much as anything for the enlivening (and growth) of art music.


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