So-called contemporary music has often been accused of being out of touch with the audience, and in general of playing a marginal role in current cultural trends. This is the result of many causes, as I have tried to explain in other posts, but an obvious reason is the umbilical attachment that still binds contemporary music to the classical music establishment, its audiences and its modes of promotion and delivery of live and recorded music.
The majority of contemporary composers have chosen not to sever the cord with the past, believing in a sense of continuity with, and belonging to the great tradition of Western classical music. But doing so, they blindly adopted the whole apparatus of classical music concerts, from the stiff ritual to the ageing and dwindling audiences. The higher cultural status granted to their music turned out to be the kiss of death for their creations.
Many words have been spent in the past (and sadly sometimes are still spent, as I realised yesterday at a pre-concert talk given by a young Canadian composer in Toronto) to justify this state of affairs: the need for composers to explore new territories, the reluctance of musical institutions to embark on more adventurous programming, the need for the audiences to be “educated” or the schools’ failings in teaching music, and so on.
The reality is very different: we have to accept that each different music has its audience, and ‘contemporary music’ is no exception. Expecting classical music audiences to love and understand new music is like pretending that jazz fans should also automatically become hip-hop fans.
So, let’s recognise the situation, and stop trying to spoon-feed contemporary music to classical music lovers. Let’s rebadge orchestras as museums of classical music, and limit their repertoire to the great tradition. And let’s free up the energies of those musicians that want to perform new music so that they can really concentrate on their passion, but outside the current classical music circles. Interested audiences will follow, and new ones will be created. They won’t be huge, but they will be committed.