We Don’t Need Another Hero

No, Greg Sandow, there is nothing good or constructive about another (another!) classical music manifesto. The time that Ken Nielsen spent thinking about and writing it, and that you spent blogging about it, was time lost forever to music making.  Lists of assertions are no less tiresome if the subject is classical music than if it’s Tea Party fantasies and demands.

What classical music needs is classical music, nothing more. As evidence, packed and incredibly enthusiastic audiences this past year for Kaaija Saariaho, Helmut Lachenmann, the Feldman String Quartet #2 at the new Issue Project Room space, Ligeti and Varèse at Lincoln Center and Xenakis seemingly everywhere. After 600 years of classical music, there is a glut of great pieces, just present an evolving variety of them in concert. That’s it.

Of course this is simplistic, but really, the quality and variety of the selection matters. And Xenakis and Beethoven are in no way enemies. That content matters has been proved by how successfully classical organizations have made use of digital media. Leave manifestos to businessmen and politicians, who by their nature lack the intelligence and imagination to do anything without guidelines.


Author: gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.

5 thoughts on “We Don’t Need Another Hero”

  1. I think the problem with this line of thinking is that those of us in New York are blessed with an insane amount of (AWESOME) new music, challenging programming, and really engaging artists.

    Not everyone in the country and world has that luxury. While its fairly cheesy to sit down and create a manifesto in list form of the wonderful things you’re going to do, I do think what Ken Nielsen does have a useful set of guidelines for improving his ensemble’s programming.

    1. It’s not that I want to argue, it’s that I don’t agree because I’m looking at this from a different perspective. Music is music, and playing is playing. Ideally, you want any ensemble to be able to sustain itself on a practical level. But once you start writing out things about the ‘music industry,’ then it’s no longer music, but a business plan and a poor one. It also boils down to just doing it, just playing music. The mentality that segregates new, i.e. since 1900, music as opposed to classical music, when it’s all classical music, is a business mentality. Classical ensembles present content, just play the frigging concerts and stop arguing over these meaningless directions. Classical, and jazz, are neither dead nor dying. They have always faced economic troubles and they always will. Just play.

      1. I mean, generally I agree. Jazz and Classical music are doing okay. That said, I think its equally wrong to boil everything down to dollars and to think that by just playing the music everything will be okay.

        We’re still a field that trains people for many years on playing an instrument and then doesn’t even begin to discuss how to engage an audience. While a number of ensembles are proving that they get it (many listed by Jacque), there are also a bunch of organizations throughout America, and possibly Australia that are still lost and need direction. I mean, how many times is West Virginia greeted by ensembles of the quality that 8bb puts out?

        Now that list is fairly cheesy and to some degree misses the mark, but I think if it helps this organization’s leadership put on better concerts, it should be welcomed. And, I’m not sure what Ken does in the organization, but its possibly his job IS to make sure at the end of the day there’s enough money to pay the musicians, and so it is a real worry for him.

  2. Hear, hear! The first tenet of the manifesto signals the tone: we think of classical music as the dying art form of the orchestra hall.

    Most of the points in the “manifesto” are already being done: Kronos, Eighth Blackbird, Chiara String Quartet . . . That’s off the top of my head.

    No, I can’t imagine the “rock industry calling a summit meeting to decide how to solve
    its problems,” nor can I imagine it writing a manifesto.

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