Saturday, April 21, 2012

Who Killed Classical Music?

Who Killed Classical Music? Maistros, Managers and Corporate Politics
by Norman Llebrecht ©1997
This book contains a tremendous amount of information, most of which is never brought to the attention of music students as they make their way first through conservatories of music, which can seem like monasteries to the uninitiated, and then out into the world of diminishing opportunities for the musicianship they have spent the better part of their lives perfecting. I was advised to read this book and write something about it on this blog, for further comment, by the fine pianist John Bell Young. Here is another website where he might be reached.

Maurice Strakosh
Arthur Judson
Walter Legge 1906-1979

The Volpes with Ronald Wilford
Mark McCormack

The most significant kind of information this book contains are the rough biographies of various “heavy hitters” among the class of those we would call “agents”; people who represented artists as well as musical organizations and made a tremendous amount of money through their agencies, which had direct economic effects on concert performance policies and ticket prices and every other conceivable aspect of classical music presentation as a business. Read this book and discover people you've probably never heard of whose contributions both for good and ill have made the entire art form what it has become today; Gaetano Belloni, Maurice Strakosh, Arthur Judson, the Judd brothers (George and Bill), Walter Legge, Ronald Wilford, Norio Ohga, Mark McCormack, and others. It is important for every serious musician, regardless of preferred genre, to know the accomplishments and destructiveness wrought by these individuals and their “industry” which has made a few musicians incomparably richer than the great majority, have impoverished orchestras and opera companies and have saddled a technical and traditional art form with trappings of the corporate and sports entertainment worlds, largely to its detriment.

It would be easy to suggest that classical music's biggest problems have always been the chasing of patronage, sponsorship and commissions, while at the same time losing audience to other genres which require far less concentration and discipline. How does one make a living doing what one loves, but which may be largely unpopular? Some musicians have as Lebrecht suggested, tried to ignore their audiences, whose conservative tastes if anything were made by these agents who stood in the shadows, who deemed it safer to program music that had already earned a favourable reputation, than risking lots of money on less likely payoffs. Of course Lebrecht mentions cases where huge sums were spent on likely winners which never paid off either.

John Bell Young might well be disappointed: I know he wanted me to come forth and say more, and I can and will, but what I think we really need to do right now is for me not to say too much more on the subjects covered in Mr. Lebrecht's books (this one and two others covering similar important historical and business details), but instead offer to post any original monographs by others with opinions on these subjects that are sent to me with permission to post them here, issues which are really of such vast concern, or should be, to every working classical musician (and many more of us who are either out of work or have given up trying to earn anything from what we love to do most).

With that in mind, I am asking my readers to network with others to obtain permission for me to post their words here and to draw more attention to these issues. You can correspond with me concerning these topics at, put Death of Classical Music in the subject line so I know what it concerns. I might even do something really stupid and offer to get myself involved in a musical organization. We'll see. We really need to discuss these issues in a fair and fulsome fashion. No better time than right now!


No comments:

Post a Comment