On second thought: Classical Music is dead.

Unlike pop music, which seeks to be as timely and contemporary as possible (and then fades from popularity minutes later), Classical music has proven its timelessness--hence the label.  But what does Classical music mean today?  Is it still relevant?  Can we even call it Classical music?  
Such questions are interesting for we bloggers to entertain but have more immediacy for eighth blackbird, a Chicago new music ensemble on the front lines of the debate.  Recently, they were called "the biggest missed opportunity" by a prominent Classical music scholar and thinker (whose own relevance is open to discussion).  A heated debate ensued on 8bb's blog, to which I posted the following reply:
The Classical music tradition died in its sleep in 1945 after being on life support for the first half of the 20th century, but the music will live on and will continue to be relevant in the way that Shakespeare's works continue to teach us things about ourselves after all these years. 
To say that music being written today is Classical implies one of two things about the composer: either they are too burdened by the past or narcissistically hoping to be preserved in the future. In either case are they irrelevant to the Zeitgeist of Now. 
If we instead talk about "Art music", then we should include groups like Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, The Knife, Sigur Rós, The Antlers, TV on the Radio, Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective, and so on. By including those groups, Art music lives on, thrives, and is totally relevant. 
But, if we dichotomize music by tradition, it's a different story: Classical music is a written tradition, folk/pop primarily aural. In the last 50 years, the aural tradition has surged in popularity and relevance as recording technology got invented and improved upon. If you care about being relevant today, you can't ignore the aural tradition; people like Reich and Muhly understand this and borrow from the aural tradition; much of 8bb's repertoire seems to do the same. 
One last thought: perhaps the *music* itself is relevant; perhaps it is just the concert experience that is irrelevant--so 19th century. (Le) Poisson Rouge seems relevant (despite the superfluous parentheses); the Harris doesn't; Symphony Center just isn't. Perhaps more ensembles should set up in residency at Schuba's or the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Better yet, the Hideout. I saw Different Trains at the Bottle once by the Quartet Parapluie, and it was fairly well attended and appreciated.

Filed under: eighth blackbird, new music


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  • The argument itself is dead while the genre is continuing. Mr. Ed is dead. Stop beating him.

  • In reply to marktwain:

    The genre lives on; it's the language that is dead. It's time we let go of the label, which only serves to stifle creativity and alienate new audiences.

  • In reply to marktwain:

    Ah, so the title and lead for this was simply for shock value. Awesome.

  • In reply to marktwain:

    Sensationalism is a means, not an end in itself.

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