Felsenmusick - The Weblog of Daniel Felsenfeld
The Web Log of a Certain Daniel Felsenfeld: Composer, critic, avid reader, aspiring
bon vivant, capricorn, shadowy figure, advice for the lovelorn

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Classical Restaffing

It's been a fascinating couple of weeks for the old guard of music criticism. The newest addition to the list of recently, unceremoniously fired is Peter G. Davis, who held the post at New York magazine for decades. Of course much will be made in a see-I-told-you-so way about this being the indication of the death of classical music. After all, like many respectible print outlets, New York, in seeking to attract a younger crowd, is slimming down their coverage, and apparently firing their lead critic, perhaps due to his age, perhaps due to his opinions, perhaps because there's simply not room for him.

Now I do feel terribly for the wonderful minds that have been dismissed, and when the stories of the suddenness and vehemence of their ousting--this being the culture of The Apprentice where someone losing their livlihood is a laugh line--I think we, as people involved in this field (or those who love from the outside) need to not become Cassandras and use this as yet another measuring stick, another brick in the wall, another nail in the coffin. Again, if we say that because New York magazine is diminishing their coverage of what we do then that must mean what we do is dying on the vine, why not take a different tact. Maybe it's not Classical Music that's dying, maybe it's New York magazine. After all, a magazine with a guaranteed and dedicated readership makes taste, and never has to court a younger audience because they don't really need it. Everyone's rushing to do what suits the young people smacks not of a dumbing down but rather of a desperation: they simply need the money. It's unfortunate, destructive, and indicative of certain problems to be sure--the decline in literacy, for one--but I do believe that when classical music goes on the dumpster in any of these situations it is hardly a comment on the music but rather recieved wisdom translated through the boardroom, shareholders being considerd above readers and thinkers.

Maybe the same could be said of, say, Tower Records, whose closing after years of struggle with bankruptcy was seen as yet another sign of The Death. But maybe that was more a sign of Tower's inability, of bad management or poor decisions. I do not know the facts, and frankly don't feel compelled to learn them as music is my love and not records (being only a means, not an end). But why is is when something happens that stirs the pot, even a little, or an institution (be they brick and mortar or human) takes a hit, we always rush to the assumption that it is music, and not the industry around it, that is dying? The same might also be said of the major orchestras and opera companies, who seem to tell us what their audiences want rather than listening to them, too afraid and running at too tight a budget to rock the boat. After all, when The Ghosts of Versailles opened at the Met, there was not a seat to be found for months. So why is it not a staple? Surely not a comment on the piece, or on the audience who loved it; rather, a comment on the corporate culture, or the culture of the parent corporation.

I am here to tell you, in no uncertain terms, that classical music is by no means dying. Not even a little. People aren't dumber, music isn't any less interesting, but businesses and marketing schemes are working from an immediate fear rather than an overarching desire to promote what is most interesting.

Of course Peter G. Davis will be missed, and I am certain the way in which he heard the news was ghastly, but I'd suspect that is a fact of the culture of magazines rather than a comment on his knowledge, capacity, or usefulness.


Anonymous Michael said...

The Ghosts of Versailles is a great example, and I would add The Dangerous Liaisons.

It's all a question of businesses' unwillingness to commit (enery, time, but mainly money). The bottom line dictates everything to such an extent, that I'll bet little effort is put into even considering a marketing angle where, say, Ghosts could help an opera company grow its audience, or New York magazine could cover classical music in a way that suits its readers (or its perception of its readers).

Because it's so easy not to bother.

So, I agree: Let's not confuse corporate laziness (cowardice?) with public apathy.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Liz Warner said...

I know it isn't the point, but I just had to second what you said about the Ghosts of Versailles.

And your previous commentor articulated so well what I was thinking that I'll just eloquently end with "ditto."

7:32 PM  
Blogger Liz Warner said...

I agree with everything your past commentor left (and kudos to the mentioning of the Ghosts of Versailles - what a great opera!), and will add that it seems like the classical music community barely knows how to market aside from the "tell all your friends" method. Maybe it really does go to the bottom line, but you see people take jobs in arts administration for less money than perhaps other administrative jobs. Why not arts marketing?

7:36 PM  

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