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Alex Ross in College Park

Alex RossAlex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker and author of The Rest Is Noise, was in town last night. This was in connection with the National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland School of Music, now in its 20th anniversary year, which brings together talented orchestral musicians between the ages of 18 and 28 for classes and the chance to work with major artists in the field. Alex spoke to about a hundred students attending the NOI on the subject of "Classical music: What will the future bring?"

To give you an approximate idea of what the students heard, Alex spoke first about the tendency of people to worry excessively about the death of classical music, through the list of historical quotes on the subject he also recently posted at his blog. He examined the criteria of the argument, the six orchestras that "folded" in 2000-01 (all of which have revived or been replaced in the same market), the "dwindling" or "aging" audience, and what the students might do to counteract these perceptions. He made a very important point about the lack of a national conversation on classical music, since his publication is the only prominent national voice that has substantial coverage of classical music. Where are you, TIME? Newsweek? Network news? He cited success stories, especially the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its exciting new venue, Disney Hall.

After Alex's presentation on these points, the students asked interesting questions, about crossover music (frivolous versus serious), about how the orchestra itself should be evolving, about making connections with contemporary art and film, which are more popular with audiences. Alex responded with the example of the charismatic conductor David Robertson's audience lectures. It is true, as Alex said, that more people probably take an art history class in college than a class in music history, except for music majors. So you have to find a way to hook people who might not realize they would enjoy a concert of classical music, because they may just not know anything about it.

I had assumed that Alex was in town yesterday to combine this lecture with the world premiere of Mark Adamo's new harp concerto, Four Angels, by the National Symphony, premiered last night, but it was not to be. Here is Tim Page's review today in the Post, and my review will appear tomorrow.


Alex Ross said...

Thanks for the nice write-up, Charles. I had no idea you were going to be there! I am really sorry I couldn't stay for the Adamo — I look forward to your review.

Charles T. Downey said...

Nice work, Alex! It is always good to hear you in our part of the world.