The Jonathan D. Kramer Memorial Fund for Young Composers
Designed to carry on Jonathan Kramer's legendary championing of young composers, the JDK Memorial Fund will provide commissioning funds to a young composer to write and record a composition.
In tribute to its friend and composer Jonathan Kramer, MMB Music, Inc. will consider the work commissioned by the Jonathan D. Kramer Memorial Fund for publication and inclusion in its catalog.
The Jonathan D. Kramer Legacy Fund
This fund is designated to foster the continued performances and recordings of Jonathan Kramer's music, and to carry on the publications of his scholarly works.
Contributions for either fund may be sent to :
The Jonathan D. Kramer Memorial Fund
The Jonathan D. Kramer Legacy Fund
Department of Music
2960 Broadway MC 1813
New York, NY 10027
Please make checks payable to Columbia University, specifying to which fund you wish to contribute.
A memorial concert celebrating the music of Jonathan D. Kramer was held on Sunday, October 24th, 2004 at 2:00 PM
Miller Theater at Columbia University.
The New York New Music Ensemble & The Moebius Ensemble
Jeffrey Milarsky, conductor
IMAGINED ANCESTORS (world premiere; commissioned by the Serge Koussevitzky Foundation)
- Jean Kopperud, clarinet
- Chris Finckel, cello
- Emi Ohi Resnick, violin
- Deborah Bradley-Kramer and Reiko Uchida, piano
- Jean Kopperud, clarinet
- Deborah Bradley-Kramer, piano
REMEMBRANCE OF A PEOPLE
- Reiko Uchida, piano
- Emi Ohi Resnick, violin
- Dov Scheindlin, viola
- Linda Qwan, violin
- Chris Finckel, cello
- Jeremy McCoy, bass
- New York New Music Ensemble
All proceeds were give to the Jonathan D. Kramer Fund for Young Composers
A Funeral Service for Jonathan Kramer was held on June 6, 2004 at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel in New York City, officiated by Rabbi Helene Ferris. Among the eulogists were Jonathan Kramer's colleagues from Columbia University's Department of Music: Elaine Sisman, Fred Lerdahl, Walter Frisch, and Deborah Bradley. Other eulogists for the service included composer Martin Bresnick and music journalist Kyle Gann.
Eulogy for Jonathan Kramer - by Elaine Sisman
I was asked to speak first because I'm chair of the department, but I don't much feel like a chair on this occasion when rank is irrelevant. In fact when Jonathan came to Columbia more than 15 years ago, I was an untenured assistant professor and he was a full professor and he gave me the greatest gift a senior faculty person can give a junior: he encouraged me in my bid for tenure. I'll never forget that.
A truly wonderful colleague, Jonathan was responsive, reliable, generous, and judicious. When I asked him to take on another committee responsibility, he pointed out to me that his name already appeared sixteen times in the department's Table of Organization. We all know that the reward for doing well on a committee means being put on another committee, but Jonathan appeared neither to resist such accolades nor to prevent them by slacking off. No, within the department he threw himself into curricular reform, invention of an entirely new category of instruction (the "swing" course), outstanding and caring mentoring of graduate students-of whom a bumper crop just received their PhDs --, direction of the undergraduate and graduate theory programs, and a term as Vice-Chair, while outside of the department he served on the College's Committee on Instruction, served as faculty affiliate to an undergraduate residence hall, as well as Dean's Day lecturer, all the while keeping up an extraordinary schedule of international speaking engagements, performances of his music, and publications in his signature fields, temporality and postmodernism. He did all this with a generosity of spirit, an upbeat and smiling affect, and a sparkling sense of humor that made being his colleague an utter joy. "Likable, funny, and brilliant" sums up his undergraduate students' assessments. One of his undergraduates (Tom Biegeleisen) was moved to record what he called "one of Kramer's unforgettable one-liners: Kramer - "Those of you who were raised believing the fiction that there are three different minor scales will call this a harmonic minor," Student - Well if it's fiction, what's the reality?" Kramer - "There is no reality." His graduate students' assessments might be more movingly rendered by this email I just received (from Maja Cerar): "His influence on my performing and thinking about music has been enormous, from the very beginning of my time at Columbia. I am simply at a loss trying to express how important he has been."
Former chair Ian Bent once wrote to Jonathan extolling his "splendid colleague"-ship and the "energy and enterprise" that he put into the department. The chair's job is made immeasurably easier by people like Jonathan. More poignant is the wonderful paragraph that concluded the department's case statement for Jonathan's appointment, written by Leeman Perkins in 1989 when Jon was 46:
"Happily, Prof. Kramer has received his present distinction relatively early in life. He is still a rather young man whose energy and commitment promise a good deal of productive scholarship yet to come. It would appear that he will be a major force in shaping the discipline of music theory over the next couple of decades, defining the issues and problems to be addressed, refining its methods, and thus determining the directions for scholarship in the field. From the point of view of this department, Columbia would be fortunate indeed to be able to add him to its roster of scholar-teachers."
I still feel the same way about Jonathan: A rather young man. Productive scholarship. (indeed, yet to come: the just-completed book on postmodernism.) A major force. Fortunate indeed the Music department. And now, bereft.
Remarks for Jonathan Kramer's Funeral Service - by Fred Lerdahl
We are all in such a state of shock over Jonathan's sudden death that I would like to step away from the present and begin with recollections of earlier days. Jonathan and I met almost 35 years ago, in the Fall of 1969, when I began my first teaching job at the University of California at Berkeley. He had recently completed his doctorate in composition at Berkeley under the guidance of Andrew Imbrie and Joseph Kerman, and he held a lectureship there for a year before moving to his first full academic appointment at Oberlin. Jonathan and I were the two youngsters on the Berkeley composition faculty. We shared interests not only in composition but also in issues of musical structure and aesthetics. So naturally we hit it off, and thus began a life-long friendship.
Jonathan had studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen at UC/Davis a year or so before. This was a seminal experience for him. Stockhausen was a welcome antidote, in those rebellious times, to the mainstream tradition established by Roger Sessions at Berkeley. This episode encouraged Jonathan's experimental side and gave him a cosmopolitan outlook that he never abandoned. At the same time, he started to question musical trends, thinking about them from many points of view; he became, in a word, a critic as well as a creator. Perhaps some of this attitude came from having studied with Kerman, but I think it mostly originated in Jonathan's own nature.
After the shared year at Berkeley, our paths continued to cross intermittently. In the 1970s we both held revolving-door junior professorships in the East, he at Yale and I at Harvard. When he came to Cambridge to visit his old music tutor at Dunster House, where he had lived while a Harvard undergraduate, we would get together and talk musical shop. Independently and simultaneously, we were both becoming actively involved with music theory, especially with how theory might develop so as to be perceptually relevant to composition.
When he moved to Cincinnati in 1978, we fell out of touch for the better part of a decade. I am under the impression that his years at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music were among his happiest and most productive. There he established his reputation as a compelling teacher and mentor. He wrote program notes for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and became its composer-in-residence and new-music advisor. He carried out this role superbly, managing to persuade the orchestra to perform many challenging new pieces. And these were creative years for Jonathan. He composed a series of highly original works based on six-note sets, exploiting in each case the intervallic possibilities to their fullest. One brilliant example is Atlanta Licks, an elegant and witty piece that obliquely evokes elements of jazz while integrating them into his modernist style. He also published two important books, Listen to the Music and The Time of Music. The former, a compilation of his program notes for the Cincinnati Symphony, showcases his skill with words and his ability to convey complex material in an accessible fashion. Gunther Schuller recently mentioned to me that he thinks this the best book of its kind. The Time of Music expresses Jonathan's abiding interest in rhythm and time in a unique amalgam of music theory, perceptual research, imaginative speculation, and insightful analysis of a wide variety of classical and contemporary works. It is a permanent contribution.
The last and longest phase in Jonathan's and my friendship has been at Columbia, to which he moved in 1988 and I in 1991. The friendship included our wives and children, and we enjoyed doing things together as families. His creative work in the 1990s took a postmodern turn that germinated from his earlier reaction to Stockhausen. He was very aware of the diversity and fragmentation of modern life. Rather than limiting his response by espousing any particular version of musical truth, he chose to embrace this diversity and to make it a part of his aesthetic. In his writings he challenged the conventional virtues of unity and organicism. It is not an exaggeration to say that for Jonathan pluralism became an ethical stance. His compositions now juxtaposed and integrated contrasting musical styles, leading to a kind of music that incorporates its own commentary. A fine example is the piano trio Surreality Check, which is so magical and subtle in its stylistic transformations that it achieves, ironically, a meta-level of organic unity. Jonathan recently wrote a book on musical postmodernism that I understand is now complete in revised and publishable form.
It is a rare and wonderful thing to have as a colleague someone whom you have known for much of your life and with whom you share so many interests. You don't have to explain who you are or why you have a particular attitude. Sometimes in such cases there are emotions of envy or rivalry, but in our case that was never an issue. Given the generally anti-intellectual climate in contemporary American music, it was a relief to both of us to have a colleague who was both a composer and a theorist, who saw these two activities as complementary and enhancing of the creative spirit. We worked harmoniously together to revitalize Columbia's programs in composition and theory and to build an atmosphere of open dialogue. Throughout he was a rock of steadiness, rationality, and good counsel. He acted always for the benefit of the greater whole. And he was a supportive and extremely diligent teacher and mentor of countless students in theory and composition. Indeed, this is one of his important legacies. It is hard to imagine life at Columbia without him.
Eulogy for Jonathan Kramer - by Walter Frisch
It is obviously true that none of us would be here today were it not for our association with Jonathan. But I can honestly say that I would not be here as Columbia music professor were it not for him.
When I was an undergraduate at Yale in the early 1970s, Jonathan was a young assistant professor of composition there, and I took several courses with him, including ones on Stravinsky and Orchestration. I felt a strong rapport with him, and when I was considering applying to graduate study in musicology, it was natural that I would consult him.
I remember, after having left Yale, coming to stay with him and Norma and the kids at their house, as he generously offered advice about my graduate study. He had studied at Berkeley, and had worked there with Joseph Kerman. Because Jonathan knew of my interest in criticism and critically oriented musicology, he recommended Berkeley most strongly. And I followed his suggestion. I recall writing to Jonathan (by snail mail, of course, in those days) during my years in California, updating him on my studies; he always responded warmly.
By then, Jonathan was teaching in Cincinnati, and we didn't have that much contact over the next number of years, until in the mid 1980s Columbia announced a search for a senior music theorist. I remember Jonathan calling me and asking about the position and whether he should apply. I said yes, yes!
Of course, he did come to Columbia and helped form the Theory program. We became colleagues. But his generous mentorship of me was not completed. When I was being evaluated for promotion to tenure in 1989-90, Jonathan supported me and volunteered to be the "expert witness" at the ad hoc tenure committee meeting. I remember having coffee with him, at his suggestion, at Chock Full o' Nuts at Broadway and 116th (that dates us!), as he asked me how I felt he could best make the case to the committee. This was typical of his kindness and advocacy.
He did make the case, I received tenure in 1990 and--largely thanks to his efforts on my behalf dating back to my undergraduate days--had the privilege of being Jonathan's colleague for another 14 years. That I am here speaking at his funeral is at once unimaginable to me and thoroughly appropriate.
Eulogy for Jonathan Kramer - Kyle Gann
I just received the shocking and very saddening news that my old friend, a good composer and a very important theorist, Jonathan Kramer died yesterday of leukemia at the age of only 61. (He's survived by his father.) Jonathan was best known as a sort of postmodern theorist, hired as such at Columbia (in 1989) and for years not really recognized there as a composer as well. He was probably best known for his book The Time of Music, which dealt with goal-directedness versus stasis in our conceptions of musical time; powerfully argued with well-chosen and extensive examples, the book lent academic credence to the experience of time aimed at in minimalist music, relating it to kindred trends in European music.
But Jonathan was one of those rare people in whom analytical prowess and creativity went hand in hand. His music of the 1980s was what I'd have to call postminimalist: it used no repetition or grooves, but he would limit himself to only five or six or seven pitches with such inventiveness that you'd never realize the pitch spectrum was curtailed. My favorite pieces from this period were his Music for Piano Number 5 (1979-80), a Terry Riley-ish romp in mostly 11/16 meter; Moments in and Out of Time (1981-83), a big, Mahleresque orchestra piece that stubbornly adhered to the E minor scale; and a mercurial chamber piece called Atlanta Licks (1984). The limitation to a few pitches led Jonathan to experiment with using such limitations to subtly unify passages of otherwise widely varying style, and in his Notta Sonata for two pianos and percussion (1992-93) he achieved a true postmodernism, a fractured idiom in which unreal musics jostled each other in an impression of split consciousness. I never had the chance to hear his more recent music, but he was in the process of bringing out a new disc.
According to his ex-wife, Jonathan developed a blood disease last August which turned into myloproliferative syndrome, and only last weekend suddenly turned into acute leukemia. He mentored hundreds of students, and was a loved teacher.
Jonathan, in a move that must have made colleagues question his sanity, brought me to teach a semester at Columbia as part of an attempt to loosen the place up and encourage diversity. He combined a roving, curious mind with blunt honesty, incisive opinions, and a genuine desire to make the music world a livelier, freer place. I had long looked forward to his someday receiving his just due as a composer. I hope it happens posthumously. For now, I'm stunned.
Dedication to Jonathan Kramer - by Jeffrey Milarsky
It is with great sadness that I inform you that Professor Jonathan Kramer passed away last week. The Columbia University Orchestra has lost a member of its family. Professor Kramer led all but a few of our Pre-Concert lectures from the year 2001 until his death. His wisdom, energy, preparation, knowledge, charm and brilliance will never be forgotten. In addition to contributing to the CUO concert experience, he played a pivotal role in overseeing our ensemble's growth and success through his mature advice, knowledge of the repertoire, and musical experience. As recently as April 4th, Professor Kramer led a brilliant lecture on the Mahler, Symphony #1. His insightful and thoughtful knowledge of this work, was surely felt by every member in the audience. Specifically my players, many of whom attended the lecture, in spite of my insistence that they be fully warmed up and ready to play this epic masterpiece. I am very glad that my students ignored my request. Their performance was a testament to his knowledge and musicality, for they played this piece with an intellectual rigor that I can only assume came from his insightful ideas.
I would like to dedicate the Fall 2004 concert to Professor Kramer. He helped me select this program:
- Samuel Barber–Adagio for Strings
- Bela Bartok–Concerto for Orchestra
Please join me in prayer for Deborah Bradley and the rest of family. Jonathan will always be remembered.
With a heavy heart,
Interview with Dilema Weekly, Romania - September 2002
I. Your professional life seems to be moving around composition, teaching, musical time, and postmodernism. Do you have a "central theme," one that perhaps unifies all these preoccupations?
JK Just to complete the list, I should mention that I also write quite a lot of program notes for symphony concerts, CDs, etc., and I am currently writing a textbook on tonal harmony and counterpoint—nothing that I had really planned to do, but I am dissatisfied with the way other textbooks teach these materials, so I am doing it my way.
There is an overriding theme to all of this (beyond, obviously, "music"), and that is postmodernism. It seems to me decidedly postmodern that I have written articles on, e.g., Cage and Bernstein and Beethoven, that I published two books within one month of each other in 1988 (The Time of Music, which you know, and Listen to the Music, which is a series of program notes about well-known orchestral compositions). It will seem postmodern if/when my textbook on harmony and my book on musical postmodernism appear at the same time. My compositions are postmodern in the way they are sometimes minimalist, sometimes engage in the new complexity, sometimes are jazz-oriented, sometimes are eclectic, sometimes are pure, sometimes are tonal, sometimes are atonal. Some who are not sympathetic to postmodernism wonder where my true self is in all of this. The answer is this: as a postmodern human being, I have no single, no true, no unchangeable self. And yet there are themes in the writing and teaching and composing—a questioning of accepted values and ways of doing things, a mixture of tradition and innovation, an affectionate acknowledgment of music and musical ideas very different from my own, yet at the same time a refusal to ally myself with any one system of thinking, listening, creating, teaching, or composing.
But you ask if my "central theme" unifies all my endeavors, and I'd have to answer "no." In a thoroughly postmodern spirit, I do not believe in unification as a necessary good. There are certainly elements of unification in what I do, but there is also a wild diversity, a refusal to unify, an embracing of the disunified alongside the unified.
II. It's been almost 15 years since you have launched The Time of Music. Other scholars wrote important books and studies on this topic during the following years. Yet musical time is still not given enough academic credit, (it is not studied on equal footing with musical harmony, for instance). Do you have an explanation for that?
JK Part of the explanation is habit. Throughout the history of music theory, there have been treatises that treat in whole or in part musical time and rhythm, but they have always been in the minority. It would be impossible for one book, such as The Time of Music, to turn that tide. Still, there are literally thousands of articles in print on the subject, so it has not been completely ignored. But I do agree: it is still treated peripherally in music education and scholarship.
One reason is that every musical process takes place in time, so even studies that purport to focus on other aspects of the musical art are necessarily involved with time. So, perhaps it has not been so ignored as we tend to think.
But that is still not a good explanation, because you may still ask, "why is time not treated explicitly in more sources?" One reason is that music theorists like to deal with what is finite anc quantifiable. There are (in many musical systems) 12 pitches. The mathematics that deals with the mighty 12 can become complex, but it is manageable. Time is a continuum. It is only quantifiable in certain ways (e.g., musical meter)—and, not surprisingly, it is in these ways that it is usually studied. Unfortunately, the majority of music theorists are still looking for easy, objective answer to hard questions. But there are no easy answers to questions of musical time.
IIIA. These days in Romania there is a heated debate about the kind of human being the postmodern society has created. Over-specialization is blamed (vs. defended) while being held culprit for narrow-mindedness and dispiritualisation (vs. praised for its social benefits). As you come from a part of the world where high-specialization is considered a prerequisite for success, I wonder what do you have to say about that. Is really a society of specialists losing spirituality?
JK Yes, I think we are losing spirituality as a society. But there are many individuals within the society who remain spiritual, or who find a new kind of spirituality. Even technology, that seemingly most despiritualized of phenomena, gives rise to a new sort of spirituality. Since spirituality continues to exist in individuals, societies may not have lost it forever.
Over-specialization is indeed endemic today, though I do not find that to be particularly postmodern (in spirit, though it clearly is in terms of chronology). Over-specialization has its obvious dangers, but so does the opposite. Many people who try to remain and/or become broadly educated run the risk of triviality and superficiality. Information may be far more readily and widely available today than in any past era, but there is also a question of the quality of that information. Browse the internet, and see how often you encounter outright false information, or fuzzy thinking. Anyone may post anything on the internet, so in a sense it is a great equalizer. We are all equally expert, or equally amateurs, on the internet. This leveling is indeed postmodern. Of course, poor information and poor thinking were always available, long before the internet, but in previous eras good thinking and correct information pushed out the bad. Not necessarily so any longer. The victim is truth. There is no longer any truth (but was there ever?). Instead there are truths, which are useful to some people some of the time in certain circumstances, but useless in other contexts. Postmodernism has destroyed the objectivity of truth. In its place, everyone who wishes may rush in with an opinion, an ill-formed idea, an uninformed thought. We may celebrate the equality or the creativity, or we my decry the loss of ultimate truth value, but we cannot turn back the forces of postmodernism.
IIIB. Do you feel that there is a chasm between being just very well informed and being (spiritually and intellectually) cultivated?
JK A chasm? No, that is too strong. I feel that, at least in the United States, the chasm is between the well informed and the spiritually/intellectually cultivated on one side, vs. the ignorant and uncultivated majority on the other side. Now, that is a true chasm, perhaps wider in my country than in yours. Between the well informed and the cultivated there is certainly a distinction, and surely being merely well informed is dangerous, but compared to total ignorance and crassness around us everyday in America, it seems almost a luxury to worry about the fine distinction between being educated and being cultivated. Still, for someone like myself who works in a university, the distinction needs to be preserved, even if that means that the chasm must at times be ignored. It is easy to educate and inform people (if they are willing to learn). But it is quite a challenge—and ultimately the highest goal of education—to lead people to being cultivated.
I had a student in my harmony course last year. He was frustrated with the limitations of eighteenth-century tonal practices. He brought in a pop/jazz piece he liked. It was dreadful. Not because it was jazz/pop—certainly not!—but because it was just tasteless. Everything it did was obvious. So, what was I supposed to do? I could point out the crassness of the harmonic progressions and counterpoint, and maybe thereby hope to inform the student. But perhaps it was better not to tell the student that something he loves is boorish, but instead to help him develop his sensibilities, to become cultivated to the point where he will discover for himself how crass this piece is. Then, let him find (or, better yet, create) a jazz/pop piece of great refinement.
But that was just my dream. I did not succeed in helping him to become cultivated, so he probably just thinks of me as an old pedant with out-of-date tastes. His opinion is worth as much as mine is in our equalized postmodern society. In fact, I would certainly defend his right to hold such an opinion, his right, in effect, to make himself look like an idiot. I am sufficiently postmodern to value his opinion, not for what its substance is but simply because he is a human being and he has an opinion.
And it is, furthermore, a sociologically interesting opinion, even if it is an aesthetically uninformed opinion. That this student can be attending Columbia University, a supposed elite university, and can be concentrating on music, certainly says a lot about the lack of cultivation among even the supposedly better educated in this society. I am sufficiently postmodern not to want to impose my values on him, however. What I would really like, but in this case could not achieve, would be to help him form better opinions on his own. To become not just informed but also cultivated--and to do that himself.
IV. It takes you to turn on the radio to see that a century after the invention of atonalism, the tonal system is still the most popular musical communication vehicle. This system, while having one or several theories, lacks a complete/satisfactory cognitive explanation—yet it works. It seems that the trend of contemporary music theory is to assess (other) musical communication systems on the basis of their cognitive (read: scientific) accuracy. Perceptual psychology and the brain sciences became more and more harsh judges for musical systems that lack a comprehensive cognitive explanation—even if these systems work. What do you think about this trend?
JK Tonality is not one system but many. The tonality of, say, Dittersdorf is rather different from the tonality of, say, the Beatles or of Poulenc. One reason that tonality lacks a satisfactory cognitive explanation is that there are very few universals of all tonal music. The so-called "common practice period" is a myth. At no time, and in no way, did tonal composers really employ common practices—although, paradoxically, many atonal composers do.
There is a rather large gap between music theory and music cognition. That gap is narrowest in the context of tonal music, but even there we find theorists of tonality who know and understand little about cognition beyond "I [think I!] know how that sounds to me." And the cognitive psychologists who study music perception are woefully naive about musical structure.
But in the contexts of other musical systems—atonality, modality, microtonality, etc.—the gap is even wider, because there are few satisfactory theories and there are very few psychologists studying how people process this sort of musical information.
Progress will be made, but there will be no ultimate answers for any musical system. Music theory and music cognition have different goals. They may help each other reach these goals, but they finally are not asking the same questions. Cognition, for example, like postmodernism, is interested in the lowest common denominator, what the average, untrained person actually hears and processes. Music theory is concerned with musical structure, which can be quite subtle and complex, more than with music perception, but even when it does address perception, it is interested in what and how experts (what an anti-postmodern term that is!) hear. It offers suggestions about how music might be heard, and it encourages people to stretch themselves in order to try out different ways of hearing. Music theory is concerned with the art of creative listening, whereas music cognition is concerned with what the majority of people naturally do when they listen to music.
V. What did you know about Romanian culture before your first visit here in 2000?
JK Not much. I new a bit of Romanian history--about Ceausescu and all. But my knowledge of the world was limited. I was oriented toward Western Europe, and I thought of Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, and possibly Rome as the main (the only?) cultural centers. Coming to Bucharest (and also to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sofia, and Prague) has shown me that there are many vital cultures and many vital centers in Europe beyond the cities I used to hold up as the only viable places for culture and ideas.
I knew a little about Romanian musical culture, through Bartok and through a slight knowledge of Enesco. But for the most part I was ignorant. Now I am perhaps a little less ignorant. Now I at least know enough about Romania to appreciate the vastness of my ignorance!
Classical Currents: An Interview with Jonathan D. Kramer
The Partial Observer - January 9, 2004
PO: A casual observer of classical music in America might easily conclude that it is in serious trouble. Many orchestras have ongoing budget problems, some of them forced to disband; audiences appear to be shrinking and getting older; public radio stations are devoting fewer hours to classical music. The situation seems to be going from bad to worse. Is this a fair assessment? How much optimism does the classical music community have for its future?
Kramer: Indeed, the problems you list are widespread and serious. The root causes are essentially two: education and money. The audiences for concerts are diminishing in size in large part because people now in their 30s, who ought to be replacing the dying older audiences, often did not have rich musical experiences during their formative years. As funding for arts education was gradually withdrawn from the public schools a generation or two ago, young people were deprived of the experiences of learning instruments, playing in amateur ensembles, singing in choral groups, etc. Music appreciation instruction also diminished, but I think that had less impact. There was a time when a substantial percentage of school children learned music appreciation by making music themselves. There is no substitute for this. In many European countries, music remains an integral part of the education of young people, and as a result they do not have nearly the widespread indifference to classical music among young adults that we have.
Money is a problem as well. Because of the not unreasonable demands of musicians’ unions, the costs of mounting concerts are very high and show no sign of abating. Thus orchestras and other performing organizations and presenters must raise huge amounts of funding, which gets particularly difficult to do when they present themselves as wanting to continue a grand tradition. Funders tend to favor innovation, not preservation.
As a result of the high costs of music making, rehearsal schedules are invariably too short, and programming is often dictated in part—though conductors and others rarely admit this—by considerations of how quickly a program can be learned, or how well the musicians already know some of the pieces. Thus the same music gets played over and over again. This is often blamed on audience tastes, but I think it has an unfortunate economic side as well. As a result, most performances I hear are under rehearsed and frankly not very good. Even when they are proficiently played, they usually lack any spark of excitement or any new insight into the music, both of which take TIME in rehearsal to develop. Rehearsal time is rarely devoted to creating a new, original, sensitive, or exciting interpretation. All too often, what little time there is is spent on getting the notes, rhythms, and balances correct.
This brings us back to education—not of the audience this time, but of the musicians. They are trained to be macho—to be able to “learn” their music in a minimum amount of time. Conductors are just as bad. I know many conductors who are reluctant to look at a score unless it comes with a recording—of someone else’s performance. They may have the ability to hear a score internally— though some of them surprisingly do not—but they do not have the time to do so. It is so much easier to just pop the CD into the Walkman while on a long-distance flight. As a result, learning a piece becomes a context for reproducing someone else’s interpretation. Listen to several recent recordings of, say, a Beethoven symphony, and you will notice how generic they all sound. Listen to several recordings of the same Beethoven symphony made in the 1920s or 1930s, and you will hear very different ideas about how the piece might be understood. With variety and vitality disappearing from live performances today, is it any surprise that it is difficult to excite audiences, or to attract new ones?