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Greg Sandow on the Future of Classical Music
An ArtsJournal Blog
What’s happening here
For years we’ve been talking about a classical music crisis. And the crisis is very real — ticket sales have been falling, funding has been harder to find, and the audience, over many years, has gotten older. Many people don’t want to believe these things, but they all can be documented, even (or maybe especially) the aging audience. I’ve unearthed studies from past generations that show an audience far younger than what we see now.
The Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy, announced this year, looks to me like a tipping point. We now have to ask whether classical music, in its traditional forms, still is sustainable. The answer, I think, is “probably not.”
But why is all of this happening? For me, the answer goes very deep. Our culture changed — over decades, over generations, but especially since the late 1960s. We’re now more informal than we used to be, more spontaneous, more widely creative, and — not least — far more diverse. That’s not good for classical music, an art form which features
- musicians in formal dress
- masterworks from centuries past, repeated over and over
- an older, silent (and, if the truth be told) in many ways passive audience.
And this art form, let’s note, has an almost all-white audience, almost all-white musicians, and an almost all-white repertory. How can classical music survive — and demand to be lavishly funded — in an age when soon we’ll see a non-white majority?
But change is coming! People in classical music know there’s a crisis. They’re doing things differently. And they
These are big problems. But change is happening! People in classical music know there’s a crisis. They’re doing things differently. That’s also because they live in the same culture that everyone else lives in. They share the new values — the new creativity — that’s come into our world, so they bring it into classical music.
In this blog, I chronicle these changes, though (good news) they’re moving faster than anyone can track. And I trace the growth of classical music’s problems.
And I encourage us all to find ways to make the changes sustainable — to evolve a new kind of classical music world, in which musicians can make a good living, just as they did in the one that’s slowly fading away. I welcome comments, ideas, suggestions, wild thoughts, corrections, whatever anyone wants to say.
And I hope to foster a new community — a home for people who want to see classical music change.