After logging some of my 2009-10 season tickets in the calendar this morning--October 3, Vienna Philharmonic; October 19, Les Contes D’Hoffmanm; October 24, Mariinsky; December 7, Don Carlo; March 21, NNK Orchestra; April 14, St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra; April 19, Capriccio--I turned to the rumpus my friend Heather Mac Donald has kicked up in musicland. It started with Heather’s feature article, Classical Music’s New Golden Age, in the summer City Journal. Reports of the death of classical music, Heather says, are greatly exaggerated.
Heather’s piece reminded me of Jay Nordlinger’s contribution to our year-long 2003-4 series (later a book) about America’s institutions called Lengthened Shadows. In “Tending the Gardens of Music,” Jay lays out a similar argument to Heather--an upbeat note in our cautionary series.
Whether it’s the choc-a-bloc classical offerings in New York, the resident orchestras in many of America’s cities and towns--there are 350 orchestras in the United States today--or the fact that one can hear Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble perform under the stars halfway around the world --”never before has so much great music been available to so many people,” writes Heather, “performed at levels of artistry that would have astounded Berlioz and his peers.” I have to agree. The one exception may be the state of contemporary composition, besotted for so long with serialism--although I know of some excellent young composers, such as LJOVA (Lev Zhurbin), working today.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about Heather and Jay’s arguments is the reactions they tend to set off. We have become inculcated in the narrative of classical music’s decline. Many do not like to hear otherwise. Case in point is a series of blog posts the music critic Greg Sandow has lodged against Heather’s article. He begins by stumbling over his own deployment of statistics--population growth! GDP!--and rolls downhill from there.
Over at City Journal, Heather has posted her own reply, “The Unsustainable Declinism of Greg Sandow,” with links to all of Sandow’s responses. “That a celebration of musical richness and the evolution of musical taste could provoke such animus in him is frankly bizarre,” writes Heather. Now, I wouldn't mention it except for the fact that Sandow brought it up first, but Heather could have also taken note of the fact that Sandow is “happy married” to another classical music critic, Anne Midgette of the Washington Post. According to Sandow’s own biography, together this couple has “bought a terrific apartment in Adams-Morgan” and also “built a lovely house” in Warwick, New York, “a peaceful town about an hour north and west of New York City.” And according to this, Sandow has gone fishing for the month of August in Yorkshire Dales. It all sounds delightful. And I'm not one to begrudge another man's holiday, indulging as I do in my own leisure pursuits whenever possible, but one might wonder whether classical music is really in such a tailspin if even its critics live well--even those who make a living writing about its decline.
Now get ready for the bonus round and cue the X-Files theme. One may notice that Sandow claims to be involved in UFO research: "I'd call myself a believer who demands scientific proof.” A 'believer" who "demands" proof? A believer in what? Demanding of whom? Extra points awarded to anyone who can parse the logic of Sandow's statement. Maybe when this critic claimed to be "in another universe" after reading Heather's article, he meant it literally.