The success of the most famous living classical pianist, as well as the most famous living opera singer, appears to me a cassandrean sign for the decline of our culture. Of course she can sing, and of course she is hot. Of course he can play and has great hair. But that's not the point. To pretend that everything is the way it should be because she can sing and he can play and both have unprecedented success is incredibly blind and naïve. What are they performing? Music from 150 years ago. Is there an original thought beyond supreme ability? What happened since Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bellini, Bartók, Berg and Barber? What about Cortot, Horowitz, Richter, Gould, Tatum, Evans, Heifetz, Kreisler, Ysaÿe, Schwarzkopf, Fischer-Dieskau, Callas, Chaliapin and Del Monaco? By what standards is the success and quality of today's classical super stars measured?
The notion that Liszt would be a rock atar today is ludacris. Reheheheally? Today Liszt would be Ozzy chewing on a bat, or Fiddy getting rich or die trying or Van Halen jumping in shaggy boots? And Shakespeare would be writing "Harry and the potty chamber of secrets"? What if you transported the most famous pianist of today back to the early 19th century -- what kind of venue would he perform in and for what kind of audience? This discrepancy: is that not a reason for concern?
I personally have absolutely no problem with entertainment; I enjoy it immensely. What could compete with Avatar in 3D, Guns N' Roses, PSWii or Vegas? But let's not get confused, and let's differentiate. When there is a discourse about the future of classical music, the concern is always directed towards marketing, audience numbers and sales. There's no real discourse about half a century of public stagnation in the arts or the reality of an event driven caricature of a romanticized performance and interpretation tradition throughout almost all music programs and performances. Is that not a reason for concern?
We now have Vitamin Music, Mozart Effect, Muzak, Ex Mix and the dayflies of the musical world; there are 50 million piano students, there are over 300 piano competitions in a year, a winner every day, institutions and corporations are manufacturing career potentates on demand, and the aggressively self-assured win the audience attention award -- skull cap, leather jeans or short skirt seem to be an asset. The modern concert grand piano, meanwhile, is a 150-year-old instrument and most repertoire performed is even older. Is that not a reason for concern?
Humanist education is deserting, and with it the fertile ground for the cultivation of high art; what is successfully sold by agencies, management, press and media today is, in the majority of cases, evermore diluted repetition, shell imitation and auto-suggestive impersonation. There is a huge discrepancy between the horizon of competent and visionary artists of today and the supersonic vessel of the contemporary classical music scene that jet sets into oblivion. Is that not a reason for concern?
"Art for art's sake"
Théophile Gautier, ca. 1858
"I see it as the most urgent and important task for those who are deeply alarmed by the aspect of a more and more godless and loveless humanity, to defend and exercise man's best rights in the unshakable conviction that the spirit cannot be lost, nor even oppressed... They should welcome their isolation, and in this isolation pursue the ideals of simplicity, truth and nobility; they should embrace passionately the obligations implied in those virtues, for the loss of which no collective luxury can ever compensate."
Artur Schnabel in Music and the Line of Most Resistance, 1942
"Art is what you can get away with"
Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987)