Today the intensity in the classical music world reaches its climax: the most beautiful masterpieces are in demand, they are interpreted by the most gifted musicians in the most magnificent concert halls, which are then described in entrancing words by the columnists of the daily newspapers. But is it not a nature phenomenon that when everything is perceived as intense, it inevitably comes to a de-intensification. The “intensive” becomes the rule and norm and loses its attraction. The philosopher Tristan Garcia writes in his book “Intensive Life – Modern Obsession”: “The concept of intensity means a kind of volatile being that is no longer what it is, but it cannot sustain itself and therefore disappears when it appears.”
What will happen in the future with the “old classical music” when the peak of intensity is exceeded? Today new works by contemporary composers are pushing to the light. They are so diverse that they cannot not be assigned to any genre. The main feature of new classical music is the variety of elements and fusion of different styles. This music can be characterized by refreshing, serene and optimistic sounds with distinct melodies that in their own way provide an answer to the increasing complexity and atonal sounds of our daily life. The number of the composers is increasing and at the same time the range of interpretations of their works. The development of music scene goes even further. Especially young listeners appreciate small events and unusual locations. They cannot relate to the exeggerated language of the columnists that appear to them as a relic of days gone by. Today the intense music experience is set against by listening to music without intentions, which invites to think, relax and draw strength. This musical experience leaves room for the development of our own ideas and feelings.
The old intensities disappear; new forms emerge, which one day will disappear again. Intensities come and go. Only the cycles are likely to be shorter, as with many other modern developments. What’s next?
„Uncertainty was yesterday, today is chaos”...Does the increasing complexity in life have an influence on the way the composers of today write music? When I am playing the music of contemporary composers, I ask myself – does this music express the feeling of modernity? When yes, what is it? Can it be captured in words?
„Uncertainty was yesterday, today is chaos”. This was the title of an article that I read last week in the Harvard Business Review. The author speculated that today we had such a great variety of influence factors for making decisions. These factors have unpredictable correlations that make it almost impossible to come to a clear conclusion. Our lives are influenced by giant forces such as mobility, globalisation, non-conformism, cultural and social diversity. No wonder we feel that the complexity is increasing.
Does the increasing complexity in life have an influence on the way the composers of today write music? When I am playing the music of contemporary composers, I ask myself – does this music express the feeling of modernity? When yes, what is it? Can it be captured in words? The search for the feeling of modernity is not new. Let me share with you the thoughts of Charles Baudelaire who was a great poet, an art philosopher and a deep thinker. He believes that any artist is a “spiritual citizen of the universe“ by his or her very nature as a super sensory sensitive person who is very inquisitive and who has an immense yearning for knowledge and understanding. Baudelaire had an interesting thought that the way of artist’s reacting to the world would eventually lead to some cultural progression – in other words, an artist is forever in search of modernity.
There is one more thought by Charles Baudelaire that fascinated me. He says that the hardest part of being “contemporary” artist is to love the present times, embrace them, and not search in the past. He wanted the artists to live in present and enjoy it. To discover the beauty of today and listen to the present. To hear “today” and understand it! That is how artistic motto of Moving Classics TV “Discover the beauty of contemporary piano” and “Listen to our life” was born.
What is contemporary piano? Just by listening quickly to our “Fantasy notes” playlists, your impression will be a mixture of every conceivable genre: from the distant Bach polyphony and Lisztian harmonies to the jazz rhythms, ethno sounds, ambient, minimalism, lounge, pop, to name just a few. It is hard for purists to find a certain sustainable line. But the compositions are just like our life: multi-stylistic, extreme diverse, non-conform, flexible, still fresh, and childishly pure. There is a reason for it too: composers are able to draw their inspiration from a practically limitless array of sources, from Palestrina singing to Lady Gaga viral songs. The absence of limitations nourish the composer’s soul and bring more creative ideas. It is more a question of making a well-thought choice and being loyal to one own beliefs.
The contemporary composers have a much more complex society to deal with. They are trying to meet the taste of a society that is influenced by breaking news and the thoughts of flexibility, comfort and entertainment. Our society is also highly performance-oriented. Internet made music available to everybody at no cost and if people are in search of inspiration or just want to relax or get entertained, they will be listening to music. To be the source of inspiration for the society, contemporary composers compete with the genius of the past. It is often the case that if our society wants to get more “culture”, they go to the concert featuring the 19th century music. Just look at the program of any concert hall in the world. Or just type in Beethoven & Chopin in Google line or YouTube and listen online. It still works. The genius of the past still inspire us.
In a world that seems to be more and more unpredictable and sometimes chaotic, there is a wish to reduce the complexity of life. No wonder new age, ambient or just relaxation music grew in popularity or just any background-oriented music to support our multi-tasking activities. I think an important role of the contemporary music today is to reach new upcoming milieus in the society. A new type of listener needs a new kind of music. A new listener does not want to invest much time in trying to accommodate his or her ear to the music. They are inpatient, they want to be either immediately carried away or they just leave, they want music that allow them to lean back and let the mind wander. Having said that, I would like to conclude with the words of Charles Baudelaire: “Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one-half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable.”
Let us face it, all musicians know this dilemma. You can read the heated debates in the Internet, listen to the emotional talks between musicians, get angry at the very thought and still, all musicians did it at the beginning of their career.
There are myriad of reasons for the asking and equally as many reasons for the accepting. The possible reasons for playing could be self-promotion, the wish to “test” your repertoire, get stage experience, meet new contacts and followers, try out new locations, play with your favorite colleagues and friends. Just love of music, promise to get a well-paid gig next time…Everybody has his or her reasons but nobody likes to admit the fact they accepted the free gig. The musicians decide on the case-to-case basis – if they see benefits from investing their time, dedication and talent into the free job.
The negative contra arguments would be the abuse of musicians’ love of music and their willingness to play or letting others earn money through their talent. Many musicians believe in the clear distinction between the so-called “Pragmatic Amateurs” and the so-called “Professionals with no freebie mindset”. Both would have the same artistic level if played in the same concert but “pragmatic amateurs” would have their income from non-concert activities. There is one more reason that is even more worrying. It is an economic phenomenon – dumping. When musicians accept the free or low-paid gigs, they bring the prices down for everybody who is out there on the market.
There is one more “killing” argument – the reputation. Playing for free officially can hurt the status as it is de-mystifying the image of a professional musician. Surely, playing charity concert for a good cause is a very different matter.
Music business is tough for any newcomers, be it the musicians who just graduated from the Universities or the rising musicians who are entering into new markets. The Piano News Magazine published the study about the graduates of piano faculties saying that there is no such job title as “Concert Pianist” anymore, as nearly all graduates need to develop extra-musical skills to survive and get their income from several sources. Today a successful musician needs more than just a musical talent. He or she needs some entrepreneurial and managerial skills for the self-marketing and the self-organization.
It is a long way of getting enough stage experience. The maturity needs time and concert opportunity to test for real what musicians have been learning. Nobody can learn the repertoire in the warm and cozy practice room, then go on stage in the Carnegie Hall, and play the concert of their lifetime. Great maestros like Vladimir Horowitz and Svjatoslav Richter have been touring Russian villages at the beginning of their career, playing nights through to get the music into their fingers for everybody who was willing to hear…
So, to play or not to play? What would you decide? Thank you for sharing your opinion.
Do you think that the classical music can be viewed as a sign of social distinction? The opening question will be left unseen by many people; the blog statistics might give me an answer by itself. This question might irritate the real classical music fans as for many people classical music is passion; it is a part of life style and for some even their purpose in life. However, let us think about it with a clear mind.
I would like to give you an introductory example. End of 2015 there was a heated debate in Munich about building a new concert hall to replace Gasteig, a relatively new (1985) cultural center with a philharmonic hall with an interesting wood seashell form but apparently poor acoustics. The government has been ruminating about the building plans for over decade. The classical music enthusiasts started their own initiative of collecting the “pro new music hall” signatures and got an approval from the government. The total investment costs for a new concert would be around 300 Mio Euro according to a leading German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. (A newly built Hamburg Elbe Philharmonic Hall is nearly 800 Mio Euro) A big victory for Munich concertgoers.
You do not need to study sociology to see that the audience of the philharmonic halls is mostly 65 plus. The journalist Christian Krügel describes the Munich cultural audience as very spoilt and highly demanding. They are expecting the best and hoping to see the innovations but there are hardly any experiments. According to him, the reason for this attitude is that there is more behind the real value of the art. There are personal interests of the small group of people who dominate the classical music landscape. Can you imagine all teenagers of Munich collecting signatures for a new arena for their pop and rock concerts? I am sure the reaction would be immediate: How can these young people expect that so much money be spent on their music! Perhaps we could express it in the language of Brexit. Similar to the results of “no to Brexit” of politically active population with 38% of votes in the age group 65 plus and 66% for “no” in the group 18 to 24 years, the small group of older generation overvoted the younger one.
How can it be possible? 300 Mio Euro is a huge amount of money. The alternative use of this amount of money might sound very idealistic: new schools with the new music instruments for everybody, highly trained educational specialists, new smaller concert venues, innovative locations, bigger budget for the cultural sponsoring, support for creative innovation projects. You name it. The arguments “pro” a new concert hall would be to build a new attraction in Munich city that would bring new tourists and new visitors and would surely be a point of distinction for Munich. This reasoning comes from a thought that classical music often serves as a sign for status and privilege. Julian Johnson writes in his book “Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Value” that the classical music has a very long and entrenched tradition of social distinction that it is very rooted in our society. The tradition of classical music comes from the Enlightment philosophical debates where it was a humanistic aspiration that the classical music would understand itself. It was seen as a way of self-expression and knowledge. I remember from my school years that our teachers were telling that Sergey Rachmaninov’s etude tableau in E-Flat minor was the depiction of the humanity and the composer was trying to show the human race in the noble light. Definitely very ambitious goal – surely the reason why it is fiendishly difficult to play too.
When one studies the history of classical music, one sees clearly that the classical music was searching for the distinction itself and it got it back from the small group whose goal is to find a social distinction through the classical music. A famous French philosopher Didier Eribon who comes from a poor family and faces hard times because of his homosexuality writes in his autobiography “Comeback to Reims” some thought-provoking lines about social distinction. “Interest in art is a question of upbringing. I had to learn it first. It was a part of my “re-upbringing” that I had to do for myself so that I could enter into a new social class and leave the old one behind. Interest in music, art or literature always lies in the revaluation of “self”, consciously or subconsciously. This revaluation leaves behind others who do not have access to it. It is a so-called social distinction, a difference between oneself and others whom one sees as not “belonging to the class” and lower in social standing. This superior feeling speaks from the subtle smile, body language, expert jargon, ostentatious wellbeing…This posturing has intimidated me but I did everything possible to become like these people who behaved with ease and to show them that I was born like this.”
The example of China is extremely eloquent. Millions of Chinese kids are learning piano to move along a social ladder. India has a musical education for the kids from rich families. The opposite was true in the Soviet culture where the government wanted to bring the excellent musical performance to all workers in factories. Svjatoslav Richter could tell many stories of his experiences playing literally everywhere. Surely, his refusal to play in the chosen venues would have put a stop to his career. But it is not the point I would like to make. Svjatoslav Richter played because he truly loved playing and it did not matter for him where to play and for whom to play. He played for the beauty of music.
The beauty of music cannot be measured in terms of social status or prestige. The true art has an ability to truly transcend itself where the music would transgress the borders and free itself from inhibitions put by the classical music managers, career-minded performers and prestige-seeking audience. Bach, Berlioz and Beethoven will continue being played and stay alive despite the age of the works and the number of times they were performed. The high ideals of romantic aesthetics will live on….