CSI: Symphony Orchestra — bloodthirsty composers strike again

[**Note: Huffington Post inexplicably yanked Alexander Spangher’s article about composers killing classical music. Possibly because they were feeling mischievous. I’m keeping this up. Expect updated links if/when the article is recirculated.]

The saga continues.

Columbia University student Alexander Spangher has pronounced classical music dead. Finito. Detective Spangher fingered the culprit, too: Colonel Mustard, in the library, with a knife-wrench.

Just kidding. The killer was the composer, with a boring piece, in a drafty orchestra hall:

Ultimately, current classical composers are greatly failing their field. With some notable exceptions, most of current composers seem intent on creating complex and “innovative” music at the expense of aesthetic tolerability. What could be an exciting and revitalizing branch of classical music is ultimately a failure.

Spangher is following a recent spate of death pronouncements from various corners of the web. I won’t link to them, but suffice to say, googling “death AND classical music” will get you where you need to go.

Alexander Spangher, P.I. does have a point, I suppose. The trend arrow heads towards complexity, inscrutability and ponderousness in new classical pieces, at least the ones I’m privy to. We play a music rooted in catchy hooks (“aesthetic tolerability” in Spangher’s parlance), and composers have been running away from them.

But you can’t just lay this one at the feet of the ones writing the music.

They’re responding to a market demand. We just need to start demanding different things. Quit commissioning stupid commemorative works that get archived and quickly forgotten. Quit accepting pieces blindly if they don’t move you (and your audience, by extension). Quit playing boring music.

My solution?

Listen to hip hop, and steal marketing ideas, fast as you can.

Start pushing out mixtapes. Start playing house shows and pop-up shows. Meet your audience where they live, and invite them to come to your orchestra hall performances. When they know you’ve tapped into something exciting they’ll be thrilled to try to get in on it.

Wouldn't it be cool if playing music was like, fun, and fun to listen to?
Wouldn’t it be cool if playing music was like, fun, and fun to listen to?

Don’t blame composers. (But seriously composers: bring your A-game.) Quit making all these damn death pronouncements. Enough finger-pointing, B.D. Wong. Let’s make something.


By dubuquecello

I'm a Dubuque, Iowa native. Interested in cello, tennis, donuts and other things. I'm a classical music optimist.

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2 replies on “CSI: Symphony Orchestra — bloodthirsty composers strike again”

Hi, Alex Spangher here!

Thanks so much @Dubuquecello for this post! I totally agree with you that the incentive structure for classical composers encourages “archivable music”. However, lets not forget how past great artists transcended their incentive systems: look at Hayden’s Symphony No. 45 protested Prince Esterházy’s wishes, or how Beethoven completely reshaped the music patronage system. Great composers can do multiple things with their music—satisfy their sponsors, their audiences, and their individual artistic inclinations!!

Anyway, I’ll try to get the post up at HuffPost so you can link to it again. If not I’ll try to get it published elsewhere and I’ll let you know when it goes up!!


Thanks Alex, that would be great. Just drop a note here, or email (will-dot-roseliep-at-gmail) and I’d be happy to update that. Any particular reason it was taken down?

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