Music, and classical music in particular, is about the sculpting of time into significant forms, into grand architectural works extended in time. Its building blocks are sound and silence. Its reason for being is to provide us with sacred moments, inklings of the Other, in what is, for the most part, a profane world.
Do we really want to hear Beethoven’s Fifth as it was heard at its premiere? Do we want to listen to 50 unevenly trained musicians, give or take, playing for four hours on weak instruments that are hard to play, in an unheated concert hall conducted by a deaf man on one rehearsal?
It is a common criticism today, as it was in 1341, that to look “backwards” is to look upon something old and decrepit, outdated and dilapidated. Time for us moves only forward, and so paradoxically, while our civilization grows old, it is our past that we label as aged and the day itself as eternally young.
Anyone who has tracked the self-destruction of music over the past half century has to be astonished at the outpouring of such explicitly religious music and at its enormously popular reception. Can the recovery of music be, at least partially, a product of faith?
The notion that music has properties and powers that can sharpen the mind and transform the soul is ancient. Such ideas formed the basis of Confucian civilization in China. In the West, they are attributed to Pythagoras and his followers and played a central role in Plato’s ideal state.
“Our mission is to enrich and connect people with a sublime musical experience – that’s what we do. What this means is that it’s not only the music that should be sublime, but everything about Concertgebouw should be sublime.”
We have become used to concert halls that make big bold statements: the looming sculptural forms of the Philharmonie in Paris, the metallic sails of Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the giant glass barrel vault of the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts in Philadelphia. The Kleinhans is curiously elusive.
What do amateurs – all fairly serious ones, but also people who make their living outside of the music world – glean from a week spent inundated by one piece of music?
Postwar modernism and its hip progeny, in combination with the expensive cost of operation for orchestras and opera houses, created barriers which hinder renewal of the repertoire – a self-destructive mix, pushing classical music into the corner as a “museum culture.”
Selling music in wrapping paper which belies its nature will inevitably lead to disappointment: potential new audiences – especially the younger generations without much exposure to classical music – will feel cheated when they find out that a Mahler symphony does not sound at all like heavy metal or hip-hop.