Classical music must not cease from exploration

Today is a poignant personal anniversary, so I have been listening to Valentin Silvestrov's Stille Lieder (Silent Songs) in the 1986 ECM recording. This morning that performance by baritone and Sergej Jakowenko accompanied by Ilja Scheps was, for me, the most sublimely appropriate masterpiece. But that is because of the personal conditions relating to today. Tomorrow, depending on the conditions, a Sibelius symphony, a Mozart string quartet, Iiro Rantala's jazz improvisations, or Steve Roach's electronica will be sublimely appropriate. 

 Masterpieces, like every human condition, are impermanent. They come and go, and return and return - Silvestrov's Stille Lieder first featured here back in 2008, many years before the Ukrainian tragedy gave their composer his 30 minutes of fame. (Newcomers to Silvestrov's music should know that Stille Lieder are the root from which his better known masterpieces, the Fifth Symphony and Requiem for Larissa grew.) 

For decades classical music has been trying, without success, to defend its cultural status by treating the music as a permanent fixture, and treating everything around it - audience, presentation style, venue, etc - as impermanent. The epitome of this foolishness is the graveyard of creative aspiration that is now BBC Radio 3.

Everything connected with classical music is impermanent. The music itself is impermanent - a masterly performance has no permanence after the last reverberation in the hall has gone. Scores are impermanent as they depend on interpretation, while interpretation itself is impermanent and driven by fashion. Recordings are impermanent as they depend on the replay system.  Concert halls are impermanent - each year brings a new, more expensive, even better, supposedly acoustic perfect bricks and mortar masterpiece. As the very wise Kaikhosru Sorabji told us, "Talk about immortal masterpieces is rather ridiculous": whatever happened to John Tavener's The Protecting Veil and Henryk Górecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs?

Arts funding is also impermanent, a reality that the classical industry great and good refuse to acknowledge. The supply of classical music is also impermanent as again, despite the denial of industry experts, ultimately supply must balance with demand. And, very importantly, the classical audience is impermanent - the new young audience that classical music has been chasing for two decades is no longer a new young audience

To rejuvenate itself classical music needs to recognise this impermanence. The way forward is not the current strategy of the same old stuff presented in a more audience-friendly format by artists of different gender and ethnicity. Diversity goes beyond gender and ethnicity. True diversity is the exploration, embrace and celebration of every type of difference. That is not just difference in the human race, but difference in every facet of the great performing art that is classical music. And the classical industry needs to lose its current pathological fear of the new, the different and the unknown. Because, as T.S. Eliot explained in Little Gidding: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time".


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