The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Are concert halls and opera houses becoming refuges and shelters from the on-line world of the Web and social media? | September 19, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Are concert halls and opera houses becoming refuges and shelters from the on-line world of the Web and social media?

New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) thinks so. He published a long essay this week justifying his view.


Along the way he also offers other suggestions, from alternative venues to informal dress, for how to increase audiences and attendance. And he thinks that live performances might help regain shortened attention spans.

In terms of the digital world, Tommasini even goes so far as to think that providing a refuge from social media could be selling points for the survival of live performances in concert halls and opera houses.

(Below bottom is an iPad in Carnegie Hall, below top, is a photo by Karsten Moran for The New York Times. Tommasini also discusses smart phones and cell phones.)


iPad photo in Carnegie Hall Karsten Moran NYT

The Ear hopes Tommasini might be right, but fears he might be naïve – especially when it comes to younger audiences.

The Ear thinks that the new media may well end up being more powerful than such old media as opera and classical music. He suspects that concert halls and opera houses will end up accommodating and incorporating new media.

But he hopes he is wrong.

What do you think?

And how do you view Tommasini’s arguments or ideas?

The Ear wants to hear.

Here is a link to the essay:


  1. Dear Ear –
    The IT/tech genie is out of the bottle. Now we all must come to terms with it in all sectors of our lives.

    By the way,

    Vocal Recital Reminder

    Music of Bernstein, Bolcom, Copland, Wolf, others

    Allisanne Apple, mezzo soprano
    Jane Peckham, piano

    Monday, September 21 – 7 pm
    Oakwood Village West Auditorium

    Comment by Marius — September 19, 2015 @ 12:56 pm

  2. I agree that Tommasini is naive. Offering a tech-free zone will not be enough of a plus to draw audiences. Other incentives are needed.

    Comment by Deb — September 19, 2015 @ 7:37 am

  3. Interesting question but I’m afraid I could not read his article at NY Times since that is a “for pay” web site and I have reached my limit of free articles there for the month.

    Not having read what Mr. Tommasini wrote (and sorry to say, I have not found him to be a profound thinker in the past), my own thoughts are that the Internet and new social media are wonderful complements to live performances. They are not and never will be substitutes for live performances because one does not get the interaction between audience and performer that one should get at such performances (but seldom does anymore even in “live” performances due to the size of concert halls and the unapproachable attitude of many performers). The latter, again in my opinion, is one of the reasons classical music is on the decline. All people, not just young people, like to interact with performers and in huge concert venues with megastar performers that is difficult.

    So smaller venues, perhaps less “professional” (in the sense of super paid superstars who jet about from one concert hall to the next) performers, and musicians who are willing and able to socialize and talk with people who love classical music would seem the way to go. In almost every European city, there is a lot of classical music being played in churches for free or for relatively small fees. Since the NYTimes columnist, according to your report, seems to be suggesting less formal attire and smaller venues, he seems to be making sensible suggestions. This apoproach also helps remove the sense that one is going to a magical rite at which only certain people truly belong. That exclusive club kind of attitude, for a lack of a better phrase, is hurting classical music especially with the young. Sharing some drinks and quick food with the performers is another way of breaking down barriers as are talks by the latter about their music.

    The Internet need not be in conflict with the growth and dissemination of classical music, it can be a powerful ally. For instance, regarding your last topic which dealt with Baroque music, I could easily and quickly access online some Baroque musicians who I had never heard of before. I found their work, in the main, to be marvelous. Had the Internet and your blog site not been available, I could not have done this so easily; also, I learned about some musical groups (like Collegium 1704, a wonderful Czech orchestra devoted to Baroque Music) that otherwise I likely would never have listened to. The Internet and your blog site and comments from other readers also made it possible for me to enter into a discussion with others interested on the subject and for me to learn about music from other posters; music which I would never otherwise have listened to (like the talented Czech composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka, whom I had not heard of as lately as 24 or so hours ago and “discovered” through another posters astute comments).

    I also think that it would behoove classical music institutions, like UW Madison’s excellent School of Music, to put more of their concerts/performances and even lectures on their web site: to develop a catalog of these, from students to teachers to guests to scholarly talks. That appears to be their intention and, if so, it is a good one (they are probably stymied for lack of funds). Family and friends can watch their loved ones perform, and music schools tend to perform music that is not played so frequently elsewhere. Just this past year, for instance, they performed quite a lot of music by Rameau, which is not otherwise easily accessible. Most people, I suspect, would be even willing to pay a small surcharge to listen/watch such online events; thus making this another source of revenue for hard strapped musical schools and their performers.

    In short, modern technology need not be an enemy to classical music; it could well be, if properly used, a strong ally both in propagating the music, in educating the public and in raising funds for musical groups.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 19, 2015 @ 5:31 am

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