The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is classical music making a comeback? | August 1, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Is classical music making a comeback?

The Ear asks: Did it ever go away?

Well, some signs and attendance demographics — smaller audiences with more older people and few young people — do point to problems. (Below is a photo of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and conductor John DeMain.)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

In any case, Andrew Goldstein has written a thought-provoking column for The Huffington Post.

Read it and see what you think:

Then let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. there are many opportunities around the madison area to experience classical music in an intimate setting, where they can share with the musicians. maybe people don’t know how to find out about them. the occasions are limited to from two to eight musicians,
    which captures the ambiance described. almost always some new works are played.
    what about the larger works requiring a full orchestra?
    how could they be financed without the “concert experience”?
    i think the people who go to the more intimate groups are those who have been going to the major concerts
    all along. maybe we have it backwards.

    Comment by elaine smith — August 1, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

  2. Give a listen — Sunday morning, July 24th at First Unitarian Society and the opening Choir Hymn offered by those who attended the UU Musicians Network National Conference.
    How Long, words and music by Pepper Choplin
    Starts about 3.30 on the video.

    Comment by catstephens — August 1, 2016 @ 10:23 am

  3. I agree with the previous comments, and would add that as it includes widely different forms, styles and periods, classical music shouldn’t be confined to limited concert and recital practices. The music of Haydn and earlier was most often performed in rooms of chatty royalty and aristocrats, but we have, over time, confined it to formal spaces and audience behavior, making it feel like a study rather than a recreation. There’s so much diversity in the music, offer diversity in where and how it’s presented.

    Comment by slfiore — August 1, 2016 @ 7:59 am

  4. Although I don’t always agree with fflambeau, he or she made a number of very good points today. I especially agree with the emphasis on”stars”.
    And the Concert Hall thing rang true as well. It’s the reason I now go to many smaller chamber music concerts rather than the symphony. Smaller venues create greater intimacy and immediacy; they’re less stifling. Admission price is a factor as well. I get more out of a smaller concert. And a cookie at the end doesn’t hurt.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — August 1, 2016 @ 6:14 am

  5. Andrew Goldstein’s article is much self promotion (he makes money doing things like this) and foolish. Witness this, which appears in his article:

    “Marin Alsop, lauded conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, recently charged the orchestra world with a change in focus, boldly declaring, “We need to ask ourselves if artistic excellence is the ultimate goal, or if other things may be more important.”

    And the other things that are just as important as artistic excellence are the very same things that brought me into this broad and deep world of classical music: a personal, human connection to something beautiful.”

    If this is not very specific, it likely was designed to be, as was the name dropping of “Marin Alsop”.

    Here are my own suggestions for classical music’s reformation (which it needs):

    1. Tone down the “star” business. Madison could do that in a big way with the next selection of the conductor of the MSO. Instead of throwing piles of money at “stars” (mostly developed and promoted by the recording industry) why not instead focus on someone young, not into the money game, but who’s bright and innovative and can program and conduct lots of different kinds of music? I suspect that the reason that people flock to the MSO is the performance center, not John DeMain anyway.

    2. Ditto for players with the orchestra. Lots of young people are out there who are not in the Yo Yo Ma pay scale range: book them.

    3. Put an emphasis on education and the local university music school would be an excellent place to start. They give lots of concerts, many of them free; all of them outstanding. This is the way to go. And more emphasis on young people orchestras and performers and local groups (like the Middleton one).

    4. Classical music radio has to play more than Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky (although those are all excellent composers, especially the last four). More variety is necessary and more exploration of music that doesn’t strictly fall into classical music (like the works of Astor Piazzolla, for instance). It also has to employ announcers who are less snobbish.

    5. Classical music has to embrace modern technology. Young people listen to music on YouTube an on the Internet and their phones. I’d like to see local groups put more of their music on the web on places like Youtube. UW Music Dept. should really do this and do it for almost all student recitals.

    Comment by fflambeau — August 1, 2016 @ 1:52 am

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