Classical Is Alive And Kicking In 2012

  • The Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel
    Photo: Mathew Imaging/
  • Elliott Carter
    Photo: David S. Holloway/Getty Images

Classical music is a rich, expansive and multifaceted genre, and we are living in a tremendously exciting time to be involved in it. Though it may sound like a contradiction in terms, new classical music still is being composed, while classical performers and conductors continue to breathe new life into great works of the past.

While this is an exciting time for classical music, there are serious challenges for orchestras and the industry. The latest installment in this grim conversation occurred in the New York Times on Nov. 24. But it seems to me that for every instance of unfortunate circumstances in the classical world, there are multiple examples of great things happening. Major orchestras certainly face economic pressures, but they continue to mount exciting seasons. On a quick visit to the Los Angeles Philharmonic's website, I discovered dozens of concerts I wish I could have attended, including one in October inspired by Maurice Sendak's classic children's book Where The Wild Things Are. Fortunately, my home team, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, is vibrant and excellent.

If you really want to experience classical music on the cutting edge, explore smaller ensembles, which are often run by musicians who grew up with pop and rock music and have harnessed its energy and DIY ethos in service of their classical artistry. There are too many of them to list here, so I'll just name a few that I have experienced personally. The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble combines dramatic staging and lighting effects with superlative performances of works from the 20th and 21st centuries. L'Académie is a Boston-based chamber orchestra specializing in French Baroque music presented with a flair inspired by high fashion and pop culture. ETHEL is a New York-based string quartet described as "post-classical," performing contemporary music on amplified instruments.

I think it is abundantly clear that classical music is alive and kicking, with a rich well of resources from both our long-standing heritage and the new energy of emerging musicians. But I'd be remiss not to commemorate a few of our leading lights who left us in 2012. The great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died in May, just 10 days shy of his 87th birthday. Polish-American violinist and educator Roman Totenberg also died in May at the age of 101. German composer Hans Werner Henze died in October at 86, and GRAMMY-winning American composer Elliott Carter died in November at 103. I am particularly inspired by Carter, who had a long and prolific career and was composing music to the very end, including 14 new works written after his 100th birthday.

Clearly, classical music is good for your health.

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