To be a composer
RON BIERMAN met and talked to Benjamin Lees
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Why isn't classical music more popular? Reduced government funding and changing
educational priorities have hurt. So has the short attention span induced by modern
media. Radio stations once attracted listeners with complete Mahler symphonies. They
wouldn't go over as well on MTV.
But I think Benjamin Lees accurately described the root problem, 'I remember when
you would look at a score and tell a composer ... not many people are going to
understand this. The reply was, "I don't care." They were basically
writing either for themselves or their colleagues.' A public audience became
irrelevant, with predictable results.
Critics, composers and teachers have all contributed to declining popularity. Lees
said, 'I know that for many years following the death of Bartók, critics were
terrified of finding themselves on the wrong side of an issue, or on the wrong side of
a composer because it wasn't until, what, three weeks, four weeks after Bartók's
death when suddenly the musical world was pronouncing [him] a genius. ... Why not in his
lifetime? So [after that] whenever a composer would come along with a new work and it was
very far out -- in those days far out meant twelve-tone or serial -- the critics were
always saying, "Oh, yes, yes, this breaks new ground!" They did not want to be
caught again ... and they kept this going.'
Copyright © 3 August 2003
Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA