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Let’s Talk: Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music?

The brilliant Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker and author of the book "The Rest is Noise" wrote an essay for The Guardian about the public's resistance to modern classical music. Think Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage. Or, locally, think the UCSD Music department and Roger Reynolds, Chinary Ung, and even Steven Schick (who performs and conducts more than he composes, but he primarily performs modern compositions).

If you don't know any of these names, you're not alone. I think when most people hear modern classical music, they glob onto the "classical" part and forget the modern. After all, everyone knows Brahms and Beethoven.

But the reverence for the early giants to the exclusion of all things modern is not the case in other art forms like it is in classical music. As Ross points out, Jackson Pollack, Frank Gehry, James Joyce, Jean Luc-Godard are recognizable names in their respective fields, and they've all advanced their art forms and broke ranks with the past. Why do audiences embrace experimentation in other art forms but not in classical music?

Ross thinks the problem resides with the classical music industry. He writes: "modern composers have fallen victim to a long-smouldering indifference that is intimately linked to classical music's idolatrous relationship with the past."

He goes on to say:

The music profession became focused on the manic polishing of a display of masterpieces. By the time Schoenberg, Stravinsky and company introduced a new vocabulary of chords and rhythms, the game was fixed against them. Even composers who bent over backwards to accommodate a taste for Romantic tonality encountered scepticism; they could not overcome, except by drastic measures, the disadvantage of being alive.

So I want to hear from readers on this. Do you love or hate modern classical music? Why? Why do you think audiences don't embrace it? What do you think the future is for modern classical music?

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