Classical Resolutions: Jonathan Biss Challenges The New And Old

What in classical music needs changing? Join the discussion with prominent musicians like pianist Jonathan Biss by leaving your thoughts in the comments section.

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hide captionJonathan Biss thinks the debate around classical music is centered on getting bigger audiences, instead of on the music.

Benjamin Ealovega
Jonathan Biss

Jonathan Biss thinks the debate around classical music is centered on getting bigger audiences, instead of on the music.

Benjamin Ealovega

In the past year or so, it seems to me that a critical mass (or do I mean tipping point?) has been reached, and everyone agrees: things have to change in the classical music world.

I think that's great. Not only do I agree that some aspects of the concert/recorded musical worlds are not functioning as well as they ought to, but also I think any art form — particularly one in which much of the art in question has been around for a long time — benefits from having long-held beliefs about it challenged.

What sometimes troubles me is the form in which the "things have to change" discussion has taken. Because there is more competition for the audience's attention than ever before, and because technology has changed the performer's relationship with media so profoundly, I sometimes sense a note of desperation in the way musicians and arts organizations are trying to outdo each other in their efforts to be "new" and "creative."

The problem with this, it seems to me, is that "new is good" is a lot like "old is good," in that neither attitude is much concerned with the music. It's just exchanging one paradigm for another.

My 2011 resolution, then, is to spend each day addressing music with passion and focus, and wrestling with the question of how to bring it to people in the most organic, open-minded (and open-hearted, probably more importantly) way possible. I'll never make an artistic decision because it is what's expected, or because it is unexpected, but simply because it seems, at that moment, necessary and right.

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