Classical Music at a Crossroads

The classical music press has been holding a deathwatch for decades. Why? Low ticket sales, crippling deficits and a slow fade from radio may signal a waning interest in Bach, Beethoven and the rest of the greats. Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, and American composer John Corigliano talk about whether classical music is in crisis.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

The classical music press leans toward the apocalypse. The end is always right around the corner. And to be fair there are more than a few harbingers of doom: orchestras operating in the red and losing their recording contracts, Beethoven and Schoenberg fading from the airways, concert halls empty except for a few septuagenarians wielding hard candy. But rumors of the death of classical have always abounded, and there are signs that things may not be that dire. Here in the Washington, D.C., area listeners to public station WETA fell asleep last night to the dulcet sounds of Dvorak for the first night in two years - as that station's news and talk experiment, which had angered many diehard classical fans, came to an end.

Orchestras are creating casual programs to attract younger, presumably gum-wielding fans, and more and more classical junkies are discovering iTunes and satellite radio. This hour we'll talk to Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, about classical music at the crossroads.

Later in the hour, Jon Tester, the newly elected senator from Montana, joins us, and your letters. But first, the health of classical music, and we want to hear from you about how you listen and think about classical music. And if you have questions for Dana Gioia about the role of the NEA, join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

Dana Gioia has been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A where he's recovering from the effects of laryngitis. We're pleased that you took the time to be with us today.

Mr. DANA GIOIA (Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts): I'm delighted to be here.

CONAN: And I guess, a win last night for classical music radio listeners, but you've just completed a survey that shows you're less likely to come across classical music on the radio.

Mr. GIOIA: Well, as a - in a nonofficial capacity, as a resident of Washington, D.C., I am delighted to have WETA playing classical music again. But in going back to my official role as chairman, the classical music world in the United States is enormous. It's thriving. But I still think that there are signs that we need to be vigilant to secure its future. The things that I think disturb a lot of people are that the aging of the audience...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GIOIA: ...it's in across all the classical music forms. More disturbing I think ahs been the decline of education in music and in the other arts in high schools and in public schools. You can no longer take it for granted that every public school has a band, has a chorus, has a program in musical theater. And finally, on the radio classical music has lost a lot of ground over the last 20 years, and it does jeopardize the availability of classical music in a free, democratic, open medium like radio.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, and that's where a lot of people says - say they first encountered music.

Mr. GIOIA: Yeah, I'm a working-class kid from L.A. My, you know, immigrants, you know, families on both sides, and where I learned about classical music was taking piano lessons from a nun and listening to it on the radio. And there was wonderful concerts, programs, operas broadcast free in L.A. So while I was doing manual labor I could listen to Beethoven or Verdi, and that's how I learned a repertoire, long before I was ever able to afford a ticket to a symphony orchestra.

CONAN: Now, the report that we were talking about took NPR to task for pushing news and talks programs - like this one. So what do you think the role of public radio should be? Is there a special mission that public radio has that supersedes the mission of commercial broadcasters?

Mr. GIOIA: Well, let me say first of all, you know, we didn't try to take NPR to task because we're fans of NPR. NPR provides an enormously important service to the United States. That being said, I think that the whole vision of public radio is to provide in a sense those things which radio can provide for free to America and not be determined by the commercial environment. And for me those things are quality talk and quality music - especially the kind of the music like classical music and jazz and to a certain degree folk music - that isn't really available in commercial formats. Diversity of programming I think should be one of the fundamentals of public radio.

CONAN: And it should be pointed out, yes, WETA, the public station, went back to classical music last night. WGMS, a commercial station which had broadcast classical for 60 years, went off the air for commercial reasons.

Mr. GIOIA: Yeah, if you want to - if you look at the whole country right now, and try to say, well, what are the national trends? There's three trends I think you could point out. One has been a very broad decline of classical music on commercial stations. We've seen a lot of stations switch formats. Secondly, the amount of classical music played on public stations has declined. It's still there in a lot of places, but some cities have lost it altogether. And about 27 percent of the markets in the United States have lost classical musical stations. But the third thing is a rather positive trend, that even with these declines, the audience for classical music on the radio seems to be stable. There still is a lot of people that are listening to this and want to listen to this.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, should the listeners to classical music be subsidized by the government?

Mr. GIOIA: Well, should the airwaves be, you know, subsidized - a larger issue.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GIOIA: It seems to me once you've made the decision that there are two things in our culture. There are things that we want to put in the marketplace, and the way that we determine the value of those is put a price on it. But there are other things that we don't really want to put a price on. We think that they - whatever their price, that they are beyond price. It seems to me that in a democracy, the arts have a role in those things that are really - should belong to the common wealth and not be entirely relegated to the marketplace.

CONAN: We're speaking with Dana Gioia, who's suffering from Laryngitis. He doesn't always sound like that. He's the chairman of the National Endowments for the Arts. We're talking about classical music at the crossroads. If you'd like to join the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. Let's go to Debbie. Debbie's calling us from Phoenix, Arizona.

DEBBIE (Caller): Hi, I just wanted to tell you that I totally agree with Mr. Gioia.

Mr. GIOIA: I'm glad someone does.

DEBBIE: I think that there's been a terrible loss of arts education in the public schools, but I also think that the United States government has not paid enough attention to arts in general. And in other countries, art forms are subsidized by the government and - because they take art and art education very seriously. And I think people do not appreciate how much art is a problem-solving kind of activity, and that, in addition to enriching your life, it also helps you understand how to attack problems in a different way. And I think it's just critical. I am just appalled at the lack of arts education in general.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

DEBBIE: And I hope that the National Endowment for the Arts will look seriously at how they can improve this situation.

CONAN: Well, I don't think Dana Gioia is going to give you an argument on much of what you said. But let me ask him, when you go - I don't know what kind of meetings you go in terms of the government - but when they say we've got to have more money for - to focus education money on reading and writing and arithmetic, do you get a chance to voice your opinion - say wait a minute, we need to have violins, we need to have trumpets?

DEBBIE: Well, here's the story. I myself am as an artist...

CONAN: Excuse me, excuse me. I was asking Dana Gioia the question.

Mr. GIOIA: Well...

DEBBIE: Oh, OK.

Mr. GIOIA: ...yeah, the charter of the NEA is different than the local school boards and the Department of Education. But I've been very aggressive in talking about the responsibility, really, to make the advantages of arts education available to a new generation of Americans. Not every kid is going to discover himself or herself through mathematics or through English, or even through sports. There's other ways: theater, writing for a school paper, you know, singing, acting, you know, playing an instrument are ways of developing -not just your creative skills - but developing your social skills and personal skills. If you go on stage and learn to speak well, to speak clearly, to have good posture, good presence, this is a job skill as a well as an artistic skill.

And so I've been very aggressive in doing that. And I think one of the most important things we've done over the last four years at the NEA, is to reposition us as an agency which is really providing something both of aesthetic and practical value to all Americans.

CONAN: Debbie, thanks very much for the call. Let's go now to - this is Randy - excuse me - Michael. Michael's calling us from Phoenix.

MICHAEL (Caller): Yes, I'm the music director of the Phoenix Symphony, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder, Colorado, and I thought I'd just chime in...

CONAN: And between the three of them, do you make a living?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: Well, I spend a lot of time on airplanes.

CONAN: I bet.

MICHAEL: But I just wanted to mention a couple of things. First of all, I think there probably hasn't been a better time in the United States than now for arts organizations, particularly classical music, for working on developing relevance with their audiences. I know in the organizations that I lead, we're always talking about collaborative ventures, and certainly talking about regional and local issues that we can touch.

For example, in Brooklyn we have a huge opportunity to reach one of the - well, one of the largest cities in the country, if it wasn't a borough of New York City. And here in Phoenix we're looking at connecting with our Native American population and our proximity to Latin America. And I think one of the interesting components of this education and availability issue is that probably over the last 30 years we've found in our business that it comes back to our fixed costs in order to provide the education that people keep saying you have to provide more exposure. And so I just think it's very interesting, and I think it would be a great opportunity for the government to help, if we could actually focus more on helping with our mission as educators.

CONAN: In terms of fixed costs, you're talking about the cost of the salaries of the orchestra, the building itself, that sort of thing?

MICHAEL: Exactly.

CONAN: Dana Gioia?

Mr. GIOIA: Well, let me second this, remark on this, in a slightly different perspective. Once you've made the fixed costs of hiring an orchestra, playing a concert, wouldn't it be wonderful if you could create partnerships with school districts, state government, federal government, public radio in terms of amortizing those fixed costs against not a thousand people but a million people or 50,000 people?

MICHAEL: Yes.

Mr. GIOIA: And I think those partnerships between private organizations and governmental organizations and public radio are the real opportunity that we're trying to talk about.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GIOIA: You know, which really allows you to reach far more people than you could simply in a live performance in a specific site.

CONAN: And, Michael, quickly.

MICHAEL: I would completely agree. I would say that orchestras like the San Francisco Symphony are a wonderful example of those kinds of partnerships. And I know so many other symphony orchestras, in particular, and opera houses, for that matter, have worked very, very hard and are doing a wonderful job at connecting with students' private/public monies. And I think it's not doom and gloom. I think it's actually a very rosy picture, lots of enthusiastic people. And I know, in my three orchestras, we've not had higher ticket sales than, well, here in Phoenix, in the history of the whole organization.

CONAN: My three orchestras. Didn't Fred MacMurray star in that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: Exactly.

CONAN: Michael, thanks very much for the call.

MICHAEL: Have a good day.

CONAN: Good luck, and have fun with your frequent flier miles.

MICHAEL: No worries. See ya.

CONAN: We're talking classical music this hour. Coming up after the break, "Red Violin" composer John Corigliano, as well as PERFORMANCE TODAY'S Fred Child, and we'll take more of your calls with Dana Gioia, the chairman of the NEA: 800-989-8255. E-mail: talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

We're talking about classical music this hour and whether or not it's finding new listeners or simply paying - playing for older and older audiences. Our guest this hour is Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

A little bit later in the hour, we'll hear from Fred Child, host of American Public Media's PERFORMANCE TODAY, and we'd like to hear from you. How do you listen to classical if you do: 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

The category of new music can provoke a dissonant reaction to the uninitiated, but the span of contemporary composers ranges from the experimental to the new romantics. One of the most accessible and sensual composers is John Corigliano. He's won almost every major award for his music, including a Grammy, a Pulitzer, and an Oscar for his popular score to the film "The Red Violin." And Mr. Corigliano joins us now from his home in New York state. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. JOHN CORIGLIANO (Composer): It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And how do you expect most people will have access to your music? On the radio or at a concert hall?

Mr. CORIGLIANO: Well, there are a lot of ways now. In fact it's more than just the symphonic concert hall, and of course it is the radio. But there are many, many venues that are growing rapidly that disseminate music - new music and all music. I'm thinking in particular of the concert bands throughout the United States. They're usually connected with universities, although not entirely, but the level of performance is that of the major symphony orchestras. And for contemporary composers, it's a particularly rich field because not only are there no Beethovens, Brahms and Tchaikovskys that wrote band music, but in addition, the bands, because they're connected with universities, have a wonderful rehearsal period so that when they play a new piece of music, it's not sight-reading it. They're really, really playing it.

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: And I've honestly found the excellence of the concert bands for the United States, and particularly in the state of Texas, I might say, to be the kind of inspiration that many composers today want.

CONAN: Do you worry about the health of music?

Mr. CORIGLIANO: I do worry about the health of music, but actually what I'm seeing now is not so much the dying of classical music, as we call it, but the reestablishment of it in other venues. For example, many young composers now have their own blogs and Web sites, and they put out their own music. They self-publish. MySpace, iTunes, Sirius Satellite Radio, all of this basically are new avenues that are opening up for classical music. So the old ones may be declining a bit - I'm talking about specifically classical orchestral music - but then there are these many, many healthy branches.

CONAN: Hmm, last night when the classical music station here in Washington, D.C., came back on the air as a classical station, it broke out some very familiar war horses, "The New World Symphony," for example. How do you best introduce people to a wider range of music?

Mr. CORIGLIANO: Well, I think that, again, it depends on which people you're talking about. If you're talking about people who knew classical music when they were young, then "The New World Symphony" might make a lot of sense to them. If you're talking about new listeners, I think they'd be much more interested in contemporary scores.

If you play concerts for young people, for kids, and you put the "The Rite of Spring" of Stravinsky on and "Eine Klein Nachtmusik" music on, there's absolutely no question that the Stravinsky wins head over heels compared to the Mozart, not because it's better music. I do love the Stravinsky. That's not the reason. The reason is that the sounds they hear are associated with the sounds they are growing up with. So I think it's who's listening. That's why in the concerts it's so exciting, because the audiences all come to hear new pieces.

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: And I think the radio stations can rely on the listener who wants to hear the same piece over and over again, just as there are radio stations that play the Top 10 and the Top 50, you know, pop hits and hits back to the '40s and hits back to the '20s. But I don't think that's necessarily the future of it. I think the future of it is the kind of mix that they had in the 19th and 18th centuries, that is at least half, if not more, new music, and then some other music from the past. That's always been the healthy balance. And it's, by the way, the balance in every other art form.

CONAN: Hmm, let's see if we get a listener on the line. This is John. John's calling us from Toledo, Ohio.

JOHN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

JOHN: Well, you just took some of the wind out of my sails by having a contemporary composer on, because I was going to complain that the local FM classical music station - and of course there's the issue about what does the word classical mean...

CONAN: Right.

JOHN: ...they are so conservative that I don't listen to them anymore. I like to listen to CBC, the Canadian station, because there's a much more of an eclectic mix.

CONAN: That's a powerful receiver you've got there in Toledo.

JOHN: Well, Windsor's close by. Windsor is just an hour's drive.

CONAN: OK. Let me - before we get a view from our guests, let me just read this opposing e-mail. This was Jose in Portland, Oregon. I think it would have been more success if stations stuck to playing more of the known, accessible greats instead of such inaccessible and strange, particularly atonal stuff, as they seem to. Not only that but they play the right music for the right time of day. People want to wake up to sprightly baroque or classical, not to John Cage or Alban Berg. With that, John Corigliano.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: Well, I'd love to know what station he's listening to because I have never heard of a station that featured Cage and Berg...

JOHN: Exactly.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: ...at all, ever, in all my travels over the United States. Mainly it's I would say 98 percent traditional and two percent new. So I don't think that the balance he's talking about exists. So maybe it does in one little community.

Look, I'm not a lover of all contemporary music. I love the fact that it should be played, but I don't love it all. Some of it's really boring, and some of it's incomprehensible. And I think the wonderful thing about new music versus old music is that we give back the audience the right to form opinions about this piece, and not liking something is really important.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: So for me if they don't like something, they should not like it. But the adventure of hearing something in which your opinion matters - it really doesn't matter when you talk about "Beethoven's 5th Symphony." It's a masterpiece. You know it. You learned it as a masterpiece. There's no adventure in your opinion. All you can do is say I like the way that one conductor plays a little faster and the other one plays a little slower.

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: You hear a new piece of music and there's a real adventure for you. Do you like it? Why? Do you not? Did the composer make any sense out of music? Can you follow it or not? And you have a right to hold the composer to those same standards and say, you know, you lost me so many times. And I've been lost a lot of times in new music.

So let's not talk about new music as though it is, quote, incomprehensible and tries to be, because a lot of us don't. We want to get through to our audiences the same way that all the 19th and 18th and 17th century composers did, and we're trying to do that. And I know the young composers today, because there are a staggering amounts of talented young composers that are really trying to reach audiences. But you have to listen to it saying, look, I never heard this before, because you haven't. And then the good part is you get to say afterwards, but I might want to hear it again.

CONAN: Hmm, John, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JOHN: Sure.

CONAN: And one last question for you, John Corigliano, before we let you go. We've got the head of the NEA here. What should their role be?

Mr. CORIGLIANO: Well, obviously I need - we do need help. It, you know, we need help in young composers and changing the balance, I think, in the concert hall, because it isn't a healthy balance. I think Peter Gelb is doing extraordinarily adventurous work at the Met, and I think that's the kind of direction we should go in. He's definitely bringing new works to the Met. You know, when my opera, "The Ghosts of Versailles," was done in 1991, it was the first new opera the Met had done in 25 years...

CONAN: Wow.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: ...and nobody connected with that administration, from James Levine to Joe Volpe to anyone, had ever dealt with a living composer, so that isn't there anymore. The Met isn't like that now. Every year they're doing something new, and not only new, but they're trying to go in different directions with different kinds of composers, like Tan Dun's opera about China. They're fascinating. I think the NEA should encourage adventurousness and new ideas with the standard symphonies and give them help, because it really isn't the fight that most of them think it is.

CONAN: Dana Gioia?

Mr. GIOLA: I think that actually yes. I think that the truth of the matter is a lot of people love it. I do think it's part of the job of the composer and the conductors of today to welcome the audiences into this new world.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: Like Michael Christie, who you just spoke to a little while ago...

CONAN: Yes.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: I know Michael, and when he goes in front of a (unintelligible).

CONAN: It's our friend from Phoenix?

Mr. CORIGLIANO: I know him from Brooklyn.

CONAN: Aha, OK.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: From the Philharmonic. I wrote him a fanfare for 40 kazoos for his opening concert, and I think he's a great guy and a terrific conductor. And then when there's a new piece, he stands up and says something to the audience about it, or he brings the composer, like me, and I go out on the stage and say this is what I was trying to do and this is how I'm trying to do it. People like Marin Alsop, Robert Spano, these are the young composers - conductors - that take away that kind of distance of the maestro, and that's what has to be encouraged today.

CONAN: Let's see if we get a response from Dana Gioia.

Mr. GIOIA: I agree very much with Mr. Corigliano. A surprisingly large number of NEA grants actually go to funding world premiers...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GIOIA: ...of enabling orchestras and chamber groups and opera companies to commission new works or to remount them. because I think, actually for some times, the second performance is more important than the first. Because, you know, everybody wants to do a premier, nobody wants to...

CONAN: Second night, yeah.

Mr. GIOIA: ...sustain it.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: You're right.

Mr. GIOIA: I also think that we're in a period right now where by and large the composers are very interested in connecting to a public. I think you see this nowhere more so than in opera, because audiences like to have works that are in English.

And now that we have subtitles and we have a lot of smaller opera companies, there's a chance to actually deal with contemporary experience in English in an accessible musical style. And the opera audiences are the one part of classical music where there's growth. It's actually - even though it's the most expensive medium -

CONAN: Yes, it is.

Mr. GIOIA: - it is the most vibrant one. So I think that, you know, that Corigliano is, you know, is very much on the money. And also as a former member of a concert band, I thank him for recognizing our, you know, our high performance standards.

Another place where people need new music is called film music -

CONAN: Yes.

Mr. GIOIA: - which is actually one of the most popular genres, not just on the screen but even in the concert hall. You can sell out an audience pretty easily by doing contemporary film scores. And people from William Walton to Corigliano, himself, have done astonishingly fine work in that medium.

CONAN: Well, composer John Corigliano, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. CORIGLIANO: It's a pleasure.

CONAN: John Corigliano has won almost every major award for his works, including a Grammy, an Oscar and the Pulitzer for his second symphony, and he joined us today on the line from his home in New York.

For six years Fred Child hosted the classical music program Performance Today right here at National Public Radio. Two weeks ago the program moved to Minnesota Public Radio and became a production of American Public Media. Fred Child joins us from his brand new office at Minnesota Public Radio. Nice to have you on the program, Fred.

Mr. FRED CHILD (host, Performance Today): Glad to join you, Neal.

CONAN: So what do you think is the primary space for people to experience and learn about classical music? Is it still the radio?

MR. CHILD: Actually, yeah. It's not even a question of opinion. There was a study a few years ago that the Knight Foundation did. A 10-year study - one of the biggest studies of arts consumption ever in America - and they came to the conclusion that about 25 to 30 percent of American adults are self-described as having a relationship with classical music.

And by far - now I hate to use the term consuming classical music - but by far the dominant medium for consumption of classical music is radio. It's not concerts. It's not listening to recordings. Radio is how people listen to and learn about classical music.

CONAN: And as you continue in your role as a broadcaster, you must encounter the same kinds of, you know, programming decisions - how much familiar material, how much new material - as any concert presenter.

MR. CHILD: Oh, sure. And not only concert presenters, I mean, the same thing applies in the world of anybody doing radio. If you have a pop music station, well, how much Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake are we going to play and how much somebody new from the local scene are we going to play.

But yes, absolutely, those questions come up everyday. We have to think about the listeners at home. How many people might be familiar with music? How many people might not know a Beethoven symphony and might be hearing it for the first time? How many people want to hear only stuff by living composers? Yeah, those questions come up for us around our programming table every single day.

CONAN: We're speaking with Fred Child, the host of American Public Media's Performance Today, and of course, with Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line. And this is Charlie. Charlie with us from Wichita in Kansas.

CHARLIE (Caller): Well, the irony here is I'm talking to you on the Wichita outlet of NPR, which is now all talk. It eliminated their last two hours of classical music recently. But a few miles away in Hutchinson, KHCC, KHCD, and KHCT, which covers about half - probably covers about 40,000 square miles with a small population - did so well in their fundraising last year, they didn't have an on air fundraiser in the spring. It was all - and then, of course, they had their fall fundraiser - but they play 14 hours of classical music a day, including midnight to four.

CONAN: So there's a - it's still thriving, is what you're saying, in Wichita?

CHARLIE: Absolutely. And I live in a city that our symphony orchestra and I are the same age and they're having a jukebox concert this weekend.

CONAN: Those are interesting ways to stay relevant. Of course the age is what the age is, but the jukebox concert, what's that?

CHARLIE: Well, it's just popular music in a classical vein.

CONAN: So try to attract new audiences.

CHARLIE: And we have - well, Eugene Friesen, for instance, comes to Kansas on a frequent basis and writes music inspired by the landscape and then performs it and bring other classical friends to come with him. So things are growing and changing and it's wonderful.

CONAN: It'd be interesting, Fred Child, as we talk about this idea of classical, well if it's not growing, it's dying, I guess is the old expression. What do you think?

MR. CHILD: Well, I think far from classical music's death is in the future, the world of - and, you know, what are we talking about when we're talking about classical music is an important question, too. And I don't know if we want to get into that whole definition, but it's this tradition of music for the concert hall. But classical music has always thrived when composers have brought in elements of popular music.

I mean Beethoven wove in popular tunes sometimes. Bach wrote variations on drinking songs in his day. And there are a lot of composers doing things today, bringing in elements - well, George Gershwin brought in jazz almost a century ago - but now there are composers today working with turntables or combining symphony orchestras with electronics.

Almost everything John Adams writes these days - John Adams, the most performed contemporary composer in America, if not the world - almost everything he writes involves some electronics in addition to symphony orchestras and orchestral instruments.

And there's so many young players now who are conservatory trained and know pop music and other forms of music and are playing not just in concert halls, but in bars and concert spaces. There's a great scene in Brooklyn in New York - the warehouse district in New York - where one night you might hear rock and roll, the next night you might hear a chamber ensemble, the next night you might hear a string quartet doing new music.

And these things that are, you know, crossovers is not necessarily a pejorative term. These crossovers between different genres of music are bringing in a whole new audience to what we might or might not want to call classical music.

CONAN: And here's an e-mail we got from Katherine in Tempe, Arizona.

Classical music isn't going anywhere. I'm a 21-year-old business student who's a huge supporter of classical music. The first CD I ever owned at the age of 13 was Mozart favorites. Interestingly enough, my parents don't listen to classical music, so it's hard to say where my love came from. Perhaps it was because I was fortunate to have a great high school symphony in my middle class suburban neighborhood.

In any case, please continue the piano puzzlers here on NPR and I'll keep downloading from iTunes some good Rachmaninoff. Either way, I assure NPR this generation is listening. I swear I think we're just too broke to continue the financial support.

Fred Child, thank you very much and have a great time in your new home in Minneapolis.

MR. CHILD: Neal, thanks for having me.

CONAN: Fred Child joining us, the host of Performance Today and now he's moved to Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media. Dana Gioia, thank you so much for being with us. Dana Gioia here with us in Studio 3A. He's chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

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