The thing about being an intellectual snob,
which earns you the suspicion of the middle-brow mob,
is that it performs a really useful job:
if at some time you don't go through this phase,
you'll avoid the difficult all your days.
We had a good Festival this year. We found that ancient people like ourselves could get two tickets for the price of one, so were able to go to twice as many concerts as we had budgeted for. Looking round the sea of white coiffures and grey beards, it was obvious that we were part of a half-price audience. Young people don’t go to classical concerts these days and there is a danger that this music will have no audience in the future.
If this does happen, current concert-goers will bear some responsibility. At the Festival concerts it was noticeable that attendance was down whenever modern or unfamiliar composers were included. At a recent concert billed The New Romantics – perhaps a ploy to attract a younger audience – there were plenty of empty seats but perhaps a slightly higher proportion of young people. The featured works were Three Places in New England by Charles Ives, two works by John Adams and a piece by another post-minimalist composer, Ingram Marshall. Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony, with its prepared piano, double battery of percussion instruments and wealth of rhythm and textures, would be an ideal work to engage young people with classical music.
I remember an instance when I was working in Edinburgh’s print workshop, where instead of the usual popular music, somebody had put on a CD of classical stuff. A girl remarked that the piece playing was ‘naff music’. Recognising that it was from La Traviata, I initially put down her opinion as rampant philistinism. But then I reflected that away from the drama of the opera, middle period Verdi must seem very ordinary indeed. They have grown up in an environment where every piece of music — in adverts, in cinema, in jazz and pop — reflects to some extent the developments in classical music over the past hundred years in terms of harmonic complexity, instrumental mix, rhythmic and textural intricacy.
There is a great deal of class snobbishness in today’s conservative classical-music audience, which makes it risky for organisers to put on many modern works. Unlike the intellectual snobbishness of my ‘thingabout,’ which can make people curious about innovation and work at understanding the new, it is wholly negative. In France where we attend concerts in little 11th and 12th century churches during the heat of the summer, expats can be seen dressed up in collars and ties while the performers themselves are casually dressed, as they are more and more in concerts here. There seems to be a feeling that attending concerts is the right thing to do, even if one snoozes or reads the programme instead of listening.
Another anecdote: when I used to teach the history of painting to young people, a teaching aid on the German Expressionists was a set of slides that had to be coordinated with an LP of spoken commentary and music. My pupils were not impressed by Kandinsky and his Teutonic contemporaries, but they all liked the music. It was Schoenberg’s first chamber symphony.