Neuron Culture

Music is alive and well

I long ago grew weary of complaints about the demise of classical music — a demise based on dropping sales and and market share. Similar complaints had been voiced about tennis, another thing I love. In both cases the hand-wringing about falling ticket or record sales or TV viewers ran on the assumption that the truest measure of a sport’s or art’s vitality is how many people pay to consumer it. It’s silly to feel classical music or tennis are failing because they don’t constantly grow or attract as many spectators as pop music or baseball. Complaining about the lack of popularity is all the sillier if you’ve taken pains to associate your “product” with BMWs and expensive clothes; those who aim at the $100K+ demographic and should not wonder why they’ve failed to draw the masses.

A splendid antidote to this negativity (I mean the negativity of those I’m complaining about, not my own) is the writing of Alex Ross, the New Yorker’s classical music critic, who grows better by the year, and who this month brought out two nice offerings: a great piece in the New Yorker about how the web is good for classical music and a new book that is drawing rave reviews, and which I plan to have in hand shortly.

The New Yorker piece is nicely contrarian: Ross argues that the web, which many handwringers say is destroying classical music by building a more distracted populace, has invigorated discussion of classical music. His book, The Rest is Noise, is about 20th century music — a subject about which Ross writes beautifully.

Ross also has a nice web site, also titled The Rest is Noise. It’s as fresh, funny, and unpretentiously intelligent (or intelligently unpretentious?), as is his criticism. The best way to appreciate him is to check out these links. If you’d rather have it on greater authority, there’s always the Times review.