The Heart of the Matter

Alex Ross has a fine article on Puccini up at the New Yorker. In addition to a number of telling insights into the Italian master's ability to hold the stage, Alex touches on some issues of central importance in the ongoing struggle to keep concert music culturally viable and to regain its place in our intellectual life.

Two quotes in particular address this issue, and as is often the case, Alex sums it up well. After mentioning two crossover events held at important venues in NYC:

The idea is not to dilute classical music with crossover novelties but to move it back into the thick of modern life. The old art will no longer hold itself aloof; instead, it will play a godfather role in the wider culture, able to assimilate anything new because it has assimilated everything in the past.

Then after discussing a Puccini performance that emphasized what is unusual/challenging in Turandot:

Even composers may have something to learn from Puccini. “Turandot” becomes a different piece when it is removed from the colossal clutter of Franco Zeffirelli’s production at the Met; it begins to sound nearly avant-garde, because it assimilates an array of modern sounds while maintaining an inexorable singing line. Berio [whose completion of Turnadot was given in the performance Alex reviewed] also superimposed old and new, but the pieces in his collages remain alienated from one another. Many young composers still play the same glass-bead game with the past, upholding artificial differences in musical language rather than questioning them. Puccini might say: Don’t make it new. Make it whole.
(If I could write like that, I'd never leave the house.)

Exactly so. What we should be hearing in the music of the 20th and early 21st centuries are the ideas that hold the different styles together, not the stances that separate them.

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