Recordings capture only a fraction of what makes classical music compelling—the social experience of listening with a crowd in real time, the physical and psychological effect of hearing natural sound reverberate in a room.
Today, Eric Alterman publishes a letter from Roger H. Werner that reads in part:
I once heard a marvelous Russian pianist play Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, music I've heard a thousand times. The people sitting next to me must have though I was crazy because the music was so beautiful it made me cry. And I recall the first time I heard the 1812 Overture live more than 20 years ago, and it's something I shall never forget. I've been to a hundred rock concerts, and while most were enjoyable, they mostly blend together and all I can recall are the awful concerts.
[If you go to the letter, make sure you click through to the letter that prompted Mr. Werner to write his.]
I'm sure many rock/pop concerts provide the kind of experiences Mr. Werner recounts here, and this is by no means an attempt to downgrade that particular communal experience. It is to point out that performances of concert music are not exercises in the celebration of the past or of the establishment/enforcement of cultural hierarchies.
At their best, performances process the expressions of one heart through the body of another into the vibrations of an instrument (or voice) that sends waves into the air, where the ears and minds of other hearts make them their own. And that is magic; living and breathing magic.