perceptions of classical music

I recently read Alex Ross’ piece on Culture Desk in the New Yorker about the best events of 2011. It was not really the events that captured me, but the context in which Ross looks at these events. Responding to criticism towards classical music being irrelevant and elitist; Ross responds:

Yes, the most expensive seats at the Metropolitan Opera cost hundreds of dollars, but the highest-priced tickets for big-league pop-music and sports events generally cost far more, and the money in play behind the scenes of such mass-market spectacles makes the classical economy look puny. Bon Jovi have sold their most affluent fans V.I.P. packages costing in excess of eighteen hundred dollars. The net worth of Jay-Z, who owns a share of the New Jersey Nets in the company of the Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, is considerably larger than the annual budget of the Met.

It’s interesting, and definitely a good point in the US. Where classical music and opera and these elitist genres do not get direct government support, the sports and popular music billionaires is definitely a point to think about. What about Europe? In cultural economics classes, the first thing the skeptics always bring up is government support for these genres. Why should the government support those and not others? If it doesn’t support itself, shouldn’t we let it die?

I always find it hard to listen to this. For someone who grew up going to classical music concerts with her parents, I can’t imagine not having it. For someone who started enjoying opera in early 20s, I want to have it. As Europe continues its crisis management by cutting arts funding, it may well be that these genres will need to adapt and go into a more sponsor/fundraising/donation oriented business models, and maybe then the same reasoning can be applied to those.

Satragraha - an opera by Philip Glass


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