1. The Joshua Bell-as-busker article I wrote about has proved to be very popular. I've had countless people visit through searches for Joshua, Weingarten, Bach, Partita No. 2, etc. And there have been many bloggers writing about it, expressing everything from approval to dismay to anger to criticism of Josh's busking skills. I stand by my statement that Weingarten and his team of reporters were very thorough in covering most of the possible angles, from rush hour needs to noise pollution to iPods. The art of busking was not addressed enough, so SawLady's criticism is a good addition to the story.
2. There is an undeclared war between Norman Lebrecht and Alex Ross about the state of the classical recording industry. It is so undeclared that each of the combatants has not stated the name of his enemy. This war has a personal front, as a colleague and I have been discussing the issue for the last (academic) year. This last week this colleague, who is very involved in the classical recording industry, pointed out that even if Lebrecht's conclusions are faulty and unnecessarily pessimistic, his books have spurred the whole classical music world. Music ensembles pick more imaginative programming. Record companies have started to look beyond the "stars" to wonderfully talented unknowns who can be recorded much more cheaply. Orchestras are starting their own recording labels to save on costs, since the digital revolution and the Long Tail effect has made it so much easier to store, supply, and advertise these recordings.
I also foresee more emphasis on chamber music over traditional large ensembles in music schools, as career choices for professionals, and as programming options for performance halls. Chamber music requires fewer musicians, fewer administrators (thus lower salary costs), less time for set-up, smaller space requirements, and lower travel costs. And unlike the joke about cost savings in Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, moving to chamber music does not sacrifice in artistry or aesthetic possibilities. In fact, I believe that chamber music gives the opportunity for a more intimate experience between the musicians and the audience. The smaller group does not require the acoustics of a large hall, nor the financial needs to play for a large audience, so the musicians do not have to be put on the isolated pedestal of the orchestral stage. Even if the quartet or octet is playing in Carnegie Hall, the lower number of musicians will not overwhelm the memory constraints of the audience. An audience cannot be expected to note and recognize each of the eighty-five members of an orchestra, whereas they can pay attention to each of the members of Eighth Blackbird in the space of a single piece, and form attachments to each of the players. And attachments will bring audiences back. Look at the draw of star soloists like Joshua Bell. [See how I have brought the categories together?] Orchestras pay ungodly amounts to soloists like Bell so people will come to their concerts. And the audiences flock because they can focus solely on the soloist, forming that necessary attachment. Yes, the conductor is often the source of focus for those pesky non-concertos that orchestras play, but the attachment is not satisfying as the maestro is faced away from the audience most of the time.
So, pay attention to the music in your life, don't mourn for the death of classical music, and notice how much intimacy you feel for your favorite music experiences.