Jack-of-all-arts culture journalist Terry Teachout of About Last Night writes in this post:
I rarely go to classical concerts. It’s not that I love the music any less, but over time I’ve become increasingly alienated from the experience of concertgoing: the noisy audiences, the unimaginative programs, the feeling that not nearly enough is at stake. Now that I’m spending less time out on the town, I find that few classical-music events in New York City are capable of inspiring me to surrender a precious evening I could spend doing something else.
I had a good time [at a classical music concert attended] — and yet I can't help but wonder whether a program less precisely suited to my tastes could have lured me into a concert hall, least of all one whose indifferent acoustics are blighted by the near-constant rumble of the New York subway. The trains roared by, the cell phones twittered, my neighbors coughed at regular intervals ... but you know how it is. It’s been a long time since I attended a classical-music concert given in the presence of a silent, fully attentive audience.
I still love going to ballet and opera and plays and jazz clubs, mainly because they offer me something I can’t get at home. Hearing late Beethoven in my friend’s living room was a different kind of experience, to be sure, but it, too, was unique and irreplaceable. Hearing a decently played program of oft-recorded standard repertoire in the company of noisy strangers is not. Why should I come hear you play Op. 111 in Alice Tully Hall when I can stay home and listen to Artur Schnabel playing it?
I have a sneaking feeling that the institution of the classical-music concert as we know it has just about run its course — and I won’t be sorry to see it go. It’s way past time for a change.
And in this follow-up post:
What I care about is the piece itself, far more than the way any one particular artist happens to play it, and now that each and every piece of standard-rep music has been recorded in multiple versions of very high quality, I find I have very little motivation to go out and hear Op. 111 done in yet another way, however “different” or “original” it might happen to be. Yes, the experience of hearing classical music in live performance is in and of itself worthwhile, but when the environment in which one consumes it has been degraded, I'm not so sure it's cost-effective (speaking from an aesthetic point of view) to put up with the distractions.
This, by the way, is an unintended consequence of the invention of recording that nobody foresaw a century ago: that it might eventually make public performance obsolete, or at least moribund.
All the above are, of course, the very personal feelings of a single individual, and as such cannot be gainsaid. We in fact even agree with Mr. Teachout concerning the aesthetic "cost-effective[ness]" of attending live performances in the "degraded" audience environment of today's classical music concert. But for the rest of it, even if we did agree with Mr. Teachout (which we most emphatically do not; see our detailed post of August 2004 wherein the cultural critic quoted "whose name [we] here withhold because [we] don't mean what follows to be a personal challenge" is none other than Mr. Teachout himself), there's a difference — a huge and meaningful difference — between Mr. Teachout saying such things publicly and someone such as ourself saying them even though we daresay we're at least as competent and qualified musically (as opposed to being as culturally savvy) as Mr. Teachout. One could with complete justice and without penalty ignore or dismiss any such negative remarks made publicly by us by saying simply, as we have above of Mr. Teachout's remarks, that they're the very personal feelings of a single individual, and therefore cannot be gainsaid.
One, however, cannot in the same way ignore or dismiss such negative remarks made publicly when made by someone such as Mr. Teachout as he's not only a popular and widely read print media commentator on the arts, but a presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts, and as such doesn't have the luxury of being able to express publicly such merely personal negative feelings on a matter having to do with the arts and expect them to be granted the same sort of immunity from argument and naysaying granted mere civilians such as ourself. One could — in fact one ought to feel obligated to — go even further by taking to task someone in Mr. Teachout's position for making such remarks by reminding him that he has an obligation and responsibility to not express publicly such merely personal negative feelings as the undue negative impact they might have on the thinking of the arts-patronizing public could do meaningful harm to the very arts such a person is presumptively dedicated to supporting.
Regarding the classical music concert specifically, in our above linked August 2004 post we had this to say concerning Mr. Teachout's publicly expressed feelings:
This critic [i.e., Terry Teachout] declared he "no longer feel[s] any compelling need to regularly experience [classical music] in the form of routine live performances of the standard classical repertoire, any more than [he] feel[s] the need to own another recording of Beethoven's late quartets, no matter how good it may be."
If one were inclined to be unkind in the matter, one might suggest this critic has grown a bit jaded musically concerning the standard classical repertoire; a not uncommon condition of concertgoers in our great metropolitan cultural centers.
But, for the nonce at least, [we're] not inclined to be unkind, and so [we'll] suggest more gently that [we] think this critic has become a bit myopic in this matter. Relatively few persons in this country outside our metropolitan cultural centers have ready or frequent access to classical music concerts of any kind, much less classical music concerts performed by first-rate ensembles in a first-rate concert hall, and therefore will rarely have the opportunity to experience what this critic takes for every-day granted. And it's for those persons most particularly the overwhelming majority of Americans, not to even speak of those not yet born that live performances of classical music even "routine live performances of the standard classical repertoire" must remain an alive and vital enterprise.
Consider all our above as our fulfilling our obligation as a patron of and civilian commentator on the arts to take Mr. Teachout to task for his ill-advised public expression of his merely personal negative feelings concerning the classical music concert.