Anyone with but a modicum of common sense would think twice (or thrice) before daring to challenge the opinions or conclusions of the erudite author and New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross on a matter having to do with classical music. If, however, after thinking twice (or thrice), one remains convinced of the rightness of one's contrary point of view, one must damn the torpedoes and plunge full speed ahead. This past Sunday (28 November), the Guardian published a piece by Mr. Ross titled, "Why Do We Hate Modern Classical Music?" (the title may or may not be Mr. Ross's own). It's a nuanced argument that wants to conclude that the answer to the question has largely to do with "classical music's idolatrous relationship with the past," noting that,"[e]ven before 1900, people were attending concerts in the expectation that they would be massaged by the lovely sounds of bygone days." And Mr. Ross's suggested cure for this ailment? The "fall[ing] away [of] the notion of classical music as a reliable conduit for consoling beauty — a kind of spa treatment for tired souls." Is that really what today's classical-music-lovers primarily want from classical music, be it modern or from times past? Undoubtedly some surely do. But that some is, we think, a minority among aficionados; a minority confined largely to those whose engagement with classical music is of the more casual sort. Further, unwittingly implicit in Mr. Ross's argument is the notion that modern classical music is absent or even incapable of "consoling beauty" the implicit reason being that modern classical music's dissonant harmonies and other dissonant textures in some way prohibit it, a notion we find questionable. While it's generally true that when asked, classical music aficionados with little or no musical training who hate modern classical music will most often reply it's the music's dissonant nature that repels them, that's not what they really mean but couch in those terms as dissonance is the most prominent and obvious of modern classical music's devices; that which to untrained or unsophisticated ears seems most to distinguish it from classical music of earlier musical periods which music they understand and have, on the whole, come to love. What they really mean but don't know quite how to put in words is that what repels them in much of modern classical music is its lack of a coherent and audibly perceptible musical narrative from piece's beginning to end, the sort of narrative that's a hallmark characteristic of all classical music from all earlier musical periods. That perceived lack may be due a listener's untrained and/or unrefined musical sensibilities, but more often than not — far more often than not — it's due a real lack in the music itself; a music too often obsessed with sound and process per se rather than with musical ideas and their development in which sound and process are simply and properly naught but means to an end and the business of the composer exclusively and not of his music's listeners. On hearing a new, wildly dissonant piece for the first time, a listener may be shocked initially by that dissonance, but will readily come to not only accept it, but embrace it if it's perceived as an inseparable organic element of a coherent, audibly perceptible musical narrative. That's why so much of, say, Bartók's wildly dissonant music is today part of the classical music canon, and why almost all of, say, Karlheinz Stockhausen's or Pierre Boulez's music will never be despite attempts by well-meaning conductors to "tal[k] audiences through unfamiliar territory" in pre-performance "mini-lecture[s]" as Mr. Ross suggests is something conductors ought to be doing for "difficult" (scare quotes ours) modern classical music. He gives as example conductor Alan Gilbert's pre-performance mini-lecture this past season explaining to a New York Philharmonic audience Magnus Lindberg's wildly dissonant Kraft the performance of which was cheered by that audience at piece's end. The truth of the matter is, wildly dissonant as Kraft is, it has a coherent and audibly perceptible musical narrative of which the wild dissonance is an inseparable organic part, and that's what kept the audience's attention riveted and had them cheering at piece's end because they found that musical narrative engaging, not because of what was learned from Gilbert's mini-lecture. Absent that coherent, audibly perceptible musical narrative, Gilbert could have talked himself blue in the face and with utmost eloquence, and it would all have been to no avail. Well, that's our two-cents-worth challenge of the estimable Mr. Ross's argument. We've said much of it before here on S&F in other contexts and in, um, harsher terms, but as it fit this context quite nicely, we had no scruple restating it here. Do we expect our argument to prevail against Mr. Ross's? Not in this life.