Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

An Igor Stravinsky concert: Where are the young?

Igor Stravinsky in the 1920s (public domain photo). 

And when I ask, “Where are the young?” I mean, where are the audience members who appear to be under 60 years old?

I’ve loved Igor Stravinsky since I was a teenager, so I made a special effort to attend the all Stravinsky program provided on May 15 by the Rocky River Chamber Music Society at a church in Rocky River, a western suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. A group of local musicians performed, including several members of the Cleveland Orchestra. It’s worth noting that all of the performances of the Rocky River Chamber Music Society offer free admission. (Robert Anton Wilson was a Stravinsky fan; see for example this interview where he likes " the less popular and more experimental stuff by Stravinsky.")

The show included L’Histoire du Soldat (sometimes performed as the Soldier’s Tale), minus the actors and dancer but with narration, e.g. it wasn’t just the suite version; the Octet for Wind Instruments, the Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo, and two very short pieces. So it was a pretty good dose of Stravinsky. I particularly enjoyed the performance of violinist Peter Otto, the first associate concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, but everyone did well.

I noticed that when L’Histoire du Soldat ended, I was at first the only person who was applauding. If you know the piece, you can’t miss the ending, a drum solo that gets very loud as it concludes. It’s not a really obscure piece, but maybe it doesn’t get played on classical music radio stations very often, or maybe Stravinsky just isn’t a really popular composer, despite his fame.

When I looked around at the concert, I noticed that everyone seemed to have grey or white hair. I’m 66, and a lot of the people present seemed older than my wife and myself. I saw hardly anyone who looked younger than 60.

It’s not an original observation to note that classical music audiences tend to be older, but Igor Stravinsky was a giant of modern classical music, and all-Stravinsky programs aren’t exactly common. The greater Cleveland area has a number of college level music schools, including the Cleveland Institute of Music, Baldwin Wallace University, Cleveland State University and (not far to the west) Oberlin College’s Conservancy. Almost none of these young people were interested in attending a Stravinsky concert featuring members of the Cleveland Orchestra? The population of the Cleveland metro area is about 1.7 million; it doesn’t have any younger people who might be interested in Stravinsky? Yes, it would be a pretty good drive for many places on the east side of Cleveland, but there are plenty of people on the west side, too. We have a pretty well-known classical music radio station, WCLV, so it’s not hard to maintain an interest in classical music in our area. 

When I was a college student at the University of Oklahoma, I didn’t hang out with music majors, and yet I knew people who listened to Bach and to jazz (and not just the popular 1970s “jazz fusion” bands). Where are those younger listeners now? 

I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen to the audience for classical music, the audience for jazz, even the audience for blues. Will the audiences for those genres of music go away, or will apparently esoteric forms of music always have an audience? 

(Cross posted (in slightly different form) from my Substack newsletter)

1 comment:

Eric Wagner said...

Interesting piece. I know younger people who listen to classical music for studying or even say, "I like Satie and Debussy," but perhaps they don't attend classical concerts. I certainly don't go to concerts very often. I haven't gone to a classical concert this century, alas.