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Long Yu conducts China Philharmonic (Photo: china.org.cn)Now that the Cultural Revolution is history and classical music is no longer banned as cultural pollution, it seems to be growing apace in China. Recently I noted here that China is home to the world’s largest piano manufacturer — and that it sells most of its instruments in its own nation. American conductor Lorin Maazel is one of many Western musicians who have suggested that Chinese audiences may give a real boost to classical music.

Meanwhile, US writers continue to fret over the greying of classical music audiences in our own land, despite the fact that their predictions of classical music’s imminent death never seem to quite pan out.

Some of these writers mutter darkly that if they were wrong about classical music being moribund, it’s only because it’s in the process of moving half way round the world. They point to the estimates of 100 million Chinese conservatory students and note that, worldwide, orchestras are performing more works of Chinese composers and engaging more Chinese-born soloists.

If you are not free yourself, how can you interpret music freely?

       – A Chinese music critic

In the 7 July issue of The New Yorker, Alex Ross takes a closer look at the Chinese classical music juggernaut and concludes that all is not quite what it appears to be.

(As an aside, violist Wing Ho, mentioned in the New Yorker article, studied in Northeast Ohio, at the Kent State School of Music and Oberlin Conservatory.)

Further reading:

Symphony of Millions: Taking stock of the Chinese music boom in The New Yorker

A Nation of Pianos and Pianists in WKSU Classical

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Nonclassical at Macbeth (Photo: The Times of London)On Sunday, the 4th of May (2008), the Chiara String Quartet performed Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms in Wooster’s Gault Recital Hall as part of the Wooster Chamber Music Series. Chiara also played the previous Saturday evening — but not in Gault. Their 3 May concert was at Cleveland’s jazz club, Nighttown.

As far as I know, cellist Matt Haimovitz was one of the first fairly recognizable names in classical music to perform in these nontraditional venues, where the concert hall’s hushed, attentive audience is definitely not an expectation.

Classical without the quiet is the norm for a series at an East London club, Macbeth. The very name of the series, Nonclassical, thumbs its nose at most music lovers’ expectations. Yet the promoter behind this venture comes to it with a musical pedigree — he is the grandson of composer Sergei Prokofiev.

Nonclassical is just one of many efforts to round up younger, trendier audiences for classical music. As The Times of London reports, there have been and are other similar efforts (with varying degrees of success) in the UK.

Nor is the UK alone. In a piece published Sunday (15 June 2008), The New York Times lists Barbès in Brooklyn, Spiegeltent at the South Street Seaport, the Brooklyn Lyceum, Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village, Joe’s Pub in the East Village, and about a half a dozen others.

The New York Times reports that their city, too, has a brand-new entry in the club-with-classical club: Le Poisson Rouge, on Bleecker Street. Its proprietors are classical musicians, though not with quite the family ties of Nonclassical’s. Their first classical performer will be the trendy Bach Goldberg Variations interpreter, Simone Dinnerstein; in addition to a helping of the Goldbergs, she’ll serve up some George Crumb.

Read more:

Nonclassical, in The Times of London

Le Poisson Rouge, in The New York Times (Registration may be required)

Also in WKSU Classical: Taking It to the Streets

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Can you make classical music popular by performing it in places where popular music is played? Some musicians apparently think so.

Good local musicians have been toiling largely unheralded in upscale cafes and tea rooms for years, usually for a pittance. But as far as I know, cellist Matt Haimovitz was one of the first more recognizable names to take classical music on the road, so to speak, playing in clubs, taverns, and other venues more often associated with jazz and rock.

How many new listeners this has generated for classical music is still an open question. Nevertheless, a few other musicians have followed his lead. The Chiara Quartet is an example; on Saturday they played at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights.

To be sure, some of the musicians experimenting with non-traditional concert spots have dressed down a bit, and perhaps even used a bit of sound reinforcement. But talk about slippery slopes

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