MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Forever Young


My latest article for Listen magazine has now been published.

This was an especially inspiring assignment. After another season of doom and gloom about the future of music, discovering how motivated these young musicians are — how determined to make the most of their gifts — gave me a real boost:

The inspiring players of Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra debunk the myth of the ‘death’ of classical music.

It’s a ploy that always generates controversy: announce the death of “classical music” (however you define it), furnish your obituary with a sauce of ominous statistics and watch your site traffic explode. Another death knell hit the blogosphere and Twitterverse this January, courtesy of a Slate article titled “Requiem: Classical Music in America Is Dead,” which came illustrated with a gray-haired conductor stationed in front of a tombstone. Predictably, the piece triggered a raft of
indignant but thoughtful counterarguments in response.

What tends to become the focus of such discussions tends to be the problem of aging audiences and how to attract a new fan base, as well as how to reinvigorate the repertoire and make it meaningful for twenty-first century listeners. But a third — neglected — element is just as vitally important: the perspective of the musicians who bring it all to life in real time. What’s being done to ensure that this side of “the holy triangle of composer, performer, and listener” (to borrow Benjamin Britten’s phrase) is aligned with whatever reforms are undertaken regarding the other two?

On the American scene, one of the most inspiring recent initiatives to cultivate young talent begins its second year this summer. The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO) was launched by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute last year, when the ensemble’s young members gathered from around the country at the beginning of July to prepare for a series of concerts that culminated in a tour to Russia and the London Proms. The same structure — a period of rehearsal and intensive preparation leading up to a high-adrenaline period of performances on the road — is being used this year.

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Filed under: American music, orchestras, youth

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