More on that 22.5% bump in classical record sales: reports from insiders suggest that the rise is not, in fact, due to crossover fare (Il Divo, André Rieu, the Dowland-howling Sting) but to the real thing (Mozart, Beethoven, Louis Andriessen). All categories of classical music are selling briskly on online stores such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and ArkivMusic as well as on iTunes and other MP3 outlets. There's a good article by Symphony's Jayson Greene on the phenomenon, with reference to the Long Tail effect. Everyone seems to agree that the uptick has come about because the Internet has made the music more readily available, and also more readily comprehensible. You no longer need to skulk through the doors of a sepulchral room at Tower Records (RIP) and paw through fifty Beethoven Fifths to find what you like. Online there are snappy reviews, lists of recommended starter recordings, and, most important, sound samples so you can try out any disc (not just a few featured releases) before you buy. The whole business is demystified. I'm proud to say I more or less predicted this in 2004, when I wrote that the iPod was going to break down classical stereotypes.
The question is, will the boom last, and will performing organizations benefit from it? Greg Sandow has been offering a gloomy outlook for symphony orchestras on his blog. His statistics on the ageing of the audience — a process that has been happening at a relentless pace since the 1950s — are indeed alarming. But I question Greg's habit of equating the health of long-established orchestras with the health of classical music at large. What about opera? Over half of professional American opera companies were established after 1970. If you compare the state of opera today to the state of opera in the sixties, as Greg does in his orchestra posts, you see dramatic growth, not decline. The audience for opera is younger, and, according to the NEA, one quarter is under the age of thirty-five. Or consider new-music ensembles. How many were there in the "golden age" of the sixties? A handful? Look now at the list I've compiled for this site, only a partial one of groups in NYC and across the country. This is a public that simply didn't exist forty years ago. As for orchestras themselves, most have reported a small rise in attendance after several years of decline, and, with hard work, that trend should continue. Although big-city orchestras may not be selling out all performances, as Greg says they were in the sixties, they are also giving more performances than ever before; it was in the course of the sixties that they converted to fifty-two-week contracts. The New York Philharmonic, founded in 1842, had given 6700 concerts by the end of the 1962-63 season, and now it's closing in on 15,000.
While updating my new-music ensembles directory — further suggestions for listings would be welcome, especially for groups away from the coasts — I made a couple of delightful discoveries. One was the ADORNO Ensemble in San Francisco, whose site is emblazoned with the beloved Adorno slogan "Every work of art is an uncommitted crime." Their programming looks superb. Also, I was intrigued to see that the Kansas City ensemble newEar recently played a piece by Paul Elwood entitled Stanley Kubrick's Mountain Home, advertised as "an unexpected combination of chamber and bluegrass music."