I often hear the statement that classical music is dying out and does not have a future. However, I believe that classical music is continuing because of its rapid transformation through technical innovation and its adaptation to new, evolving norms in the music world. I have a certain perspective on this matter because I come from a long line of classical musicians. My mom was a concert pianist and my aunt is one as well. I have been exposed to their careers throughout my life and have definitely noticed a change in classical music.
As technology progresses dramatically, classical music becomes more accessible to people. For example, YouTube offers videos of renowned musicians such as Lang Lang. This allows classical music lovers to be exposed to the great performers of the 21st century and the works of marvelous composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Bach at a very low cost in terms of both time and money invested.
The Digital Concert Hall is another example of media transformation online. It is the virtual and official concert venue of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. One could go to this website and experience more than 30 broadcasts of performances. A few days after each live broadcast, the performance is saved and stored in the digital archive so the audience can go back and rewatch the concerts. This exposes virtual audience members to the conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, and to other renowned guest conductors and soloists.
In addition to the change in technology and how music is played and accessed digitally, the live classical music performances themselves have changed dramatically. For example, this past summer I went to the Hollywood Bowl to hear Yuja Wang, an up and coming 24-year-old Chinese concert pianist. She performed the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto. As she walked out on stage, I could sense everyone’s reaction to her non- conservative outfit. Everyone’s jaw dropped in shock when Wang walked onto stage wearing a skin-tight, mini orange dress and high silver stilettos. The traditional audience wasn’t used to seeing a performer walk out on stage in a short, 21st century style dress. Concert attire, in their minds, consists of elegant and long gowns that cover up the performer’s body. One would have presumed that she was a rock or pop singer, not a concert pianist. This scared traditional classical music lovers in the audience. They fear change, but they have to understand that in order for classical music to survive, it has to evolve along with everything else in the world. I applaud Yuja Wang for challenging the norm that classical musicians must appear in concert a certain conforming way to be successful. Classical musicians are bringing their modern, distinct taste in attire to their performances, increasing the spectacular, evolving nature of the event.
How can classical music die when it is the basis of all other popular genres of music? There are numerous hits that are based off of classical music. Adagio for Stings, by Tiesto, is a trance arrangement based on Adagio for Strings, composed by Samuel Barber. Another popular single is Graduation (Friends Forever), by Vitamin C, which is based off of Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. Dr. Dre, one of my favorite record producers, was inspired by Gustav Holst, a pianist from 90 years ago who released The Planets, which was a 48-minute instrumental album on the seven astronomical bodies. Dr. Dre studied the planets in the solar system for two years and decided to create an instrumental and experimental album, expressing his interpretation of how each planet sounds and its distinctive personality. In August of 2010, Dre announced that he was in the process of making this album. Nonetheless, I am excited to hear some good instrumental hip-hop soon that has been inspired by a classical music giant.
Classical music is being enriched by new technological innovations that can potentially increase the audience size to massive proportions. This is a sign of the vitality, not of the impending death of classical music. And with more classical performers willing to take risks in challenging the staid norms of classical music performance, some will assume the prominence of rock stars, such as Lang Lang. Young people from their curiosity want to see these classical “rock stars” perform. These developments will further the increasingly good fortune of classical music for years to come.