Alex Ross: Time to show our appreciation for classical music

It’s one of the great ironies of the classical concert experience – the most explosive, exhilarating music is often greeted by total silence. Let our applause be heard, says Alex Ross, who gave the Royal Philharmic Society lecture at the Wigmore Hall, London.

I have a lot of time for Alex Ross, and I say that as someone not massively keen on music journalism. He is a tireless champion of cutting through all the tiresome “traditions” that permeate the environment of “classical” music performance, and which seems so beloved of dullards everywhere. When to clap? What should I wear? And so on.

In “The Rest is Noise” I like the connections Ross makes with jazz and so-called “difficult” modern music. He’s not on virgin territory here: Wilfrid Mellers’ “Music in a New Found Land” pioneered this approach, albeit to American music only. That book however was a drier read; I finished Ross’s book even before it had been published in the UK, and found it to be one of the most readable music histories I’d encountered for a long time.

However, I find myself at odds with his point about how ubiquitous some elements of modernism has become. Whilst he’s not wrong to suggest many modernist touches have become a staple of horror film soundtracks, I think it’s a dangerous route to go down. It gives the impression that much 20th century music is designed simply to be eerie and unsettling. Some of it surely is, but we only need to hear the use of Bartók in Kubrick’s “The Shining” to see how great music can be damned by excursions into popular culture.

Related:

Last night’s Royal Philharmonic Society lecture was a tour de force – although a lot of the innovations the critic advocated are already being carried out in the UK

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4 Responses to “Alex Ross: Time to show our appreciation for classical music”

  1. The Rest is Noise in on my bedside table awaiting reading. I’m so looking forward to it.

  2. Classical music is the king, i like Maria Callas and operatic arias ”

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