Here I am in conversation yesterday with Professor Mary Hunter in the Studzinski Recital Hall during the Klavierfest at Bowdoin College, Maine.
We were billed to talk to the audience about various issues to do with performing, but as many conversations do these days, it turned into a kind of ‘Whither classical music?’ discussion. It seemed appropriate to wonder what was happening to young audiences when we were in the heart of a college campus, but found ourselves addressing an audience largely made up of older people from the town. The fact that it was a Saturday morning may have had something to do with it, but all the same I was struck by the absence of students. What more can you do to reach out to them than make the effort to be right there in the middle of their campus, talking, teaching and playing?
Someone in the audience (I’d acknowledge him if I knew who he was) commented that pop music has now become The Establishment, with pop artists feted by presidents and prime ministers on both sides of the Atlantic. Classical music, he suggested, has already become almost a kind of ‘Outsider Art’. Paradoxically, this may even give it a new lease of life, because outsider art pursued with skill and dedication often attracts followers. We agreed that it might even be better for classical music to situate itself consciously at the margins rather than struggling to maintain some kind of position at the centre of the music world, where there is overwhelming competition – not least in the form of decibels. Someone else said they had asked some of their students what they didn’t like about classical music. ‘Too soft’, they said. And yet it is not soft. It has every kind of tone colour the human hand can produce.