I was looking through the list of candidates for a concerto competition recently and was struck by the list of pieces they were playing.
Mozart (lots), Haydn (several), Beethoven (several), Mendelssohn (several), Schumann (several), Chopin, Brahms (several), Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens, Elgar, Strauss, Rachmaninov (several), Bartok, Prokofiev, Kabalevsky, Shostakovich. Hardly anything written in the past three-quarters of a century.
I mused over the lack of contemporary music. There could be several reasons for it: the concerto form may be less popular with modern composers, so perhaps they are not writing new showpieces. Or: competitors want to be popular with audiences and think they’re more likely to succeed with tuneful classics. Or: they know that rehearsal time with the orchestra is limited, and so they don’t dare to choose anything that will take extra time for everyone to get to grips with. And so on.
The lack of new repertoire in a list such as the one I was studying does strike me as a problem, or at least evidence of a problem building up. We need young musicians to feel connected to the music they play. Of course they are allowed to love Mozart and Beethoven etc, but one would hope they would feel close to the music of their own time as well. It should be natural to like and be involved in the music of your own day.
For that to be the case, the music of their own day would have to appeal to them. And quite often it doesn’t. It may be difficult to read, time-consuming to learn or challenging to listen to. Fans of contemporary music may think I’m wrong about that. But how else to account for the fact that young musicians are choosing to play music from 75, 100, 200 years ago? And where are the lovable pieces they could be learning instead?