"Editors note: For our annual year-in-review issue, we asked our regular arts writers to hold forth on anything they found significant for 2006. 

Classical music in 2006 is not the same as classical music in 1996. Ten years ago, American symphony orchestras were flush (in general) with abundant ticket sales. Symphony halls, like our own, tended to be packed, regardless of repertoire. The less inclusive genres of chamber music, vocal music, early music, competitions and recitals, especially the first four, were faring well. We had filled houses at Clowes Hall for Indianapolis Opera. FM radio offered classical music around the clock — sometimes three stations going at once. Classical CD sales were soaring: The late ’90s Schwann Opus Record catalogues were the largest in their 50-year history, having covered labels and repertoire since the advent of the long-playing (LP) vinyl disk in 1948.

Now, we’re in a different cultural paradigm. For one thing, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has seen a markedly reduced attendance, but has coped financially with the loss better than most of the other major U.S. orchestras. IO has, however, done rather well in maintaining its Clowes opera audiences, despite budget shortcomings, but we’ve lost the annual MacAllister Awards vocal competition. The chamber venues, too, have encountered a relatively smaller drop in turnout, but gone is Suzuki and Friends, the dominant local-chamber-performer mainstay since 1980. The Ensemble Music Society actually had increased attendance to its touring-chamber-group performances in the first few years following its inaugural relocation to the brand-new Indiana History Center in July 1999. More recently, it no longer averages a packed Basile Theater. FM radio is down to classical music only in the evenings/nights; the bottom has dropped out of classical CD sales …

So, what’s happened? Several things, most sort-of predictable: CDs, like tapes, can now be bought “empty,” to have music recorded on them (burned) from a purchased version, another copy or the Internet — via e-mail, via Web site downloading — etc. This practice, in turn, is driven by lower discretionary income for younger couples who may be otherwise classically oriented. Ticket prices have tended to go up, sometimes to the presenting organization’s detriment. The music schools continue turning out players and singers in droves, far more than can be swallowed up by gainful employment doing their hearts’ desire. Hovering over all this like an impenetrable umbrella is Sept. 11 — its full effect on all strata of society yet to be finalized.

All this considered, Indianapolis had a 2006 filled with beautiful, live music. Perhaps getting to it is now a greater challenge than in 1996.

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