If Films use Classical Music, is Film Music Classical? And Should We Make Our Classical Musician's and Composers into Stars

Greg Sandow has an interesting post "Unexpected Classical Music" talking about some wonderful moments in film where the action is set over versions of classical music. Add to this the recent tour of "Star Wars in Concert" or the Howard Shore tour of the music from "Lord of the Rings" and you begin to see there is a bleed over from classical music and film and how the two are marketed in our current society.

However, when ever you read articles of current classical composers very seldom do you see any references to the big name film composers - even though Britten, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Adams, Glass, all big names in the classical music world, also wrote music for film. Only recently has Korngold's violin concerto started to receive recognition as a classical piece. It wasn't written for a film, but since Korngold was such a big name in film his music has been "tarnished" with the "film but not classical" stain.

This is unfortunate. Because in Anne Midgette's article in the Washington Post, "Classical music has its day, albeit a muddled one, at the White House" there seems to be the general consensus in our society that classical music isn't fun - so the White House is trying to change that attitude. Yet, we are constantly exposed to classical music in film and television. So, if it isn't fun or entertaining why is the entertainment industry still using so much of it?

Perhaps what we need is a new perspective on what is classical music. Take out the stuffy image of grey haired concert goers and replace it with the hip and glitzy film and television red carpet treatment. Liszt and Beethoven used to be "Rock Stars" in their day. Ok, maybe John Williams isn't quite the dashing young stud we need for a glossy media image - but there are composers and performers out there who are. Anne wrote in her article:

"If the four performers had anything in common, it was their young, fresh, down-to-earth image, from Pratt's dreadlocks to Bell's signature untucked shirt and blue jeans at the afternoon concert for the students that followed the so-called master classes. "

Add to this the list of virtuoso performers who have that "star" potential, Hilary Harn, Sarah Chang, Olga Kern, Ingrid Fliter, Yuja Wang, Arabella Steinbacher, Lang Lang... and the list goes on (I didn't even mention the numerous opera stars who have multi-million dollar recording contracts). These are all young, extremely impressive musicians with both a flare for the music and the "look" that our modern media seems to want. Marin Alsop and John Adams both have engaging personalities and again, that look that makes them attractive in the press. Nico Muhly is an up-and-coming composer who has the same qualities (and is young).

However, Nico is writing film music (as is Adams). If we continue to think of film music as less than, or of classical music as older/stuffy - than we will not really appreciate what these artists have to offer. That's would be very unfortunate.


Rebecca said…
There is a definite need to redefine the "stuffy" stereotype that surrounds classical music performances. And while there is a need to have virtuoso performers who will attract the media with their flair, this alone won't solve the problem. We need to redefine the whole atmosphere of classical music performances by making them more accessible and drawing in new and wider audiences. Film music would be a great way of attracting new audiences, if people (classical musicians included) would be willing to accept this fantastic music as classical.
Chip Michael said…
I agree that this isn't the only solution. However, I agree that if we could get film music accepted as quality classical music by the majority of the classical music establishment we'd go a long way to building a new audience for classical music performance outside the cinema.

Numerous symphony orchestras are attempting to attract audiences by performing "film nights". Slowly this is beginning to change the attitude of the rest of the classical music establishment. It's a step in the right direction.

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