2012: Classical Music in Review

This year has been a trying one for the classical music world, yet it appears we will enter 2013 shaken, yes, but alive.  2012 kicked off with that infamous cell phone interruption during the New York Phil’s performance of Mahler’s Ninth, way back on January 10th.  The incident flung the classical music world into the spotlight as the blogosphere and the general public collectively wondered, What’s the big deal?  

With such a starting point, is it any wonder that the year seemed to go downhill for classical music?  Is it really a surprise that orchestras folded and musicians suffered pay cuts?  This is an art form that cannot accommodate such vital components of modern society as cell phones — what else did we expect?  Yet 2012 also saw some turning points for classical music — inspiring stories, game-changing ensembles, stirring performances.  Following is a collection of some of the highlights of the year in classical music.

Vive la Révolution

"Striking musicians L to R -- violinist Nisi Howell (cq), bassist Rob Kassinger (cq), and President of Chicago Federation of Musicians Gary Matts (cq), stand outside of Symphony Center in Chicago on Saturday, September 22, 2012."  (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)
“Striking musicians L to R — violinist Nisi Howell (cq), bassist Rob Kassinger (cq), and President of Chicago Federation of Musicians Gary Matts (cq), stand outside of Symphony Center in Chicago on Saturday, September 22, 2012.” (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

This year saw a tumult of orchestral strikes and lockouts and labor disputes, NHL-style.  The Philadelphia Orchestra emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July.  The Indianapolis Symphony fell in August, its strike ending with musicians put on part-time contracts.  The Atlanta Symphony lockout was reluctantly resolved in September with a staggering $5.2 million in musicians’ concessions.  The musicians of the San Antonio Symphony filed charges against a management that had led the symphony to nearly $1 million in debt.  In October, the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra both found their musicians locked out of jobs they’d held for years.  The Chicago Symphony musicians went on strike in protest of funds spent on expensive Orchestra Hall renovations instead of musicians’ salaries and benefits… And these represent only a sampling of the American orchestras that might not be able to open next season.

Though the fact that strikes were necessary in order for musicians to receive payment for their services is disheartening and even frightening, the fact that the musicians possessed the courage and confidence to commit to these strikes and carry on through the lockouts brings hope to the world of orchestral performance.  The locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra banded together to rent the Minneapolis Convention Center and give their own independent concert.  The musicians of the Syracuse Symphony, which folded in 2011, have founded their own orchestra owned and operated entirely by the musicians — no management to mess things up.  Such groups serve as models for a music scene fallen on hard times, which hopefully will improve come 2013.

Going Viral

An uplifting comment on one of YouTube sensation Lindsey Stirling's dubstep violin videos.
An uplifting comment on one of YouTube sensation Lindsey Stirling’s dubstep violin music videos.

One of the keys to saving classical music is to present it in a popular medium with mass appeal — and what medium is more popular and massively appealing than YouTube?  From a bizarre operatic adaptation of “Gangnam Style”, to Lindsey Stirling’s sexy and captivating dubstep violin music videos, to the Piano Guys’ catchy and creative chamber music covers of popular songs, to the enrapturing symphonic flash mobs performed around the globe (such as the one embedded below) — throughout 2012, YouTube has provided a much-needed platform for classical music to be presented in a means familiar, relevant, and engaging to a mass audience.

In Memoriam

Polish-American piano legend Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982) turned 125 this year.
Polish-American piano legend Arthur Rubinstein turned 125 this year.

The classical music world lost several greats in 2012, including composer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch, jazz icon David Brubeck, Pulitzer-winning composer Elliott Carter, virtuosic French trumpeter Maurice André, and great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.  Though this is not a complete list, all the musicians lost this year will be missed in 2013.

2012 also ushered in several anniversary celebrations, such as the centennials of composers John Cage and Jean Françaix, the 125th birthday of pianist Arthur Rubinstein, and, of course, the 150th birthday of the wonderful Claude Debussy.

Heal the World…

This year brought beautiful, undeniable proof that classical music saves lives.  Three stories from throughout 2012 jumped out at me as particularly touching and noteworthy: the upcoming documentary Landfill Harmonic, about a young orchestra from an impoverished Paraguayan neighborhood; the truly remarkable National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, which performed in the UK this past summer; and a self-taught symphony orchestra bringing joy to the war-torn Congo.  The passion and courage of these unlikely musicians promise a new year full of music and peace.

***

“From New Year’s on the outlook brightens; good humor lost in a mood of failure returns. I resolve to stop complaining.”

— Leonard Bernstein

***

Happy New Year!

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