Thursday, May 03, 2007

Classical Music Stores in Burgh

It is reported that Amazon classical section has been making profit, but local stores everywhere are having a tough time. Pittsburgh, blessed with no impact from the closure of Tower Records, is no treasure-land for collectors.

Borders are predictable, with "Hit", "Best" and Pavarotti dotted around Joshua Bell or Lang Lang. There are some differences between each store, partly due to the knowledge scope of the store staff. The one at Pittsburgh Mills is totally messed, and the one near Wholefood is tiny and incomplete. The only decent one is at Northway Mall in North Hills, however, the whole section has shrinked to two thirds of its size one year ago.

If the staff has some control or preference in classical selection, Joseph-Bett probably benefits from the young generation who can appreciate as much Beethoven as Bartok. It really surprised me last time when I found a huge collection of 20th composers including from Bartok, Shostakovich to Legeti and Boulez.

In a recent article by Alex Ross in New Yorker, L.A. Philharmonic orchestra's music director Salonen was described to bring the orchestra to the frontier of modernity in the US industry. The give and take relationship between the orchestra and audience can be misleading and frustrating to modern composers, who may be satisfied if one of the work can at least become live on stage ONCE.
It is true that it is the audience that buy the tickets and patron the orchestra, but their taste should not regarded as dominating or main-stream, because the group of the audience who has the loudest voice do not represent the true profile of classical consumers.

I agree that Bartok and Stravinsky may not bring young people into the stage, but that at least may change the sterile perception that classical music equals to some works written at least 200 years ago! Modern music, with its special complexity in structure and texture, needs more introduction and repetition than those by Bach or Mozart. The unpopularity of modern music, in my opinion, is partially caused by the close-minded decision makers, who do not think in long term for the prosperity of the industry, but rather secure the funding from gray-haired board members.

In his new book "The Curtain", Milan Kundera says everything that takes on the quality of a history, seems a more or less logical sequence of events. Once you are familiar with Pollock or Warhol, Munch's expressionism is within reach, not to mention affable C├ęzanne. Music, like any language, never shrinks. It only expands, evolves and assimilates, while the only way to adjust the shift is to get involved. But even with the keening ears for modern music, audience here is deprived of the right to listen to it from alive. The small market is more a problem that not many ears have been trained than that not many ears are willing to be trained!

With their extra texture, rich background and new instruments, modern music cries for live-performance. Without sitting there, watching and feeling the fire, I could not pick up Janacek's Intimate Letters, not to mention Schnittke or Kirchner.

Joseph-Bett may not have sold as many of Legeti as Chopin, but the CDs are stacked there, waiting to be explored. The sound from the sampling machine may not sound as good as that from Heinz Hall, but it is there: visually declamatory and audibly freshening.

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