Classical music isn't dead yet

by Caroline Marris

Pretty much anywhere you look — in any major paper in any major city — somebody is moaning about the death of classical music. "Nobody under the age of fifty goes to the Philharmonic anymore," one will gripe. "Only young people of Asian descent care anymore," another grumbles controversially. Too fusty, too old, too complex for mortals to understand — Beethoven needn't bother to roll in his grave, it seems, because no one under the age of 30 will remember who he is.

The problem with this argument is it doesn't actually seem to be a problem.

In recent weeks and months I've seen Jean-Yves Thibaudet — of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement" soundtrack fame — play Shostakovitch. I've seen Lang Lang play Bartok. I've seen Mozart's Requiem twice — a rare Missa Brevis by Kodály, Ian Bostridge singing Schubert and Orpheus playing Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings." I just missed out on the New York Choral Society singing Wagner's early epic opera "Rienzi." In each and every case I've seen children with their parents, high school students with lapfuls of composition paper taking down notes in real time and dozens, if not hundreds, of 20-somethings in the audiences. I'm due to see the Kronos Quartet very soon, which I expect will also be packed with a younger set — in light of their contemporary and up-and-coming tastes. Just last week, an enormous production of Orff's "Carmina Burana" was sung at Carnegie Hall by hundreds of high school students, along with three new Orff-inspired compositions by teenagers.

So why on earth do people assume classical isn't for the young anymore?

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Caroline Marris is a contributing columnist. Email her at

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