Conceive of a world without Lincoln Center, Tanglewood or the unbuilt Disney Hall. Too horrible to contemplate?
Maybe not. Purists scorn the unholy idea that classical music could exist in the absence of large public concerts. What should we call it – if not death – when classical music is relegated to churches, private homes, schools and open-air spaces?
Well, we might call it the Baroque period.
The large public concert isn’t the heart and soul of classical music. Actually, much of the classical repertoire was never meant to be performed in a concert hall. It was designed for specific social functions: at court, in church, in small chamber gatherings, in private homes, for individual study.
Many of Bach’s best-known pieces were theoretical models devised for composition students. Handel’s Water Music was first performed on a barge drifting down the Thames. Many of Vivaldi’s concertos were written as exercises for Venetian schoolgirls.
Schubert’s piano sonatas were never played for more than 30 people during the composer’s lifetime. Even the symphonies of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were almost always performed in small settings.
Yes, musicians want and need an audience from time to time, “but playing for a few friends, playing with other musicians, and even playing for oneself is still the foundation of musical life,” argues pianist and music historian Charles Rosen.
If the worst should befall us – if all but the world’s most richly endowed orchestras and opera companies should whither away, would classical music die?
Hardly, says USC clarinetist Yehuda Gilad. “If I have acouple of ears to play for, I’m happy.”



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