Now, in one sense he's probably right, that those guys are never going to be on the classical hit parade. My local "classical" radio station will never play them (on the other hand, that station doesn't play Puccini, either, at least not with the voices, except for their monthly SF Opera broadcast).
But my big reaction to this is "So what?"
First off, I don't necessarily agree with the other big premise of the article, that this stuff is in some sense too complex. Terry trots out the example of Finnegans Wake and says, sure, he could spend the time getting to know it, but why bother? He could read Proust instead. The thing is, there's no reason to depend on one hearing of a Carter or Boulez work to get to know it. It'd take less time than reading Finnegans Wake, in fact, especially if you take the time to get your hands on a score. (Well...um...I find Carter's music easier to understand if I am not giving myself a headache looking at the score, because I try to count it and things fall apart very fast.) Musicians spend lots of time getting to know less complex music, so that's nothing new.
And somehow, there are plenty of musicians around who are happily studying and playing Carter, Boulez, Babbitt, Fernyhough, and so on. I like to mention a couple of times a year a fact that Alex Ross dug up long ago: in the early 1970s, there were two new music groups in New York City. (I wonder if this included the computer-music group at Columbia. Maybe there were three!) There are now more than 50.
Here's one reason for my "so what." It's important to remember that classical music is not a single thing and the classical music audience is not a single thing. It's a group of niches, including:
- New music (say, going back to 1900 for a lot of stuff)
- Symphonic music
- Chamber music
- Solo recital
- Early music
So it's just not important whether Carter and Boulez are audience favorites. They have an audience, regardless of the size. SF Performances sold about 400 tickets to the Carter 100th Birthday Weekend, which featured all of the string quartets and all of the piano music, all brilliantly played. It'd be interesting to find out whether more living people have heard a Dufay mass performed live or a Carter string quartet. I would not take bets.
The other reason for my "so what"? Terry's argument depends, in part, on an implicit assumption that people who go to concerts understand and are taking in a lot of what goes on in what they hear. That's the only reason the "too complex to understand" argument might hold any water. I am absolutely certainly that the majority of people who go to concerts do not hear most of what's going on. Most of them hear pretty tunes and the beautiful and varied textures of classical, especially symphonic, music. They're not necessarily catching the structural complexities, though I would guess most recognize the standard repeat patterns of classical symphonies. So...who cares if they listen? They're not going to hear that much more in Brahms than in Babbitt.