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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Wednesday April 11 2007

I have been digging, as you do, into two things, which it now occurs to me may have something to do with each other.

First I have been following the argument re-(this one never really goes away these days)ignited about the alleged death of the classical music industyr by Norman Lebrecht and his latest book, Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness: the Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry

Okay you probably won’t want to read all of that.  I’ve yet to read it myself.  But you can read: Martin Kettle, Alex Ross, and Lebrecht himself at his new blog.

Second, I have been noting with ever increasing amazement the career and creations of the architect Santiago Calatrava, my latest wave of interest in this man being provoked by coming across this snap, of a big culture-palace in Calatrava’s birthplace, Valencia:

image

This detail of the same place is also very pretty:

image

Stepping back and flying up, what you see is this:

image

Two other Calatrava creations I have only just clocked are these two towers.  The one on the left in Sweden is already built.  The one on the right is to be in Chicago, fingers crossed.  (That picture is an earlier version of this edifice.  The latest version looks rather more ungainly, to my eye.)

image image

Now, here’s the beginnings of my point, blogged rather than written about properly.

Architecture is a public art, and it had its crisis of modernity in the sixties and seventies.  Regular people did not just ignore what then passed for Modern Architecture.  They spat at it.  And the architects noticed.  The spit was on their shirtfronts, and they did not like it one bit.  The current generation of super-architects (a) exists, and (b) exists by having rejigged architectural modernism to make it look good.  Modern Architecture is now in rude health, whereas thirty or forty years ago it was merely rude.  (Other big current names: Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Renzo Piano.)

The architects, you might say, have created new repertoire.

Meanwhile the “classical musicians” have just been jogging along, re-recording their back catalogue for CDs and now for internet distribution.  They also had rude and ugly modernism, but regular people could ignore it, and did.  They didn’t have to live in this stuff.  Very little spitting, and mostly by the orchestral musicians forced to play it.  Whereas the architects and their city-builder clients knew they had a crisis on their hands and settled down to sorting it to great effect, the classical musicians postponed their crisis.  They didn’t search out new composers, with a new way of doing things which combined modernity with popularity in the Calatrava manner.  Only now are they facing this crisis, in the form of cancelled recording contracts, subsidies that just have to remain but actually may soon be cancelled, and commercial sponsors who themselves grew up with the Beatles and who are understandably losing interest in the classical museum.

“Crossover” was an attempt to solve this problem, but it remains despised by the proper classical people.  The nearest thing to a musical parallel to Calatrava etc. are the Americans: Philip Glass and John Adams.  Nice.  But not that much in the way of popular impact, and not nearly enough to alter the sums for the classical music fraternity.

Meanwhile, throughout the twentieth century, pop music has exploded, in a way that has very little parallel in architecture.  If architecture was like pop music, it would be as if every suburban house in the world was a an artistic statement and a potential artistic masterpiece, with the people just loving it, and with this month’s most favourite off-the-peg house design being a popular obsession and a major news item.  (I’m told that Soweto is, or used to be, rather like this, but I really have no idea.) Imagine what the “classical architects” would make of that sort of world, and you have what much of the classical music fraternity does make of pop music now.  Lofty contempt.  Rage.  Envy.  Grudging and now growing respect.  Obsessive brooding on the single-figure-and-falling percentage scored by “proper architecture” in the bigger picture of architecture as a whole.

Well, it’s a thought.  Or rather, those are thoughts.