Friday, October 31, 2008

Alex Ross at JCC

Last night Alex Ross appeared in conversation with The Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman at the JCC. The event took place in the smallish Fisher Hall, but it was a full house of close to 200 people. I guess I have little faith, since I was surprised at the size of the turn-out. Mr. Kosman asked questions for about 45 minutes, then people from the audience questioned Mr. Ross for another half-hour.

Kosman opened the discussion by acknowledging Mr. Ross's recent receipt of a MacArthur Grant, but Alex gave no hint as to what he'll do with the money. The discussion included a lot of rehashing of the book, but I was more interested in some of the other questions that were raised, even if we got no clear answers. When asked why the audience for classical music is so small, Mr. Ross wondered if it could realistically be any bigger. The New York Phil currently sells out 90% of its concerts, & there are plenty more well-attended concerts around.

Mr. Ross observed that the general public willingly cram themselves into museums to see modern masters & gladly read the latest literature, but they are not similarly engaged by modern music. He didn't really have an explanation for this but to note that listening to music is a physical response to moving air. Perhaps because of this it takes a certain amount of effort to perceive certain sounds as pleasant.

I was of course gratified to hear that he embraces blogs. He likes how blogs allow classical music fans to engage with each other socially. He contrasted this with the solitary experience of going into a record store back in the days of LPs & trying to choose a recording. He also likes the way music download services make it easy for people to find music.

Mr. Kosman noted that Andrew Porter, Mr. Ross's predecessor at the New Yorker, wrote weekly & created a comprehensive view of the music scene. By contrast, Mr. Ross has a column only every few weeks, so he has to be highly selective. He hopes that over time this gives some sort of over-all picture as well.

Because Mr. Ross is so obviously smart, it seemed that everyone at the event was taking great pains to be smart & earnest too. Fortunately at the end of the evening we got a glimpse of Mr. Ross's jokey side. He retold the anecdote on page 382 of his book about the premier of Aaron Copland's Connotations in Washington, complete with a practiced imitation of Jackie Kennedy's breathy voice.

P.S. I hope this isn't too much tattling on my part, but I got to witness what will surely go down as an historic meeting between Opera Tattler & Joshua Kosman, who immediately traded a recent story of bad behavior at the Symphony.


The Opera Tattler said...

Thanks for letting me tag along with you!

Axel Feldheim said...

But of course! Who better to come along? Plus I got to see you meet one of your readers & embarrass you in front of Alex Ross!

Joshua Kosman said...

So that was you loitering silently behind the Tattler's shoulder! You're not easy to recognize without a clear view of the back of your neck. Next time I hope you'll say hi.

Axel Feldheim said...

Eep! I didn't expect to come to the attention of Mr. Kosman. Opera Tattler's increasing visibility, however, is much deserved. She is a perfect example of what Mr. Ross was talking about in terms of how blogs allow music fans to interact in new ways.