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Most people generally have a negative view of classical music, often dismissing it as irrelevant and not for them. Classical music is considered outdated and out-of-touch with today’s music world.

Fusty, dusty and downright boring. Written by dead white men and only listened to by the posh, the snobbish and the elderly. Regardless of how completely inaccurate this appraisal may be, there’s just no getting away from it: for many people, this is the pervading view of classical music. Via Limelight Magazine

One of the major challenges facing this genre of music is that there is a lot of reliance on musical works composed and performed decades and even centuries ago, and an aversion to adopt elements of modern music. There’s a persistent dilemma in meeting the needs of the faithful few that remaining while drawing in a new audience.

Thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy comes to pass; the classical concert remains the realm of those branded as uptight, cultural elitists, and the gulf between those who cherish the art form and those who believe it’s just not for them widens. Via Limelight Magazine

Unfortunately, a lot of the misconceptions that surround the genre are the result of the rigidity of its existing audience who are unwilling to embrace change. Rather than make every effort to sell the music itself, there is too much emphasis on the dogma of classical music – how musicians should dress, when to clap between movements among other hallowed traditions.

Fortunately, there’s a new breed of leaders in the classical music world that are changing the scene. One of them is Richard Tognetti, the Artistic Director of ACO (Australian Chamber Orchestra).

ACO Artistic Director Richard Tognetti
ACO Artistic Director Richard Tognetti

“Classical music can often feel like it’s against the folk – against the people – which is something that I realised when I was a student, although it took me many years of independent, free-thinking to break away from that,” Tognetti explains. “To be liberated from those very entrenched ideals is a difficult thing, in any society.” Via Limelight Magazine

When he was given the opportunity to direct the chamber orchestra 25 years ago, he took it as his chance to bring his dream of cross-genre collaborations to life. This has become reality, and the orchestra has worked with a variety of musical artists and ventured into different projects that have made it quite the craze in the Australian scene.

…over the past 25 years the Orchestra has worked with the likes of Barry Humphries and Michael Leunig, with surfers and cinematographers in The Reef; he’s tackled new ventures such as ACO Underground, the ACO’s electro-acoustic outfit; he’s imported topnotch guest artists and directors to vary our musical diet; and embraced new technology in projects such as Timeline and ACO VIRTUAL, all the while willing audiences to join him on all sorts of musical adventures. Via ACO

Tognetti loves to experiment, and as a result, he made the orchestra bid goodbye to traditional penguin suits, while violas and violins were made to stand. He also encouraged a collegiate atmosphere and converted even orchestral pieces as well as smaller chamber pieces into more ACO-friendly works for which the orchestra is now renowned.

Tognetti believes that the answer for classical music lies in the hands of the new breed of composers who are making a connection with what’s popular while maintaining the sophistication of classical music.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra
The Australian Chamber Orchestra

…composers like Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood (who was a resident composer with the ACO in 2014), Björk-collaborator Nico Muhly, and The National’s Bryce Dessner, have shaken up the establishment. With an unselfconscious mix of creative flair and popular appeal, they are making classical cool in a way that doesn’t feel forced or desperate. They’re not the first composers to connect pop-culture with composition, Tognetti notes, but they are the first to tap into this language so visibly. Via Limelight Magazine

In Tognetti’s view, the breed of composers that will be most successful in making classical music relevant to the modern audience without losing its cultural roots are those who are educated in  and understand music history while appreciating the appeal of modern pop music.

Richard Tognetti
Richard Tognetti

“Of course, people still want to hear the great works of the canon. But I think we’ve also been waiting for a new kind of composer – someone who has an education and an understanding of music history so that when they put pen to paper there is a conscious connection. We’re finding that now, more and more,” Tognetti says. “It’s in no small part due to the fact that there are classical musicians who have grown up accepting and loving pop music and pop musicians who have grown up looking back over the fence, as well as being able to articulate their music on the page, figuratively speaking. What this means is that unlike a pop or rock song, these artists are writing something for other people to play, and that is a really important shift.” Via Limelight Magazine

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