White noise?


Many well-informed "culture-goers" read contemporary fiction, attend art exhibits, and go to art-house theaters to see the latest in Ethiopian cinema, yet fail to know about or understand contemporary classical music, said Alex Ross, the New Yorker's classical-music critic, in Monday's discussion of his new book, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century, at Fulton Recital Hall.

As a result, Ross is often forced to ask himself whom he is writing for—the consensus or the well informed. “The New Yorker has always had a devoted readership, many of whom read it cover to cover and presume that if it is in the New Yorker, it is important,” he said. He views his position as a tremendous opportunity to bring readers into the classical-music world.

In the talk, Ross aimed to help the audience rethink the way they approach classical music. “Instead of plopping people down in front of an orchestra playing Beethoven, why not show them what contemporary artists, like Bjork, Sufjan Stevens, and Radiohead, are taking from their classical peers and then, once they see those connections, begin to look at composers from previous generations?”

Ross argued that classical-music critics are a key cog in the genre’s revival. “They are the faces of classical music,” he said. “Their review may be the only contact that people have with classical music all day—that is, except when they listen to Vivaldi in their dentist’s waiting room.”


Photo: New Yorker critic Alex Ross discusses the state of contemporary classical music at Fulton Recital Hall.

November 7, 2007