What should I ask Alex Ross?

I will be doing a Conversation with him.  If you don’t know he writes for The New Yorker as a music (and literary) critic, writes a wonderful music blog, has first-rate books on music and has a new book coming out titled Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music.

So what should I ask him?

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- The tensions between state supported 'elite' music and popular art. What does he think of the idea of art vouchers for Covid stimulus?

- Music fades in importance/interested when it is just atomised composers exploring their own ideas, rather than a community pursuing a new idea/sound. Agree/disagree? How do we get modern composed music moving again, as a single voice, into new territory? Why is it so atomised - is this the forces of market pressure?

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Ask him if he agrees that in the past 100 years or so, art has largely deemphasized beauty and if so, why?

Ross answers that in his book, "The Rest is Noise."

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I admit a near complete ignorance of the current 'music scene'. That said: How well do the best streaming captures of live performances do (in his opinion)? Can groups (bands, orchestras, choirs, etc.) survive social distancing? Is it possible to perform in 'pods' and combine the 'tracks' and still get superb sound? Who is doing this now?

Ask him if he likes GWAR!

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Wag-ner or Vaagner. Then ask him how to correctly pronounce Van Gogh.

9 W

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I admit I chuckled when seeing an image of Van Gogh wondering what to do with a COVID mask that loops over the ears.

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Ask if anybody has ever heard medieval music or ancient music, or knows what it might sound like.

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I enjoyed reading his book "The Rest Is Noise" some years ago. But what does he think of the more extreme styles of the 21st century such as harsh noise or drone metal or sludge?

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Wagner has been "cancelled" longer than anyone else with a de facto ban on playing him in Israel - although no longer. Does he have anything to say about the Confederate monuments based on the example of Wagner?

There has been a call for a ban on color blind auditions for orchestras. Partly because they hire too many Asians. Why does he think that Asians tend to be over-represented but not Blacks?

As a Black person brings their own experience to a role, as their racial identity is necessary for some reason to the music, isn't it reasonable to say that in some other roles being, say, Asian, or White, or even non-Jewish, is also appropriate?

Recordings of his music were always available in Israel. What was not considered acceptable was public performances of worlks most Israelis considered the theme music to the Holocaust.

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When it comes to classical music, what general trends can be observed, over the decades, regarding how the music is played/interpreted? What societal trends or changes in zeitgeist have had the biggest impact on the way classical music is performed?

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Thoughts on Gershwin? Favorite Beatles album? Will we see another group with the impact the Beatles had in our lifetimes?

The Beatles were great, but they’ll never be as good as GWAR!

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I have tried watching the Ring Cycle, but I feel that I am missing the background knowledge necessary to really appreciate it - what should I do to get into Wagner?

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Last summer the YouTube channel Inside the Score made the claim that across both symphonic and popular music, "melody" is being reduced in emphasis and that other musical qualities are being emphasized - Hans Zimmer and Billy Eilish being the most prominent examples, but far from the only ones.

Does Ross agree with this assessment, and what does he think about it if so? Is it temporary or long-term (from the perspective of a couple of generations; obviously all musical trends are temporary in the long run, but in the long run we're all dead).

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Something about Nirvana? This article written in the days after Cobain's suicide seems to underestimate their legacy.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1994/04/25/generation-exit

Does today's hit selection and distribution process result in a more homogeneous personality among stars? Could someone as genuinely uncomfortable with fame as Cobain was become as big as Nirvana now? It feels like now there's so much selective pressure now that any reluctance toward fame is weeded out. It used to be you could be spotted a tiny gig, picked up and backed by a label/producer, and in the time it took for the whole machinery to spin up you could become huge almost against your will.

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What are the essential requirements to be a good music critic? What made him choose to become a music critic (or, what was his *aha* moment)?

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ask about the convergence of pop music. country, pop, hiphop, etc. all sound the same. is it good, bad, etc.

also, why is black music so popular? it seems universal. other ethnic style music (native american, chinese music, jewish, etc.) never seem to appeal to someone outside that group. but american hiphop is argueably the worlds muisc.

ask about the process of making hiphop and if has something to do with how uncreative hiphop is. must of hiphop is made from tinkering on machines. there isn't 4 or 5 musicians in a room using intruments to talk to one another.

also why are black communities so much more likely to produce amazing musicians? what about black culture produces them?

Its mostly african americans though. You don't see that from other countries, like Brazil, Colombia, France, etc. Not that some of it isn't good, but not like hiphop.

Frankly I think most of it has not just peaked but is so stagnant. Just the same stupid story of consumption and naracsism over and over.

Tyler, ask about african music maybe. Why is it so good yet so underated.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCGUsORIHhM

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A question about pop music and the theory of the firm: in the 80s and 90s there were lots of producer/MC duos and groups, but nowadays most commercial hip-hop albums are credited to one rapper and have dozens of producer credits and guest appearances. In pop music, too, you have stars collaborating with extremely prolific songwriters, producers and studio musicians -- although this has been true for much longer. What gets lost in the mix when music-making is done by talented individuals making low-friction transactions, or is it just more efficient?

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What's the future of classical music after the pandemic? Will the orchestras in mid-sized cities survive the pandemic? I can make competing arguments: on the one had, why support a good but not great orchestra when all one has to do to see a great orchestra is to fly to NYC (or Boston or Chicago or other large city with a world class orchestra), and on the other hand, I'm not getting on an airplane, riding in Uber or a cab, or staying in a hotel. If staying local is the byproduct of the pandemic, better to fund and attend the local orchestra than see no orchestra at all.

Is streaming music good for music or bad? The quality of the sound is not that great, and (in ascending order) not as good as disc, not as good as vinyl, and not as good as live. The variety on streaming is amazing, but does our appreciation fall with the quality of the sound?

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How has the rise of China changed classical music?
Should aspiring musicians (especially classical) go to university or spend that time in some other way?
how does he listen to recordings (like does he use headphones, a nice stereo, does he do anything while listening, such as chores, etc? does he sit and close his eyes? CD? Spotify? I'm curious about all the small details of how he actually listens and why)

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Given the aging audience, is classical music dying a slow death? Part 2: is there any future for classical song recital programs?

"Given the aging audience, is classical music dying a slow death"

we should ask that about the blues.

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Have you ever composed music yourself?

Do you play an instrument? What kind of music do you like to play?

What do you make of Steve Martin’s comment that writing about music is like dancing about architecture?

You lament that orchestras and opera houses do not perform enough contemporary music, but when they do, the pieces rarely find an enthusiastic audience and then they rarely get performed again. Are orchestras digging their own grave when they are caught between redundant classical and unlistenable contemporary repertory?

There is a huge treasure trove of more accessible 20th and 21st century music, often created by film composers, that orchestras seem to ignore or relegate to Pops concerts. What would it take to overcome the snobbism in the classical music world and bring more accessible music into concert programs?

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1. Why is very good pastiche composition not taken as seriously by composers or critics?
2. Do you think the classical music industry's dogged persistance in 'dumbing-down' and/or attracting younger audiences is counterproductive?
3. If composers like George Benjamin and Hans Abrahamsen are so good, what is it that makes them good, and why aren't their works core repetory?
4. For that matter, why are people so afraid of 'modern' music, some of which *is* core repetory and has been around for more than a hundred years?
5. Why is Schönberg still so unpopular, when Berg and Webern are comparatively better understood and appreciated?

I'd advocate probing him about why classical music remains unpopular, what has gone wrong in music education, and most crucially, what's the point? What are some *reasons* for liking classical music? Most people would consider it masochism to listen to 90% of the music I like. Why should anyone find it valuable to listen to something that most people find overlong or ugly?

Sorry for the long comment — the modern music world fascinates me a *lot* and I'd love to be able to ask Alex Ross some of these questions.

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What does rock-n-roll have to teach classical musicians?

What did Wagner teach rock-n-roll?

Sheer, unadulterated bombast.

But it was Mozart that taught rock stars how to get all the chicks

Mozart was the master of the blumpkin:
https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=blumpkin

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What is the impact on the music industry of the fact that most people listen through poor sounding portable or smart speakers (or their laptop speakers), and not on actual stereo systems? Can Hi-Fi experience the same renaissance that vinyl has?

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You have written extensively and admiringly about the music of Morton Feldman. What exactly in the mental and aural experience of listening to Feldman's music is rewarding to you, and what specifically do you recommend listeners "listen for"? (Low-content answers along the lines of "It's just so beautiful" are not helpful.) Relatedly, do you have a listening strategy that can be generalized to other post-tonal music, and does it facilitate identification and sorting of the best, the good, and the bad?

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Was Ludwig II lucky to find Wagner or was it some type of skill or insight?

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1. "Value" of classical music. If most audiences for classical (aka "composed music, with name of composer attached") are affluent, why should individuals or the state support classical music, as such support seems to be a subsidy to the affluent. What is the value to a given city of having a world-class orchestra, if 99% of the city's residents will never hear it? (BTW I live in Cleveland and am an ardent supporter of TCO, so for me this is a devil's advocate question.)

2. "Supply" of classical music. Take opera, the most expensive mode of classical music. Opera America has stated on the one hand that opera is the least attended of the fine arts, but on the other that there are over 100 professional opera companies in the USA. Opera companies traditionally bleed money faster than Scarpia bleeds real blood. Would we do better to have 50 financially-sound opera companies than 100 always on the brink of collapse? If that would we better, how would we arrange it?

#2. Mori! Mori! Mori!

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Please ask him to recommend his current favorite living composers. I'd also be interested in knowing if he believes there should be a revival of interest in Russian Futurist composers such as Mosolov, Roslavets, Popov, etc.

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The Saxophone is probably the last acoustic instrument invented that has gained widespread use. Why is Classical Music resistant to using this more?

How can you determine if a new piece of Classical Music will have staying power? Also, why is melody so underused in modern compositions? Are the composers (knowing how niche modern classical music is), writing for a general audience or for each other? Meaning other composers working as composition professors in music conservatories?

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This isn't relevant during COVID, but what will it take to get a wider diversity of classical concert formats? I wish more of them were more like normal concerts, in which listeners can stand up and get a beer when we want to.

He has been making noise in this direction for a while: https://jakeseliger.com/2008/02/01/alex-ross-in-seattle/

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where in the world are the audiences the most adventurous?

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Looking back on the past few decades, maybe the largest area of growth in classical music seems to be through the historically informed performance practice . The scope of their practice as grown to encompass not only medieval/Renaissance/Baroque music and in the most recent few decades Classical and early Romanticism. The movement seems to have been able to revitalize chamber music and offer ample space for small musical organizations to pop up and find interest in a way that contemporary music has not. How can the larger classical music world leverage the success of the historical performance movement to begin more effectively communicating the past? To what degree does he think we’ve lost our ability to communicate the past (a la N. Harnoncourt)? And is the historical movement one of curiosity (and that’s why it’s found success) or is it his intuition that it’s relative success is based on a more convincing aesthetic communication of the past?

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The most remarkable part of the pandemic, to me as I live my daily life, is how much quieter the world has become. As the background noise of airplanes, vehicles, streets has receded, single lines of noise -- the lone vespa, the barking dog -- now have their own shapes and demand their own attention. How would Alex Ross suggest that our collective and distinctive experience of relative quiet might influence music, especially popular music, in the future?

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Kid A or Amnesiac?

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Will any 2020-era composers be part of the canon in 2100, assuming live music still exists?

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Is working as a liturgical music director or organist still a viable career path for aspiring composers?

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We have somewhat solid (if reductive) stories we tell about western art music throughout much of the 20th century decade by decade -- hyper-modernist 50s, experimental/theatrical 60s, minimalist 70s, etc. I'd be curious how he might characterize the 90s, 00s, and 10s.

My understanding is that undergraduate music theory classes have been fairly similar for the last 50 years or so at least -- lots of emphasis on Roman numeral analysis, Schenker's influence, other tools that are well-developed for talking about 18th and 19th century music -- but this is beginning to change and broaden. I'd be curious what he thinks of these changes, and what criteria he thinks we should use to determine what should be taught in music theory classes going forward.

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What is Axl Rose 's most important contribution to music?

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What is the contribution of techno ?

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Isn't it more likely that the people who dump on Carter as exemplifying how bad modern music is,
thereby telling us they have heard modern music and have judged it negatively, have never even heard Carter but want to avoid listening to modern music without being judged an ignoramus? Why isn't it ever Luigi Nono, for example?

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1. What do you expect future AI might compose that no human would likely ever think of (e.g., the analog of AI chess moves that "surprise" superstars of the game)?
2. What is the future of classical music and opera as the Boomers age out?
3. Perhaps it's too trendy to talk about diversity in 2020, but should tryouts that are done "blind" today in order to reduce bias actually change so as to deliberately increase certain types of diversity? If an orchestra is playing the European classics, what does diversity even mean other than visuals and spreading the jobs around?

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On his blog, Ross often writes about post-Feldman communities of new musical quietism around, say, the labels Wandelweiser, Another Timbre, Erstwhile, Gravity Wave; Michael Pisaro; Antoine Beuger; Jurg Frey; and the inter-related AMPLIFY 2020 quarantine “festival.”

Please ask him to talk about this work for the more general audience that your interview will attract

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Ask him how does he feel about Kendrick Lamar winning the Pulitzer award, and not even for his best album.

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1. A lot of new music criticism is happening on YouTube, in video essays that are often over 20 minutes in length. Does he pay attention to this form and the people pioneering it?

2. How much live music does (or did) he attend, and what kinds? Does (or did) he attend less late concerts with increasing age?

3. Does he have tinnitus? Is he an "audiophile"?

4. Accordion or harp?

5. Brazil or Argentina?

6. Who are some critics or essayist he admires, especially from the 19th century or earlier?

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One Alex's ongoing blog headlines was "The Death of the Death of Classical Music." One point I recall was that "death of classical" narratives focused on expensive marquee institutions (which are always in trouble), but that a massive, diverse range of classical musics was thriving in numerous non-marquee scenes worldwide. He was right, but... 1) COVID-19 - which and how many major performing institutions will fall if audiences don't feel comfortable packing into crowded concert halls and opera houses? Could this be a major inflection point for institutions that depend on packed seats? 2) Do some classical genres face special danger - notably choral music and opera - because they involved the projection of the voice into enclosed spaces, making super-spreader events more likely? As opposed to string quartets, say? 3) Re resident orchestras, he made the point that US community orchestras were artificially proliferated by a Ford Foundation grant in the 1960s and are being trimmed to a more realistic number; one could say something similar about German orchestras, perhaps? Will this decade produce the big shakeout for these orchestra/ opera houses? Will their survival center on reinventing or innovation or not? 3) Will philanthropic valuing of these institutions be significantly reduced because of the racial-justice reckoning in the US and elsewhere? That is, will philanthropists be less likely to value funding a Eurocentric art form (like classical music), and will that pose a serious challenge to the classical music scene, at least in the U.S.? Same question re audiences and arts they value, the talent pipeline of music students who become professionals eventually, etc. ?

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Is jazz inevitably little music rather than big music, to use Eric Hobsbawm's terms?

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We all know that Wagner himself thought it essential for his audience to read the librettos/follow the narratives of his music dramas to appreciate his art - do you think this is true, or is it possible that the music alone defines his visionary genius and that the narratives were essential only as devices to free him from convention as he pushed and pulled the music to fit them? I know it's hard to separate conceptual Wagner from musical Wagner, but imagine a far off future where all writing/narratives both by and about Wagner were lost and only his music survived - would it be considered genius? Now imagine the opposite, all his music was lost and we only had the writing/narratives - would anyone care?

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Two questions:
- Is film/television the saviour of modern classical music? Think Arvo Part, Eric Whitacre, Max Richter even Britten (thanks to Wes Anderson). While at the same time is the highly intellectual music of say Benjamin and Ades a dead end, solely the preserve of people who read Alex Ross?
- Were Wangner writing today, he would almost certainly be no platformed. He'd lose his sponsorships and I suspect he wouldn't be performed publicly. How far would you defend him were he alive?

Regards to you both. I'll look forward to seeing the interview.

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Not sure if I'm too late, but I still have some questions for Mr Ross:
- why has British/European music always focused more on production compared to American music? Basically why is the "sound" (melody/rhythm) more important for European musicians than for North American ones, for who lyrics seem to be more important? My thinking is that this is because European musicians sell their music to a variety of countries, thus the lyrics are less important...
- why is country music so popular in the US? I've never understood this, as it seems to be the most boring and unpleasant musical style to me outside of metal maybe.
- why are their certain countries which are "trendy" in music for certain periods, but not in others? For example, a few years ago (2?), Canada was the big thing in Pop music, but now it seems to be either Puerto Rico or Colombia... also there are countries which seem to have staying power in music industry, e.g. Sweden or Jamaica...
- does he think the quayof British music has declined in the last 15 or so years? If so, why?
- why have British artists like Robbie Williams, Jamiroquai , Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Texas or even Kylie Minogue never became popular in the US? I think they are very underrated in the US.
- also, why did George Michael's popularity in the US decrease after the early 90s in the US? Is it because he came out?
- why do African Americans not consider techno/house music as "their own"? (At least that's my impression). After all one could argue house is more popular than hip hop worldwide.

- does he think that Spanish-language music will become mainstream in the US and other English-speaking countries?

- will ai ever replace real people as artists (not just producers but also singers)? If so, when?

Correction:
does he think the quality of British music has declined in the last 15 or so years? If so, why?

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Look, I don't care if you ask him this or not, I never expect to get an answer

(just as I will never get an answer to why, for about 20 years from the early 70s to the early 90s, the mass market paperbacks of Tolkien's novel were printed on paper that smelled, with an almost unique smell, of some wonderful version of Finnish forests or un-enchanted but still magical Finnish junipers - there are a million better ways to describe it, but IT IS A REAL PHENOMENON, and nobody will ever explain that phenomenon to me, just as I know that nobody will ever point out to me where I can find that MTV style video (in one of the first post-MTV videos years) where, about a year or two after Napoleon Dynamite came out, some guy who was probably Mormon did a really really good video with a long-cam shot (almost as long as the Orson Welles one in that Mexican border town) where he sang about how it is good to just be relaxed about whatever comes your way, and he had some really good, almost Finnegans Wake level good, lyrics to go with his catchy and bouncy theme, as he sang the long theme along a long line of people who interacted- dancing a little, or just reacting ----- no, nobody will ever be able to tell me what that video was, even though it was a real thing .....)

Seriously, if I were sitting on a plane next to some guy and he said, my name is Alex, and I said my name is Steve, and if I saw him perusing one of those precious and almost unobtainable pre-internet published scores of a Martinu symphony (any one of the four, it makes no difference), and if I asked, hey, you are not Alex Ross by any chance, and he said yes, it is likely I would ask him ----- look, there have been about 10 to 20 billion people who could have written music reviews for the Hudson review (he would look at me with that David Niven look, that look of "is this person for real") .... and I would say, hey, what was the deal with H.R. Haggin and Brahms? Brahms was a fun and fascinating musician, why did Haggin pretend that he wasn't?????

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Classical music is often described as serious music, but classical music audiences in the past have supported comedians such as Anna Russell and Peter Schickele. However, this sort of humor no longer has any practitioners. Why?

The last one hundred years have seen composers adopting one new style after another, searching for a unique and persuasive sound. Some examples are: atonalism, aleatory music, minimalism, and spectralism. Which, of these, if any, will last another one hundred years?

Why is the orchestra stuck in the nineteenth century? Where are the new instruments?

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