In modern society, our lives and ideas often face many challenges. Choose to change and meet challenges. The decision of the New York Philharmonic to hire Alan Gilbert as its next music director has been the talk of the classical-music world ever since the sudden announcement of his appointment in 2009. For the most part, the response has been favorable, to say the least. “Hooray! At last!” wrote Anthony Tommasini, a sober-sided classical-music critic.
One of the reasons why the appointment came as such a surprise, however, is that Gilbert is comparatively little known. Even Tommasini, who had advocated Gilbert’s appointment in the Times, calls him “an unpretentious musician with no air of the formidable conductor about him.” As a description of the next music director of an orchestra that has hitherto been led by musicians like Gustav Mahler and Pierre Boulez, that seems likely to have struck at least some Times readers as faint praise.
For my part, I have no idea whether Gilbert is a great conductor or even a good one. To be sure, he performs an impressive variety of interesting compositions, but it is not necessary for me to visit Avery Fisher Hall, or anywhere else, to hear interesting orchestral music. All I have to do is to go to my CD shelf, or boot up my computer and download still more recorded music from iTunes.
Devoted concertgoers who reply that recordings are no substitute for live performance are missing the point. For the time, attention, and money of the art-loving public, classical instrumentalists must compete not only with opera houses, dance troupes, theater companies, and museums, but also with the recorded performances of the great classical musicians of the 20th century. There recordings are cheap, available everywhere, and very often much higher in artistic quality than today’s live performances; moreover, they can be “consumed” at a time and place of the listener’s choosing. The widespread availability of such recordings has thus brought about a crisis in the institution of the traditional classical concert.
One possible response is for classical performers to program attractive new music that is not yet available on record. Gilbert’s own interest in new music has been widely noted: Alex Ross, a classical-music critic, has described him as a man who is capable of turning the Philharmonic into “a markedly different, more vibrant organization.” But what will be the nature of that difference? Merely expanding the orchestra’s repertoire will not be enough. If Gilbert and the Philharmonic are to succeed, they must first change the relationship between America’s oldest orchestra and the new audience it hops to attract.
Of all the changes that have taken place in English-language newspapers during the past quarter-century, perhaps the most far-reaching has been the inexorable decline in the scope and seriousness of their arts coverage.
It is difficult to the point of impossibility for the average reader under the age of forty to imagine a time when high-quality arts criticism could be found in most big-city newspapers. Yet a considerable number of the most significant collections of criticism published in the 20th century consisted in large part of newspaper reviews. To read such books today is to marvel at the fact that their learned contents were once deemed suitable for publication in general-circulation dailies.
We are even farther removed from the unfocused newspaper reviews published in England between the turn of the 20th century and the eve of World War 2,at a time when newsprint was dirt-cheap and stylish arts criticism was considered an ornament to the publications in which it appeared. In those far-off days, it was taken for granted that the critics of major papers would write in detail and at length about the events they covered. Theirs was a serious business. and even those reviews who wore their learning lightly, like George Bernard Shaw and Ernest Newman, could be trusted to know what they were about. These men believed in journalism as a calling, and were proud to be published in the daily press. So few authors have brains enough or literary gift enough to keep their own end up in ournalism,Newman wrote, “that I am tempted to define “journalism” as “a term of contempt applied by writers who are not read to writers who are”.
Unfortunately,these critics are virtually forgotten. Neville Cardus, who wrote for the Manchester Guardian from 1917 until shortly before his death in 1975, is now known solely as a writer of essays on the game of cricket. During his lifetime, though, he was also one of England’s foremost classical-music critics, and a stylist so widely admired that his Autobiography (1947) became a best-seller. He was knighted in 1967, the first music critic to be so honored. Yet only one of his books is now in print, and his vast body of writings on music is unknown save to specialists.
Is there any chance that Cardus’s criticism will enjoy a revival? The prospect seems remote.Journalistic tastes had changed long before his death, and postmodern readers have little use for the richly uphostered Vicwardian prose in which he specialized. Moreover,the amateur tradition in music criticism has been in headlong retreat.
It used to be so straightforward. A team of researchers working together in the laboratory would submit the results of their research to a journal. A journal editor would then remove the authors’ names and affiliations from the paper and send it to their peers for review. Depending on the comments received, the editor would accept the paper for publication or decline it. Copyright rested with the journal publisher, and researchers seeking knowledge of the results would have to subscribe to the journal.
No longer. The Internet – and pressure from funding agencies, who are questioning why commercial publishers are making money from government-funded research by restricting access to it – is making access to scientific results a reality. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has just issued a report describing the far-reaching consequences of this. The report, by John Houghton of Victoria University in Australia and Graham Vickery of the OECD, makes heavy reading for publishers who have, so far, made handsome profits. But it goes further than that. It signals a change in what has, until now, been a key element of scientific endeavor.
The value of knowledge and the return on the public investment in research depends, in part, upon wide distribution and ready access. It is big business. In America, the core scientific publishing market is estimated at between $7 billion and $11 billion. The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers says that there are more than 2,000 publishers worldwide specializing in these subjects. They publish more than 1.2 million articles each year in some 16,000 journals.
This is now changing. According to the OECD report, some 75% of scholarly journals are now online. Entirely new business models are emerging; three main ones were identified by the report’s authors. There is the so-called big deal, where institutional subscribers pay for access to a collection of online journal titles through site-licensing agreements. There is open-access publishing, typically supported by asking the author (or his employer) to pay for the paper to be published. Finally, there are open-access archives, where organizations such as universities or international laboratories support institutional repositories. Other models exist that are hybrids of these three, such as delayed open-access, where journals allow only subscribers to read a paper for the first six months, before making it freely available to everyone who wishes to see it. All this could change the traditional form of the peer-review process, at least for the publication of papers.