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A thread about post-modernism (where I was hoping to learn things) has become (yet another) Romanticism vs everything else thread - and these seem to come and repeat the tired old arguments as often as Philip Glass repeats simple motifs in one of his pieces. We almost got to an understanding of what post-modernism is and then off the thread went into the storm clouds of Romanticism. We may not all agree on what Modernism is/was and which composers should be called Modern (capital M) and even if we do it is clear that the term post-modernism is not usually used to contain everything that came after them. But what does it refer to? There are far too many isms in the contemporary scene but post-modernism is a term that you see used quite often but I remain confused about what music it might refer to.

Classical music keeps evolving - thank heavens - and arguments about which stage in this evolutionary story is "better" than which other stages seems as sterile as saying that dinosaurs in the Jurassic were superior to large mammals in the Pleistocene. I know we all have preferences and enthusiasms - and, again, thank heavens - but is there really a need to try to prove that my preferences are superior to someone else's? Well, if there is there must be a thread for that.
Be careful. Evolving is ambiguous I think. It can mean changing and it can mean improving. Hard to make sense of the latter without some sort of goal.
 

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Discussion Starter · #62 ·
Well, I'm glad I gave you a chance to get that off your chest. You've seemed a little bored with the relative lack of controversy around here and seemed in need of a good ole ruckus over this subject.
It's not a ruckus. It was an answer to your (usual) complaint that modern music is terrible and foisted on everyone by elites and academics. I'd like to say you were getting that off your chest, but it's been repeated so many times you probably barely notice.

However, is that an answer to the rebuttals?
 

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I'll just offer a different angle. Over-sentimentality is a relative perspective. I felt the same when I am more in tuned with the Classical Era, but when I'm more in Romantic mode, much of the Classical era music sounds like fluff and fake restraint. I used to be obsessed with the emotional arc of the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto 20. But it sounds too staged to me now. I prefer the eruptions of Liszt's Wild Hunt or Mazeppa, no need for an elaborate build-up. That Howl's Moving Castle is probably inspired by the Romantic style, but is quite amateurish compared to the greats especially on the technical level. Like some say, the Classical era can be seen as too contained within the cadence. The boogie woogie is an amazing morph in the Beethoven piece, intended to be way beyond the formal structure of Haydn or Mozart, seeking a new sort of freedom. It is more common to contain everything within the structure in more run-of-the-mill Classical era works by lesser composers. The structure itself is changed to fit the expression of the music.
Interestingly I'm quite the opposite, there was a time I liked No.10 in F minor (nicknamed "Appassionata") in the Liszt set, so much so I practiced it daily and considered it one of the most passionate pieces of music ever written. Then I realized the merits of masterpieces by pre-Romantic masters which seem to convey depth through logic and intellectualism (as proven by various analysis videos on their chamber works) and since then I've had lost some interest in the general Romantic period music. I still think the Liszt is a great piece, Romantic period is a unique period of music with lot of gems that make me keep coming back to it.


About Beethoven's the last movements of the 2 late Beethoven sonatas, I think they're still great works that are interesting to listen to, but endings feel a little unsatisfactory for the whole material. As experimental and ambitious Beethoven gets in these pieces, I can't help but feel that the end results feel a little 'sketchy': It is as if Beethoven had great ideas in mind, but needed more time to polish them and didn't formulate them completely on the score. (On that note, I still think Appassionata is the greatest sonata Beethoven ever wrote.) In a somewhat different way, there's something unsatisfactory about Romantic piano preludes as well (Chopin and Scriabin), 30 second ~ 1 minute pieces that don't seem go much more beyond a few sentences. (Btw, pieces by Chopin I consider great are his Ballades, where he actually goes on to explore and develop his material.)

'Howl's Moving Castle' is indeed a watered-down, third-rate pastiche of Romantic period masterpieces in terms of composition techniques. But it still makes me feel like listening to a bad work from the Romantic period. I was using it to explain that the philosophy behind Romanticism isn't that infallible as people make it out to be and that there is 'good music' as well as 'bad music' in every era and we must examine case by case to weed out the bad from the good.
 

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Be careful. Evolving is ambiguous I think. It can mean changing and it can mean improving. Hard to make sense of the latter without some sort of goal.
Thanks for the warning! I meant evolution in its purest form. What I'm saying is that, just as evolution in nature is not about improving (and was never aimed at a goal except the goal of organisms to replicate) - and just as change leads to more change - so music's evolution is the same. In nature an "advantage" won by one species causes pressure on others to change and, more interestingly for me, there is a tendency for the tree of life to branch as new mutations find it possible to exploit new opportunities. More and more viable niches are opened up in this way.
 

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Thanks for the warning! I meant evolution in its purest form. What I'm saying is that, just as evolution in nature is not about improving (and was never aimed at a goal except the goal of organisms to replicate) - and just as change leads to more change - so music's evolution is the same. In nature an "advantage" won by one species causes pressure on others to change and, more interestingly for me, there is a tendency for the tree of life to branch as new mutations find it possible to exploit new opportunities. More and more viable niches are opened up in this way.
For the evolution of living things the advantage was to do with being more effective at passing your genes on to future generations. In music, how can we talk of advantage?

I was wondering if there's a relationship between some music and the changes to productive relations that started to take place in the 1970s. The globalisation of capital. But it's hard for me to make this out.
 

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I have attended many concerts at my local symphony orchestra. The program is quite predictable: put the worst music as the first item on the agenda followed by less objectionable pieces. Finally, after the intermission, the warhorses come into play. The first and worst item on the agenda receives polite but tepid applause, while the following pieces receive various degrees of audience enthusiasm depending on the skill of the program selections. The first piece on the program is often referred to as 'parking music' because this is the time late arrivals can park their cars and not miss anything of value. I have reviewed the programs of other symphony orchestras and found a similar pattern. In order to create more ticket sales, symphony orchestras have had to provide special concerts of film music because surveys have shown an audience desire for such music. This is how many symphony orchestras operate today. And this is why as I stated earlier that the audience is winning the battle. In recognizing the failure of 'parking music' a new tactic is now being employed: multiculturalism (and I have this from inside information). Perhaps a minority composer will solve the problem say the programmers (but be sure to exclude white males. Now, as a white male, I am not complaining. I have already recognized the futility of having my works performed at my local symphony orchestra and have made other plans as I have stated before). My point here is is that the programmers do not have any idea of how to find new music (that the audience will like) and are now desperate for a solution.

I have never seen a survey that asks the audience the question: would you like to see new Romantic style (e.g. Lord of the Rings, etc.) music in the first half of the orchestra concert? Maybe there have been such surveys but I have never seen them.

Here is another part of the problem, and let us now just concentrate on symphonies in order to narrow our focus. There have been many symphonies written, but how many are masterpieces (i.e., warhorses)? I would classify some as masterpieces, others as near masterpieces, others as good, others as mediocre and so on. I once played a parlor game with my friends and we could come up with only around forty or so (we came up with all of Mahler, Brahms and Beethoven, the last symphonies of Mozart, and various others) that we would call masterpieces. My point here is that obtaining a new masterpiece will not be easy, but if one is to be found there must be a vetting process and that vetting process will not occur unless new Romantic symphonies are performed before audiences so that they can eventually make a selection.

Now I recognize that audience selection is not perfect (especially in the short term). I submit to you the once very popular Wellington's Victory as an example. But audience selection over the long term is the only real tool that will work over the long term.
 

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'Howl's Moving Castle' is indeed a watered-down, third-rate pastiche of Romantic period masterpieces in terms of composition techniques. But it still makes me feel like listening to a bad work from the Romantic period. I was using it to explain that the philosophy behind Romanticism isn't that infallible as people make it out to be and that there is 'good music' as well as 'bad music' in every era and we must examine case by case to weed out the bad from the good.
The trouble is, it explains nothing of the sort. Like your earlier posting of a fugue by Chopin hideously "played" by a computer, it shows only a willingness to scrape the bottom of the barrel and misrepresent things to score points for your side of an argument, an argument that probably doesn't need to be had.

'Howl's Moving Castle' is NOT a "watered-down, third-rate pastiche of Romantic period masterpieces." There are no masterpieces of which it is a pastiche. Neither is it a demonstration of the "philosophy" behind Romanticism - which, in fact, has no philosophy.

If you really wanted to explain that there is good and bad music in every era you wouldn't use theme music from a 2004 animated film (which sounds more or less like palm court music from a grade C 1930s movie) to represent Romanticism. You would, quite simply, post multiple examples of good and bad music from every era. Of course, what we would get then would be music representing your personal idea of what's good and bad, upon which we could proceed to have further pointless arguments about things which are to a large extent matters of taste.

Some poor unenlightened souls actually do get more pleasure from palm court music, which does after all attempt to express something, than from the innumerable vapid, academic, cookie-cutter occasion pieces by all those 18th-century composers whose names we've forgotten. How about Frantisek Kotzwara?


There now. Wasn't that just a perfect representation of the "philosophy" behind Classicism?

(Incidentally, Kotzwara may have had the most interesting death of any composer. According to Wiki, "On September 2, 1791 while he was in London, Kotzwara visited a prostitute named Susannah Hill in Vine Street, Westminster. After dinner with her in her lodgings, Kotzwara paid her two shillings and requested that she cut off his testicles. Hill refused to do so. Kotzwara then tied a ligature around the doorknob, the other end fastened around his neck, and proceeded to have sexual intercourse with Hill. After it was over, Kotzwara was dead. His is one of the first recorded deaths from erotic asphyxiation.")
 

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Discussion Starter · #68 ·
I see post-modernism as a symptom of the way "history has disappeared." History was a very long centuries-spanning narrative, written down and depicted in epic paintings.
Then as communication speeds got faster, and distances were no longer obstacles to communication, everything became "instantaneous" and the "narrative" disappeared.
It sounds good, but I think this is the conflation of two things: communication and history through the ages. Both a variety of communication, but performing different roles.

Narratives have not disappeared, they are everywhere. In fact there are more of them than ever; being extracted from historical evaluations and re-evaluations; being produced now simultaneously and not just in a disposable way, but evolving very quickly.

It's a grave mistake (and a misreading of culture) to assume that everything is now reflected by the likes of Twitter - here one day, gone tomorrow. The narratives remain deep under these superficially "instantaneous" and novel "ideas" and utterances. Postmodern criticism only points to this, it doesn't wipe it out.
 

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The guy's piano piece is nice enough - reminds me a little of McCoy Tyner - but he doesn't even address the subject in the title. He also doesn't explain what he means by postmodernism, which seems to be something completely different from what people in the classical world mean by it.
 

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For the evolution of living things the advantage was to do with being more effective at passing your genes on to future generations. In music, how can we talk of advantage?

I was wondering if there's a relationship between some music and the changes to productive relations that started to take place in the 1970s. The globalisation of capital. But it's hard for me to make this out.
The idea of "memes" is sort of like a "gene pool" of ideas. It was said that Christianity displaced the Roman empire in this way, starting with a few memes which grew and spread. I can see musical ideas in this way as well.
 

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I have attended many concerts at my local symphony orchestra. The program is quite predictable: put the worst music as the first item on the agenda followed by less objectionable pieces. Finally, after the intermission, the warhorses come into play. The first and worst item on the agenda receives polite but tepid applause, while the following pieces receive various degrees of audience enthusiasm depending on the skill of the program selections. The first piece on the program is often referred to as 'parking music' because this is the time late arrivals can park their cars and not miss anything of value. I have reviewed the programs of other symphonies and found a similar pattern. In order to create more ticket sales, symphonies have had to provide special concerts of film music because surveys have shown an audience desire for such music. This is how many symphony orchestras operate today. And this is why as I stated earlier that the audience is winning the battle. In recognizing the failure of 'parking music' a new tactic is now being employed: multiculturalism (and I have this from inside information). Perhaps a minority composer will solve the problem say the programmers (but be sure to exclude white males. Now, as a white male, I am not complaining. I have already recognized the futility of having my works performed at my local symphony orchestra and have made other plans as I have stated before). My point here is is that the programmers do not have any idea of how to find new music (that the audience will like) and are now desperate for a solution.

I have never seen a survey that asks the audience the question: would you like to see new Romantic style (e.g. Lord of the Rings, etc.) music in the first half of the orchestra concert? Maybe there have been such surveys but I have never seen them.

Here is another part of the problem, and let us now just concentrate on symphonies in order to narrow our focus. There have been many symphonies written, but how many are masterpieces (i.e., warhorses)? I would classify some as masterpieces, others as near masterpieces, others as good, other as mediocre and so on. I once played a parlor game with my friends and we could come up with only around forty or so (we came up will all of Mahler, Brahms and Beethoven, the last symphonies of Mozart, and various others). My point here is that obtaining a new masterpiece will not be easy, but if one is to be found there must be a vetting process and that vetting process will not occur unless new Romantic symphonies are performed before audiences so that they can eventually make a selection.

Now I recognize that audience selection is not perfect (especially in the short term). I submit to you the once very popular Wellington's Victory as an example. But audience selection over the long term is the only real tool that will work over the long term.
-Who is your local symphony orchestra? I've lived in a several major cities in the U.S. and none has ever had programming like you have described.

-Between you and your friends you could only come up with 40 great symphonies?

-What makes you think audiences aren't selecting? U.S. audiences really seem to enjoy Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Bartok, and because of this they have been hearing a lot of these composers.
 

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Try putting something by John Adams in the second half and then watch your audience disappear, at least in the second half of the concert. You are evading the question by quibbling over non-essentials. Whether there are forty or eighty great masterpieces is not the point. The audience controls the second half and tolerates the first half.
 

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-Who is your local symphony orchestra? I've lived in a several major cities in the U.S. and none has ever had programming like you have described.
I reviewed the Los Angeles programs for a good part of 2018 and there was a definite trend (about 2/3 of the time) of placing commissioned works (which in my experience, in the case of the LA Phil, are 'very' contemporary) as the first work in the program followed by more well-known accepted works.
 

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Discussion Starter · #74 · (Edited)
I reviewed the Los Angeles programs for a good part of 2018 and there was a definite trend (about 2/3 of the time) of placing commissioned works (which in my experience, in the case of the LA Phil, are 'very' contemporary) as the first work in the program followed by more well-known accepted works.
Let's take the 2/3 with a pinch of salt (could be right, might not be), what's the problem with using very established works, which attract lazy listeners, to premiere something new?
Even better they even put it first so such listeners are soothed after being exposed to the discomfort of facing it. Like sitting in a soft armchair after a hard day's work - something a good deal of the retired (tired) old fools attending these performances don't get to do that much anyway.

I'd say they are doing them a great favour in pepping-up their lives.
 

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Let's take the 2/3 with a pinch of salt (could be right, might not be), what's the problem with using very established works, which attract lazy listeners, to premiere something new?
Even better they even put it first so such listeners are soothed after being exposed to the discomfort of facing it. Like sitting in a soft armchair after a hard day's work - something a good deal of the retired (tired) old fools attending these performances don't get to do that much anyway. I'd say they are doing them a great favour in pepping-up their lives.
This is an example of an LA Phil commissioned work. It's actually more benign than some of it's other commissioned works. It just sort of wanders around with no center and no development. It isn't revolting and people will patiently sit through it. But they won't rush out to buy a recording of it. They won't clamor to have it as part of an LA Phil program in the future. It will disappear into the vast wasteland of so many other commissioned works. And that is a good part of what is called classical music today.


In response to your unawareness of the background of my previous point that an elitism that developed in musicological academic circles as a result of Schoenberg's atonality and the serialism that followed led to a stifling of traditional tonal composition, I direct you to the writing of Philip Ball's 'Who Cares if No One Listens' inspired by Milton Babitt's 'Who Cares If You Listen?':

'In the 1950s, classical composition was dominated by the form of atonalism developed at the start of the century by the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg and his followers in the so-called Second Viennese School, most notably Anton Webern and Alban Berg. Schoenberg devised a prescriptive system, described below, for composing music that lacked a tonic centre around which the melodies and harmonies were rooted: it gave equal status to all the notes of the chromatic scale. Within the academic spheres of music composition, Schoenberg's 'serialist' or 'twelve-tone' technique came to be seen as the only respectable way to write music, to the extent that any attempts to compose within the old tonal tradition were widely regarded as recidivist, decadent and vulgar. Babbitt was one of a group of composers, including the influential Pierre Boulez in Paris, who extended Schoenberg's serialist constraints on the way pitch was organized to embrace other musical parameters such as rhythm and dynamics, leading to a mode of composition called total serialism in which tightly prescribed rules dominated the composer's practice.

The result was a kind of music that, to many listeners, sounded fragmented, bleak and inaccessible. In contrast to the experiments in chromaticism, dissonance and rhythmic irregularities practiced by composers such as Richard Wagner, Serge Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók, which were at first greeted with bafflement and even outrage by the musical public but have now contributed much-loved pieces to the standard Western repertoire, the atonalism of Schoenberg and his followers continues to be deemed 'difficult' by many concert-goers. Some of these works, such as Berg's opera Lulu, are considered by many critics to be masterpieces of modernism. But many are rarely performed, and are still regarded as commercially risky by concert programmers unless leavened with more popular pieces from the older tonal repertoire.'
 
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-Who is your local symphony orchestra? I've lived in a several major cities in the U.S. and none has ever had programming like you have described.
Which bit of Fuller's claims are you disputing? Many of the BBC Proms concerts are programmed similarly, though usually with a short, light piece as an opener before the commissioned or 'difficult' work. If I'd been parking my car when I went to the Proms in 2012, I'd have missed Glinka's Ruslan and Lumilla before Emily Howard's Calculus Of The Nervous System. Shostakovich 7 was the warhorse.

Here's another example, picked at random from a previous year.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ec52fx

Ravel
Holt (World Premiere)
Ravel
Duruflé
 

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For the evolution of living things the advantage was to do with being more effective at passing your genes on to future generations. In music, how can we talk of advantage?

I was wondering if there's a relationship between some music and the changes to productive relations that started to take place in the 1970s. The globalisation of capital. But it's hard for me to make this out.
It's only a metaphor and it would be risky to take it too far. Evolution in nature requires an environment (which includes all organisms - which are in themselves evolving) and replication with some mutation. The idea is basically an algorithm. Music obviously doesn't survive or proliferate in the same way but a similar algorithm to describe the spread and development of music styles and ideas might be work. What I like about evolution as a metaphor here is the fact that all sorts of organisms (large carnivores, humans, gazelles, butterflies, cuckoos, cockroaches, viruses) can all be described as successful because they get to replicate. Musical ideas and styles do achieve popularity (the ideas live and go round in people's heads, interesting or inspiring them in some way). I would say that every composer we are aware of has achieved this.

But I don't think you can push the analogy too far. Evolution in nature looks back at creatures that are now extinct (not many last a geologically long time). To push the analogy, extinction in music might be the result of composers dying or changing their style and even the end of a whole musical era - Mozart and Brahms are extinct and so is Classical and Romantic music. But their music lives on in our heads so they are still very much alive. I suppose if we reach a stage when a composer's music is no longer known or listened to then we can think of them as extinct. But our time is one in which we are resurrecting so much music that had been forgotten. Some, were once very popular but are now all but forgotten and even they get performed and recorded (for example, Bernard van Dieren who was thought of as one of the greatest in the first part of the 20th century). Evolution may work as a metaphor for describing the development of our music but the products live long after the extinction of the ideas and styles.

I guess you are right to postulate that the environment and changes within it influence which musical ideas thrive - just as it does for organisms - but, again, evolution is tricky to use as a metaphor and may be particularly unhelpful in throwing light on recent trends?
 

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I always find that the first one to use ad hominem is the loser.
But his criticism was aimed at the content and pattern of your thinking rather than you. He might have said "we are dealing with a fantasy" instead of "with a fantasist" and the meaning would have been the same. Aside from wishing to claim victory do you have a response to this? You do seem to be laying down laws that few in the real world would recognise as valid ...
 

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Now I recognize that audience selection is not perfect (especially in the short term). I submit to you the once very popular Wellington's Victory as an example. But audience selection over the long term is the only real tool that will work over the long term.
So, you reject most Classical and Romantic music as failed - only the "warhorses" have succeeded - along with the modern music you are attacking? And to make up for the gaps you wish to introduce music that is mere pastiche of those few successful works, presumably while acknowledging that these fill ups will fail soon enough as well? You end up with a few classics - most of us will know them very well already - and the popular music of the day? That doesn't come close to describing the value of music that moves me and involves insulting that music with your reliance on the popular of the day. But your measure is the concert programmes of symphony orchestras. Many orchestral works I love - including many Romantic and Classical works - don't get programmed very often at all. But I and many others listen to them through recordings which someone finds worthwhile (even economically) making. And then there are opera houses which, in Europe at least, programme with some success all sorts of obscure and new works.

There is a problem with the economics of programming less popular orchestral works. I suspect you will be against the use of subsidies to enrich that repertoire but successful, thriving and optimistic societies tend to feed off the presence of a lively arts scene rather than one that constantly rehashes the few works that you are happy to call masterpieces and, for variety, substitutes orchestral popular music for the real thing. Our musical life is the victim of modern economic dogma.
 

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This is an example of an LA Phil commissioned work. It's actually more benign than some of it's other commissioned works. It just sort of wanders around with no center and no development. It isn't revolting and people will patiently sit through it. But they won't rush out to buy a recording of it. They won't clamor to have it as part of an LA Phil program in the future. It will disappear into the vast wasteland of so many other commissioned works. And that is a good part of what is called classical music today.
Oh dear, I have to keep saying it. It's just a work that upsets you and other listeners with your reserved tastes. This business about things disappearing and recordings not being bought... this happens all the time. How much stuff do you think has been programmed over the centuries only to disappear into obscurity? This has been put to you hundreds of times. There will be others that do catch and become part of the more regular canon. Things are given a chance. Or nothing would get a chance.

In response to your unawareness of the background of my previous point that an elitism that developed in musicological academic circles as a result of Schoenberg's atonality and the serialism that followed led to a stifling of traditional tonal composition, I direct you to the writing of Philip Ball's 'Who Cares if No One Listens' inspired by Milton Babitt's 'Who Cares If You Listen?':
Groan. I'm not unaware, I already know this. It was a change in direction and it upset traditionalists who think nothing ought to change, ever. These changes are necessary to break stagnation and most often allow synthesis and reappraisal of previously deprecated or rejected culture. Happens all the time.

The result was a kind of music that, to many listeners, sounded fragmented, bleak and inaccessible. In contrast to the experiments in chromaticism, dissonance and rhythmic irregularities practiced by composers such as Richard Wagner, Serge Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók, which were at first greeted with bafflement and even outrage by the musical public but have now contributed much-loved pieces to the standard Western repertoire, the atonalism of Schoenberg and his followers continues to be deemed 'difficult' by many concert-goers. Some of these works, such as Berg's opera Lulu, are considered by many critics to be masterpieces of modernism. But many are rarely performed, and are still regarded as commercially risky by concert programmers unless leavened with more popular pieces from the older tonal repertoire.
I see no criticism, but the usual complaints. It's just a sad fact that a majority of listeners didn't and still don't connect with 'new music'. Your final sentence seems to me a justification for the sort of programming being attacked by Roy Fuller above. It allows some exposure.
There may well be an argument that this puts such works in a difficult position, because if the majority of people only really want to see whatever easily-accessible piece is programmed as the main event, they will always be upset about it and rail against it.

The concert halls are trying to offer just a bit more than standard repertoire, assuming that a concert hall audience are people of intelligence and open minds (perhaps a mistake). If they simply catered to popular tastes they will fall into cultural stagnation, but sell reasonable numbers of tickets. That is not the sole aim for concert halls. They are also an outlet for living composers and commissions as part of current culture with a connection to a tradition). Sometimes the audience is more a hindrance to this.
 
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