21 Oct 191 • What happens when the clones surpass the originals?
Fifty million and fifty thousand learn to play the piano today. 0.001% must statistically become really good – 50.050. Of these, one in 100 will be absolutely phenomenal in a decade. 505 absolutely phenomenal pianists: faster, better, cleaner, louder, softer, and with larger repertoire than anyone in the 20th century. And yet almost all of contemporary piano playing is third generation imitation at best. Originals such as Schnabel, Cortot, Horowitz, Richter … surpassed by half a thousand super clones?
That does pose several serious questions about pianists in the 21st century. Liszt was an original pianist. Rachmaninov was an original pianist. Paderewski, Arrau, Cziffra, Gilels, Gulda, Gould, Evans were original pianists. Fleisher, Argerich, Sokolov, are original pianists. They all emerged from and perhaps evolved, even revolutionized and thus defined a culture of tradition and a tradition of culture.
What is a pianist today? What will 505 super clones be? What tradition and what culture are they emerging from? What are their goals, desires, and contributions? What does the 21st century project onto the minds and hearts of the next generation of pianists? What visions for the future of our art are emerging? What does the post cultural celebutante world expect from a pianist and what does the pianist want for (not from) the world in the 21st century? What does arts management want?
See: 144 • Mortal Combat
A few facts: More people listen to classical music today than ever in history. A world famous classical instrumentalist plays largely ignored in a subway station. Classical music was always elitist. There were 50.000 people (artists and patrons) involved in classical music in the early 19th century. Musical performance careers can be manufactured by modern marketing strategists. Classical music, filed under entertainment, became a fast-moving consumer good and numbers dictate quality. Orchestras are folding for the wrong reasons. The modern concert grand piano is an instrument from the 19th century and most classical music heard today is generations removed from our fathers. What does that mean and where is it going?
While museums carry our visual cultural heritage as if in a time capsule, concert venues, presenters, and management of classical music departed long time ago from the visions of our musical forefathers in principle and purpose, and became machines of commerce in most of the cases. Nothing wrong with commerce but as it became the governing principle for classical music, I see a reason for concern. There was a moment when high art started to compete with entertainment and suddenly it became accepted as norm. One day there might be no business but show business.
Of course there are talented living composers, a thriving contemporary arts scene, and substantial musicians today, but that is known to and enjoyed by only a small audience that is getting older every decade. And while that audience has been inflating in numbers, as population and life expectancy grew tremendously and advertisement and pr replaced education and cultivation in the past 50 years, these older generations from the 20th century, the ones who knew and witnessed the originals, will eventually vanish without successors and the classical music bubble as we know it might burst into air. Why do we want to believe that the visions of Orwell, Huxley, and Bradbury won’t impact on high art, classical music, and piano playing in the cabal of globalization? Do we really want to indulge the notion of a Hollywood ending for classical art, to adopt in the words of Leonskaja “the myth of superficial optimism”? Our hunger for metaphysical nourishment unfulfilled for long we might become apathetic and ignorant and eventually get over it and forget. Do we want our art, our culture, our traditions, to become remnants of a past civilization like Rilke’s Archaic Torso of Apollo? Read the last line!
My prophetic prediction: There will soon be a pianist who will perform and record the entire repertoire, play 366 concerts a year, will look more glamorous than the stars of MTV, make more money than Carlo Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi, and have an own reality TV show, video game, and clothing and accessory line called “Why Nat?”. Arts management will get rich and something will die trying. The clones will surpass the originals while the originals will be forgotten. Humanist education will be replaced by pragmatic indoctrination. The academic tenure will be abolished, the disposable razor will have seven blades, one for each sin, and frogs on fire will be raining from the sky. Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms will be multiplied like Botticelli’s Venus on a Warhol poster print, quadrupled and in multicolor, and Art and Entertainment will skip on a beach holding hands.