Judging by the number of restaurants, throughout the city that actually play New York’s only classical music station 105.9 FM –which doesn’t include the cliché upper-crust Manhattan eateries- there is, once again, a public appreciation of classical music, the music in which set the roots for other future music genres.
“When I go to any restaurant in the city, preferably a café, I want them to play the symphony station,” says Barni van Pol, 22, a recent Hunter graduate currently scouting for orchestra positions. Van Pol plays the clarinet.
Van Pol, from Liège, Belgium is a small man, 5’9 with broken vintage Givenchy spectacles and ash-blond hair. He actually favors the present day, fashion flamboyance lacked, Wolfgang Mozart.
Mozart is one of the many inspirations Van Pol emulates when he writes his own musical pieces. But why does he chooses to write classical music, above all other well-paid musical alternatives?
According to Van Pol, “classical is so vast, and so mysterious,” as he speaks his eyes grow larger, as if the “classical” space was too vast to be described. “It’s literally so big and large, that it’s rather impassible to comprehend why it’s not a favourable music source these days. I always thought people loved mystery, and adventure, and that’s all classical offers.”
Classical music dates back to the height of 17th century Imperial Europe, takes it roots from early Christian and Medieval music. It was a favorite amongst the elite members of this time, particularly the Hapsburgs of the Austrian Holy Roman Empire.
Mozart often was courted by the Hapsburgs during the reign of Joseph II, brother to Marie Antoinette. And his music, though often adapted and changed, has been a substantial influence of classical artistes today.
“These days, many people don’t know that Vienna was once the musical capital of the world,” states van Pol. “And to a classical artist, Vienna is where one has to go to get the real roots, the flavor and the true drive that classical has to offer.”
Classical musician Jeremy Weinglass stated something similar to van Pol that people these days are looking for music outside of the lyrics and the beat. “But listening to classical music can make you smarter, but aside that, with all these new and different people coming out now, classical, is a breath of fresh air, because it is so refreshing to listen too.
With a renewed public interest in masters such as Mozart and Beethoven, many piano stores see a rise in piano sales, as well as lessons. Especially, Faust Harrisons Pianos, located on West 58th St in the Theatre District.
At Faust Harrisons, a sales associate played the organ as van Pol and another unnamed man busied themselves at their own piano stations. Instead of trying to sell, he instead looked on at the other man who was playing the piano quiet awkwardly and off-key and gave little pointers.
“People come in here and play all the time, and we allow it,” he said, and he wished not to be identified. “I would say, it’s the same people who continue to show, not so much of a rise of new faces coming, but there is definitely a rise in sales I can say.”
Places such as Faust Harrisons, have seen a rise in sales of about more than 10% since the recession of 2008.
“The recession does play a part as people do seem to care more about art and traditional values whenever a problem occurs,” finishes the sales associate.
Classical, which is the most non-verbal musical genre, has seen a decline in appreciation since the rise of 20th century musical alternatives. But, according to van Pol who was still pluckin’ at the keys, everyone is obsessed now with all things “vintage,” and “retro.”
“There is nothing retro about classical,” says van Pol. “Because without classical jazz wouldn’t exist, and without jazz there would not have been any rock or R&B. I don’t see a lot of people going to Lincoln Center and hearing [Joshua] Bell perform, or know much about the Boston or Philly orchestras. Everyone’s into the fast money and fame, but there’s no emotion. And I think some of the new generation sees that, there’s no love in anything anymore. Just quick hit and go.”
People always look at the past achievements and enlightenment for a better future. According to WQXR’s company website the station has received more listeners since the start of the year with an average of 63,000 listeners every quarter of an hour, yet but constantly seeks donations and sponsors. But the station survives on its listening base.
“I hear more of today’s music becoming calm and meaningful compared to a few years back,” begins van Pol, “I see and feel that the orchestras will dominate the musical scene again, because of the humble and peaceful nature that classical offers.”
However, is it fair to say classical music did in fact “died” out? Classical is used frequently in the media, as television shows, and movies often use the orchestras to enhance the drama of certain situations. Hence, classical has always been recognized and it is definitely available through Dailymotion, Youtube and iTunes. Popular shows such as anime supernatural dramas, as well as many movies are known to include orchestra for the climax.
Ballet and dance houses such as Alvin Ailey and Broadway’s Billy Elliot –which incorporate orchestras into their routines and shows-has seen a fair rise in audiences. Many of the show’s audiences are able to be connected to the shows because of the music and how well it blends to the storylines.
Alvin Ailey for example consists of modern dances using ballads from Billie Holliday, however, classical gets incorporated into the show with the intensity of the body movement that is modern. Orchestra music ties in with modern world scenarios, as with the case in the hit movie Sweeney Todd starring Johnny Depp.
Sweeney Todd takes place in Victorian England, a century after Classical music heights, however, the songs as well as music were from the orchestra but with contemporary addition.
“I feel because with all the world’s ciaos, people want to feel,” says Van Pol, “and all classical music does that unwillingly. You are forced to feel without knowing it, and I think people love that challenge.”