Do you ever get tired of hearing or reading about the challenges facing classical music? Its struggle to be relevant, its aging fan base, the prohibitive costs of running orchestras and opera companies? Of course, these are serious issues, but they are not new. Classical music has always competed with more popular forms of music and, through innovation, has not only survived but flourished.
Let's take a few minutes to remind ourselves that classical music is, and always will be, great. Here are six videos, each of which shows in its own way why classical music packs such an emotional punch and stands the test of time.
Barenboim honours Solti's legacy
To open its 1997-98 season, Carnegie Hall presented a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its music director at the time, Daniel Barenboim. The music world was still reeling from the news one month earlier of the death of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's previous music director, Georg Solti. To honour Solti's memory and his 22-year tenure in Chicago, Barenboim dedicated this performance of Variation IX (Nimrod) from Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations, Op. 36, to the late, great conductor.
Barenboim's restraint underlines the solemnity of the tribute.
Maria João Pires displays nerves of steel
Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra holds lunchtime concerts that are, essentially, open rehearsals. On this occasion, Maria João Pires found herself rushed on stage and seated at the piano only to hear conductor Riccardo Chailly begin the wrong Mozart concerto. Watch how two consummate professionals handled the situation.
Diva says goodbye to adoring fans
It was an emotional evening on Jan. 3, 1985, when Leontyne Price gave her farewell performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. A black soprano born in the deep south of the U.S., Price rose to the top of her profession during the height of the civil rights movement. She performed leading roles at Covent Garden in London, the Vienna State Opera and La Scala in Milan before making her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1961 alongside tenor Franco Corelli.
Price was one of the reigning prima donnas of the 1960s and '70s, not only at the Met, but also in San Francisco, London, Hamburg, Paris, Vienna and Salzburg. For her Met farewell, Price sang Verdi's Aïda, the role with which she was most closely associated. She delivered a riveting performance, especially for a 58-year-old. The ovation (at 7:52 in the video) following her act 3 aria, O patria mia, is legendary.
Quasthoff holds himself to highest standards
In January 2012, German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff announced his retirement from the concert stage, citing health concerns in a press release: "My health no longer allows me to live up to the high standard that I have always set for my art and myself."
Quasthoff was born in 1959 with birth defects caused by his mother's exposure to the drug thalidomide during her pregnancy. He overcame adversity and prejudice to become a Grammy Award-winning recording artist, recipient of the 2009 Herbert von Karajan Music Prize and one of our era's leading interpreters of German art song.
Watch him sing Hör’ ich das Liedschen klingen from Schumann's Dichterliebe, Op. 48, with Hélène Grimaud at the piano, recorded at the 2007 Verbier Festival. It's a masterclass in Lieder singing that exemplifies that high standard Quasthoff set for himself and his art.
Argerich imbues encore with characteristic élan
Martha Argerich occupies a special place among today's concert pianists. According to classical music blogger Alex Ross, she "reigns supreme over the feudalistic world of virtuoso pianists." Argerich is an enigmatic performer known not only for her dazzling technique and spell-binding interpretive powers, but also for last-minute concert cancellations and seemingly capricious repertoire changes. But those lucky enough to attend an Argerich performance will never forget it. She's one of the great musical personalities of our age.
Watch this video, in which Argerich returns to the stage for an encore and whips off a sonata by Scarlatti. She approaches the keyboard as though she's writing a (slightly angry) letter to her gas company.
Virtual Choir goes viral
Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir began when a fan posted a video online of herself singing a portion of his popular choral piece, Sleep. Whitacre was so impressed by this, he made his piece Lux Arumque available for free download, posted a video of himself conducting the music and called out for choral singers everywhere to record themselves singing their part. Hoping for 50 responses, he got hundreds. A friend volunteered to edit, mix and remaster them, and the resulting Virtual Choir video went viral. (You can hear Whitacre tell the full story on this episode of Ted Talks.)
Today the video has more than three million hits.
Is there a video that affirms the greatness of classical music for you? Let us know in the comments below, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 3, 'Water Night'
Thomas Quasthoff and Daniel Barenboim perform Schubert's Die Wetterfahne
NEA Opera Honors: Interview with Leontyne Price
The Daily Glean: Martha Argerich & friends
Concert review: Maria Joao Pires, Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra
Canadian maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin signs with Deutsche Grammophon
on Jul 19, 2012