Informality, accessibility, openness, a sense of welcoming–these are virtues when it comes to the public presentation of art, and this is the front classical music has been battling on for decades. But one thing classical music has lost sight of is that these also are virtues: insideriness, exclusivity, a sense of discernment, of being in on something the masses can’t appreciate. Though musicians love to high-mindedly cast themselves as the enemies of elitism, these too are part of music’s appeal. For example, Seattle, you may recall, about 20 years ago built an entire musical genre and a world reputation by overtly catering to a niche audience. It was music born in garages and divey small clubs, and repudiation of the mainstream–we get it and they don’t–was its whole raison d’être.
Classical music used to do this–better than anyone, in fact. Where it screwed up was to mix in issues of wealth and class, for decades billing itself as a path to social status and gracious living. The snob factor eventually drove away more fans than it drew, and the fight to counteract that image is just what led to innovative events like Friday night’s Seattle Symphony concerts.