A response regarding "what audiences want to hear"
After Monday's discussion regarding the place "new" music does or should hold in both the educational system and the concert hall, I was left with comments that I did not get a chance to voice and ideas that were and are still developing. Though I could probably spout at length about this, I will try to keep my response here brief. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts as well!
1. The claim that "new" music cannot be learned because so much time is invested in learning and preparing music that "audiences want to hear" is problematic for a few reasons. It assumes too many things about who audiences are. I am frequently part of an audience, and while I do enjoy hearing Beethoven and Schubert, I would love to hear some of the quartets from this course (not to mention other recent compositions) live. Two recent events on this campus, the Jack Quartet's performance of Xenakis's Tetras and Noriko Kawai's premiere of James Dillon's Book of Elements stand out as examples that performances of new music can and do draw interested listeners.
2. Audiences can change. Just because the current system appears to place a lot of power in the hands of orchestra subscription members (to pick one venue) does not mean that those people are limited to enjoying Mozart and Brahms. Artistic directors need to be willing and able to program new works, and performers need to be willing and able to perform them. To step briefly on my own little soap box, here, music criticism and analysis can help enable the average audience member to better understand the aesthetic and ideological position taken in a new work, possibly helping to expand their view of music. There has never been anything wrong with being able to appreciate more music.
3. Audiences will change. Eventually, a new generation will take over the orchestra subscription reins (if that system remains the dominant one, that is), and this generation will have vastly different life experiences and musical tastes than the one before. As this change occurs, orchestras will have to adapt to maintain the support and interest of their audience, without (again) falling into the trap of what they believe their audience wants to hear.