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Classical identity crisis 

Atlanta's classical music community continued to struggle with the identity crisis of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Some musicians still grouse about how Atlanta "isn't a good place for classical music." But this is the residue of the old attitudes -- the reticent "it's better if it's from somewhere else" way of thinking that is finally, if slowly, giving way under the pressure of cultural change and greater awareness. An international city of commerce cannot long resist an international eye on its culture without bursting at the seams.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus played a large role in Atlanta's classical-music visibility worldwide, with three Grammy Awards for their Telarc CD of Ralph Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony and the subsequent Telarc release of two CDs -- Rainbow Body and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. Plus, there were tours to south Florida and Chicago's Ravinia Festival, as well as the ASO Chorus' jaunt to perform with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Here at home, Emory's Schwartz Center, with its Emerson Concert Hall, opened early in 2003, adding yet another important venue to the area. More metro venues are being plotted, not the least of which is the ASO's much-anticipated new hall.

But the end of the year marks a time to assess the big picture of Atlanta's "classical" venues. A need for smaller alternative intown venues still ranks as a major issue. Still, Atlanta's alternative classical/new-music scene did get a shot in the arm with the formation of Bent Frequency, which had two performances at Eyedrum this past year.

While ensembles visiting the city gain the most attention, Atlanta is beginning to make some headway in exporting programs by its own new music performers, such as percussionist Peggy Benkeser. While there's still much room for the development and support of locally based ensembles that tour nationally, the door is wide open. The future depends upon the city's psychological willingness to establish an identity and sense of self-importance in the classical/new music genres.

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