The Classics: Looking Back, Looking Forward
At the end of the 19th century, following the emergence of technological invention, surging cities, and thinkers like Darwin, Freud, and Marx, disruptive rumblings—foreshocks—shook the world of the Western arts.
By the 1920s, the philosophical and aesthetic earthquake of modernism had separated artists from their artistic forebears. Impressionism made clear that art was a self-conscious act; the “-isms” that followed became increasingly abstract. Musical composition meandered from harmony; literature no longer presented reliable narratives; and dance, theater, and even opera distanced themselves from straightforward storytelling.
Fine art, literature, music, theater, and dance turned to innovation as a primary aesthetic creed and Ezra Pound’s “Make it new” defined the movement.
The arts suffered a major aftershock in the 1960s when feminists and minority voices, long underrepresented, surfaced. The healthy influx of voices revitalized the performing, visual, and literary arts, but further separated art from its roots.
Today, that rift may be closing a bit. Classical music blogs are offering complete works rather than snippets; opera singers like Joyce DiDonato are reinvigorating the public’s appetite for baroque music; the Atelier movement in New York is re-exploring representational painting; and Mark Rylance, the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, is captivating audiences with spectacular all-male productions of Shakespeare, to list a few examples.
But the more than 100-year disruption to the arts of the past provokes questions: Are the classics worth holding on to? Do they have a place today?
This series of articles asks practitioners of the classical arts—actors, musicians, singers, writers, dancers, painters—as well as those associated with the arts—curators, galleries owners, producers, educators—to respond to why they think the texts, forms, and methods of the classics are worth keeping and why they continue to look to the past for that which inspires and speaks to us.
Conductor Tim Ribchester: The Classics Achieve Both Breadth and Depth in Their Impact
Classical music has the capacity to connect with people deeply and to transcend cultural differences, says conductor Tim Ribchester, who now lives in Berlin. Ribchester has... Read more
Baritone Darren Chase: Classics Provide Endless Inspiration
The classics offer artists endless inspiration, says baritone Darren Chase. Each classic piece not only captures its creator’s zeitgeist, but also becomes fertile soil for... Read more
Pedagogist Cassia Harvey: The Classics Are Our Collective Memory, Our Cultural DNA
Cassia Harvey has written more than 160 books for cello, viola, and violin. With a methodology that trains players’ hands from the beginning, step by... Read more
Entrepeneur: Classics Anchor Us in This Transient World
People show up at an apartment, some strangers and some friends. At first there’s the typical uncomfortable ice waiting to be broken. Soon people gather... Read more
Pianist David Dubal: The Classics Are a Balm for Our Spiritual Wounds
Author, radio host, pianist, and arguably the nation’s foremost expert on 20th-century pianists David Dubal had spent the morning practicing a masterpiece. He worked on Edvard Grieg’s “Ballade... Read more
Art Educator Mandy Hallenius: Classical Training in Art Opens Creative Choices
Mandy Hallenius, an artist and art teacher, says children can master the skills needed to draw or paint whatever they can imagine. To help children... Read more
Educator Andrew Kern: The Classics Ignite Our Desire to Learn, to Honor Others
Not everyone likes school, but everyone loves to learn. “Star Wars” fans light up when they learn something new about the franchise’s movies or actors... Read more
Ballerina Ashley Tuttle: Classics Reveal Our Essential Humanity
Beauty in the arts comes from human emotion honestly expressed, a quality often found in the classics, says ballerina and Tony-nominated actress and dancer Ashley... Read more
Classical Music Producer Leonid Fleishaker: The Classics Lead Us to See the Colors of Life
Accompanied by a pianist, 11 violinists in formal evening attire (only two of them men) stood across the stage and bodily engaged with the music as... Read more
Suzuki Instructor Devin Arrington: Classical Music Training Can Break Down Barriers
Cradling the violin under his chin, holding the bow just so, a 5-year-old violinist was rendering a lovely Bach minuet—lovely until he got to the... Read more
Polyphonic Music: Classics Worth Treasuring
For tenor Tom Jim Solon, who co-founded New York-based Canticum Scholare, early music is a miracle in many ways. The very fact that medieval, Renaissance,... Read more
Organist Paul Jacobs: The Classics Give Purpose to Humanity’s Suffering
Paul Jacobs, the only organist to ever win a Grammy, believes that the classics transform humanity’s inevitable pain and give it meaning. It is the... Read more
Educator Jeremy Tate: The Classics Can Help Us Build a Better Future
Do we value self-control or indulgence? Do we value kindness and generosity or competitive self-interest? These are the questions educator Jeremy Tate asks us to... Read more
Actress Tracy Arnold: The Classics Ease Our Loneliness
When actress Tracy Michelle Arnold was in sixth grade, she was asked to read aloud the role of Calpurnia in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” In the scene,... Read more
Composer William Vollinger: The Classics Keep Artists Humble
Composer William Vollinger writes deeply humane works: Hearing his song for soprano and clarinet, “The Child in the Hole,” we ache for a small boy... Read more
Pianist Maria Asteriadou: Classical Music Can Deeply Satisfy Us
Pianist Maria Asteriadou believes that classical music can reach us emotionally, powerfully, and directly, such that it can be deeply satisfying—whatever people’s walks of life... Read more
Poet Betsy Hughes: Classical Poetry Offers Us Strength
A sonnet by Betsy Hughes offers unmistakable relief; you can actually understand what you are reading. Words in glistening, clear images form ideas, which gather... Read more
Piano Accompanist Raymond Beegle: The Classics Are Our Hope
“The primary function of great art, that is classical art, is to convey the feelings, the deeper feelings of one person to another. This kind... Read more
Costume Designer Rachel Healy: Classics Connect Us to Our Humanity
Costume designer Rachel Healy believes the classic arts—ballet, classical music, theater, literature, and the fine arts—are a reflection of the truth about ourselves. Through them... Read more
Pianist Michael Scales: The Classics Make Shared Experiences Live
Two classical forms are Michael Scales’s mainstay: classical music and ballet. As pianist and music director for the New York Theatre Ballet, he believes classics... Read more