What do a group of long-haired Brits singing give peace a chance and a collection of singing eunuchs acting out the worst excesses of ancient Rome have in common?
Aside from massive popularity in their own time, right now the answer is greater reach.
A few days ago Apple announced that Beatles tunes are finally available for download on iTunes. Though it’s outweighed by other news from England, it remains a huge advance for music appreciation. The Beatles were tremendously creative, original popular musicians, who remain influential to this very day. The irony that iTunes, the largest (legal) online music distributor, did not carry their music was a gaping hole in music accessibility. For those of us who don’t want to hunt for music and prefer it a click away, this just makes another important voice more accessible. The Beatles on iTunes will allow even more people to hear their music, and decide for themselves what all the fuss is about.
Same goes for the new production of Monteverdi’s opera Incoronazione di Poppea at Julliard. Opera is far from popular music, and even within its narrow audience earlier works can be a tough sell. Yet this shocker from 1643 has enough sex, political corruption and betrayal to make even our smug postmodern cheeks flush. Maybe that’s why it keeps a steady if meager role in the repertoire. From the sound of it, this sleek, well-sung, well-acted potboiler of a production might switch wider audiences on to the joys of early music.
Yet the student orchestra is the most exciting part of the story. Young musicians, especially those as talented as Julliard’s, have an ocean of great stuff to explore and sharpen their skills over. No one would have blushed had this institution went for something from the beaten path, for example some Bach or Handel. Instead, they chose music that might be very old but is new to a lot of ears. When they graduate, we’ll have another group of musicians whose experience and appreciation is colored by that choice.
And guess who benefits from musicians who seek out new things from old times?