Attracting New Listeners to Classical Music

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This week on WQXR we’ve been featuring Eric Whitacre’s choral music on a new Naxos CD. Eric is a young American composer who is taking the world of choral music by storm. Everywhere I go, I hear singers and conductors talking enthusiastically about his music.

Eric has a Master’s degree from Juilliard here in New York. He has studied with the likes of John Corigliano and David Diamond. His compositions are heard in performance venues of all kinds--including the most prestigious churches and concert halls--all over the world. There is no question. He is a highly accomplished composer. 

Recently I attended a performance of  Eric’s Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings at Carnegie Hall. The work has been described as both opera and musical theater (to my ear, probably more musical theater than opera). I have even seen it described as ‘opera electronica’. As opposed to the CD we are enjoying this week on WQXR, Paradise Lost is not the kind of thing that you are likely to hear on WQXR. But, maybe it should be?

Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings is loosely inspired by Milton’s epic poem. The story is about an abandoned tribe of angels in search of their wings. The piece features electronic, world and orchestral instruments; classical singers and many different styles of music. For this special concert performance at Carnegie Hall, Eric brought together over 450 chorus members from all over the world ranging in age from 14 to 73. The excitement on stage was palpable. The audience response was intense.

My question to you is this--is Eric on to something here? Do you think that blending musical styles and creating an opera/musical theater hybrid such as Paradise Lost is an effective way to attract new listeners to classical music? Finding ways to interest new listeners in what we do is always on our minds here at WQXR. If this isn’t the way, what is?