Apple Promotes the Wrong Kind of Classical Music

05/27/2014

Apple’s latest “your verse” campaign, touting the features of the iPad, features conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. As a conductor, he is well-known in the United States, having worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 1984, where he was long music director. As a composer, he is also well-known, in contemporary music circles, having written a large body of work.

Apple most likely features Salonen because of his involvement with Touch Press’s app The Orchestra, which is a fine app. Apple also current has a special page devoted to Salonen on iTunes Store, and an iTunes Radio station, where Salonen is “guest DJ,” describing the tracks he likes, sounding like his voice was recorded over Skype from his bathroom.

Apple is also offering a free download of Salonen’s violin concerto. Unfortunately, this is an uninteresting work, and is likely to alienate those who discover classical music through this campaign. I posted a review on the iTunes Store, saying:

Salonen may be a great conductor, but this composition of his is mostly uninteresting. It has all the standard contemporary music tropes: the violin glissandos, the arpeggios, the slightly dissonant crescendos, and a wide variety of orchestration throughout the piece. But the violin is distant, often playing a very high register, and there’s nothing here to hold on to. It sounds like safe contemporary music, that won’t scare away subscribers, but that, in the end, isn’t very memorable.

Another reviewer wrote:

This piece sounds like a half-hour orchestra warm-up by angry musicians – there is really no beauty in it. It simply grates.

Classical music contains multitudes. It’s certainly interesting to expose people to contemporary music, and this concerto won a Big Prize (and $100,000), and is well-considered by the cognoscenti. But it’s not the kind of music that will get a lot of people listening to “classical” music.

There’s a lot of music that can be called classical. Apple is right to promote classical music, but this just doesn’t seem like the right choice to get people to discover a genre that is vast and variegated.