Apple Promotes the Wrong Kind of Classical Music

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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.

4 replies
  1. Mark Rabnett says:

    Very well said. I couldn’t agree more. It’s like introducing the novel to a young person by throwing them a copy of Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow. There are many better ways to bring people to read fiction, and the same goes for classical music. Leonard Bernstein had a pretty good method way back in the sixties. Too bad Apple couldn’t hire him now. He would have loved the opportunity.

  2. Adam Schoales says:

    As a “young person” I’ll admit that I’m not exactly well versed in the world of classical music.

    But, that said, I’m a huge fan of neo-classical performers especially Ólafur Arnalds. Label mates Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm, and Winged Victory for the Sullen are also well worth checking out (even if they may not fall into the normal definition of “classical”)

  3. Steve says:

    Salonen has apparently been a fan of using Apple tools in his composition for many years, pre-iPad. I remember years ago he gave a speech/presentation at the Apple Store here in Santa Monica (by the Promenade) to discuss how he used Logic Pro in his composing process.
    BTW he still has a home here and spends a lot of his off time in Santa Monica.

  4. Peter Reavy says:

    Not sure I disapprove of Apple promoting the music of a living composer. I got into classical music partly through trying to make sense of Stockhausen after liking the music of Can. The same could be true of electronica fans who start listening to electoacoustic composers. There’s a common complaint that we expect no-one to raise an eyebrow at challenging contemporary art (Tate Modern has no shortage of visitors), yet we don’t give new audiences a chance with classical music that has been written by someone who’s still alive. So while I don’t remember hearing this particular piece, I’m quite pleased to see this development.


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