The lines between Classical and Pop continue to dissolve

By Peter Alexander

Music Mash-Up concert at the 2013 Colorado Music Festival

Music Mash-Up concert at the 2013 Colorado Music Festival

In my recent Boulder Weekly article about Music Mashup concerts at the Colorado Music Festival (CMF), I quoted Steve Hackman, the director of this summer’s series of three concerts, as saying:

“I am . . . somebody who lives in the classical and the pop worlds. I am someone who’s interested in making creative new works, who doesn’t see a huge difference between a masterwork of Beethoven and a masterwork of Coldplay.

“I just don’t see those lines.”


Not everyone will agree with Hackman that Coldplay has masterpieces comparable to Beethoven, or even that layering their songs over recomposed Beethoven is a valid artistic goal—but that is a discussion for another time. For now I am more interested in the notion of crossing and blurring musical lines. Regular patrons of the CMF probably remember the remarkable trio Time for Three, who freely mix their formal training in classical performance with their individual backgrounds playing jazz, gypsy fiddling, folk and popular styles. As they boast on their Web page, they perform “music from Bach and Brahms to their own arrangements of The Beatles, Katy Perry, Kanye West and Justin Timberlake.” This sounds just like Hackman and the Music Mash-ups at CMF.


Rachel Barton Pine with Earthen Grave, her doom-metal band

Boulder audiences also may recall Rachel Barton Pine, who offered Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto with the Boulder Philharmonic in the spring. In addition to performing virtuoso concertos of the 19th and 20th centuries and a wide variety of classical violin showpieces, Pine also plays with a Baroque original-instrument ensemble, the Trio Settecento, and a heavy-metal band, Earthen Grave. That’s a remarkable level of versatility, and would have been unthinkable to most concerto soloists of previous generations. Isaac Stern and Jascha Heifitz would not have given a moment’s thought to using original instruments, or enjoying (or—heaven forbid!— playing) heavy metal. But Pine does both in addition to her straight classical solo career.

It would not be hard to find more examples of this kind of versatility. And that is the point I want to make: The ability of musicians to perform in more than one style is one of the most notable trends in classical music today. If you visit the music schools and conservatories—from CU to Eastman and Juilliard—you will find them filled with young musicians who grew up listening to all kinds of popular music. From anodyne pop styles to all the different styles of rock, indie bands, hip hop, ska, reggae, salsa—they’ve heard it all, and it’s all part of the general musical stew.  In this environment, it’s likely that shredding means just as much to them as etudes. Like Hackman, they just don’t see the lines between styles that older musicians do.

And now, the Daily Telegraph in London is reporting exactly the same story:


Radiohead’s guitarist has done it, and so has The National’s Bryce Dessner. As Richard Reed Parry releases his classical debut, are the barriers between pop and ‘serious music’ finally crumbling? Or were they meaningless all along?  (more)

This may be surprising to some people. But in 2014 Boulder, it should not be. We have seen plenty of evidence right here at home, of which the success of the Music Mash-up concerts at the CMF is just the tip of the iceberg.

5 thoughts on “The lines between Classical and Pop continue to dissolve

  1. Pingback: All Mixed Up: Folk Songs, Balkan Dances and Tangos | Sharps & Flatirons
  2. Hey! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if
    you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having
    difficulty finding one? Thanks a lot!

  3. Hi! I could have swornn I’ve been to your blog before but
    after looking at some of the posts I realized it’s new to me.

    Anyways, I’m definitely plleased I discovered
    it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back often!

  4. Pingback: The Crisis in Classical Music: Latest thoughts and developments | Sharps & Flatirons

Leave a Reply to exeter conservatories Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s