Sandow has been addressing this point, I think brilliantly, for close to a month now.
I think that there is a huge gap between the level of sophistication that professional musicians assume their audiences to possess and the actual level. My thoughts on this have been hugely influenced by these talks that I give (ps. do you like how my name comes right after Esa-Pekka’s? Yeah, that’s right.)
At my first talk this season for the Civic orchestra, I was really worried that the audience would find my talk not intellectual enough. This is the kind of twisted anxiety that only a U of C education can impart. I learned a lot about orchestra audiences that day simply by gauging their reactions. My next talk was more focused on what I perceived to be of interest to these people. At my most recent talk (yesterday), I was greeted with applause as soon as I stepped to the platform. I told the audience that I was very surprised by this reaction. Then one person shouted out, “It’s because we’ve heard you before!”
All this is not to toot my own horn (too much) but just to say that I think I’ve very quickly learned a lot about how to relate to an average orchestral audience. Case in point: I shared a couple of drinks with a friend of mine in the Chicago Symphony after Saturday night’s concert and I mentioned that I was going to talk about Bartòk’s “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste”. She asked what I was going to say. I said that I would start out by explaining what a celesta was. Then I would go on to explain what a fugue was.
She was incredulous that such means were necessary. And, what do you know, right after my talk, one of my rapt listeners came up and said: “Thank you so much for your talk — I’ll tell you the truth, I never did know what a fugue was!”
There you have it. At the risk of sounding overly self-satisfied, I would guess that the people who attended my lecture enjoyed the first movement of the Bartòk much more because of my description — that piece can be kind of a snoozer if you don’t know how to appreciate it.
More at another time about how composers deserve the full blame for ruining classical music and which ones are finally starting to take it back. For now, a note of hope: there are other composers (besides me, that is) writing real music: David Harned Johnson.