This week’s poll asking readers to vote for whether Yo-Yo Ma, Lorin Maazel, or Alex Ross best represents classical music to the general public based on their respective Colbert Report appearances generated a great deal of interest. The results (as of the evening of 10/30/08) were intriguing…
Readers preferred Alex Ross and Yo-Yo Ma by nearly equal amounts (45 & 42 percent respectively) whereas Lorin Maazel barely managed to garner even a sixth of overall votes. Of all the public comments and private emails I received about the poll one theme appeared in nearly every remark when readers took the time to describe which personality attracted their vote; unaffected sincerity. Readers seemed to vote for Ma and Ross for nearly the same reasons, they found both individuals to be straightforward, honest, and sincere but perhaps most importantly both individuals were capable of communicating without coming across as snobby.
The only comment about Maazel was from Matt Heller and I thought it was right on the nose. Matt observed that the show’s host, Stephen Colbert, showed a certain level of deference to the conductor whereas his banter with Ma and Ross “got more of his smarmy interview persona.” I would go one step further and say that Colbert sensed that the Ma and Ross were the type of guests who “got it” when it came to his style of entertainment and based on Colbert’s popularity and ratings, he must know something about connecting with the general public.
If anything, I think this is a good sign of things to come for classical music. Does it mean musicians of Maazel’s stature and his style of communication are obsolete tools? Of course not; but at the same time they aren’t necessarily the tools which classical music may want to use as frequently as in the past.
Personally, my vote went to Alex Ross. He’s the kind of guy you want to go to a concert with and when you’re there you’ll be comfortable enough to be yourself. You know he’ll be able to tell you about what you’re going to hear but he won’t make you feel stupid for not knowing it. His laid-back passion and ability to convey the complex without being complicated is exactly what classical music needs. I don’t know if it exists or not but if there is such a thing as metropolitan folksy then Alex Ross is its personification.
In the meantime, I left the poll open so if you haven’t voted, stop by to watch the video clips and vote for who you think best represents classical music to the general public.