There is no end of fretting in the classical music world.
Just look at the record business. The major labels have nearly ceased recording new cycles of Schubert symphonies and Wagner operas, perhaps finally realizing that the multitude of performances already available may be just about enough. Lowest-common-denominator crossover albums crowd the catalog. Clueless record executives seem able to discern the fact that there's an audience but can't quite figure out how to tap it.
These are appropriate concerns. But there are also signs of new life in classical music, which are apparent to anyone who looks for them.
No longer do emerging pianists automatically feel compelled to compete with Rubinstein by doing yet another Chopin program. Emerging conductors now realize they can follow in the footsteps of Frtwangler without mimicking him in Beethoven. In other words, there are plenty of new musicians with new musical ideas.
Moreover, it is relatively cheap and easy to make a CD these days, and small, independent labels are often eager to take chances with new artists and new repertory. The Times' music critics take a look a few of these emerging artists and their CDs:
* * * 1/2 "Dawn to Dusk" Avalon String Quartet Channel Classics
The first CD from the Avalon Quartet, artists in residence at Harvard this year, bears a Kronos Quartet-like title. "Dawn" refers to Ravel's String Quartet--one of his earliest major works--and "Dusk" is Janacek's String Quartet No. 2--his last completed work. More pertinently, the Avalon's dramatic, charged-up performances speak for themselves. The Ravel has tonal transparency, heart and plenty of subtle shadings that give way to some unexpected wildness in the Finale. The latter movement serves as an appropriate lead-in to the hard-driven, highly emotional rendering of the Janacek, a graphic diary of the composer's unrequited passion for Kamila Stsslova, his muse for the last dozen years of his life. Yet this quartet can be much more adventuresome than the repertory here indicates. It has taken on contemporary American composers like Philip Glass, Michael Torke, Gunther Schuller and John Zorn. It is hoped Channel Classics will follow the Avalon in that direction.