Bach, Beethoven, Bordeaux? Classical Music & the Terroirists’ Revenge

The Future Symphony Institute has published an essay that I wrote for them titled “The Revenge of the Terroirists.” It talks about the complicated relationship between fine wine and classical music in the modern world. Because it is very brief the arguments are not fully developed, but I think you will see where I am going with it.

I invite you to click on the links above to read the essay and to learn about the Future Symphony Institute and its ambitious mission.

What Can Wine Teach Classical Music?

The idea for this essay springs from a series of conversations I have been having with Andrew Balio, the principal trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the executive director of the Institute. Balio’s mission is to try to help the musical world think through the economic and intellectual crises that confront classical music and to begin the process of rethinking and renewing it for the 21st century.

The website puts it this way: “Our mission is to formulate a strategy for the renaissance of live classical music and to translate that strategy into programs made freely available to everyone they may benefit.”

Balio was interested in wine because it seemed to him that the wine world had resisted some of the forces that are plaguing classical music. Not all wine is great, but there is substantial and expanding support of and interest in the practices, values and traditions associated with authentic wine and wine culture.

And the interest in fine wine is not limited to the rich or the elderly. It is a very broad movement and an expanding one. If wine can do this, he wondered, maybe classical music can do it, too.

The Terroirist Cause

I am interested in this project for three reasons. First, I see Balio and his colleagues as “terroirists” who push back against commodification and unnecessary simplification.  I wrote about and championed the terroirist cause in my 2011 book Wine Wars. Second, I am a fan of classical music, especially chamber music, and I hope they will achieve their ambitious goals.

Finally, as a member of the board of trustees of a liberal arts college, I recognize that many of the issues that confront classical music organizations are similar to the challenges facing the liberal arts.

Once upon a time there was broader understanding and appreciation of the value and purpose of both classical music and liberal arts education. But for somewhat similar reasons both have become very expensive to produce and their critical role in civilization seems to have been forgotten by many.

Both sets of institutions need to rethink their business models to address the new reality, but that will not be enough. Both need to engage society in new ways that will renew understanding and appreciation without diluting or distorting the values that made them important in the first place. Both need a strong dose of terroirism combined with thoughtful and effective strategy.

The Future Symphony Institute seems like one place where this might happen. I hope my brief essay will help the Future Symphony Institute as it launches a series of articles examining ways that wine can inform classical music and help move it back to center stage.

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The illustration above is from a poster created by the Walla Walla Symphony Orchestra that uses the language of wine to talk about their music. That’s a great idea that works both ways. Haven’t you heard a wine described as “harmonious?”

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