Timeless music

MORE than ever the music of three masters fills concert halls and airwaves this year. It is the 300th anniversary of their birth -- Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti. Their styles differed, but their music is equally timeless. Classical music is like that. Over the generations tastes may ebb and flow, but the greatest music endures, to be savored anew by succeeding generations.

And by individuals. The amateur violinist, playing Beethoven for fun. The nine-year-old, discovering Mozart. The lapsed cellist, resuming concertgoing.

In musicmaking, as elsewhere, change does occur. Yet a continuity of quality remains. Leontyne Price retires from singing opera; Jessye Norman has emerged. Violinist Fritz Kreisler captivated audiences decades ago; Itzhak Perlman does today. Yo-Yo Ma replaces Pablo Casals as the cello's prime virtuoso.

Music's path to the future has always been strewn with challenges -- especially financial. Personal contributions have long kept composers and musical groups afloat. Centuries ago wealthy individuals -- authority figures -- put artists on their payrolls. Today in the United States, government financing aids the arts; if the administration has its way, the level of support will go down. Corporate support for the arts is up.

There is a lot of musical progress in the US. High-quality classical music is no longer restricted to large cities: Good orchestras and fine musical programs are cropping up all over. Tomorrow's musicians receive far better technical training than yesterday's. Auditions behind screens make orchestras colorblind and sex blind.

Current composers add to the repertoire, although their music does not yet receive the hearing it should.

Meanwhile the music of the masters endures. As well it should. ----30--{et

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