Is crossover a dirty word?
During the noon hour Friday on WFCR, after Hélène Grimaud's new performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, we're gonna lay down some classical grass. Bluegrass, that is. For the third time, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma has teamed up with bassist, composer, and MacArthur "genius" Edgar Meyer and friends for an album of bluegrass-inflected classical "crossover".
By crossover, by the way, I mean when classical musicians collaborate with non-classical musicians, and/or perform non-classical music. Or the other way around -- non-classical folks crossing over into the classical realm. It could be Jean-Yves Thibaudet covering Bill Evans, Béla Fleck playing Bach, Beatles à la baroque, Michael Bolton crooning opera arias (I'm not making this one up) or Renée Fleming doing an indie-rock album. Middlebrow "classical" musicians like André Rieu and "popera" singers like Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman get lumped in as well.
And that's part of the problem. Using a single word for so many different styles of music basically robs it of any specific meaning. So, if someone says "crossover is good" or "crossover is bad", you have to wonder just which crossover the person has in mind.
Not that some crossover doesn't deserve the word's unsavory connotation. You can hear it when classical folks, trying to be cool, end up making fools of themselves. Man, some of these classical cats just can't swing! Or when pop musicians, trying to co-opt classical music's prestige, end up hopelessly out of their depth, without the vitality that endeared them to us in the first place. Are you reading, Sir Macca?
On the other hand, crossover has been responsible for some pretty enjoyable music in the last few years. Would we have gotten to know the passionate, earthy tangos of Astor Piazzolla if so many classical musicians hadn't dipped into his oeuvre? How about the new Shuffle. Play. Listen album, wherein cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O'Riley do one CD of "real" classical, another of Arcade Fire, Radiohead and other rockers? Do you have any doubt that the duo believe deeply in both discs, and have something to say in both styles?
In fact, since the first rock-banger jammed with the first grass-blower -- no doubt making first music critic cry "ugh" -- musicians from across genres have avidly collaborated. Such openness is part of the human condition. No music has ever been, is now, or every will be "pure", without strong influence from outside its supposed borders. And out of these crossovers, some pretty great music has emerged. Such as jazz, rock and country, just to mention a few.
So with crossover, as with any genre, in with the good, out with the bad, and may it enjoy a long life with many children and grandchildren. And please tune in for some of the good stuff, from Ma, Meyer and friends during the noon hour on Friday.