A Voyage to Naxos
by Alan August

One day, when I was sailing in my little ship on the open waters of the Aegean, a storm came up out of nowhere. I lost control. My ship was shattered and I was knocked out.

I awoke to Ravel's Introduction & Allegro-played by a live ensemble, right at the foot of my bed! I stood up and looked around. I was in some kind of magnificent palace: the ceilings were gilded and painted like the Vatican, the floors were marble, and at the window I saw nothing but the blue plane of the ocean, all the way to the horizon. "Where am I?" I said, still dizzy from the wreck.

"The island of Naxos," a voice answered. I turned to see a young woman-enchanting nymph!-staring at me with ice-blue eyes. She asked me if my I was hurt, and she looked relieved when I told her no. "You have been wracking your brains to find a way to revive classical music," she said.

Astonished by her accuracy, I was speechless.

"Come. We have much to show you."

I followed her out of the palace and into a massive auditorium. Thousands of listeners were packed in the seats, watching a performance of Ibert's Scherzetto for Solo Harp. My guide pointed to large screens around the auditorium. "Cameras permit our audiences to become more involved with the music," she said. "We can zoom in on soloists and feature their virtuosity. And-each performance is broadcast on CTV (Classical TeleVision), giving our music a wider audience."

Another harpist came out and performed Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1. "You're watching the solo harp competition in our Classical Olympics," my guide said. "The best musicians compete-as well as composers, ensembles, and even orchestras. The entire island is united in music, granting it more popularity and attention than you can imagine."

Then she led me underground through a long-forgotten chamber, so vast and convoluted that we were soon lost. "This labyrinth," she said, "is what classical music is like to many people." Three guides-Opus, then Composer, then Performer-helped us find our way, until we came to a tiny pool of water at the heart of the maze. "Here," said my hostess, "Is the ultimate difficulty people have with live classical music-look." I gazed into the water's reflection and saw familiar images: an old, crotchety conductor in a tuxedo; a Rolls-Royce pulling up to a concert hall; a music program, containing a list of millionaires who use the symphony as a social club. "Yes," she whispered, "By catering to the elite, classical music has become too conservative, too formal, too inaccessible to the masses. Only when the performers break off their exclusive relationship with the elite and play for the masses will live classical music achieve true popularity."

I found my ship on the shore completely restored. I faintly heard Debussy's Danses Sacree et Profane as I sailed away, enlightened.