This is excellent over at ArtsJournal, which I should have put on my blogroll ages ago. This latest section is conversation of classical music critics on the future directions of music. It's the kind of thing the internet does best.
The central thrust of the discussion is over whether the absence of a big, unifying idea in contemporary music is a bad thing or not such a bad thing. Interesting contributions include Alex Ross, who sensibly says he's most interested in musical voices with a distinctive personality.
I wonder whether past greats ever sat down to talk these things through? Wagner, Liszt and co certainly had a big idea, but there was nothing unified about their age either, since they encountered a powerful opposing factor in Brahms, Hanslick et al. Programme music/gesamtkunstwerk versus pure music. Theoretically. And when you consider that Wagner had it in for Brahms because Brahms had given Mathilde Wesendonck the brush-off, and Brahms continually embedded Clara-saturated musical ciphers in what we supposed for so long to be 'pure' symphonies, the argument does become somewhat fragmented.
As for Mozart, Haydn, Handel and Bach, did they work according to A Big New Idea? Nope. They were trying to make an honest living in a service industry. I'd love to know what they'd make of today's attitudes. Probably they'd be writing film scores, conducting choirs or co-ordinating community music and trying, vainly, to get a commission from the Proms.