A relevant addition to my 4 October, 2014 article Listening to the Past, is this excerpt from The New Yorker, 10 November, 2014,:
In Better All the Time, James Surowiecki wrote about the performance revolution among athletes and chess players and compared them to modern musicians.
“The quality of classical musicians has improved dramatically as well, To the point that virtuosos are now, as The Times music critic Anthony Tommasini has observed of pianists, “a dime a dozen”. Even as the number of jobs in classical music has declined, the number of people capable of doing those jobs has soared, as has the caliber of their playing.
James Conlon, the conductor of the Los Angeles Opera has said, “Professional standards are higher everywhare in the world compared to 20 or 40 years ago. Pieces that were once considered too difficult for any but the very best musicians are now routinely played by conservatory students and if anything, the rate of improvement in technical skill is accelerating.”
Music programs are better at identifying talented young musicians. Training methods have improved and the pressure of competition with so many talented musicians competing for so few slots, keeps pushing the standards of over all performance, higher.
That’s actually the biggest change in performance over the past few decades. It’s not so much that the best of the best are so much better as that so many people are so extraordinarilly good.”
Commenting on the increasing number of talented percussionists, Dan Hinger, the late timpanist of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, said, “there are now more people who can play lots of notes, but still, there’s only a few who can play one great note.”