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July 24, 2006

Cruise Control

by Allan Kozinn

Between my article at the end of may and the subsequent discussion on Greg Sandow's blog, I'm not sure I have a lot to say that I haven't already said, and perhaps worse than that, I don't see a lot to take issue with in the posts so far. The data is, in a way, contradictory: there are clearly challenges facing musical organizations, and particularly the biggest ones -- symphony orchestras and opera companies. They have to think seriously about how to move forward, because quite clearly, they can't keep doing the same old thing and expecting everything to be fine.

Yes, they can cruise along for a while, perhaps a great, long while. But that's what they've been doing for the last couple of decades really: their cruising days may be coming to an end. I mean, remember the 60's (and, okay, early 70's)? Clearly the height of Western Civ for other reasons as well, but think about the kinds of things the New York Philharmonic was doing. Prospective Encounters. Rugs concerts. Series that presented new music of all kinds and got people interested and involved and talking about it. Where is the equivalent? Lorin Maazel considers it big news when he does a Beethoven festival because a previous time he did one, the orchestra had a nurse in his dressing room in case he collapsed. Sorry, doesn't cut it. Other orchestras are far more inventive -- I'm thinking of LA and SF, but from what Janelle says, Cincinnati too) -- and no doubt it's still a struggle, given the humongous budgets orchestras carry these days. Manifest anti-creativity, one would think, is right out.

Which is why for me a lot of the promise seems to be among more modest (but also more creative) endeavors. Chamber orchestras like Alarm Will Sound. Series like the one at the Miller Theater and, increasingly, Symphony Space, which focus on new and/or unusual works -- and also, in the case of Miller, on early music. Or the programs Carnegie has put into Zankel Hall. Or the mini-festivals that Lincoln Center has booked all over town, which take in symphony orchestras as well as smaller-scale ventures, and use everything from Lincoln Center's halls to churches across town. And, while I admit that I'm not always crazy about the result, in terms of the musicmaking (or even, sometimes, the repertory choices), Leon Botstein's original ideas about what to do with the American Symphony Orchestra -- failing when he took it over, and drawing bigger audiences, at least, now -- were basically sound. New things can be done that will attract the curious and that also offer real musical sustenance. Orchestras need to realize that thinking in those terms is no longer optional.

Posted by akozinn at July 24, 2006 04:39 AM


Allan Kozinn's comments about Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic are not only grossly unfair but highly misleading. The Philharmonic,whether with music directors
or guest conductors has over the years played a wide variety of new works by today's leading composers,for example, Adams,Carter,Corigliano, Saariaho,and others,to
name only a few.Yet Kozinn would have us believe that the Philharmonic is a stodgy, hidebound institution that plays nothing but the same old warhorses. This is unfortunately typical of the New York Times music critics,who seem to care nothing for fairness or accuracy.

Posted by: robert berger at July 24, 2006 02:43 PM

Yes, you're correct: I would have you believe that the Philharmonic is a stodgy, hidebound institution, although I wouldn't say it plays nothing but warhorses. It devotes its program overwhelmingly to warhorses, with the minimum number work new, recent or unusual works necessary to make it impossible to say "nothing but warhorses." This belief is typical of Times critics because we either go to hear the orchestra week in and week out, or keep tabs on what it's up to, and have done so for a long while. And it is equally typical of just about anyone else whose experience is similar, because that's the fact. Beyond which -- good morning! -- critics deal in opinion. Informed opinion, ideally, opinion based on experience and long observation, but opinion nevertheless. To me it's fair and accurate; your mileage may vary.

Posted by: Allan Kozinn at July 24, 2006 03:28 PM

RE: Robert's comment's (above): Mr. Kozinn is more thorough, more fair, more knowledgable, more easily the finest Head Music Critic for the NYT since the late HCS. I have been reading the Music Reviews (Classical, sometimes others) in the NYT since 1962.

The NYT has traditionally been stodgy, under a vast array of Music Directors for almost the entire 20th and 21st Centuries with a few notable exceptions: one summarily fired in the late 1930s after not quite three years; Mitropoulis; Bernstein; Boulez (who learned all the classical, Romantic, Late Romantic, most of the 20th before 1948 -- essentially the entire orchestral repertoire except his own (of course !), was routinely hated by Winthrop Sargent of the New Yorker, and rarely given even an "all right review by anyone of the NYT); William Steinberg (who, even after a stroke, remained MD of the PSO, Acting MD of the NYP, and interim MD of the BSO -- between Leinsdorf and Ozawa) and made notable recordings with the BSO for both RCA and DGG); Masur to some extent, who inherited an Orchestra in tatters from Mehta, then later was considered boring, after he had raised the performing standards tremendously -- still was given a lifetime MD Emeritus title not given to anyone since Bernstein in the previous more than 50 years). It was not a scret to anyone the Maazel's appointment was intended to be "interim"; the other choices before Maazel included Eschenbach (not unreasonable at all) and Muti (insane). Neither took the job, although Muti's Agent announced at one point that effectively negotions were almost complete, probably would take only a couple of weeks more, and Muti was set to start the 2004-2005 Season. The wrinkles were that Eschenbach wanted Philadelphia, and Muti is still himself -- nasty, arrogant, a bad conductor, and now has no appointment as anything. The names listed as "innovative" composers is miniscule, and dozens more names could be added for every MD except Toscannini, and even he did a smattering of new pieces both with the NYT and later the NBCSO.

I do not believe that either HCS nor Mr. Kozinn "do not believe in fairnes [n]or accuracy.

Posted by: John Turner at July 24, 2006 04:29 PM

Thanks John, although for the record, I should point out that I'm not the Times's chief critic. That would be Tony Tommasini.

Posted by: Allan Kozinn at July 24, 2006 07:00 PM

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