This entry continues my exploration of Bruckner’s Fourth as revealed by two recordings by Bruno Walter, along with a little bit of thinking about remembering to keep “art” first in “arts communities.” You can read the previous entries on this subject here and here.
Last time I finished with:
It isn’t hard to love Bruno Walter, and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra’s recordings reveal him to be a musician in the center of good taste. The tempos are not surprising, nor are the climaxes overblown. The whole CSO series is consistently satisfying, and you would expect to look to others to surprise you with extremes of interpretations.
Or you could look to his 1940 recording of Bruckner’s Fourth with the NBC Symphony.
Let’s take it from there…
The Bruckner Fourth recording by Walter in 1940 (using the early Löwe/Schalk edition of the symphony) simply teems with ideas.
It’s like hearing a man in a forest shouting, “Look at THIS tree! Now, look at THAT one! And how about THIS flower! And did you notice this blade of grass???” Everything is in stark relief. It is almost manic in tempo modifications. The sfortzandi are edgier, the ritardandi broader, and the brass chorales bolder. It is Bruckner Fourth as you might have imagined Mahler conducting it. It is a fascinating reading and it puts the Bruno Walter I thought I knew in an entirely new light. The 1940 Walter can do anything he wants. His technique frees him to move the orchestra’s tempi forward and back. His personality is strong. His ideas are as tangible as steel. The emotions are extreme – surprising for a conductor I’ve come to know as being gentle in so many respects.
And yet, for all of its astonishing aspects, the 1940 performance doesn’t quite work. Every lovingly-etched detail competes with the next one. Every tempo modification is too much. Each individual moment is revelatory, and one could wonder if the interpretation is influenced by the cataclysmic events taking place in Europe at the time. Regardless, while the reading is fascinating, it is not satisfying as a whole.
In the 1960 recording Walter revisits the work (with the Haas edition of the score) bringing a kind of wisdom that only two more decades of living with the music could have provided. In this reading the individual trees form a forest. The details serve the entirety. The 1940 recording’s raw passion is replaced tenfold with the grandeur and majesty of 1960. As Walter tamed himself he revealed a higher truth hiding in the music he so deeply wanted to serve.
I’m not suggesting that the 1960 Walter version of Bruckner’s Fourth is the only one to hear, or the best one, or anything of the like. I could have explored this same subject with Klemperer or others who made multiple recordings of this symphony. Instead I’m thinking about the work of the artist as a magnetizing force – and of the artistic work WE do that brings people around to join the cause over time.
This blog is about building arts communities, and one might wonder why I would share this “coffee with an old conductor” discovery here.
The reason is simply that, in our worries about this season – this REALLY challenging time, when budgets are lean, and every decision – artistic or financial – seems fraught with danger, we need to stop and remember what we’re primarily about.
For all that we need to do to figure out how to bring in new monies, how to build new relationships, how to interact with our audiences in order to create more loyal “tribes” around our institutions, we need to remember that those efforts are on the edge of the issue – not at the center of it.
Arts communities are, first and foremost, about art. It’s self-evident, but it isn’t hard for that idea to get pushed to the side, especially in an environment of economic stress.
I remember hearing recently about one conductor whose Board members suggested changing the programming format for the orchestra to half classical and half pops on each program in order to build audiences. I felt for them, and for their conductor. The Board was worried about the empty house, and the conductor was worried about his own integrity as an artist. The organization had forgotten themselves and their reason for being in the midst of the crisis, and they had lost their way.
This will be “the year that was” in a lot of respects. There are going to be stresses we haven’t felt before. The economic models won’t be working in the normal ways, and we’ll be asked to try new things. In and of itself, that concept is neither good nor bad. Innovation in the arts IS needed, and this season just might provide the crisis necessary for positive re-invention – or it will provide a moment to invite the money changers into the temple.
There’s the rub. Can we reinvent ourselves without selling out? And the answer has to be YES.
Artists build their communities through their creations and through their insights. As they grow, as they learn how to navigate through the shoals, they come closer to the ever-elusive ideal, and others follow them. In other words, the older Walter of 1960 – who has the scars of his earlier battles with Bruckner’s monumental body of work – is better able to help build an arts community around the composer than the younger Walter. It isn’t that he couldn’t serve the effort in 1940 – his entire life was devoted to the “cause” of Bruckner. But, as Walter grew in understanding, the rest of the world, the “community” of Bruckner’s admirers, could grow alongside him.
Building an arts community in music includes attending to things like community relations, marketing approaches, pricing strategies, programming and soloist choices, graphic design work, and the use of emerging on-line technology. In other disciplines it might include looking hard at the kind of neighborhood your theater is in and thinking about demographics in relationship to programming. Or it might make you ask whether there is a good restaurant near your art gallery and how having one would change the foot traffic on the streets. In other words, the complexity involved in building a successful arts community depends upon MANY things – some of which seem ancillary and some of which are specific to the plays, shows, concerts and other kinds of programs we offer to the public.
Mostly though, building an arts community comes out of making art – growing in understanding – and conveying what we’ve come to learn to others. It’s Bruno Walter in 1940 and 1960, and the hard-fought ground he covered in between.
It might be good to remember that in this particular year. Doing so just might keep us from letting the tail wag the dog.
If we remember to focus on the art while we innovate we’ll be fine in the long run.