As I sat in the Colorado Public Radio performance studio last week listening to the luminous young pianist and composer Conrad Tao talking about how much he loves playing the music of Benjamin Britten, especially in light of the fact that 2013 is “a Britten year,” a thought about the off-hand way he expressed the composer’s anniversary gave me pause for thought.
No one in the classical music realm bats an eyelid when people speak of it being “a Britten/Wagner/Verdi etc year.” But if you think about it, the phrase is slightly ridiculous and meaningless to anyone who doesn’t operate within the classical music realm.
Describing a particular year is “a Britten year” doesn’t explain to anyone without a specialized knowledge that you’re talking about an anniversary. This is yet another way in which classical music-oriented artists and organizations distance themselves from the general public.
And here’s an even more fundamental problem I have with the notion of it being “a [insert name of composer] year”: With the possible exception of major news events like 9/11, I’ve never thought much of anniversaries as being a good enough excuse for media organizations to make a fuss.
I can’t understand why the classical music community spends so much time organizing coverage around composers’ various birthdays and deaths. Focusing on the past is a surefire way to ossify the art form. Surely there are more creative and relevant ways to put composers’ work in perspective than their anniversaries?