on the record: January 2009 Archives
That these are difficult economic times is hardly a news flash. Symphony orchestras, like all other fields of endeavor, are facing challenges that are more serious--or, at least, might be more serious--than anything they have experienced in decades. Even the poor economy of 2001-2004 was not as challenging as what we appear to be going through right now. And perhaps the worst part of it is the uncertainty--the inability to know how deep and how long this will be, and exactly what impact it will have on our orchestras.
Last week I wrote about Kenneth Hamilton's After the Golden Age, a book that illuminates the variety of performance styles prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I recommended it for anyone interested in the history of performance styles in classical music, particularly music of the Romantic era. It fascinates (and frustrates) me that we have experienced over the past 20 or 30 years a serious and valuable interest in what is called "authentic performance practice" for Baroque and 18th-century music, but we have not seen a similar interest among performing musicians and those who write about music in appropriate performance practice for 19th - and early 20th - century music.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have on more than one occasion railed against what I consider the excessive emphasis on "purity" in music today. I have often noted that while no one would wish a performance of a play to reflect the precise intonation and inflection of the first performance that took place with the playwright present, there seems to be a concept in the air today that a good musical performance will simply reproduce the notes printed on the page. The idea that music, like theater, is an interpretive art--that once a piece of music enters the public arena it is not only open to a range of interpretation, but that this is healthy for the life of the piece--is an idea that has been minimized, if not completely squashed, by the ethic of "purity" or "fidelity to the score." Stravinsky was famous for instructing performers to just play the notes and not interpret his music. But listen to Stravinsky's performances of his own music recorded over a span of time and you will hear that he had different ideas about what the notes said at different times of his life.
Nicholas D. Kristof, writing in The New York Times on December 21, 2008, gave further life to a canard of which I am getting really tired: that classical music organizations (along with other arts institutions) are, to put it bluntly, mostly for the rich folk.
"Isn't it normal for 60 percent of the orchestra to hate their music director?" "Musicians never like their conductor." "Why would you give employees any rights in choosing their boss?"