on the record: February 2009 Archives
If you need any further proof that orchestras are making important new connections with their communities, a recently launched program called Orchestras Feeding America should end your quest. Orchestras Feeding America is the result of a partnership between the League of American Orchestras, Participant Media, and the national organization Feeding America.
I would imagine that for a composer, there are few fates worse than an international disagreement on how to spell your name! How will you possibly be remembered, given the thousands of composers out there, when your work is divided in people's minds between two or even three different names?
Recently a well-meaning citizen of a major American city with a major international orchestra asked me if I thought the orchestra in her city was "the best," or at least "one of the three best." She never specified whether she meant best in the United States, the world, or the solar system, and I didn't press the point. I gave my usual politically correct answer, pointing out how difficult it is to numerically rank orchestras without hearing them week after week under different conductors in different repertoire, and I also pointed out that different people would use different criteria in their own rating systems. Her reaction seemed somewhere between annoyance and acceptance, leaning more toward acceptance when I assured her that "her" orchestra was certainly one of the great ones in the world.
Until this current generation, America was not the country in which to develop a conducting career--at least not through the traditional European path of working one's way up gradually from the smaller orchestras (often called "the provinces"). While some careers did manage to develop in America, for the most part they were begun at the level of larger orchestras: Bernstein in New York, Slatkin in St. Louis, Mehta in Los Angeles, Ozawa in Boston, Levine (after a stint as assistant in Cleveland) at Chicago's Ravinia Festival and the Metropolitan Opera. Michael Tilson Thomas did spend time as music director in Buffalo, but that actually came after he had achieved considerable fame as an assistant in Boston who wound up conducting many important concerts as a substitute for the ill William Steinberg. Just about the only international career of true importance that began in a small American orchestra prior to the last ten or fifteen years was that of Semyon Bychkov, who started in Grand Rapids and went from there to Buffalo.