When I went to the Glimmerglass Opera a few weeks ago, I ran into an old friend—Carleton Clay, principal trumpet in the Glimmerglass Orchestra, and also a composer and music professor at the State University of New York College at Oneonta. He’s been principal trumpet at Glimmerglass ever since the company was founded, 30 years go.
I’ve known him since a couple of years after that, when I was working for the New York State Council on the Arts. My job was to evaluate grant applications in music (I was one of four people doing that). One year we got one from the Catskill Conservatory. That was Carleton. Turned out he’d gotten a graduate degree from the Yale School of Music, gotten the Oneonta job, and, after he moved to the area (in central New YorkState), attracted other musicians there as well. His wife, Julia Hasbrouck Clay, plays the horn. Soon there was a professional brass quintet based in Oneonta, and a wind quintet, too. These ensembles eventually made New York debuts. The people in them played in local orchestras, and taught. The Catskill Conservatory was one of the schools they taught at; Carleton started it to help build local careers to the musicians who were moving in.
Soon a conductor was attracted to the scene, Charles Schneider. He’d become music director of the Catskill, Utica, and Schenectedy Symphonies (which he remains to this day), as well as the founding music director of Glimmerglass. Carleton also brought composers to the Catskills — John Cage, Lou Harrison, many, many others. He created a thriving music scene, which he’s still a big part of, whether he’s playing at Glimmerglass (he says he hasn’t missed a rehearsal or performance in 30 years), playing a concerto in Schenectady, premiering an oratorio in Oneonta.
So let’s hear it for Carleton. And how many other musicians like him are there, all over America, keeping classical music alive, without (as a rule) a word of mention from anybody big in the business? There must be hundreds of stories like this that we ought to know about. I’ve encountered the Da Ponte String Quartet, which operates out of mid-Coast Maine, performing in places like Portland, Brunswick, Newcastle, and South Bristol, with a strong enough local base to fund and cheer a Weill Recital Hall debut in New York, as well as a commission to David Del Tredici. But of course there are many other groups like that. This has got to be an important part of classical music’s future. Major institutions may be reeling, but Carleton and the Da Ponte Quartet are doing just fine.
And surely this is the place to mention Made in America, the project (from the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer, funded by Ford) that brings a new JoanTower piece to 65 orchestras all over the country. The premiere is in Glens Falls, New York in October, and Joan says she wanted to do this commission because of all the varied orchestras involved, especially the community orchestras.
So here’s to all of this. We talk too much about the major institutions (I plead guilty), and not enough about what may well be sustaining classical music in places the major institutions don’t reach.