Back from vacation. A month in a quiet place in w:st="on">
composing. Much to say about that, about how few mammals there are in the w:st="on">British isles
and about what I’ve learned about my daily routines by living without them for
a month. And then there’s the piece I worked on, which might get me
excommunicated from classical music.
But later for much of this. I
thought I’d jump back in with something about the classical music world. I didn’t
much keep in touch while I was gone, and neglected my e-mail happily. But I did
check out the news reports from
where the Gerard Schwarz situation, festering for so many years, heated up like
a soap opera. The musicians do a survey, which shows they don’t like the man!
The board says the survey wasn’t properly conducted! (Which
evidently it wasn’t, though I’m sure its conclusions are correct.)
style='mso-spacerun:yes'>The executive director resigns!
And much more. But there was things
missing–major things, I’m afraid–from the coverage. As follows:
1. What kind of
conductor is Schwarz? A really bad one, some people say; or maybe quite a
good one. Depends on who you talk to. But quite apart
from thumbs up or thumbs down, what are his strengths and weaknesses? At a time
when the guy’s whole career seems to hang in the balance, it’s quite depressing
to read almost nothing that tries to come to grips with his musicmaking.
Maybe something appeared, and I missed it. But in what I read, the writers
seemed to say “well, on one hand, and on the other hand, but we do remember
some powerful performances.” Powerful how? What’s
Schwarz good at, and what’s he bad at? There’s no disrespect in asking those
questions. And in fact they’re essential, if you want to evaluate any musician.
Hardly anyone is good at everything. You don’t see Pierre Boulez conducting
Beethoven (and his stiff, almost scary recording of the Fifth Symphony from his
Philharmonic days shows why). Mariss
class=SpellE>Jansons, who swept me away in Berlioz and Shostakovich, and
in a Rossini overture I heard him do with his former w:st="on">Oslo
style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Symphonies of Wind Instruments.
Schwarz? My sense is that he can lay
out the shape of big pieces, maybe a little crudely, but with reasonable force.
In music that needs grace and delicacy, he’s out of his depth.
class=GramE>Which made it strange that for so many years he was music director of the Mostly Mozart festival in to question two.
class=GramE>Which made it strange that for so many years he was music director
of the Mostly Mozart festival in
to question two.
his reputation outside
writers left no doubt that many Seattle Symphony musicians don’t like Schwarz.
But then some apparently do. So in the end we got more “on one hand, on the
other hand,” with final recourse to a piece of conventional wisdom, the notions
that no conductors are universally loved, and that music directors who stay
with an orchestra for many years may lose some support.
But it’s easy (or at least easy in principle) to find out
how Schwarz stands in the music world. Just see how he’s looked at elsewhere.
You can check that objectively–see where he guest-conducts. Does he show up at
the Salzburg Festival, the Metropolitan Opera, the New
York Philharmonic (where you might think he’d be welcomed, since he’s a w:st="on">
be the Philharmonic’s wunderkind principal trumpet)? Or does he mostly show up
in smaller places?
And then there’s the subjective measure. What’s his reputation,
in places where he’s appeared, or where he’s talked about? Very low, I’m
afraid. The prevailing view in the orchestra world, from what I’ve observed, is
that he’s not well thought of. There are issues with his conducting, and issues
with his personality. Often this gets expressed rather strongly. Certainly this
puts the w:st="on">
like Schwarz appear (at least in my experience) to be reflecting the dominant
view of him inside the business. Surely that’s important for journalists to
Though to report it, you of course have to find it out. And
that seems to be a problem. Very few classical music journalists, as far as I
can see, seem to have extensive sources inside the classical music business. In
part this is because the business is national, but appears before the public for
the most part regionally. That is, if you’re a critic in
music scene is what you deal with, and where you’re likely to know people. But
the judgments that affect a conductor’s career are being made–and shared–all
over the country, and something like a national consensus will often emerge. How
are you, the
critic, going to know about that? It’s going to be hard for you to get on the
phone and start talking to orchestra artistic administrators (let’s say) in w:st="on">Detroit w:st="on">
people you’ll normally have no chance to meet. How can you cultivate them? How
can you get their trust so they’ll talk to you, at least off the record?
I’ll admit this is difficult. Music business insiders have
to watch what they say. Nobody who hires conductors can afford to have his or
her uncensored views about them showing up in the media. But still it can’t be
impossible to find out what’s going on. Classical music isn’t the Pentagon, or
the CIA. People in the business talk freely to each other, and to their
friends, and I’ve known a very few critics, including myself (in the past, when
I was a critic), who not just heard this talk, but took part in it. Journalists
who cover politics normally know the inside stories of the politicians they
cover. I’d suggest an experiment. Find a good regional newspaper, from a
substantial city. Sit down with the classical music critic, and then with the reporters
who cover the city and state governments. The political reporters, from
everything I’ve seen, know where all the bodies are buried. The classical music
critics don’t. Why is that?
Full disclosure: I wrote a very negative piece about Schwarz
for The Wall Street Journal in 1998. After
it appeared, I got phone calls from three Seattle Symphony musicians I’d never
met or spoken to, people whose names I’d never even heard. They all wanted to
thank me. Nothing like that happened to me before or since, not even when I created
a storm with a negative piece about Seiji Ozawa in his last years at the BSO, a
piece that was widely discussed (the Boston
Globe even did a story about it), and which expressed views that many BSO
musicians strongly agreed with. So, yes, not every w:st="on">Seattle
every long-serving music director etc. etc. But the w:st="on">Seattle
hate him with a vehemence I haven’t found elsewhere.