Some comic relief.

Pinchas Zuckerman, uneasy about the future of classical music, and squirming helplessly as he moans about it in the Denver Post, let fly with this:

If [classical music isn’t] synonymous with our existence, or [isn’t so to] at least 5 to 6 percent of the population, then society will become a jungle. And we don’t want to see riots as we saw them in the ’60s, because that was chaos.

Classical music as a civilizing force — that’s a gratifying myth (idealistic at best, self-congratulatory at worst) that we’ve all met before. And it’s silly. Take a deep breath, Maestro Z, and repeat after me: The Nazis loved classical music…the Nazis loved classical music…

Besides, his logic is suspect. When there were riots in the ’60s, classical music was far more central in our culture than it is now. Hey, and not only that — big orchestras had just expanded to their 52-week contracts. Didn’t stop the riots, did it? And who from the music world helped calm the riots? Isaac Stern? It was James Brown.

But the whole thing is just too silly for words. The riots came from racial issues that had nothing to do with classical music. And as Z acknowledges later in the interview, classical music has difficult problems, complex ones, and he wishes that the biz would take a unified approach. Which wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Though maybe the racial problems of the ’60s did have at least a remote classical music connection. The racial record of classical music up to that time hadn’t been very good.

In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers of course had made Jackie Robinson the first black player in the major leagues. So somebody went to Edward Johnson, who ran the Metropolitan Opera, and suggested that he follow the Dodgers’ lead, and put a black singer in a leading role. To which Johnson whined, “Don’t I have enough trouble already?” — thus not quite showing that classical music had civilized him in any deep, important way, in a lifetime spent in the field as a singer and administrator.

It wasn’t till years later, in 1955 — after the Supreme Court had made racial matters an issue for the entire nation, by declaring school segregation unconstitutional — that the Met dared to follow the Dodgers’ lead.


I hope my readers will try Pandora’s new classical music offerings. What’s Pandora? A terrific Internet radio site, on which you create your own radio station, based on any songs or artists you like. Pandora then finds other music like the stuff you picked. In pop, it’s uncannily good. I have a Lucinda Williams station, just for instance, and Pandora finds endless rootsy singer-songwriters, and they’re rootsy in much the way that Williams is. (Though she’s far better. Pandora reaffirmed that.)

So now you can do it with classical music. Type in the name of a composer, or search online to find a work, and Pandora will give you more like it. I should declare an interest here, because I’ve talked with Pandora’s founder and CEO, and offered suggestions. But I was a Pandora subscriber before that contact ever happened, and my suggestions have nothing to do with what they’re offering now.

I thought I’d throw Pandora a curve, and set up Schoenberg and Webern stations. The result amazed me. Pandora found music that fit both styles precisely. It even picked a Berio piece (Points on a Curve to Find) that fit in Schoenberg’s universe, and another one that fit in Webern’s. (I’m sorry that I didn’t write down which piece it was, and unfortunately Pandora doesn’t let you go back and see what it chose.)

My biggest surprise came when Schoenberg’s String Trio came up on the Webern station. I wouldn’t have made that connection, and could easily cite parts of the piece that don’t seem Webern-like at all. But in the Webern world that Pandora made, the String Trio fit perfectly. So there’s another lesson that Pandora taught me — the Schoenberg String Trio is more like Webern than I’d have ever figured out on my own.

Try it out yourself. And if you do, give me some feedback. This could be helpful to Pandora down the line. There are some obvious problems, some based on their licensing requirements (they can’t always play all movements of a lengthy work), others maybe fixable. But try it out. See what you think.


And also check out Daniel Mendelsohn’s long and smart review of the Met’s Lucia, from the New York Review. I raved about it in an earlier post; it’s now online. Music criticism rarely gets this good (though I do think the second part of the piece, about the performance, is stronger than the opening, about Lucia‘s history). And if the Met is serious about presenting real theater, it should welcome scrutiny like this.

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  1. says

    You wrote: “Take a deep breath, Maestro Z, and repeat after me: The Nazis loved classical music…the Nazis loved classical music…”


    Make your point on this matter (a point with which I largely agree, interestingly enough) another way, please. Your above statement is preposterous.


    Care to say why?

  2. Martin Cohn says


    You are absolutely right about Zuckerman; he thinks the sky is falling.

    Pandora is great, but the reason I listen to radio is to be surprise, by finding that I like something I did not think I would like. Unfortunately, most stations today will never surprise you, least of all Pandora.

    Also, Mendelsohn’s review of Lucia may be brilliant, but his writing is typical of academic criticism; it’s barely readable.

    Finally, I’ve been meaning to write for long time to tell you how much I enjoyed your music when I heard Sarah Cahill perform some of it a few years ago. What I heard was very beautiful and, yes, surprising — if only because it didn’t sound “modern” in the ways I thought it would.

    Thanks for this, and what a lovely thought you ended with. I don’t know, though, that Sarah has ever played my music, though she did post a lovely comment here during the summer about hedgehogs.

    I have to say that I don’t find Daniel Mendelsohn hard to read. But then maybe I’m too academic! But I’m grateful to you for this cautionary remark. I should remember that The New York Review may well not be a publication that everyone will like to read.

  3. Roy Lukas says

    Isn’t it amazing what nonsense can come out of the mouths of people who don’t get paid to talk. Zuckerman proves that playing the fiddle doesn’t keep him from being a jerk.

  4. David Cavlovic says

    “Take a deep breath, Maestro Z”

    Sigh! This is what we have to put up with in Ottawa, and from a man who stomps the podium during a performance last year of the Brahms’ 2nd Symphony, like a frustrated high school band conductor, in order to regain control of a tempo that he f****d up in the first place!

    No wonder we don’t hear much new music from him, unless it’s by his father-in-law (and no disrespect to him, either).

  5. D.P. Sturdevant says

    For those of you who don’t believe that classical music can have a positive effect on the well-being of a society, I would ask you to have a look at “el sistema” in Venezuela and the brilliant work being done by Dr. Abreu. And, the Nazis didn’t ‘love’ classical music; it was a propagandist tool to prove the superiority of Germanic culture. Most Nazi’s didn’t know the difference between an oboe d’amore and an aardvark. And it’s “Zukerman” not “Zuckerman”.

    Thanks for a very helpful comment.

    I’m happy to admit my Zukerman mistake. Silly of me. Did I think he was a character in Philip Roth? Although, given how he comes off in this interview, maybe he ought to be one.

    I see that I’m going to be nickled and dimed about that Nazi remark. There’s no doubt that Hitler loved classical music, and in fact other forms of high art. See John Carey’s book “What Good are the Arts” for thorough documentation, along with recent revelations about how Hitler listened repeatedly to recordings of music by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

    Did other Nazis, or Nazis in general, like classical music? I’m sure there are answers, but I’ll admit that my statement — considered as rigorous social science — wasn’t properly precise. But turn it around! Did classical musicians support the Nazis, or become Nazi party members? Some certainly did, perhaps many. Do we have any reason to believe that fewer classical musicians became Nazis, compared to other similar demographic groups? I don’t think we do. One striking example of a pro-Nazi classical musician was Webern, whose life and work would make us think he’d be intensely private, uncomfortable with any mass movement, and far too exalted in his view of art to support Nazi violence. And yet he was a conservative German nationalist, in his politics, and favored the Nazis very strongly.

    Or look at this another way. Pinchas Zukerman thinks that we’ll revert to barbarism if classical music doesn’t have a strong presence in our society. Well, in pre-Nazi Germany, classical music certainly had a strong presence — a pervasive presence — and the country fell into barbarism in spite of that.
    Finally, suppose D.P. Sturdevant is right, and the Nazis had no liking for classical music, but only used it cynically. If anything, this looks worse for classical music than anything I’d be prepared to say. The Nazis, in other words (or at leaste in Sturdevant’s view), made a cold, hard calculation, and decided that classical music wouldn’t hurt their cause, that there was nothing in it — nothing in its sound, nothing in its content, nothing in its culture — that would turn people against them. Instead, they (according to this theory) made the opposite judgment, that classical music could be used to win people over to their cause. That really does seem far more damning for classical music than anything I’d be ready to say.

    As for el sistema, I’d first note that I never said that classical music wasn’t beneficial to society. All forms of music, or nearly all forms, surely are. In America, the blues were plainly good for us, jazz was good for us, and rock was good for us. So why not classical music, too? I don’t have any problem with that. Though if, like Zukerman, we want to focus narrowly on the social and political benefits of music, there I think we might have to put classical music in a lower place. If we think of what kinds of music gave power to the powerless, gave a voice to those who didn’t have it, and contributed to the big social struggles in America during the 20th century — women’s suffrage, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the gay movement, the women’s movement, and the fight against the Vietnam war, to name just a few — classical music wouldn’t rank very high. Blues, jazz, rock, and folk music would rank lots higher. (Which may be one reason why, in a recent study, conservatives turned out to be the political group that liked classical music most.)

    Oddly enough (sorry for the sarcasm), I do know something about el sistema. I’ve read about it and talked to people who’ve gone to Venezuela to observe it, and I heard the two fabulous concerts that the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra gave in New York a week ago. I also heard Abreu speak before one of those events.

    Clearly something wonderful is going on in Venezuela. You don’t have to see and hear the orchestra for more than five minutes to understand that. And people in the classical music business — as well as people in the classical music audience — are already buzzing with excitement about what this can mean for classical music in America. Perfect strangers, after the Bolivar concerts, were going up to each other and saying that tthis was the salvation of classical music.

    I’ll write a blog post about this shortly. But one thing that seems clear to me is that the beneficial effect on Venezuelan society could very likely have been caused by many projects. Here we had a government that decided to teach classical music to kids in every corner of the country. The kids responded wonderfully, as well they might. But do we imagine that there wouldn’t have been an equal response if they’d been taught jazz? Or if they’d been given training in business (with micro-loans, so successful in other third world countries, given them funds to start them going)? Or if they were given training in healthcare (with a mandate then to go out in their communities and help people be healthy)? Anything that mobilizes people in a positive way is going to have a great effect, above all in a poor country. In one Harlem school, there’s a champion chess team, made up of poor African-American kids. It exists because a teacher had a passion for chess, and got the kids excited. In a way (and I don’t mean this as any kind of criticism), Abreu managed to do the same thing with classical music, but now not just at one school, but throughout Venezuela. Apparently (and this part of the story that I don’t quite understand, and that he certainly didn’t clarify) he had the political clout to get the government to fund the program throughout the country. Bravo for him, and for them, but I think — again without minimizing the social or musical achievement involved — that it proves more about the value of mobilizing people around something positive than about the value of classical music.

    And when I heard Abreu say, “A child may be poor, but when you give him a musical instrument, he still is poor, but he’s rich in spirit, because he has music” — I have to confess that I wondered if the program had quite the social benefits I’d like to see. Suppose Abreu — with all his political clout — had tried to mobilize the country to end poverty? (Or, to suggest something really modest, to refurbish Venezuela’s baseball fields. The whole country is crazy for baseball, and has sent many players to the major leagues, but according to a book I’ve read about baseball in Latin America, the ballparks are in striking disrepair.)
    One last thought. In all the excitement over el sistema, I’ve yet to hear even one person mention that Venezuela also has Hugo Chavez. I think the jury is still out on him, but suppose he turns out to be a seriously nasty piece of political work, as some Americans already think he is? What, then, will have been the role of Venezuela’s classical music initiative? It won’t have been enough to stop Chavez, will it?

    Or let me put this even more strongly. Apparently the opposition to Chavez comes at the moment largely from students. That ought to make people wonder what the kids in the Bolivar Youth Orchestra — some of them are in their 20s — think. If people their age don’t like Chavez, what’s their view? Are they against him? If so, have they spoken out about it?

    I want to be careful here, and say that I’m not in any way telling those Venezuelan kids what they ought to think, or what they ought to do. I’m in no position to know what the right course for Venezuela might be, or — far more — to tell Venezuelans what it is. Or how they should act politically.

    But I do want to point out that Chavez and the changes he’s making raise reasonable questions about whether classical music is, by itself, a force for social and political good. I suspect — and it would certainly be interesting to know more about this — that Chavez and his movement have no connection to classical music, that they arise out of social stirrings that are neither helped nor hindered by Venezuela’s impressive classical music initiative.

  6. says

    Thanks for the great post, Greg. So glad to hear that we passed muster… We would absolutely welcome comments/critiques from you and your readers as we set sail into the vast world of classical music. We’re furiously adding more recordings to the collection every day.

    Cheers. Tim (Founder, Pandora)

    Thanks, Tim.
    I’ll add that Tim, from my dealings with him, seems to be a seriously good guy, with an impressive long-term vision, and a real love of music.
    And what he’s done with Pandora (to repeat myself) is really remarkable. I was a subscriber long before I got to know him.

  7. Bill Brice says

    Well jeeze, AC… As I read it, Greg’s point is straightforward enough: Classical music does not make us moral or ethical, or even nice. I agree that, when I personally experience great music, it certainly FEELS that it must do so. But simple historical fact says otherwise. It is up to us to strive for moral, ethical, and “nice” behavior in ourselves.

    To be sure, “civilized” is a little different, and is not necessarily moral or uplifting, except in the way that indoor plumbing might be.

    Zukerman’s statement was downright embarrassing — especially as I consider him an intelligent man.
    Thanks, Bill. I think Zukerman, like many people in the field I’ve met, is genuinely distressed about the decline — in social terms — of something that he deeply loves. It’s natural, if you love classical music, and spend much of your time with it, to feel that there’s something nourishing and important about it, and that other things in the world — and maybe especially other, louder, more raucous kinds of music — are rough and crude by comparison.

    Then, when you see that so many people — more and more each year, it might seem — show no interest in what you love so deeply, you might then feel a vast sense of loss. How can they not love it? It’s so lovely, so — well, you know. I’ve heard this often from people (almost always older people) in the classical music audience, and when I hear the distress in their voices, I find myself sympathizing with them. It’s hard not to, even when Zukerman takes his sense of loss further than is reasonable.

  8. says

    To paraphrase something Richard Taruskin said in an essay recently, classical music most desperately needs to be saved from some of its own most passionate devotees, and these absurd comments from Zukerman most certainly fit that bill. More than anything, it reveals the kind of bubble Zukerman must live within, insulated not only from the realities of the world at large but even from the innovation going on within his own field, though that mostly takes place closer to the grassroots level than in the rarefied ether where Zukerman lives and breathes. You make this point often and I don’t always agree with the examples you cite, but in this it’s absolutely true: the classical music business (and Zukerman is at this point primarily a classical business-man)is often the worst enemy of classical music, the art.

    Philip, thanks for this, and you’ve gotten me to think about what Zukerman’s world might be. And, similarly, the world of other top classical musicians. And managers, administrators, you name it. Many of them live in a bubble, often through no fault of their own. I talked recently with someone I know on the managerial side of the business, who’d just come back from a trip in which she’d heard five concerts in five days. One result of this, not maybe in the case I just cited, but elsewhere, is a real need to protect yourself, to somehow find some quiet or privacy inside the constant whirl of things. So Zukerman, I’ve heard, would be booked to play a concerto somewhere, and would fly in by private jet for a rehearsal, then fly home, then fly back for the concert. He couldn’t very well build much relationship with the musicians in the orchestra, but on the other hand it might be hard, given his level of activity, to find the energy for that.

    The bottom line, I guess, is to live differently. But it’s hard to do that and still have a major-league career. Not that many people haven’t found some kind of solution.

    And not everyone lives in a bubble. I’ve gone to wild new music shows and to rock shows with reasonably high-ranking classical music professionals, who work in more conservative spheres.

    I’m also thinking now of a piece in the New Yorker, years ago (which I think became a book), about a Juilliard student’s life. She practiced all the time, to such an extent that it was reasonable to wonder what she brought to her playing. What sort of life experience could it represent? But again, this wasn’t the musician’s fault, not completely. The field is organized in ways that impel that kind of concentration.

  9. Paul A. Alter says

    One of the things that music does (and — arguably — does better than any other art form) is vent our emotions for us. In fact, it expresses emotions we may not even know we feel until we hear them expressed in the music.

    That is more obvious in our popular music. The creators and performers become our surrogates, expressing what we we may not even know we feel until we hear the music.

    Because they are our surrogates, we resent anything that takes their place. For example: I grew up in one of the most repressed generations America ever produced. Our music: the big bands — musical machines, uniformed, playing meticulous arrangements, sung by “Boy Singers” and “Girl Singers.” They assured us that when we returned from WWII, Jeanne Craine and Kathy Downes would be waiting, faithfully, intact. Those were our surrogates; how then could we ever accept the rowdy, unshaven, unkempt, libidinous, guitar abusers that replaced them when the age of sexual and social liberation came along! Sinatra spoke for us; the whiskey-wracked voice of that unkempt broad with a VPL (visible pantie line) that followed him never could. Never.

    Just as those whose for whom the newer music speaks will be outraged by whatever –whatever — form replaces it.

    The antagonism operates within generations, in the various cultures and subcultures. In the barracks, in the Navy, during WWII, there was contention as to whose music would be played on the barracks radio. Since the git-fiddle-and-yodeling lovers far outnumbered the big band lovers, the radio was tuned mostly to the “There was blood on the highways but I didn’t hear nobody pray” stations. Once, when a Tommy Dorsey record started, somebody screamed, “Turn off that classical music.” I was one of the few who enjoyed both forms of the music. But,for the most part, it was a take-no-prisoners battle.

    It’s more obvious in popular music, but it can be clearly seen in the “classical” field. (For example, Brahms vs Wagner.) The music we search out and devote our listening hours to is the music that grabs us by divining and expressing our emotions.

    So, Greg is right. The Nazis did love SOME classical music. And we should not abort a very important discussion by focusing on that one statement. What he said is true.

    It is a matter that has to be discussed because the survival of classical music may depend upon our understanding it. Such understanding is necessary in order to program the music that will turn around the erosion of audiences. Everybody knows that “tastes change.” The music that provides catharsis changes. If you doubt that, consider that in 1937, in the USA, there was one performance of a Bruckner symphony, and Mahler wasn’t far behind. Now, we not only have Bruckner and Mahler cycles on recording, but duplicate cycles by some conductors. We didn’t know we felt that way until those guys told us.

    The mammy songs were laughed off the stage during the age of Freud. The songs of repressed longing ran for cover when the age of sexual and social liberation came along. Emotions change. The music must also change. For example, are the repeats in Beethoven really necessary?


    Terrific thoughts, Paul. And not just because you supported me. I think you’ve nailed one of the important things behind all these discussions, and the way that issues that might seem purely musical actually tie into much larger social and cultural stuff. And you said it so much better than I’m managing to right now!

  10. says

    So, Greg is right. The Nazis did love SOME classical music. And we should not abort a very important discussion by focusing on that one statement. What he said is true.


    No, Greg was NOT right. Greg was dead wrong. But it wasn’t in the least my intention to “abort a very important discussion by focusing on that one statement.” I in fact noted my agreement with Greg’s position, as astonishing as that may be, and was merely pointing out to him his manifest error so that his argument wouldn’t be weakened by it.


  11. Paul A. Alter says

    If my suggestion holds water it might explain the response to 12-tone, serial, music which vents emotions that are inexplicable to anyone who has not experienced the horrors associated with Nazi Germany, or some equivalent situation.


    This is a famously made by Theodor Adorno (see for instance his book “The Philosophy of Modern Music”). Though he generalized the pain atonal music represents, thinking that it went beyond Nazi Germany to encompass all of modern society. But then he was a refugee from the Nazis, so his experience of the modern world may strongly have been shaped by them.

    Adorno thought that the constant dissonance in atonal and 12-tone music represented frozen pain, so deeply buried that it didn’t necessarily register as pain. But he didn’t think this was a problem with the music. He thought it was a virtue. Only music that reflected so much pain, he thought, could be a proper artistic reponse to modern society. (I know I’m simplifying what he said.)

  12. Bill Brice says

    OK — we’re saying that Nazis just acted as if they loved classical music… but did not truly understand it in the way that we (better) people understand it. If they only had our depth of understanding, they’d never have ejected all the Jewish musicians from Bayreuth, etc. If only Wagner had understood his own music better, he wouldn’t have said all those nasty things about the Jews and the French?

    I recall a comment from the Taruskin article (don’t have the exact quote), that seemed right on target here… that the real root of the problem is an assumption that “kulture” can elevate us — or insulate us — from the possibility of moral failure. The assumption is, in itself, treacherous. And it’s only a slight remove from the notion of “blut” as an inherited guarantee of superiority.

    Yes, the prole base of any authoritarian regime can be teased into brainless adoration of a “kulture” that’s beyond its ken. I doubt that the SA Brownshirts went home from Krystalnacht and listened to Brahms…. but they certainly were willing to claim cultural ownership — and moral authority from the pantheon that included Brahms.

  13. Paul A. Alter says

    I want to carry this discussion one step forward — sharpen the snickersnees.

    I don’t think repertoire is the thing that’s going to draw audiences into the concert halls. It will draw in some, but not enough to stop the drain. There have to be other things.

    One is, of course, prices.

    Another is the need for social contact. If we can build in opportunities for social contact and even — may I say it — for hooking-up into concert-going, we will capture the much-lusted-after young demographic. (Even the ASOL “Symphony” admits that the “got nobody to go with” syndrome is a factor.)

    And what the orchestra is playing is important to some individuals (few? some? many?).

    But. The person who would go to a concert to hear a certain composition probably has that, on a recording, back home, where he can play it whenever he wants, as often as he wants. We have to persuade him that there is a reason to buy an expensive ticket, shower, shave, shampoo, put on his shoes, drive his car to the concert hall, find parking, and all that so he can hear a live orchestra play that same composition. And we can do that, I think, by exploiting the competitive “instinct” that so many responders to this blog have been alluding to: we must educate the public that there is no “best” performance of any composition, that the emotions induced by a composition change from performance to performance, and that they owe it to themselves to listen to — LISTEN TO — as many different interpretations of a piece as they can.

    For example: the Beethoven fifth was the second work that I acquired on recording. I played it over an over until I realized that I wasn’t really hearing it anymore. That was devastating. I had lost the ability to experience the emotions evoked by that wonder.

    So, now, it’s 1945, I’m stationed in San Diego, Otto Klemperer is bringing the LA Phil thru town, and — wouldn’t you know it — they’re going to play the Beethoven 5th. But, I go anyway. And the Beethoven 5th knocks me flat. It was all new, like I had never heard it before. Epiphany: no matter how different performances of a composition you listen to, it’s a new experience.

    That’s one of the messages we need to get out if we want to get true music lovers into those empty red seats.

    For example: Suppose a guest conductor is booked to play the Schubert 9th (or whatever the current number is). During the same season, the orchestra should play it under its music director. It’s not competition because we’re not asking which performance is “better”; it’s a message that, “Yes, you have a recording of this, and you have played it many times, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to hear it live; it does mean that you need to hear other versions of it.”

    Or, Gil Shaham is booked to play the Brahms this season. Fisher is also booked. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear them both play the Brahms!

    Or, we could just go thru all the regular motions to draw people in; I mean, they’re working so well.

    Snickersnees ready?


    Many fine ideas here, Paul. I’ve often thought that it would be fun, and quite revealing, to have a different soloist for each movement of a concerto. Lots of logistical problems there, of course. But it would be very revealing for people in the audience.

    Or a soloist or conductor could speak to the audience about various ways of playing a piece, with recorded examples of the various alternatives. Then any people would have a larger context for what they’re hearing.

    Most of all, I think the main thing that’s going to attract people to performances is true excitement. The performances have to be exciting. Surprising. You should never be sure in advance exactly what you’re getting. And the atmosphere in the concert hall before the performance should be electric.

    If any performing group can do the above, it’ll mean more than a thousand other innovations (talking to the audience, mood lighting, informal dress, you name it).

  14. Christof Huebner says

    I maybe somewhat late to this discussion but I have been “chewing” on that ridiculous interview by the Great Pinchas Zuckerman for a few days now. Of all the artists out there to bemoan the state of classical music in our society for PZ to get on a soap-box and bloviate is pretty preposterous. What has he contributed really to the “cause”? His lack of interest and initiative as far as contemporary music is concerned is well known, his programming in Ottawa is unimaginative and his behavior certainly doesn’t make him a “role-model” to be emulated. There are a good number of artists and ensembles who fervently believe in outreach and put their money where their mouths are. Zuckerman isn’t one of them.

  15. Paul A. Alter says

    And “excitement” is exactly what concerts don’t provide any more.

    I started going to concerts in the late 1930s. In those days, orchestras were pretty hit or miss, and part of the excitement was just seeing whether the orch was going to get thru the program and, if so, in what kind of shape. The excitement was inherent.

    Now, the orchestras are so proficient that it’s all cut and dried. The whole program is cut and dried. You come in, sit down, the orchestra and audience go thru their respective rituals, the concert ends, the applause ends, the orchestra leaves the stage, and that’s that.

    Yawn, Ho Hum! Maybe if we get home in time we can catch the news and “Saturday Night Live.”

    I’m not suggesting we go back to wondering whether the orchestra can hack it. But I am STATING that we need to manufacture somethingS to replace it.

    And, note well, that excitement is more often manufactured than naturally occurring: eg, the music underscoring motion pictures, the cheerleaders at athletic events, the statistics at baseball games (IS THIS THE GAME WHERE BONDS WILL HIT HIS XXXTH HOME RUN!), the snare drum rolls when the trapeze artist prepares for her “death defying” stunt. It’s hype; it’s legitimate, but it’s hype.

    Where can the orchestra people buy some of that there hype — because they sadly need it.

    Another thing is that we don’t argue about music any more. This orch/conductor/soloist/composer/concert hall is better than that one! No, we have been conditioned to be polite.


    One way to generate some interest, maybe even excitement — have the musicians and conductor say in advance what the difficult moments are in a piece. What might *not* come off in performance? Then the audience can listen, and see how well they do. Risky, maybe — but then if they ace the difficulties, imagine the applause. And the audience learns something.

    Regarding politeness — more than 10 years ago, I was interviewing the then-publicist for the NY Philharmonic. Very often, when the Philharmonic plays at Lincoln Center, there’s a visiting orchestra playing the same night at Carnegie Hall. I asked the publicist why she thought anyone should go to the Philharmonic if, say, the Boston Symphony was playing in New York the same night.

    The question just amazed her. She’d never thought in that way. Her first answer was, ‘Well, we’re both great orchestras. We play the same repertoire.” So there wasn’t any reason to choose one over the other! Finally she came up with something — the Philharmonic’s principal players, she thought, were more virtuosic. But note that it took her a while. True to Paul’s observation, she’d never considered that there could be competition.

  16. Karen Dalley says

    I liked your comments Tim. I concur. I think people, like Z, say extreme things because they are actually in a kind of real depression about the cultural state of affairs. I know some classical artists that totally fit this description and have experienced some similar alienation myself. Alot of us who teach, see contemporary culture as a mixed bag, with many fun, novel, and cool new sights and sounds to experience. But we also often feel overwhelmed with the daily level of noise, hype, and just

    emotional overkill in so much of pop culture. As someone trained in the classics, not only music, and SENSITIZED in part, by them, I can empathize with Z. It is tempting to withdraw from something that makes you feel raw. For me teaching helps me connect with the culture, saving me from a sort of despair, and providing a way for me to stay happy and artistically healthy.

    Still, there is so much “out there” that is just numbifying, in our mass media that it can feel like a kind of cruelty. Coupled with the social pressure to just accept the norms and not make value judgements, its a small wonder that people like Z say things that aren’t helpful, to say the least.

    I often wonder why the classics are dying out and I was glad to find this conversation.

    I work with kids everyday who are learning the classics and most of them seem really hungry for deeper, more nuanced and emotionally balanced forms of art.

    Really wondering if anyone cares to respond.

    Karen, thanks for your honesty, and your ability to see many sides of this issue.

    It’s interesting — and very much worth noting — that people whose main reference is popular culture don’t have any trouble sorting out the good from the bad. They take for granted that a lot of it is going to be noisy junk, and seek out the rest. “The rest” is a very large category, much larger — if you simply count the number of artists involved — than the noisy junk. But because the good stuff mostly isn’t played on pop radio (except for college stations), and isn’t shown at movie multiplexes, people not oriented toward pop culture might never hear of it. For many of us in the arts, our experience of pop culture seems to be what we notice more or less by chance — the music, for instance, that we come across when it’s played in stores. I had one comment here from someone who quite unabashedly used songs he’d heard playing in a mall as his reference point for pop music. I can understand why he did that, but it makes about as much sense as watching Andrea Bocelli on PBS, and thinking you’ve learned about classical music.

    If you go a little further into pop culture, you’ll find a lot of people looking for the same kind of deep satisfaction the students you talk about are looking for — and finding it. One place to see this happening is the culture section of The Onion, which many of us may think of as a humor weekly. That’s not wrong — and the satire can be wickedly funny — but the culture section is fabulous, really smart and discriminating. My wife and I generally trust their movie reviews more than any others we see. I might suggest reading The Onion, as a way to see what the smart side of pop culture looks like from the inside. I don’t claim that people more used to the arts will feel at home there — there are big cultural differences between the way arts people think, and the way popular culture people think. (Though not always, and plenty of people are AC/DC, as I am.) But at least you can see how intelligent and sensitive pop culture can be.

    One small example from music — Josephine Foster, a very sensitive and unusual (not to say weird) folksinger, who recorded a CD of German lieder, sung in her own style, with guitar accompaniment, plus odd, touching electronics. It’s not a classical-music performance, as we’ve come to expect from classical singers. But it’s a beautiful and sensitive album, completely individual, very touching — and not something most of us in the arts would ever hear about. (I’m grateful to a reader of this blog, who let me know about it.) This is just one example of the kind of thing that goes on in popular culture, that people outside that world might never hear of. Of course it doesn’t have a large audience, but then neither does Schoenberg — the point here being that a lot of things classified as popular culture aren’t actually popular.

    None of what I’m saying here means that I think we should forget about the arts, and find all our artistic satisfaction in popular culture. But there’s no need to pit one against the other. They can coexist, because in many ways they’re doing the same thing.

    I’d prefer, actually, to drop “the arts” from my vocabulary — the words, I mean, not the arts activities they represent — and simply talk about “art,’ which can be found in popular culture as well as in concert halls, museums, theaters, dance companies, and volumes of poetry.

  17. Paul A. Alter says

    In this day and age, the clueless publicist that Greg cites is probably right; why go to Carnegie Hall to hear a visiting orch when the NY Phil is playing that same night? All orchs sound pretty much the same these days. The musicians are all produced by a few factories and the conductors (from the same factories) have all learned their repertoire by listening to recordings, not having had to struggle to learn them from the scores, as used to be the case.

    It’s like beer; when I was a kid in St. Louis, we had Budweiser, Alpen Brau, Griesiedick, Hyde Park, Lemp, and several others. Each had its individual taste.

    When I was a kid, we’d got to hear visiting orchestras to hear what they sounded like. And we could hear the differences. We could even listen to a radio broadcast and pretty much tell which orchestra was playing. Each had its individual character.

    Now it’s like MacDonald. You can go across the length and breadth of the USA and eat the identical meal everywhere you go. You can go across the length and breadth of the USA and hear pretty much identical concerts — same repertoire, same sound, and — this is what bugs me — sometimes the same conductor.

    They don’t stay with their orchestras anymore. They fly from town to town guest-conducting other orchestras.

    Once upon a time it was Stock/Chicago, Koussevitsky/Boston, Golschmann/St. Louis, Ormandy/Philly, Reiner/Pittsburgh, Mitroupolous/Minneapolis, Rodzinski/Cleveland, etc. They’d spend most of the season conducting “their” orchestras, and the relationship produced individualistic performances. The kind you’d go hear because they were not identical to the performances by your local conductor/orchestra.

    Well, to the best of my knowledge, only Busch is still brewing beer in St. Louis. But people are starting to search out the boutique beers. That’s a good sign.

    The irony is that the concert-music biz is a victim of its own success.

    We can’t ask people to attend concerts so they can compare performances because — all to often — there’s not that much difference.


  18. says

    To briefly pick up an idea from above, I once went to a concert by Peter Rosel in which he demonstrated how the transitions between movements sound (I need a word other than “transitions” there but can’t think of it) when you switch the inner movements of the “Hammerklavier” sonata, then said why he preferred his way, then played the piece. It was indeed illuminating, and I remember being especially attuned to those transitions and how they worked in the overall context of Rosel’s interpretation.

    One of my students at Eastman, a pianist, wanted to play the Brahms F minor sonata with the movements in reverse order. Her teacher wouldn’t let her do it, not surprisingly. But why not try it, and see how it works?

  19. says

    Nice discussion going on here. I am reminded of a lot of things.

    I think I characterize the Nazis not so much with the kind of music they liked, but the kind of music they disliked. For instance, Sigurd Rascher having a racist note nailed to his door simply because he was a saxophonist, and that instrument was associated with black jazz musicians. HIndemith’s experiments with jazz were hated by the Nazis.

    I must also mention that one of my most beloved musicians also hated jazz, and reiviled it in his writings. Bruno Walter was certainly no Nazi, but he shared their hatred for jazz . What to make of that?

    I would also direct readers to The Rest is Noise yesterday in which Alex Ross wrote the following in his preliminary piece on the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra: I’ll throw a quotation from the maverick Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer into the continuing debate: “Art within the constraints of a system is political action in favor of that system, regardless of content.

    I’m reminded of the incredibly hot performance at the Boston Globe Jazz Fest back in 1980 by the incredible Cuban jazz group Irakere. They chanted and raised their fists for Cuba, but most of them now live and make music in the US, out of reach of Fidel.

    Bravo to Alex for quoting that.

    As I’ve said, I’m going to post something here about “el sistema,” and the Bolivar orchestra, after my piece about them runs in the Wall Street Journal. But socially, culturally, and politically, they’re about as harmless as they can be, because almost all they play is standard classical music. They don’t train composers in el sistema, which seems to me quite a serious gap. So as ambassadors of Venezuela, and particularly of Hugo Chavez, they’re perfect — no content at all!

    Compare this to Cuba, where a decade ago, when I went there, the hottest musical trend was political folk music, some of which was heard in Europe as well as Cuba. This was very ticklish for the regime.

    And one more thing. Isn’t just about all classical music in America supporting the system? It certainly isn’t mounting any opposition, even implicit opposition. No wonder the recent Zogby study shows that political conservatives are especially fond of it.

  20. robert berger says

    I could not disagree

    more with Mr.Huebner’s

    rather jaundiced view

    of orchestras today.

    Like so many critics

    and fans,he is idealizing

    the past so much that he cannot appreciate per-

    formances today.

    Orchestras do not sound alike at all today.

    That notion is a myth.

    And they do not all play

    the same repertoire.

    Cerain standard works

    are still popular,but

    different conductors

    favor different living

    composers or neglkected

    ones from the past.

    Such great conductors

    as Salonen,Thomass,Neeme and Paavo Jarvi,Levine,


    Slatkin and others still

    offer really interesting

    repertoire and exciting

    performances.Some make

    it sound as though it were no longer worth

    going to concerts.

    I say it has never been more worthwhile.

  21. gary panetta says

    Hitler was a vegetarian so I guess that means all vegetarians are Nazis, right?

    Seriously, though, ethical behavior is a matter of the will — the will to resist evil impulses. Listening to great music isn’t going to help build up the self-discipline that’s often required to resist selfish, cowardly or cruel impulses. Only practice is going to do that.

    On the other hand, there is a germ of truth in what Mr. Z is saying. Totalitarian leaders may indeed like certain kinds of classical music because this music appears to fit the prevailing ideology.

    However, it takes orginal, creative spirits to make good music — and, in the long term, these original creative spirits are the very ones who are likely to be smothered in a totalitarian state.

    Shostakovich notwithstanding, isn’t clear that the Soviet Union basically wrecked its own culture (or came very close to doing so) because of the rigid adherence to dogma?#

    I think the Soviet Union wrecked its political culture Ijust look where Russia is now), and of course its economy. And the environment. But not its artistic culture. In fact, at least in literature, the repressive environment may have perversely helped. e. The dissident writers were/are a pretty fabulous bunch. The very first I ever read was “Abram Tertz,” as he called himself, though now we know his real name. (Which I can’t quite remember — Andrei Siniavsky, or something like that?) His novel, “The Trial Begins,” was really wonderful. Quite sardonic. I remember one scene where a forbidden manuscript is confiscated, and the letters on the page run away in every direction, trying to escape. And another scene where KGB agents at a party talk less and less as they get drunker and drunker, because they’ve been trained to do that, so they won’t reveal secrets.

    And then, of course, Joseph Brodsky, and Solzhenitsyn, and so many others. Seems like Soviet repression actually fostered that literary culture.

    And, in establishment music, Kabelevsky and Khachaturian weren’t so bad. Not to mention all the singers, instrumental soloists, and string quartets, and orchestras, and conductors who were terrific. One less-known part of this was the bel canto vocal tradition Russia had during the Soviet years (though of course it had started earlier). In some ways, the closed cultural environment probably helped to keep such things alive. But it’s quite an impressive surprise to hear the singers active during Stalin’s time, starting with Ivan Kozlovsky, a tenor who’s become, at least among some vocal fans, a bit of a cult.

  22. Christof Huebner says

    To Dave Irwin: you got the originators of the posts wrong. I didn’t post anything re orchestras…so, luckily I am jaundice-free….:-)

  23. Seth Rosenbloom says

    I don’t know what to say. I thought you were a crusader for classical music, someone actually interested in keeping alive what appears to be a dying art. But it has become clear after reading more of this blog that you have no interest in the revitalization of this music. You don’t care if the ship goes down, you just want people to know that you spotted the iceberg before anyone else. Any sign of health that would disprove your thesis that classical music is on the brink of oblivion is dismissed. I understand not wanting to get your hopes up, but give credit where it is due. Take for instance, El Sistema. There are legitimate concerns, no doubt, but you have to admit that it seems like a good thing. Instead of admitting that El Sistema has had some success, you revert, in a reply to one of the posts, to a ridiculous political argument. Somehow, the Venezuelan system, which is run by a left-wing, socialist governenment has something to do with conservatives liking classical music. Only in this blog could such twisted logic exist. I have more to say, more contradictions to point out, but I think I’ll go over to Alex Ross’s blog. He seems to actually like classical music.

    I don’t usually resort to the language I’m about to use, but this is about as stupid — and ignorant — a comment as anyone has ever posted here. Which won’t stop me, when I have the time, from responding politely to the 2000 words or so of questions Seth sent to me some months ago (as if he thought I had nothing better to do in the world than write lengthy essays in response to the concerns of a young college student I’d never met).

    But seriously. From time to time I run into the charge that I don’t like classical music, which I take to mean that I don’t love it in the manner that someone else wants me to love it, and particularly, I think, that I don’t speak of it with a certain reverence. (Which, by the way, I’m not suggesting that Alex Ross does. I read Alex’s blog very happily, just as Seth does.)

    But I love classical music too much — and, if I may say so, I know it far too intimately — to waste time worshipping it. Anyhow, I can’t imagine how anyone who reads this blog regularly could imagine I don’t like classical music. Would my posts about the Metropolitan Opera’s Lucia production be written by someone who doesn’t love classical music? And who doesn’t love Lucia enough to know the opera virtually by heart? Please.

    Or my posts on the Berlin Philharmonic? I could talk here, if I wanted to, about how I listened to the first movement of the Mahler Ninth twice in a row on a plane last night, flying to Indiana to speak at a symposium and to some classes at DePauw Univeristy (no doubt about how much I hate classical music). But I don’t have anything useful to say about the Mahler Ninth at the moment, apart from what I said in my Berlin Posts. I guess Seth, in his wisdom, didn’t read those.

    I have to admit that I’m stung by this charge, precisely because I love classical music so much, and because — given the way that the classical music world has evolved — I feel often like a lover who’s been shut out of his girlfriend’s house because her parents are too stuffy to let her have a life. But of course that isn’t precisely true, because (for instance) I teach at Juilliard, and participate in the classical music world in all sorts of other ways, largely behind the scenes. So I’m hardly shut out of it, in actual fact.

    And about el sistema. It’s hardly my fault if Seth didn’t understand what I would have thought is a fairly clear argument, but I’ll make my point again. It’s been established (thanks to the Zogby survey, which Alex Ross cited in his blog, though not in this connection) that political conservatives in the US like classical music more, taken as a group, than people of other political persuasions. This is hardly a surprise, given the conservative cultural position that classical music occupies, and also given the fact that the music at most classical performances comes from past centuries, and doesn’t raise burning questions about contemporary life. If you’re of my generation, and you love rock, and you’re right-wing in your politics, you have to avoid Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and certainly the new Joni Mitchell album, because they’re going to talk about current politics in a way you probably don’t like. Whereas if you go to classical concerts night after night, it’s pretty obvious that you’re not going to be bothered by such things.

    Clear enough? Cut now to Venezuela, where Chavez is indeed a left-wing socialist, and also maybe not the greatest believer in the kind of free speech we treasure here in the US. (And which we should never take for granted.) So what I was saying was simply this: That if Chavez really does turn into an unfortunately all too familiar kind of left-wing autocrat (and I say that as someone whose politics are very far to the left), then it’s very helpful to him that Venezuela’s leading musical export happens to be classical music. Dudamel can conduct to the acclaim he appears to richly deserve, all over the world, without raising a single political question that might embarrass the Chavez regime. The irony here, if there is any, is that classical music can be equally unembarrassing to tyrannies of the left and right, precisely because it doesn’t raise many current concerns. If I haven’t made myself clear by now, then I should give up whatever career I’ve had as a professional writer.

    And one of the reasons el sistema, I might add, can be so harmless to whatever autocratic instincts Chavez might have, is that it doesn’t encourage composition. This is something I’m going to write about here, as soon as my Wall Street Journal piece on the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra concerts runs. But it’s a fact — you’re not going to hear much new music coming out of this Venezuelan classical music explosion. So that makes it all the more safe, politically, no matter what your politics are.

    When that review does run, I’m sure everyone reading it will see exactly how much I hate classical music. Somehow I managed to go to five classical concerts at Carnegie Hall within a single week, and find all of them thrilling. Sarcasm intended. Sorry, Seth, but you should just read me a little more carefully.

  24. Paul A. Alter says

    I believe that Robert Berger is blaming “Mr Huebner” for remarks made by me.

    I wouldn’t call my opinion of orchestras “jaundiced.” To the contrary, I have repeatedly declared that many of the lower-ranked orchestras today consistently outplay the top-ranked orchestras of the past. The musicians come out of the music schools with a double advantage: their training has endowed them with, one, technical proficiency and, two, a familiarity with much of the standard rep.

    Conductors today come out of the music schools ready to lead concerts. Many of the olden conductors (e.g., Koussevitzky, Furtwangler) were notorious for their lack of technical skill.

    The same uniform training that provides technical proficiency also creates a uniformity of sound among orchestras. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly takes away the motivation to listen to a variety of ensembles. Why go hear the LA Phil play if it’s going to sound just like your local orchestra?

    Paul Alter

  25. Bill Brice says

    I agree with Paul that the overall homoginization of musical performance is A Bad Thing — and is at least partly a cause for why classical music has become less significant in today’s world.

    When I flip on the radio and hear some unidentified performance of a canonic work, I often immediately identify “the conservatory style” of performance… It is a strong emphasis on Avoiding Mistakes, it practices “algorithmic” phrasings (e.g., the Tabuteu approach). Often, it seems to have as its goal the re-creation of some other recording.

    Why indeed go hear the umpteenth rendition of a standard work, unless there’s a chance of experiencing something new?

  26. AC says


    i’m responding to what’s being discussed about the venezualan youth orchestra-i didn’t read the entire thread that carefully, so i hope i havent missed something…

    i’d like to share my experience with that orchestra. when i was in grad school, our symphony went to caraccas and spent a few days with that orchestra. it was an exchange program where we were told that we’d help kind of guide the kids, etc… needless to say, what we had expected was completely different from what we then heard and experienced.

    let me just first say that i am not knowledgeable nor do i care for politics personally, so i’ll refrain from commenting on that… but i don’t really believe that music’s highest power is to reform socially or politically. i’ll probably be getting flak from people about being an elitist about classical music or something, but i’m really speaking from personal experience-being someone who does enjoy different genres of music, but could only be moved in the deepest way by classical music. for example, i’ve never experienced the spiritual in another kind-not that classical music could only and always go there either… would any other kind of music help these kids? perhaps. i just personally feel music’s greatest power stands alone without agenda. when one feels it, when it’s beyond words and agendas. when social frustration and revolution, etc., is expressed through music, it’s more like venting. sure, it fuels mass emotions, etc…, but ultimately in my eye, it’s a kind of expression that’s less personal-in a way, because it’s still about the world or our condition at large. perhaps my point is that music’s power is most felt when it is not about mass emotions (even when that’s not the goal), but when it’s felt so deep within an individual that one almost can’t share it with another-except through the same language-music.

    to me that kind of power which music carries does not necessarily change who we are as moral beings. but it creates a personal sense of beauty and spirituality which ultimately does color the way we see the world and how we act. and do i think if that in some way affects us morally? yes, i do. to touch on the point about the nazis, i don’t know what i think of that. except that to have a true, pure love for something is not easy. and anyone who says “i love music” does not necessarily truly love it in that way which, i have to stubbornly say, i believe is the only way to love. whether it be music, other people, or ideas.

    with the venezuelan orchestra, i’m moved by them on two levels. first of all, they do play well. but not only that, they played with such love, such passion. perhaps it’s famous by now that it’s a common thing for them to move audience to tears, but it was my first experience of having at least half of our orchestra staring at them, with tears streaming down through most of the concert. i simply could not believe what i was experiencing. again, i’ve heard this over and over again since they became famous-that people are reminded of why they went into music in the first place once they heard them, or that it was THE most moving musical experience of their lives (domingo said that as well)-they all sound like such cliche, but it really made me feel that way.

    that concert lasted something like more than 3 hours. there was no intermission. after every single piece they played (a lot of them from memory), we’d scream our heads off for more. and they’d just keep playing, they truly jsut wanted to play. at some point, even the kids on stage were crying. i’d never before and since then gone to a concert like that. the love that they showed for the music. they were smiling, moving with the music. and it was so genuine. and the way they played too-it was honest and innocent that mostly only kids could do…

    however, the most moving thing about them was not exactly about the music. afterall, it’s a youth orchestra. and zest is hardly all of music’s beauty. what was so incredibly moving was the way the orchestra really “united” when they played. it was a social and human factor, in a way, which was shown not thru’ politics, but music. the same beauty of a chamber ensemble playing together-really together. together in how they felt the whole piece, the musical pulse. not just having the lines stacked together vertically like legos… it was that feeling times 200. (i think that was about the number of people on stage!) ican’t even describe it. it was so pure because though they had that young wanting-to-show-what-they-can-do energy, their intention was so incredibly united. it’s something that’s beyond how they played together and how they sounded. but just something in the air. it was so moving-they all wanted one thing whole-heartedly. and i think as people, especially as adults, we become so moved by that because it’s so very rare, if possible, to find that kind of innocence in us. to forget ourselves, to not be seperate entities with inevitable armor and hidden agendas…

    abreu explained his philosophy in the documentary about them, and what he said moved me to tears. i don’t remember exactly what it was, so i won’t try to quote and get it wrong here. but basically, what he said he tried to do with the kids -i heard and i felt from them. (something having to do with them being united and wanting the same thing…etc.) again, i have to say, the kind of beauty that most touched me about them was not really musical, but much more about humanity expressed through music. it created this connection, which made us all listeners felt it, made us part of it. i feel he achieved that with the kids. and to my eye, he’s a visionary to go beyond music being good for discipline, grades, blah blah blah… all that nonsense that has nothing to do with music itself. to me his vision was set based on something that’s true, that respects love. instead of wanting to gain success from music, and i would like to believe that it has a lot to do with why the system because of that.

    i believe that if one plays music in order to bring about a social revolution or whatever, or do anything in order to achieve a goal, for that matter) the nature of what they do will be changed automatically. i think that in order to do anything, one has to do it solely for the love of doing that. sometimes it changes people, sometimes it doesn’t. but when it does, it should be a “side effect”.

    i don’t know if abreu’s idea of forming this orchestra was mainly social or political. if he did, i don’t think he’d meant to simply mobilizing people. and even if he did, that’s not what he’d done in my eye. to me, he has truly given the kids an idea of what having the greater good, or something bigger than themselves is like. people turn to religion, political movements (maybe some people turned to nazism, or participated in the cultural revolution, etc…, in part to search for this.), to feel that kind of connection with the world. but nothing is more pure or beautiful than to give oneself to art. which, when at its highest level (again, only in my opinion) it goes beyond opinions, ideas. it just is.

    does it change the venezuelan society? i don’t know. but i can’t tell you how much we were all moved by the kids themselve as people. theywere so immensed in the love that they had for the music and what they did, that even as people, they just kind of radiated that. and to me, it’s so different and, uh, better than, say, the kind of mass emotion that sports fans might feel supporting their team… they do root for each other, and yet, even when they were being supportive of their friends, it was still ultimately about that love and the music-and about a unity. there’s something transcendental that they managed to show.

    giving them loans might better their lives, but i dont believe it’d have the transformative power that they’ve given themselves and the world with music.

    do i think that those kids will, or have turned out to be beautiful human beings? yes, i do, and i really hope that i am right. to me, that’s a social revolution right there. it all starts from the individual, right? it’s not the fastest answer, but i believe it’s the surest one.

    i haven’t heard or seen them since then. i really hope that they are still the same and that the fame hasn’t gotten to them-and that they haven’t become “professionals” now…

    anyway, just my two cents.

    Thanks, AC. That’s very moving. A far deeper perspective than I have.
    As I’ve said, I’m going to hold off on talking about the Venezuelan youth orchestra here, until my piece on them (and about the Berlin Philharmonic) runs in the Wall Street Journal. But they were certainly wonderful. And, at the same time, more orthodoxly classical than what you’re describing here. I hope they keep their enthusiasm — the way they give every note meaning. That was just stunning, at Carnegie Hall.

  27. AC says

    that’s what i’d thought… i’d kind of expected the orchestra to have become more “orthodoxly classical”…

    in that concert in venezuela, they played rossini, mahler, tchaikovsky, venezuelan music, and many, many more. there was a program, i think. but then when they were done, we just kept wanting more. nobody-neither the audience nor the players-wanted the night to end. so the evening just went on and on. they’d stopped, and we’d scream, so they’d play again. we laughed, we cried, we screamed. and this went on for hours.

    they did things that you wouldn’t see in a classical concert. toward the end of the night, the audience kept applauding for a very long time and wouldn’t stop. so there was some commotion on stage as to what to do-perhaps they were finally running out of music to play. so after a while, all the kids started chanting the name of a gypsy fiddler in the back of the section (who was playing with the same energy and dedication that he had in the back of the second violin section as when he played solo…) so he came out and started to play…

    they did things like making waves and even some synchronized dancing! they even had some brass players distort some “funny” notes and stand up in the william tell overture… but nothing was gadgety or cheaply done. they didn’t do it in order to engage, or to try to be different-it was just fun. a lot of fun, infact! and it was natural. but it came from a seriousness, at the same time. the kind of seriousness that a kids have-when they pour all their energy into a game or a project. they’re playing and yet they have the utmost dedication to whatever at hand to make it good…

    they played serious music as well. mahler from kids! you can imagine our shock-not having even known anything about this orchestra before we went to caracas.

    whatever music that they played, there was something so spontaneous. i’ve never heard of a classical concert where both performers and audience scream and chant and laugh and cry! and that it just went on until either they were exhausted or had run out of stuff to play… i don’t know if it’s possible to emulate that… but i’d like to know that we could learn something from that.

    but personally, i simply don’t really have an answer. all i know is that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen in a “proper” concert (that concert began as one of those!) because we all feel so uptight about decorum and whatever feeling that going to the symphony or a recital makes us feel-on both the parts of the performer and the audience. and whatever happened that night, everybody forgot about that, and the evening became a true celebration of our presence to them, and their gift to us.

    somehow there’s a part of me that’s afraid that they may not have that-at least to the same extent anymore. it’s hard to imagine that all this success wouldn’t have dampened some of that innocence, freshness, and how very badly they wanted to just play…

  28. AC says

    one more thing that i’d like to share, greg. i’ve noticed that they only have the older players now-and the orchestra seems to be a normal-sized one. that concert in caracas had a lot of the current players but they were younger back then (including the front stands in the string sections-i still recognize a lot of the faces from recent pictures of them on the net). but in the back stands, they had little kids as young as 7 or something like that. so the range of age was from around that to teenagers-but many of them were very young. i guess they can’t have such young kids touring everywhere-but it was quite a sight seeing 7 year-olds in the back playing and swaying to every note in a tchakovsky symphony and being just as involved in the mahler…

    they also had a HUGE orchestra. double the normal strings and winds… perhaps they wanted to involve everyone. but the impact of that was felt, too.

    ok, enough about this. i’ll go back to my life in the present moment now. :)

  29. says

    Youth orchestras always play with more love than professional groups, don’t you think? No surprise here.

    Mr, Heubner, please note: in this comment thread the name of the person who posts the comment follows the post, and does not precede the post. I think you confused posters. I did not comment on anything you had posted.

  30. Anonymous says

    “Seriously, though, ethical behavior is a matter of the will — the will to resist evil impulses. Listening to great music isn’t going to help build up the self-discipline that’s often required to resist selfish, cowardly or cruel impulses. Only practice is going to do that.”

    Q: How do you get to an enlightened self-interest?

    A: Practice, practice, practice!

    [sorry, couldn’t resist]