Here’s a comment from Eric Lin, a college student, to my “Why I’m Here” post. I’m giving it a post of its own, because I think it’s important:
There is some overlap between the theater folks and the classical music folks at the school I currently attend, and I happen to have worked and know people in both circles.
This season, student dramatic productions include works by Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, Sondheim, a Mac Wellman play from the mid-1990s, and The Front Page, a comedy from the 1920s. This is not including the bi-annual productions of Gilbert and Sullivan and Shakespeare. Sarah Kane’s controversial Blasted and Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses from 2002 both graced the main theatrical venue…
On the other hand, what has the classical music scene done? One orchestra does a composition contest each year and another chamber strings group generally does some student work, and I’m quite grateful that these opportunities exist. But beyond this?
The pattern is quite obvious. Theater types go around talking excitedly about the crazy Sarah Kane play. Sondheim productions are events. For the actor, yes, Shakespeare is great. But I certainly don’t hear many (or any) person going around talking about how Shakespeare is better than Miller or Albee. That sort of distinction just doesn’t register with them. It doesn’t make sense. Albee’s plays are great too…but for different reasons. Further, and more importantly, the plays are mostly chosen by THE STUDENTS themselves. People actively recruit teams of production staff to put together an Albee play. And people are genuinely excited to do a play/musical because they picked it.
Classical music? The new commission for the orchestra (if there is one at all) is usually treated like its spinach. The Classical music equivalents of Albees and Kanes barely register with the performers, let alone the larger community. Why? The performers don’t know about them. So how can they get excited about their music?
Whereas your average theater geek with know who Edward Albee is, chances are the violinist in the orchestra will not know who Thomas Ades or Helmut Lachenmann is. Or care.
Whereas Shakespeare and Albee are equals, Beethoven and Birtwistle are not. At least not for the practitioners. Until these attitudes change, Classical music is and will be marginalized.
When I posted the comment, I added an anecdote of my own. I know a consultant who’s worked with theater companies and orchestras. He told me once — with real perplexity — that if he’s in a theater company’s office the day after a new production premieres, everybody talks about it. Everyone debates the play, the acting, the directing, the sets, the costumes, whatever.
But when he’s in an orchestra office the day after a concert, nobody says a word. The concert just as well might not have happened.
This doesn’t mean that many people, in the audience and on the orchestra’s staff, might not have loved the concert. But in a very tangible way, classical concerts are non-events. If the people most directly involved can’t get aroused to talk about them, why would anybody else?