Honesty

Or, if you like, honesty as yet another classical music solution.

For instance, this — an excerpt from an account (on the Ion Arts blog) of, well, an exit Q&A with Christian Thielemann, the conductor. He was discussing what’s going to be his final season as music director of the Munich Philharmonic, a position he wasn’t leaving willingly:

Thielemann introduces the works he will perform…He clearly doesn’t like that part of a seasons’ presentation, which must strike him as an artificial song-and-dance. “You can all read… so I don’t really need to read the list for you, right?”…

When there is no initial show of hands at the question & answer time, Küppers seems eager to wrap it up. He is preempted by three hands that hastily shoot up. The questions are for Thielemann and include: “What’s your relationship with Mahler”? “Why do you ask that?” CT shoots back, moodily. “Uh, oh… professional curiosity?” stumbles the journalist half cowed, half defiant. “Well, I have a troubled relationship with Mahler’s music. But then you knew that, which is why you asked, no?” Touché. But what follows changes the mood in the room completely. “Mahler’s music lends itself most to those conductors” Thielemann reflects, “who know how to hold back, who are good at understatement. That doesn’t exactly accommodate my conducting style; I’ve not been terribly successful at that yet. The music of Mahler is already so full of effects, if you are tempted to add anything, you only make it worse. I admire those conductors who achieve that certain noblesse–which is what I desire to achieve, eventually. Not always to enhance something. I’m currently trying to wean myself off that in Strauss, actually…” Thielemann thus continues a solid three minutes on his fallibility as a conductor in Mahler, about trying to break habits and improving–a touching, beautifully honest moment.

At some point he enters a longer monologue about conducting, forming, shaping, educating an orchestra. On the duties a music director has and the responsibilities and powers he must have to achieve his job….He philosophizes on life in general, and conductor-orchestra relationships in particular, being roller coaster rides and not all wine and roses. There’s some bitterness creeping into his words, but the most pervasive sense is genuine sadness about a project that he leaves behind before having reached all that he wanted to. What he says rings true and it is sad, in a way, that he feels such truisms need to be pronounced. Worse, and sadder still: he’s apparently right in that they do need to be pointed out. “I don’t bear any grudges” Thielemann unconvincingly says, only to correct himself: “Well, of course there are a few people’s actions I do begrudge, but… well, never mind.”

There’s more. Read the whole thing. Give us more honesty like this, and classical music will come closer to the real world.

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Thielemann’s honesty reminds me of what I’ve said press releases should talk about — things that musicians actually feel. For my take on that see my old blog post, “How to Write a Press Release,” which I routinely assign in my courses on the future of classical music. Call this hypothetical honesty. But I think it’s a guide to what people in classical music might try to do.

For some posts on what’s wrong with conventional press releases — like most of those I currently get, sigh — go here and here.

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