Artsjournal.com blogger Greg Sandow has posted–brilliantly, in my opinion–about James Levine’s programs for his upcoming first season as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The composers represented include Dutilleux, Ligeti, Carter, Lutoslawski, Babbitt, Harbison, Wuorinen, Birtwistle…you get the idea, right? Late eat-your-spinach modernism, an idiom so over that it can’t even be said to be in extremis anymore.
I would have trampled all over this appalling announcement, but Greg did it for me:
I’m not saying I don’t like these pieces. Some of them might be to my taste (or yours), and some might not. It’s what they represent as a group that bothers me. They’re all examples of a modernist style of composition that hasn’t been current for decades. To suddenly jump in a time machine, and present them all as important, presumably cutting-edge contemporary programming — God, it’s so out of date, so retro, so 20th century! By announcing these programs, the BSO turns its back on the current state of new music….
And then there’s the problem of accessibility. I’m not — absolutely not — saying that orchestras should play only easy pieces. But this modernist style has absolutely no audience. It doesn’t appeal to mainstream classical concertgoers. They don’t have modernist taste….
And worst of all, this modernist stuff never even appealed to the one audience it conceivably might have had, which is artists in other fields, and intellectuals. If this audience for Carter et al existed, the BSO could proudly say it was doing something for music that, admittedly, few people appreciated — but those few people were some of the most important artists and thinkers alive. But this isn’t the case. In fact, as it happened, when the minimalists came along in the late ’60s and early ’70s, they had this audience, or anyway a part of it; so did John Cage, in the ’50s and ’60s. Stockhausen, a modernist who’s now out of fashion even among other modernists, and isn’t on the BSO’s programs, once inspired musicians out on the edges of rock and jazz. But the BSO’s modernists never, as far as I know, inspired anyone….
Read the whole thing here. Then scroll upward and read Greg’s further postings on this subject. Though I don’t share his high opinion of some of the composers he prefers, I endorse virtually everything else he has to say, and I couldn’t have put it better. His attack on Levine’s ostrichian programming seems to me devastating–and definitive.