Being excellent at something no one cares about doesn’t get you very far. What was excellent yesterday doesn’t necessarily matter today. If I’m all about apples and you bring me oranges, I don’t care how good the oranges are.
So when orchestras or theatre companies say they are “excellent” what do they mean? Playing all the right notes? Performing in tune? The actors remember all their lines? These definitions of excellence are so common, there’s barely any point in mentioning them. So what makes the New York Philharmonic more excellent than the Toledo Symphony? Or the LA Philharmonic? They play the notes better? Their interpretation of the music is in some way better?
When the general level of musician technique was lower, orchestras with players who could perform technically brilliantly stood out. Over the past 30 years the level of technical excellence has improved to the point where we expect technical competence as a normal thing, so technical competence is no longer the definition of excellent. That’s average. And how many people can tell a meaningful difference?
Connoisseurs are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a great bottle of wine. But if I can’t tell the difference between a Chateau Margaux 1995 and a bottle of Two Buck Chuck, the $400+ price tag on the Margaux makes no sense. Appreciation of excellence has to be learned, experienced.
The arts can be excellent. But for some reason we seem to have difficulty articulating their excellence in terms that matter to a large audience, so we resort to easy descriptions that mean nothing to most people. And when they go and can’t discern the “excellence” they’ve been told about, how do they feel about returning?
What will I feel if I hear your Beethoven? Why should I care about your Chekhov? How will I be changed by the experience? How about just telling me what the experience will be? Excellence is an over-used term. Actually, it’s a meaningless word if you don’t define it for the situation. And if you don’t define it, how will your audience learn?