Filed under: Commentary
Once again, the local media has compared the art of music to football. I say once again, because I wrote a previous article on the subject: http://opuscolorado.com/2012/08/06/the-importance-of-being-musically-educated/. This time, however, is not a local radio station doing such, it is the local newspaper: The Denver Post.
In the April 7 issue of the Denver Post, there is an article entitled “New Colorado Symphony Orchestra conductor Andrew Litton is a modern maestro” by Ray Mark Rinaldi. Rinaldi says that if Denver loved classical music “the way it loves football” Andrew Litton would be the next Peyton Manning. I would say to Mr. Rinaldi, “There are individuals in Denver who do love classical music as much as football, and perhaps even more.” What a concept!
Rinaldi goes on to say that Andrew Litton, the CSO’s new Artistic Advisor and Conductor does not quite have the superstar status of the Broncos quarterback. I would inform Mr. Rinaldi that Maestro Litton is an incredibly well-known conductor, and that in the world of symphonies and symphonic music, Andrew Litton certainly does have superstar status. I agree with Mr. Rinaldi when he says Maestro Litton does not get the same kind of salary that Peyton Manning receives, but while one can make a very nice living in the arts (contrary to popular belief), I know of no conductor in the history of music who has received extra pay for being tackled by a bassoonist or a recalcitrant concertmaster. In other words, there is a great deal of difference between sports and art. It is dangerous to compare apples and oranges: just because an individual knows a lot about apples does not mean he should be writing about oranges.
It puzzles the mind when he makes the comment that the movements of Litton as he conducts “shake the long tails of his tuxedo.” What is the bearing of that on the performance? Of what importance is the state of Andrew Litton’s tails on his tuxedo?
Rinaldi discusses the Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s recent financial woes without mentioning the ineptitude of the previous orchestra management coupled with the bizarre behavior of a few board members. There is no mention in the article of the splendid and reliable record of the new management individuals. There is also no mention of the increased morale in the orchestra due to the fact that the CSO now has a conductor who it respects because of his musicianship and the fact that he respects the orchestra’s musicianship as well.
Rinaldi’s constant comparison of the CSO to football displays his cavalier attitude towards the art of music. Since he is the Editor of the Arts and Entertainment section (I have always objected to that combination, because art is art and has never been entertainment. Football is entertainment, Angry Birds is entertainment.), one wonder’s at his constant denuding of music and art of its elegance and seriousness by his use of the language. For example, he says that Litton has the potential to lead the CSO to a “winning season.”
Rinaldi seemed surprised that during rehearsals, Litton is “… measure by measure clear with demands about tempo and volume.” Why wouldn’t he be? He states that Andrew Litton was raised on classical music, as if that were in some way unusual. Would he be conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra if he had been raised on hip-hop?
Rinaldi quotes New York Times critic Allan Kozinn: “Mr. Litton’s reading had the virtues of supremely polished surfaces with raw, often savage emotions swirling just beneath them.” I think that Mr. Rinaldi misunderstood what Kozinn was saying, misinterpreting it as a criticism, when it seems he was describing the mood of the music Litton was conducting. Rinaldi follows Kozinn’s statement by saying, “Still, Litton appears eager to score once again as the leader of a U. S. operation.” Rinaldi certainly does try to explain the supposed difficulties that Litton had with the Dallas Symphony, but in describing them, it seems to me that they were the result of improper administration, and, perhaps, squabbles amongst the board members. Unfortunately, much of the article is written in such a way that it is difficult to decide precisely what Rinaldi is trying to say.
In his review of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, “With the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, fired up, burns through Mahler’s life-or-death Symphony No. 6,” dated April 13, 2013, Rinaldi calls Maestro Litton “the guy” – not even capitalized – and asserts that “He’s [Litton] not a master of control [!]…” and states that, “this conductor is more about optimism than perfection [!]…” but that he possesses a “human side that makes this piece of music right for him.” In making these amazing statements, Rinaldi has demonstrated his complete lack of understanding of what a conductor does, and his complete lack of understanding of what Litton does, specifically. I would like to assure Mr. Rinaldi that any conductor worth his salt is concerned with perfection, that he studies conducting diligently with the intent of learning control, and that control is something that Maestro Andrew Litton has clearly learned to a very high degree.
In addition, Rinaldi comments in his article about Litton’s twenty minute explanation of this symphony before the performance began. Rinaldi explains, accurately, that Litton discusses various themes and has the orchestra play short sections to demonstrate. He says in his article that people will either love or hate this twenty minute explanation, but acknowledges that it served as a “nice reminder of Mahler’s passionate thinking over the piece.” He then goes on to confess that if it were only ten minutes long instead of twenty Rinaldi would have liked it a lot more. So here is an example of an individual writing an article who is afraid of getting too much information on the topic that he is writing about. Indeed, it does not seem to register with Mr. Rinaldi that Litton’s comments might contain important tips about what to listen for during the performance, and thus, more clearly understand the music, and not be distracted by shaking tails of a tuxedo.
Filed under: Commentary
Where are our young musicians?
My conductor friend in Brazil sent this to me. Watch the young Maestro’s face.
Here is some truly exciting news from the Colorado Ballet. It is proof that the leadership of Maestro Gil Boggs and Executive Director Marie Belew Wheatley is producing wonderful results for this company. And, of course, it speaks volumes for the organization that Boggs, Wheatley, and the Board of Directors have put together. The other names that must be mentioned and I stress that I mention them in no particular order because they are all vital, are Lorita Travaglia, Sandra Brown, Maestro Adam Flatt, Maestra Catherine Sailer, and Maestra Natalia Arefieva.
Here is the press release that I received today:
“After leasing its current building for 20 years, Colorado Ballet purchased a building in the Santa Fe Arts District earlier this week. The professional Company and Academy will renovate the space at 1075 Santa Fe Drive and move sometime in 2014.
“‘Colorado Ballet has taken the next step. Our new building will provide more rehearsal space and amenities for our artistic staff and dancers which will ensure the quality of our product on the stage.’ said Gil Boggs, Colorado Ballet Artistic Director. “It was important that we continue our operations in Downtown Denver and we are thrilled to move to a location in the vibrant Santa Fe Arts District.”
“The new location will have more dance studios for the professional Company and Academy. Colorado Ballet is still finalizing details for the renovation and will announce more information in the coming days.
“‘We plan to launch our capital campaign in the next few weeks,’ said Marie Belew Wheatley, Colorado Ballet Executive Director. ‘We ended the last fiscal year in the black and had a record breaking year for The Nutcracker, so now is a great time for us to launch a campaign that will enable us to own our own space.’
“‘The new location will have more studio space for the Colorado Ballet Academy,’ said Anne O’Connor, Director of Education. ‘The increased space will allow us to offer more classes for adults and children. The new building will also have more convenient student drop off and improved parking.’
“Colorado Ballet’s current lease at 1278 Lincoln St. expires in 2014.”
“About Colorado Ballet
“Established in 1961 by Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker, Colorado Ballet is a non-profit organization celebrating 52 years of presenting world-class classical ballet and superior dance in Denver. Under the direction of Artistic Director Gil Boggs, Colorado Ballet presents approximately 50 performances annually. Colorado Ballet enhances the cultural life of Colorado through performances of the professional company, training at the Academy, and Education & Outreach programs.”
Filed under: Commentary
Today, December 18, I was sent the Facebook link below by a friend who is a supremely accomplished musician, and, as a matter of fact, was my four-hand piano partner for a number of years. It is a startling link, because it shows what genuine determination and ingenuity can do, when motivated by the love of music. The young people in this remarkable video have the support of adults and a conductor, which is often sorely lacking in the United States which is one of the richest countries in the world financially. However, occasionally this country seems totally impoverished when it comes to appreciation of the arts, and/or artistic imagination. Many of you who read my articles are true lovers of music. Tell me that when the young man begins to play the Unaccompanied Suite for Cello Nr. 1, by Johann Sebastian Bach, you do not get tears in your eyes.
Here is the link:
What follows is an article that I wrote for another website, the 555 Collective (http://www.555c.org/index.php), in September of this year. It concerns a young woman who was not allowed to play in her middle school orchestra in Farmington, New Mexico. Please read the article. Apparently, no one at the school realized they were destroying artistic drive on their flimsy pretext to refuse the student admission to the orchestra. The perceived “danger” of a purple violin was more important than the desire of a young lady to learn to play it and be in the school orchestra. The individual became less important than the collective. This kind of thing may not be prevalent throughout country, but even one occurrence is too much.
“Several newspapers around the country have recently carried a story about a schoolgirl in Farmington, New Mexico who wanted to be in her school orchestra. Her grandmother bought her a violin, but the violin was purple and, apparently, was not the traditional wood violin that school orchestras use.
“Therefore, this middle school student at Farmington’s Tibbett Middle School was told that she could not use the violin to play in the orchestra. In addition, initially, they told her that she would have to rent a school instrument since she could not use her own. But, it is my understanding from what I have read in three different newspaper reports, that they eventually told her that she could use a school violin without paying any rent whatsoever. But she liked her violin very much, and she held her ground. Due to her strong stance, she was refused admittance into the school orchestra.
“It would seem that everyone in Farmington, New Mexico, was interviewed for this article, and one of the orchestra members (another middle school student) told the Farmington Daily Times that “colored instruments tend to be of poor quality and are not suitable for a professional and classroom setting.” One wonders if this particular student is aware that sometimes, for middle school use, bass viols are made from galvanized tin and painted to look like wood. They are made that way to protect them from students who don’t know how to treat the instrument physically. I would also point out to the student that color doesn’t necessarily reflect the tone quality. And, I seriously doubt that the school instruments are above the average school standard.
“In the end, it doesn’t really matter: the school refused to let this young lady play in the orchestra using an instrument that her grandmother had given her as a gift. She was excited about receiving the gift. She made the decision not to play in the school but to join the choir instead. I, for one, do not blame her one bit. I do, however, feel a sense of loss that this girl is not in the organization that she wanted to join, and that she will not be able to use her violin in the orchestra.
“According to a newspaper article by Ryan Boetel in the Farmington Times, this young lady was accused of not being a “team player,” as if she were trying out for a football team. There always seems to be some kind of sports analogy. It was reported that the music teacher, Monica Leaming, said that the color would make the young lady stand out too much, and that everyone in the orchestra needed to be uniform and not provide distractions by being different. The Superintendent of Campus Programs, Frank Stimac, as reported in The Huffington Post, said that, “We try to the best of our ability to give the best education with the best tools possible… That’s what we were trying to do and it went south.”
“I think that it is disturbing that the school wants the students to believe that being the same is a virtue and that owning a purple violin is good cause for eliminating a student from the school orchestra. These are students who are learning to be musicians, and at this level, it does not make sense to discriminate against them for this reason.
“From my point of view, this is another error that music educators are making. The music teacher who is responsible for this orchestra did not stop to think about the publicity that would ensue from this issue. I am fully aware that the Tibbetts Middle School Orchestra is not one of the country’s major symphonies, but how many of the citizens of Farmington, New Mexico, will view this as another case of orchestral and musical elitism, even if it is only at this level? Worse yet, how many of the students will look upon it in the same way, that is, as a blot against orchestras and orchestral music? Am I carrying this too far? I don’t really think so. Orchestras all over the country are trying to figure out how to attract young people to orchestra concerts, and I truly do not think that errors such as this will go unnoticed by the middle school students from Farmington, New Mexico. What do they think about orchestras now?
“As for the tone quality of the purple violin, I doubt that is that much different than the school instruments, but more importantly, this young lady really wanted to be in the orchestra, and she is being discouraged from being a member.
“In addition, middle schoolers are going through a tough time as they grow up. It is an impressionable age when they are all trying to learn who they are, and they often dress like everyone else in their class so that they will be accepted. It does take them a while to discover that they have to be themselves, because everyone else is taken. In this case, it would seem as though the school is trying to delay that process.
“As this young lady with the purple violin grows older, and if she does play in an orchestra, she will learn to make her own decisions without being told that her violin is the wrong color, and she will learn all about the tone quality of violins and other instruments as well.
“For the moment, it seems as though she will not be in an orchestra, because, according to the reports that I have read, she has wearied of the battle and joined the school choir. I presume that Tibbetts Middle School has choir robes that are all the same, but it is certainly my hope that this young lady wears a purple ribbon in her hair.”
Filed under: Commentary
In May of this year, Digital Music News reported that concert attendance at pop and rock concerts has declined in a fairly alarming way in spite of the fact that knowledge of such concerts has increased. There were many reasons given for this decline, as many different people responded to the article on Digital Music News. The most obvious reason was the state of the economy and the fact that many people could no longer afford to spend $100-$250 per ticket for concerts. And indeed, some concerts cost more than that. One respondent bitterly complained that rock stars today didn’t want to give concerts in order to make music: they gave concerts because they wanted primarily to become rich and famous. Here are ten comments left by readers on the Digital Music News website offering their opinions as to why attendance is dwindling at rock concerts:
1.) Young people saddled with student loans, can’t find a job, no money
2.) The whole construct of a concert is that it’s an event.
3.) There’s a problem, when a concert is perceived as a “luxury”
4.) $10 beers
5.) $45 t-shirts
6.) Lip-synching, reading lyrics from a teleprompter…
7.) You nailed it …….. it’s all about the experience, not just the music.
8.) It is extremely hard for me as an artist to understand why someone who wants to make music for a living would also lip sync. I’ve always thought that it makes it more special if you are in attendance and the performer does screw up a bit, makes the night memorable for something.[!]
9.) Concert attendance is down because our at-home entertainment options are the best they’ve ever been. The “fun” delta between staying on the couch and attending a show is narrowing by the minute. To paraphrase Nathan Hubbard from his interview with Bill Simmons, “Playing Angry Birds in your underwear isn’t half-bad.”
10.) Can I add usually terrible sound quality in the larger venues too and terrible visibility for at least 2/3 of most venues.
The ten reasons which I have listed above are really quite surprising to me. I can understand the cost involved. I am surprised that only one individual didn’t want to attend because the concert is more of an event than a concert, and another individual didn’t want to attend what might be perceived as a “luxury.” It is outrageous to spend ten dollars for a beer – and some places charge more than that – but why would one go to a concert just to drink? Perhaps the most amazing reason for lack of attendance is Nr. 9 above. Granted computer and video games have a lot of music in them, but Angry Birds? Is it that easy for these potential concert goers to give up the music that they like to hear and just be indolent? This is certainly an example of music being used as entertainment, but, and I am sure that I will incur the wrath of many readers, most of pop and rock music has very little artistic value whatsoever, and so it can easily be considered entertainment. And, I dare say that this entire generation is therefore accustomed to thinking of music as entertainment rather than an art. I am speaking of the children of Generation X, for they are the first ones that have gone through grade school and high school without reaping the benefit of any kind of art and music education. They are also of a generation which does not seem to show any curiosity about art and music. Part of the problem, at least with music, is that music is everywhere: advertisements, video games, radio, TV, and, of course, elevators. We hear it all the time, and many people tune it out because they think it a source of noise. In addition, because it is so prevalent, many people hear it but they do not know how to listen to it, so that when they attend the concert of serious music, they have no idea what to make of it. Many young people today do not want to attend a concert of serious music because they are aware that they must sit still and listen. Many do not go to serious concerts because it is not an all-encompassing social event where one can carry on a conversation during the performance.
Please read the list of 10 comments again. Only two of the comments really mention the music – or its poor performance – for the reason attendance is low. While certainly not the same, the comments remind me of those made by Richard Dare. Mr. Dare was appointed CEO and Managing Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic just last year, and he also writes a blog site for the Huffington Post.
On his blog site, he lists his title with the orchestra, and also identifies himself as an entrepreneur. Three of his blogs caught my attention immediately. Their titles are: The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained; The Danger of Writing About Music; and, The Scandalous Failure of Art and Music. Judging by the titles of his blog articles, it would seem that he blames the music for the dwindling attendance at classical music concerts.
In the second paragraph of his article, entitled The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained, he does say that he loved the music that he heard at a concert (he does not name the orchestra), but he does state that a friend who attended the concert with him had to guide him, “… patiently through the obtuse and unfriendly ticketing procedure at the will call window where I felt rather like I was visiting a sort of bland theatrical version of the department of motor vehicles.” I immediately wondered if he had ever had to buy tickets at the movie theater, airline counter, ballpark, or subway. Did he have trouble there?
He also complains that he was denied the spontaneity enjoyed at other “cultural pursuits like a movie or dance or hip-hop concert” of clapping when he felt like it, or laughing when it was funny. He defines the rule for clapping as a “cloak and dagger protocol” and found himself confused and preoccupied by the imposition of restrictions of ritual behavior. Think of this: he is the CEO and Managing Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Why? It truly sounds as though he has never been to a classical music concert.
Reading his biographical statement does display an adequate record of rescuing organizations and institutions that need business guidance, and one would assume that he was somewhat knowledgeable about those organizations that he rescued. But, it is clear that he is unfamiliar with the art of music – and it is an art as I have said many times before – and one wonders if he is trying to ignore the art and treat it like a “business product” that comes off an assembly line and is neatly packaged just for his benefit. He also makes the statement that, “Beethoven, it turns out [did he just discover Beethoven?], was not a follower of tradition, and therefore audiences were not expected to keep quiet during concerts of his music.” That seems a rather odd excuse to make whatever noise one desires at a concert.
Later in the article he quotes from a book written by Joseph Horowitz, entitled, Moral Fire, wherein Horowitz apparently describes audiences “screaming” and “standing on chairs” during a concert that took place in the 1890s. That may have happened at singular concerts, but I think that Mr. Dare needs to do a little more research, for he will discover that if you read one book, it is quite easy to believe you know it all until you read the second book. That bit of wisdom is something that is usually learned as early as one’s freshman year in college.
Richard Dare goes on to say, in conclusion, “One step therefore we might take to make classical music less boring again is simply for audiences to quit being so blasted reverential.” By reverential, I assume that he is saying that the audiences don’t need to listen so carefully to great works of musical art. He continues: “The most common practices in classical musical venues today represent a contrite response to a totalitarian belief no one in America buys into anymore. To participate obediently is to act as a slave. It is counter to our culture. And it is not, I am certain, what composers would have wanted: a musical North Korea. Who but a bond servant would desire such a ghastly fate? Quickly now: Rise to your feet and applaud. The Dear Leader is coming on stage to conduct. He will guide us, ever so worshipfully through the necrocracy of composers we are obliged to forever adore.”
“… Perhaps it’s time to tell our own darling leaders to bug off and in place of their formalities simply allow ourselves to react to classical music with our hearts just as we do when we meet other forms of art. Classical music belongs to the audience – to its listeners, not the critics, and to the citizens, not the snobs.”
This is quite a statement from an individual who is the CEO and Managing Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic. It is also a little confusing, perhaps, because of the lack of proper punctuation in some of the sentences. It is also confusing when he states that the formalities of concerts keep us from reacting to classical music with our hearts. Does that mean that concert attendees should be given the freedom to stand up and applaud whenever they feel like it? Of course, if that were allowed the rest of the audience would not be able to hear the concert or watch the orchestra and conductor. Therefore attendance would dwindle because the audience would have difficulty seeing as well as hearing, and it would be similar to item number ten in the list above. However, I think it is easy to see that the comparisons that Richard Dare makes in his article, rather than based on intelligent observations, are based on statements that are designed to inflame those who read his blog. And some of those readers, because he is the CEO and Managing Director of the Brooklyn Phil, will believe that he is speaking from a position of knowledge of concert venue and music. He is not.
The single aspect about his blogs that causes dismay is that many orchestras across the country are hiring hard-core businesspeople to become the CEO or Executive Director (whatever the title might be) of the orchestra. They are usually hired by the members of the board who are responsible for raising money for the organization, and, therefore, they are businesspeople themselves – as they should be – who believe that a fellow businessman without any knowledge of music, or concern for the art of music, can turn the orchestra around financially. There is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring a business person to run an orchestra, but Richard Dare’s approach is a deluded attempt to achieve so-called relevance by reducing an art to an arid formula. I grow weary of those who try to destroy what orchestras do by postulating a false premise that serious music is for snobs, and that the lack of attendance is the fault of orchestral music. On the contrary, any work of art, whether it is sculpture or painting or music, whose implications can be grasped instantly will never enlist our imagination. Good music, art, or literature, properly presented, offers us a realm of experience beyond our routine, everyday lives. The intensity of that experience, and its intangibility can only be expressed through the quality of the art itself. That is why a rock concert will never replace a Bach cantata or a Shostakovich string quartet. It would seem, unfortunately, that this is an experience that causes fear in Mr. Richard Dare, and perhaps some young people as well.
Occasionally, it appears that young people find even conversation threatening (let alone the arts), as if they fear the outcome of a face-to-face dialogue, because they may sit on either end of the same couch and text each other. In addition, what they read, thanks to modern technology, has become less important than how they read it: how they view an article has become more important than what the article contains. They are constantly skimming what they read, rather than reading in depth. It is my sincere belief that they have learned to fear any in-depth confrontation with their own thoughts. There are many adults who have not learned to value music and art and literature: that the arts invite us to contemplate a presence beyond itself.
I am firmly convinced, based on my own experience of performing and teaching, that the accusation of elitism is the last refuge for those who deny the possibility of the depth of engagement that the arts can produce.
As I have said in several articles, art and music transcend the ordinary. They catch and involve us in an ultimate reality and create a new level of understanding which is a presence (to paraphrase the words of Anselm of Bec (1033-1109)) of “that which nothing greater can be thought.”