Here are just two examples of bothersome trends that have emerged…
2) Another silly fad that humors me is the notion that whatever comes from New York City is representative of the pinnacle of arts and culture. Speaking as a former New Yorker, this is simply a myth. In fact, I’ve discovered there is much talent in the local community, and it is too often over-looked. Frankly, as someone who has attended concert venues all over the world in major cities and local villages, I find that locally-grown vegetables and talent is usually the most nourishing. The risk is that smaller communities have an inclination to be self-conscious and provincial, and as a result over-compensate by importing “big name” talent in the hopes of feeling world-class. I would hope that most communities harbor a sophisticated audience and that they can be trusted to make a distinction between what is simply new and interesting versus what arts-administrators and curators tell them they should like. I don’t care for the recommendations of self-appointed, self-proclaimed, professional cultural-filters. I prefer my arts raw and uncooked.
An example of what I would call a success story is exemplified by a number of seasons recently etched into the noble history of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. For the first years in which James Levine was BSO Music Director (starting in 2005), he commissioned works that may have caused heartburn for a few BSO’s artistic administrators. His commissions included challenging but important works by “modernist” composers Elliott Carter, Charles Wuorinen, and Milton Babbitt, just to name a few. Levine also explored the rich repertory of 20th century works heard less often today, such as a concert version of Schoenberg’s 12-tone opera Moses und Aron. His programming was adventurous and courageous, while at the same time unabashedly challenging for audiences. Yet, his legacy with the BSO and the history that was made during Levine’s tenure is unquestionable. The music he selected wasn’t always popular, but audiences bought tickets, came to Symphony Hall, and they listened.
Another example of an artistic success story stems from the period 1971-77 when Pierre Boulez was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. It is hard to describe the excitement his presence brought to the cultural life of NYC during those years. I witnessed it firsthand. Not only did he challenge his audiences, but he angered and alienated the old-guard establishment – including the classical music critics of the NY Times (e.g. Harold C. Schoenberg). Yet, Boulez forged ahead with an intensity and conviction about his art that we seldom observe today. His impressive legacy with the NY Philharmonic is something that will live on. Time has proved him right, and any misgivings about his programming, empty seats in Philharmonic Hall, or bad concert reviews that occurred during his tenure are now but a mere footnote in history.