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Saturday, November 22, 2008

A moral insult

The first page of the Boston Globe reports today of a scandal at Symphony Hall. The famed Russian maestro Gennady Rozhdestvensky suddenly backed out of a four concert engagement with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The 77-year old conductor is fuming because during a break from the rehearsal on Wednesday, he and his wife, Viktoria Postnikova, noticed a promotional poster that gave the soloist - cellist Lynn Harrell - top billing.

Jeremy Eichler writing for the Boston Globe quite astutely observes...

In may ways, the incident seemed to emphasize the yawning gap between old-world notions of cultural eminence and American-style marketing strategies, which often foreground the names and images most immediately recognizable to the greatest number of people.

To make matters worse, the BSO inserted into their printed program an explanatory note - and updated their web page - indicating that the Russian conductor was "not able to conduct the program."

Later Rozhdestvensky spoke to a reporter in an emotional private interview from Brookline and said "I felt insulted by the actions of the administration. I feel not only slighted, but I suffered what is called in Russian a moral insult. I must say that I was able to conduct. And how!"

I applaud Rozhdestvensky for drawing a line in the sand and taking a deliberate stance against the marketing industrial complex. The controlling interest in arts organizations should not be run by business executives in three-piece suits with little or no interest other than to indiscriminately sell as many season subscriptions they can.

Selling tickets is a fiscal goal, not a measure of artistic success. Too many people purchase tickets and attend a concert for the wrong reason (e.g. social status). I'm tired of seeing people at the right concert for the wrong reason. A concert hall with empty seats is better than one filled with seats of empty people.

Perhaps it is time to blindfold the audience, and proactively shield them from the distractions of pretty faces, glamour, superstars, and name brands. In a perfect world, one would only need ears to judge a performance.