The Generosity of Artistic Tradition and Professionalism in the Arts

In my previous post about chamber music in Jacksonville, I made the statement that, in essence, the universities and the Jacksonville Symphony were "subsidizing"  free chamber music concerts throughout the city. To clarify, the musicians from these institutions receive no financial support from their parent organizations for these concerts.

The point is that Jacksonville is blessed with the opportunity to hear excellent performances by musicians on a level audiences would not be able to experience if it did not have two excellent music departments at the two universities, and, even more importantly, if it did not have the Symphony to supply steady employment. Someone has to provide the means to pay the bills, and if it is not the taxpayers, or benefactors, or patrons, or ticket holders, then, there is no music by professionals.

A quick glance at the web sites of the musicians and programs for concerts will inform the audience that all of the musicians, without exception, have been educated at the prime music conservatories of this country with many having advanced degrees, representing many years of study. In addition, all of the musicians have had experience playing in other orchestras, performing under conductors of every stripe and reputation.

Nearly all musicians teach. They do this not only for extra income, but because that is the tradition in the arts: to pass on to the next generation the knowledge of the past. Phillip Glass, the composer, commented that his teacher, Nadia Boulanger was the student of Fauré, who studied with a student of Beethoven. Just three degrees of separation from Beethoven! And, his example is not exceptional. My sister, a concert pianist and professor of music, studied with a student of a student of Liszt! Only two degrees of separation from a great composer and pianistic artist. So, teachers matter. And whom teachers have studied with also matters.

In violin studies as well as piano, there are even schools of playing which are identifiable in the performance styles of musicians going back many generations, such as the Russian School (Leopold Auer), the Belgium School (Ysäye), etc. This is probably true for all instrumentalists. The cognoscenti know about such stylistic details, which adds to their appreciation of artistic tradition and knowledge adding to their understanding of how music is performed.

These are some of the sacred values in the arts, thus demanding, I think, the respect of audiences for musicians who believe it is valuable and important to pass them on to the next generation. There are few professions with such generosity of spirit.

Footnote to my previous post: another important venue for free concerts which I neglected to mention is the Jacksonville Public Library Downtown
Program established by composer and fine arts librarian, Ed Lein. Check the Library web site at jaxpubliclibrary.org for upcoming dates and times.

Music Enthusiasts Alert!

Concerts, here and there; past and present

May I begin by stating that I am not a Critic, but a musical (not merely music) music enthusiast. My personal history includes the 12 year study of the violin, residence for 18 years as a member of a talented family, in a home with 3 professional musicians and teachers of violin, orchestra, band, and piano. My father, a graduate of the Leipzig Conservatory played the viola in the Gewandhaus Orchestra as a young man in the 1920's under notable conductors, such as Wilhelm Fürtwangler, Artur Nikitsch, and Bruno Walter, and as principal viola in the Jacksonville Philharmonic and the early years of the Jacksonville Symphony. My sister has performed in Europe and Asia and served on the piano music faculties of two major conservatories. And my mother was a violinist performing throughout this city from the age of 16 as a soloist and as member of three different orchestras, the W.P.A Orchestra, the Jacksonville Philharmonic, and the Jacksonville Symphony.

I am old enough to have heard in recital in Jacksonville, Jascha Heifetz, Ruggiero Ricci, Albert Spalding, and Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, Dmitri Metropolis conducting the Detroit Symphony, Charles Dutoit, the Montreal Symphony, in Philadelphia, Wolfgang Sawallisch, the Philadelphia Symphony, Christoph Eschenbach for 3 full seasons, again, Philadelphia, Kurt Masur conducting the New York Philharmonic for a full season (his last), Riccardo Muti, the Philadelphia Orchestra with Luciano Pavarotti at Carnegie Hall, Maurizio Pollini performing the complete Books I and II of Bach's Preludes and Fugues, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Itzak Perlman, in three concerts of the Beethoven Violin and Piano Sonatas at Carnegie Hall, Mistislav Rostropovich at Carnegie Hall, Rudolph Serkin performing Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Dietrich Fischer-Deskau in a Schubert Lieder concert, also at Carnegie Hall, Lang Lang's debut with the New York Philharmonic, Christian Tetzlaff, violinist, playing the iridescent Alban Berg Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and so many "greatest of the great" musicians of the 20th and 21st Century, too numerous to list.

So, those biographical facts are part of my musical environment, and I hope, entitle me to my enthusiasms and the expression, thereof.

As someone who has lived for 10 years in New York City, attended the best performances by many of the greatest artists of our time, I have come to have certain expectations from performers, along with a critical ear for those who don't practice enough, aren't exceptionally insightful, interpretively, having a "bad" night in an otherwise illustrious career, and those whose performances don't add up to their recordings. But, most of all, I am keen about the tendency of contemporary performers to "rush" through music caused by misunderstandings of historical data about tempo, dynamics, etc. The zest for supposedly "authentic" performances is a denial of what the ear and heart should tell the musician. And, so many times, metronomic readings were highly inaccurate, especially in Beethoven's time. Beethoven, in particular, has been ill-served by this rethinking of tempo markings. Even so, if performers want to do unto Beethoven this deed, they had better play it cleanly, clearly, and with feeling, because Beethoven was quite adamant about the expression of his music. Frankly, I haven't heard anyone, even the most acclaimed performers who have taken this tact of "speediness," live up to Beethoven's expectations in this latter regard. After all, we aren't trying to run after and catch the last train leaving from the station!

This post is meant to be a celebration of Chamber Music in Jacksonville, which is abundant, varied, frequent, mostly free and appearing in many different venues: The Civic Auditorium, The Cummer Museum (in the past 60 seasons; what the future promises is more problematic), The Friday Musicale, University of North Florida, Jacksonville University, the Ponte Vedra Beach Concert Hall, various churches: the St. Mark's Lutheran Church,  St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Riverside Presbyterian Church, St. Paul's-by-the-Sea, The Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, All Saint's Episcopal Church, and others, which I may have overlooked. There are also concerts at the two universities, although not always free.

For instance, last week, beginning on Monday night, some of the Faculty of Prelude Chamber Music Inc., an entity established by three members of the Jacksonville Symphony (Jeanne Majors, violinist, Chris Chappell, violinist, and Vernon Humbert, cellist) 12 years ago, performed at Fleet Landing a varied program, billed as a "String Quartet Sampler" which included complete compositions by Mozart and Beethoven, as well as excerpts from Borodin, Haydn, and Mendelssohn, ending with lighter fare and on a lighthearted note, underscoring the joy these musicians derive from playing Chamber Music in their not-so-spare time. This faculty which is only part of a much larger one teaches at the annual two week Prelude Chamber Music Camp which is designed for all ages of participation. They also bring internationally known chamber groups, such as the Enso String Quartet, the St.Lawrence String Quartet, and, in the coming year, the Dover Quartet for concerts and Master classes.

(See www.preludechambermusic.org for more information. They are a  IRS deductible 501 ( c) ( 3 )organization which offers scholarships to deserving students of chamber music.)

Then, the newly-resident Florida Chamber Music Project, also made up of
Symphony Members performed on Sunday afternoon a program which included a world premiere of a composition by Piotr Szewczyk, also a violinist in the Jacksonville Symphony, which was commissioned  by the Project. This was another outstanding work we have come to expect from Szewczyk, known for his virtuoso performances of commissions for short, solo violin pieces from composers around the world, as well as his own works, which have been performed by him at Carnegie Hall, by the Symphony and by other solo musicians and chamber groups.

Two Beethoven Quartets, an early work, Op. 18 #4, and a middle period work, Op. 74, "The Harp" followed. The group of five  women (they alternate in various pieces requiring additional personnel), violist and artistic director, Susan Pardue, Anna Genest, violinist, Annie Morris, violinist, Laurie Casseday, cellist, and Patrice Evans, violinist, obviously enjoy playing together, as their sound was well-blended and rhythmically coordinated.

(For more information, contact www.FLChamberMusic.org)

As I earlier posted (November 13) that same Sunday, I attended an extraordinary concert by the San Marco Chamber Music Society at St. Mark's Lutheran Church. This group has been performing in that venue for several years.

(They are also an IRS deductible 501 ( c ) ( 3 ) organization, and can be contacted at www.sanmarcochambermusic.org)

Music is alive and well in Jacksonville ( "well".......only if we attend and contribute to what are usually free concerts). Generally speaking,  concerts at universities and churches are being "subsidized" by the university and the Jacksonville Symphony. Concertgoers have an obligation to not only attend, but contribute to their continuance, especially, the chamber music groups, so that we can develop Jacksonville into a more enlightened, culturally sophisticated city.

Buddha, Astronomers, Habaneras and Russian mischief


Long ago. musicians invented the notion of multiculturalism when they learned how to program interesting music for the concert hall. Today, outside of a museum or an international airport, one could not hope to encounter more varied composer personalities than in the splendid concert by the San Marco Chamber Music Society which I was privileged to hear this past Sunday in a free concert at St. Mark's Lutheran Church.

Performed by several members of the Jacksonville Symphony, augmented by two faculty from Jacksonville University, the program opened with The Two-Fold Path, an original composition by local composer, the Canadian-born, Peter Fraser MacDonald, featuring Eric Olson, principle oboist and his wife, Ellen Olson, violist. This elegant, meditative piece played so sensitively by the Olsons, blended the two voices, seamlessly, leading one to hear the piece as if sung by soprano and alto. It was almost too short. I wish it could have been played again, immediately.* Commissioned by the Olsons, it was one of many compositions they have commissioned by local composers, exposing audiences to fresh ideas from within the community. The Jacksonville music establishment often doesn't give credit, where credit is due, to its creative citizens.

(*I've been told by another local composer for this group, Ed Lein, that it can indeed be heard, again, on www.instantencore.com, where they have posted past performances at  http://instantencore.com/contributor/contributor.aspx?CId=5130723)

The  Oboe Concerto #1 in E flat, by German-English composer and astronomer of Uranus discovery fame, William Herschel (1738-1822), composed in 1759, followed, with Eric Olson and a six-person ensemble. Including harpsichord continuo with Scott Watkins, and bass, played, richly, by Patrick Bilanchone, the ensemble displayed a rigorously Baroque, full-bodied sound of a much bigger ensemble. This was partly due to the acoustic of the room which has a wooden ceiling, and wooden pews, but mostly due to the experienced virtuosity of the players, all graduates and affiliates of major conservatories and university music schools.

Olson always delivers such joyful playing, regardless of the demands of the music, whether contemporary or traditional. A supreme musician, he never fails to inspire audiences with his total involvement with the music, nor, is he ever daunted by the technicalities. His oboe sound comes the closest to the human voice of any I have heard.

He shifted from the divergent energies of the first two pieces to a seductive solo with Scott Watkins, pianist, in Maurice Ravel's Piece en Forme de Habanera, underscoring, once again, his ability to give vocal qualities to the oboe. His artistry is one of the reasons why the oboe is one of my favorite instruments: its clarity and unique sound always adds the brightest note to a symphonic composition, whether melancholic or, as with Beethoven, an optimistic metaphor for Nature.

The concert ended with the formidable Piano Quintet, Op. 57, by Dmitri Shostakovich, with Scott Watkins performing as pianist, in a brilliant and balanced manner with the ensemble, made up of Chris Chappell, First Violin, Marguerite Richardson, Second Violin, Ellen Olson, Viola, and Betsy Federman, Cello. (Watkins and Richardson are married, and both members of the Jacksonville University Faculty and have performed widely, in New York and abroad.)

Chappell, especially, understood and expressed the spiritual side of Shostakovich in the muted, delicate passages in the outer movements, leading the group, overall, in a true, ensemble performance.

Watkins, a pianist of extraordinary technique and sparkle, provided exciting counter dynamic to the "back and forth" of the rhythmically difficult Scherzo, which can only be characterized as much more than a musical "joke:" more a recounting of a Russian drunken orgy! He was cheerfully accompanied by the witty, slurred passages in the cello, by Federman, who is an exceptionally expressive virtuoso, as well.

To return to the contemplative temperament of the first two movements in the final two movements, the Intermezzo and Finale, the ensemble underscored the outrageousness of the Scherzo's placement, at the same time capturing the qualities of Shostakovich's Russian spirit which ranges from the spiritually transcendental to the uncontrollable, to the morbid, ending with the inevitable philosophizing about the "meaning of it all."

Well done! San Marco Chamber Music Society! More to come in February, March, and April. Always varied programming, exceptional guests and the always indispensable, Eric and Ellen Olson, greatly appreciated by an enthusiastic, knowledgable audience. An oasis of great music-making.

You may make a tax deductible contribution to the registered 501( c )( 3 )Society at: www.sanmarcochambermusic.org

 

 

 

"Found" Art, November 7, 2013

I last wrote about "consumption media," or "Garbage" art (sic). Some further thoughts about the use of "found objects" in works of art.

It can certainly be pointed out that Picasso and Braque included cigarette wrappers, tickets to concerts, menus, wallpaper snippets, cane from chairs and other stuff from their environment in collages and paintings.

Kurt Schwitters raised the discarded to the status of precious icon, washing each piece of paper found on a sidewalk, drying and collaging into very small works of art in his "Merz" series (German, for "cast off"), as if to say that even this is precious. It was a metaphor for the neglected human being. (He was a refugee from Germany, and died in England in 1948.)

And, to this day, such artists as Anselm Kiefer have used human hair, the cast off leaded roof from a cathedral, trees, grass, hay, sand, minerals, and so many other untraditional media in his paintings and drawings.

My objection to what I call "consumption media" is that its use is a seamless connection to the pervasiveness of materialism in our culture.


Picasso and Braque used collaged elements in a formal manner, creating jarring disconnects between the "real" and abstractions of the "real."

Kiefer uses materials from nature to underscore the fragility of life, and our inextricable mineral connection to the Universe: we "are" the Universe.

These ideas are profound.

"Garbage Art" using consumption media is all about consumption. The people who are attracted to the purchase of such shallow examples are part of the complex which drives consumption. They purchase the art (sic) which celebrates their success in doing so.

Art has a higher mission.

Art challenges, comforts, inspires, entertains, and even decorates our lives, giving us moments of transcendence, deep compassion, identification with Humanity, fulfilling our deepest needs to connect with other human beings. Art makes us think. Art changes our perception of the world around us, revealing its fault lines, leaving us moral choices in its wake.

Consumption consumes. Art is the Eternal Present.

Garbage "Art" Part I

In our twenty-first Century materialistic world, the detritus of consumption has become the chosen medium for many visual artists. Employing grand schemes of repetition, with Philip Glass earnestness, "art" is made of plastic bags, styrofoam containers, bottle caps, plastic holders for beer cans, beer can tabs, old c d's, worn clothing, tires, cars, grocery carts, concrete-rebar rubble...the list goes on. Consult your weekly garbage can for possible motifs. This all began in the late 1950's and early 1960's with Pop Art and the elevation of commercial art techniques to fine art media. The added schema of endless repetition was developed in the 1970's with Minimalism.

The societal despair represented in what I call "consumption media" runs counter to the traditional definition and impulse of art: to create. Creation is a positive act. Garbage "art" is a dead end.

To enter a gallery exhibit which features garbage objects strewn about the floor and walls produces a profound depression: a sense that the End of Art, or maybe, the End of the World is at hand.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of artists who still paint, draw, cast, carve, print, photograph. There are as many possibilities for art as there are artists who create with a hopeful spirit.

This does not mean that art must be limited to "feel-good" images. Really great art is provocative. It challenges us to rethink our relation to society, to our fellow man, to the Earth.

The "obviousness" of garbage "art" is condescending to the viewer by contrast: it assumes that we don't have enough sense to have noticed the abuses of the environment and to our very souls by excessive consumption of Earth's resources. The provocateur is merely a show-off.

Classical Greek drama produced catharsis, which caused the audience to leave the theatre with a lighter heart. Even the gravest tragedy produced an opposite reaction in a member of the audience as he returned to his routine life. Great art educes a meditative process in the viewer. From this, positive action can come from the experience; thus, the transformative power of art.

Garbage "art" does not provoke transformation in the viewer, who is either turned off or depressed to the point of helplessness. Hence, when, for instance, I take my walk at the beautiful park designed by the Olmsted Bros. (who designed the New York City Central Park) and I am confronted by phony "provocative" garbage "art" in the form of plywood boxes, poorly crafted, covered with black plastic bags, or a pink yarn tutu on the Adrian Pillars sculpture of "Winged Youth rising from the chaos of war" on top of the World War I Memorial alongside the St. Johns River, I am at a loss to understand how this kind of Art Terrorism is useful as an art experience.

A librarian-composer friend of mine who, by virtue of his occupation is a genuine liberal, thinks such displays are alright for a short time as an exercise of free expression. Perhaps. But, if the action involves the desecration of a war memorial or the work of another artist, the definition of the action changes from free expression to hostile vandalism. And vandalism disturbs private and public peace. If, for instance, I should stand and shout while my friend's composition was being performed, that would be my free expression, but I would be booted out of the auditorium!

Interestingly, the first collectors who drove the art scene in New York in the 1950's and 60's were people such as a taxi-cab magnate, who gained the fame and social recognition he craved by buying out an entire exhibit of one then-unknown artist's work. This made news in the art world. This set a fashion for chasing, prematurely, young artists' works based on little or no knowledge of the tradition of art: the death of the connoisseur.

Monetary values rose: art values plunged. (And the artist who was made famous by the taxi-cab magnate's purchase? He ruefully observed that the gentleman sold the work at auction for 100 times more than he originally paid him for it. The fallacious idea that art is an investment took off with the help of auction houses. The "crash" of 1987 showed what a flawed idea that was when the art market tanked along with everything else. Artists, as well as collectors, suffered.)

Fashion has a lot to do with the prevalence of such stuff in the contemporary art scene. Fashion is driven by people with too much money to spend, too much free time coupled with too little respect for art in general. Everything moves too fast: the process of testing the endurance of artists is cast aside in favor of "the latest thing." The whole process of assigning value, other than monetary, to art breaks down. Society, in general, is the poorer for it, for the moral dilemmas of our time are not being confronted. Contemplation has been replaced with more consumption. And, more garbage.

Some further thoughts: Time in works of Art

Time is essential to the experience of works by Stephen Antonakos, a light sculptor, who died in August of this year. Antonokos, pioneered the use of neon light in art in the 1960's.

One piece, which I encountered as curator at a museum in 1969, was in neon: an outline of a glowing bluish-violet cube. Whether exhibited in a dark room or in natural light, it featured the element of time. After several minutes of being "on," it suddenly shut off for a minute, during which a yellow-orange afterglow "appeared," on the viewers' retina, in the complementary colour to the lighted neon colour. This progression of on-off-on was precisely programmed with a timer within the base of the sculpture.

Similar to music, the afterglow corresponds to overtones, which linger at the end of a piece of music for a specific time: to convey a mood or a mood change, to provide a bridge to another tone, or a bridge between separate movements, e.g., in a Sonata.

The afterglow, or the overtone contributes a mysterious, or spiritual quality to the piece. We know that Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven used silences in music to achieve suspense. Beethoven used overtones as bridges to different moods, and to different movements in his Sonatas.

Thus, in both visual art and music, time can convey an emotional quality in addition to movement.

Several modern and contemporary artists have incorporated time into their works, either through mechanical motion: Lazlo Maholy-Nagy, Yves Tinguely, or through designed construction unbalance: the mobiles of Alexander Calder and the stabiles of George Rickey, or through a combination with displacement in space: Bruce Naumann, whose neon sculptures flash on and off, in different directions, reversing meanings. Or, Naumann's videos in combination with mechanical, electrically-controlled, rotating, embalmed animals. One also thinks of Jenny Holzer's lighted word pieces which must be read in sequence for meaning. Or, Richard Long's long walks in remote areas, leaving a record of his journey with arrangements of rocks, or his photographic record of the melting impression of his body in snow. Andy Goldsworthy's interaction with the forces of nature, especially, water, which moves through space and time is also an example, of which he preserves a record through film and photograph.

In the last two examples, a deeply felt spiritual reaction is provoked by the resonances of time, nature, and atmosphere: the overtones of nature.

A final thought, here: music travels through space, as it progresses, by time and resonance and overtones. It is sound sculpture at its purest, such as that found in nature. In that way, too, it shares a quality with visual art, in the form of sculpture. Both forms of art require the audience to "perceive" the work through sensory channels, through which, modern science has shown, art and music can affect emotion, physiology, and mental health.

Time: Art and Music

Time: Music and Art                       

My sculpture (or, three-dimensional drawings) from the late 1960's through the 1980's is inspired by the idea of music, of time, itself.

Music, unlike painting, takes place in time. Paintings are read, left to right, or, right to left, without any loss of meaning. Music goes from past to future through time, in one direction, only: forward. Even in a Sonata, with its Exposition-Development-Recapitulation form (with sometimes more complex forms), the return to the original theme has some surprises in store for us before it returns "home."

However, not all visual art has the constraint of a "side-to-side," "up-down," 2-dimensional movement. (We're not considering video or performance art, which obviously track movement through time and space.) In my three-dimensional works from the late 1960's through the 1980's, visually, a progression of time similar to music takes place. Transparent panels with drawings engraved upon them, arranged into a continuum, present a transition from one plane to another, seen, simultaneously: all time is "now." When one looks from the "back" of the piece (actually, there is no front or back) to the "front," the work looks different.  Also, you can "see" the transitions (or what you would hear in music: modulations) from the sides of the works, and as you move around the work, the work keeps "changing."

Music, supposedly, might be written so that it sounded the same, beginning to end and back, but it would not be so interesting to listen to, except as a theoretical exercise, perhaps. According to Charles Rosen, in his excellent book, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, W.W. Norton & Company, 1997, Rosen implies that music is not a spacial art, because the "..order, intensity and..direction of the relations between the motifs.." is important. In a criticism of much music analysis, "..There must be a coherent interaction between the individual motif and the direction of the piece---the intensity and the proportions of its gradual unfolding." (pp. 40-41) But, to the notion that music is not spacial, I disagree. I believe that music is spacial, because time, itself, is spacial. What we would agree about is that in the space of time, the journey through the music unfolds, but not necessarily in a linear fashion.

Bach wrote fugues that inverted a theme, so that it sounded quite acceptable "upside down" as it did "right-side up." He also reversed themes and changed them in many directions, but, to my knowledge, did not "walk backward" through the music. Music seeks a resolution, and this comes through changes, as in the sonata form: from the tonic to the dominant, as it moves through time. And, then, the movement back towards the tonic to "home."

Time and The Process of Art Appreciation

There is no exactly repeated experience for the audience of any work of art, music or visual, even for the experts. The architecture remains the same in each discipline, but the perception of it will grow and change with each encounter: that is, in a successful work. There are, of course, works which just don't have enough content to hold our attention for long, especially, if it's a popular ditty, or visually, has a commercially decorative application. Then, fashion takes over, and everyone, eventually, moves on to the "next new thing" from boredom.

Art, on the other hand, does not degrade to the status of fashion, although, in the present age, it is hard to convince the art institution, e.g.,
media, galleries, up and coming curators, art schools, and, alas, many new money" collectors. The world of music composition doesn't succumb so often to this shallowness, although it can suffer the woes of overly intellectual theories in some university music departments, as well as music venues searching for a way to engage new, frequently younger, audiences. This has been referred to as, "new wave," or "cutting edge." (It's difficult to erase the image of a pair of scissors, with a question: which "side" of the "edge" matters more.) I'm reminded of the highly successful, "Next Wave" series at the Brooklyn Academy, featuring "the latest" in all the arts, or the Venice Biennale.

Having signed up, recently, for a free (!) online course on Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, emanating from Curtis Institute and taught by the young pianist, Jonathan Bis, I am rediscovering music which I have heard in concert many times over the past 30-40 years. My sister, Anne Koscielny, performed all 32 of these Sonatas in a series which she presented in several venues over a 30 year period. She says she is still learning things about them, as can be noted in recordings of her early series compared to those 20 years later.

Great art never loses its fascination. It changes as we change: as we become more perceptive based on our life experiences and greater knowledge of art. Thus, time: spacial time, time in visual art, and, music carries us on great journeys.

Beethoven, two centuries later, is, by the way, still "cutting edge."His time is our time.

                                      Beethoven, 1818, by August von Klüber

Beethoven_by_August_von_Klüber.jpg

A Beethoven for Today?

A Beethoven, possible, today?

(Prompted by the wonderful things I am learning in the online course, "Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas," offered by Curtis Institute, taught by Jonathan Bis, pianist, through Coursera.org, the following thoughts.)

The world, today, abounds with many genius minds in all disciplines. However, the climate, artistically, for a poor boy from a struggling family (poorly-paid kapellmeister, alcoholic father, over-burdened mother with several children including deaths of several others, plus, her own ill health) in a country such as ours would not be promising for young Ludwig.

Beethoven, in America, would not be eligible for food stamps, because his father, mostly, would make enough to "get by," nor would his mother be able to get medical help through Medicaid, for the same reason. And, even though there would lean times in the Beethoven household, Beethoven's younger siblings wouldn't be able to qualify for free breakfast or lunch at school. Certainly, with the cuts made in the Congress, his little sister would not be eligible for head start. But, then, she didn't live beyond the age of one, so...

Imagine, there is such a boy or girl with the natural musical genius of Beethoven in America, today: it costs a lot of money for private music lessons, ($35-50-100-150) per lesson). Then, if the youth orchestra is located at a venue distant from home, inaccessible by bus (this is country with poor mass transportation) and if the parents don't have a piano, or a car, or, if they live on a side of town far from where other young musicians in the orchestra live, and thus, can't get rides, and he or she can't afford to buy a piano, a violin, viola, bass, cello, etc., nor the music scores for study....and, maybe, he or she belongs to a minority.....just imagine.

Oh, yes, there are always patrons for special talents. But, what if Beethoven is living in a provincial southern town where classical music is considered elitist, or weird, and he never gets close enough to come to the attention of a wealthy patron. And, what if the wealthy are more interested in golf and football?

What if he never even gets to find out if he has musical talent, because his public school doesn't offer music instruction.

We can be grateful that even a young man of Beethoven's circumstances was able to come to the attention of musically-sophisticated patrons in his hometown of Bonn. And, that he made friends with royalty and aristocrats who mingled more freely with common folk in 18th century Germany than is possible in America, today. Imagine.

Yes, genius is appreciated in America. It is most appreciated, however, where materialism is the motivating factor: technological inventions (not keyboard, like Bach's), financial wizardry, political consultancy, mass entertainment, and so forth. But, our society and our government doesn't honor the arts with adequate support or budgets, nor does the President ever grace the doors of classical music concerts or art museums, nor does he have classical concerts in the White House. Do his children play musical instruments? The NEA doesn't have a chief, at present. Does anyone remember who the last one was? No one of the stature of Yo Yo Ma, or Itzak Perlman is asked to testify to Congress on behalf of the Arts these days.

The Arts are slowly fading from public consciousness, except for a 5 second news "bit" about an orchestra musicians lock-out, or strike, of which there are more and more. So, if Beethoven, somehow, managed to become study music, play viola well enough to perform in his city's orchestra (as he did when as a young boy of 11) or, conduct (as a 14 year old ) that orchestra, would there even be an orchestra for our young Beethoven to play in? Or, to perform one of his compositions?

Thank goodness, Beethoven had the support group he had, and a father, as flawed as he was, who at least exposed him to the world of music, with its intricate network of associates. He was part of a society in Germany and Austria which celebrated exceptional talents because the populace was filled with amateur aristocratic musicians, private orchestras and concerts in the castles of royalty, and a critical network of musically-educated writers to spread the word.

Do yourself a favor, today. Go listen to one of his glorious Piano Sonatas! Lots of them on YouTube by Schnabel, Schiff, and others.
(And, search for the needy, promising, music talents in your town.)

What is American Art in the 21st Century?

How does an artist achieve profundity in the current climate of Art-as-Fashion?

In describing the work of the Post-War German artist, Anselm Kiefer, a curator on the web site of the  Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art uses the following descriptive phrases as keys to understanding the motivation of this extraordinary painter: "cultural myths, metaphors, personal symbolic vocabulary, addressing controversial and even taboo issues from recent history, invokes and processes history, engages with, and tries to understand history."

The painter, himself, describes his process as " [painting ] only when I have received an apparition, a shock, when I want to transform something...  something that possesses me, and from which I have to deliver myself." He uses fugitive materials, earth materials, plant materials, paints on photographs, incorporates writing, quotations from literature, poetry, etc. into the painting.

What I don't see in the landscape of contemporary American artists is a similar engagement with our national myths and failures: the violence, the inequalities, the hubris of so-called "exceptionalism." American artists seem in their careerist quest for global recognition to have skipped over the experience of being an American artist; something with its own special qualities. They mostly seem to be striving for a Rauschenbergian engagement with multi-cultural themes, expropriating artifacts from other cultures while ignoring the very forces which underly differences in American life from that of foreign countries; those forces, which, since the first global war from 1914-1917, have influenced the cultural and economic development of the rest of the world.

It is true that we live in an interconnected world, but the insistence of American  capitalist-totalitarianism, is spreading through economic globalization. What is our "culture" which we are sending out into the world? Is it all cola, pickup trucks and Hollywood? Or, is it a pastiche of everyone else's appropriated ideas?

Yes, there are examples in contemporary art of very obvious kinds of "political" agit-prop, transitory knee-jerk reactions to current events, but the underlying darkness in the American soul is not grappled with, as Kiefer has done with his native German history. His is an art that works to exorcise that brutality which has gripped the German soul for centuries, while also celebrating the spirit which has also driven the better aspects of its cultural destiny, particularly its philosophers, musicians, poets, counter-political personalities, and mythological archetypes.

What are our American cultural myths? What metaphors can an American artist create to describe, pictorially, what, and who we are, culturally? Who are our cultural heroes? Who has inspired us? How will we engage history to tell our story? What is the collective content of our artistic vocabulary? To what do we owe our cultural existence? And, what material will we American artists use to transform this into art?

Finally, the questions, for me: is our American culture, as it is, worth sending out into the rest of the world? Can we artists, honestly, identify and transform our culture so that it changes for the better? And, influence the world to be a healthier place?

Will future American art speak to a wider audience than the cognoscenti and the "galleristi?" Will thoughtful work replace sensationalism and fashion?

What is a Masterpiece?

People speak of "presence" when confronted with masterworks of art.
It occurs in that moment, when, before taking in a breath and letting it out, we sense what the Germans call, "Erhebung," i.e., exultation, uplift.

Schopenhauer said that the authentic aesthetic experience came at the moment between the gasp of recognition and uttering the word, "Ahh!"

For me, the following are two of the greatest masterpieces in American art museums: The Crucifixion, with the Mourning Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist, ca. 1460-64, by Rogier van der Weyden, Collection: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Self-portrait with Helene Fournment and their son, ca. 1630's, by Peter Paul Rubens, Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. All of the greatest themes in human life and art are present: creativity in the shape of family, implying regeneration; physical death; and love, both carnal love and spiritual love, which transcends sacrifice and suffering.

The content of these masterpieces serves as models of what art should achieve in order to be universally significant. Not that art of our time should be made the same way, but, art of our time should hold its own against the mainstream of time and fashion. To matter.

Hungry for Great Art

Hunger for art: August 13, 2013

Living in a provincial, southernmost, cultural backwater, I hunger for a profound experience of art. The internet can bring me miniatures of great images, but, museums are stingy with the size, fearing illegal reproduction. Yet, one can photograph the work in a museum, in most cases, without restriction, except for flash. Thus, just before I moved from New York, I made a beautiful photographic series of Buddha sculptures in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fact, I went throughout the museum photographing everything which was precious to me, for the purpose which drives all collectors: to hold onto that ineffable something which great art exudes, which touches our deepest thoughts and feelings.

Those Buddhas sit, in the format of enlargements, on my mantelpiece, where I installed them after one of our recent, violent, repeated, national tragedies. I look at them every time I pass though the room. I am not a Buddhist, but the calm beauty of their emotive power keeps me from shattering into a million pieces.

And, isn't that what art is really for? To keep us alive, spiritually, against all the blows of daily existence? To counter the irrational?

Yet, here, in Jacksonville, Florida, for instance, the Cummer Museum which could bring significant art exhibitions to the city, spends its limited funds on external, cosmetic features. Art resides in the back alley, as it were, while the socialites exchange their usual banalities in the new restaurant up front. Corporate leadership reasoning, which believes in paring down the essentials, maximizing on "image" to drive numbers of "consumers," is magnetically drawn to "strategic plans" which stress building projects instead of scholarship and connoisseurship. It was not always this way.

So, my hunger, as a seriously-thinking artist, grows, with no sustenance,
nor hope of any. Just as a marriage needs the stimulation of renewed energy to keep love alive, so does an artist need the visual dialogue with great art to keep growing as an artist. Even an older, experienced artist can learn from the masters. For therein lies the realm of possibilities.

Jacksonville has none that I can see for a thinking artist.

Writing the future: Hope fulfilled

As if to underscore the point I made in the previous post about young people and their commitment to fairness and the betterment of life, this past week we witnessed The 16 year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, crying out at the United Nations, "Let us pick up our books and our pens..they are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution."

After being savagely shot in the head by Taliban militants as she went to school with other girls, she noted that, "They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed..out of that silence came thousands of voices...Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born..."

There seems to be a tipping point where an act goes so far as to have reverse consequences. While we wait for that to happen in this country with legislation for gun control, compassion for the poor, sick, elderly and unemployed, the impact of social media, the internet, the cell phone to build community is, in the hands of the young, potent tools to promote and bring about needed change. And, by which the voices such as Malala's can resonate.

The antediluvians in Congress, in the Taliban, in the other power structures of this world are not immortal, nor invincible. Hubris goes before a downfall; violence and power abuses create a temporary vacuum which is forcefully filled with positive counter-action. People will just, finally, not put up "with it." (Neither authoritarianism, nor terrorism.)

The unintimidated young are impatient.

Maybe, it's time for an internet equivalent of a peaceful "sit-in protest." The young have the technical skills to pull it off. They also know how to go into action instead of waiting for the grownups to tell them how and what to do.

Voter registration, education financing, immigration reform, aid to the helpless and less fortunate, reducing waste, recycling, organic gardening, alternative transportation, inter-cultural friendships, respect for Humanity and for our fellow Animals, elimination of war: plenty of agenda for the children born in the twenty-first century.

Hiatus

For the past two months, I have taken a brief "vacation" from worry: about our country, our environment, and our culture.

Instead, I have focused on the enthusiastic activity of young musicians, including my 13 year old grand-niece, a young violinist of promise. She came for her annual visit to participate in an intensive program of chamber music activities with Prelude Chamber Music, Inc.This year, she was the leader of her quintet and concert mistress of the advanced orchestra.

To see the musical development of my niece and other young people as they practice their skills, learn music theory, as well as all the other disciplines associated with playing their instruments reminded me, once again, that our hope resides in our children.

They are idealistic, rejecting war and violence as solutions to disagreements. My niece shows, not mere tolerance for people who are different from her, but seems not to imagine anything unusual about human variety, delighting in the cultures of other peoples.

Her brain is a sponge which absorbs science, literature, music, art in the context of our times, while maintaining optimistic, refreshing insights.
She is in love with Life, and she is determined that the planet will survive with its beautiful animals, plants, electric storms, and exotic peoples.

She is teaching me that I must not succumb to collective paranoia. She hasn't said as such, but I suspect she would find  "Big Brother" to be no less of a nincompoop then those who are afraid of "it."

She was born more than a year before the September catastrophe of 2001, and was too young to know or see any of the horrible images of that time. She noticed a book on my shelves, commemorating the World Trade Center as it was. She had heard of it, but didn't know what had happened. When we looked at the World Trade Center in its days of glory contrasted with pictures of the aftermath of the destruction, she was silent, perhaps, wondering what could have caused such an event. She has nothing, thank goodness, in her beautiful life to compare it with.

Next year, she will be confronted with even greater horrors when she studies the Holocaust. I wish she didn't have to know about any of these terrible, evil acts of violence. Her question to me was, why do people do these things to each other? She is without the ability to hate. She cannot comprehend it.

All children could be this pure in spirit if their elders were sensitive to the profound effects of media, violence in sports, hysterical popular music with its vapid lyrics, and the sensationalistic, gratuitous action sequences in contemporary film. No parent should allow his child to watch TV or see movies which are inappropriate.

My niece has grown up without exposure to what most young people see. She is a straight "A" student at a very demanding private school whose curriculum is sophisticated, well-rounded, and loving. It is a Quaker School, and as such, instills values which make good citizens of its graduates. All of its students are admitted to the major universities in this country. And they will graduate into positions of influence as adults.

Because these graduates have not only received a thoughtful education, they have also learned to think of others through projects which all must participate in every year, throughout the year. They grow , harvest, and deliver, in person,  food to the homes of poor people in their city, for instance. A special chorus sings to terminally ill patients; a homesick student from India is serenaded at her locker on her birthday. The emphasis is on noticing what other people are experiencing. They are learning empathy.

I believe her generation will be the one to reject the procrastinating excuses of ours by cleaning up the environment, righting social wrongs, restoring democracy and trust in the power of government to do good for its citizens. And, I believe they will make beautiful art and music while doing so. They will write their own stories of hope: hope fulfilled.

All will be well.

Mentors and Kindred Spirits

The two wicker letter baskets had reached a fullness that would admit no more correspondence. Heavy rains decided the choice: confront over 10 years of letters, cards and photos, sort, and discard those without written personal notes. Many would be returned to the baskets after re-reading.

Archivist, that I am, I was glad that I had kept them for so long, for they chronicled births, marriages, deaths, and especially delightful, children, as they grew to maturity, both, of relatives and friends. Diverse, and all of them, threading the warp and woof of our common humanity.

But, my rainy day reunions chronicled aging and deaths, as well. One of the most unbearably sad moments to be reminded of was the departure of my dear college Classics professor, Dr. Harry Carracci Rutledge in 2006. His ebullience, as a teacher, bearing intellectual kindred-ship, continued over the years, developing into a deep friendship which took us both to Turkey and Rome in the late 1990s. About Rome, he said, "You've never been there, and I'm the one to show it to you."

His letters still continue to amuse and enlighten me. His influence was made most acute in the realm of literature, where he excelled in drawing ties between ancient Greek and Roman myths, poems and drama, and modern themes. He showed that we were not so distant from our archetypes, removed in time, but not in behaviors.

I came to T. S.  Eliot, Eugene O'Neil, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and so many others because of his pointing the way. A superior education begins, as a possibility, in college. Only a great teacher can inspire one to continue the process. I'm still "doing my homework," because encounters with great art feeds the imagination.

We all have kindred spirits, as Emerson noted; I have been blessed with several, but I believe Harry was the most constant. For most artists, one's mentor might have been another, senior artist. I had support, beginning in childhood, from women artists, but, interestingly, it was the men, who provided the intellectual challenges, for that was the way of my generation of Southern women. It is a credit to those men that they paid attention to my inquiring mind without discounting my ability to understand: liberated men, ahead of their contemporary culture.

My first serious mentor in childhood (outside of my parents and my first grade teacher, Mrs. Spencer) was my mother's high school biology teacher and orchestra director. W. Leroy Mac Gowan, a cellist as well, who graduated from Harvard with a B. A. and a M. S in the early 1920s. He wrote letters to my sister and me full of challenging puns and codes we had to figure out in order to make sense of his writing. He punningly signed his letters, "You Run Kill Rawee." His letters were full of such delightful nonsense. As I grew into adolescence, he introduced me to Emily Dickinson's Poems and Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essays, accompanied by a letter from him I have saved within its pages since 1956. He taught me to underline passages which inspired me in one colour of pencil, and, in subsequent readings, by another colour, so that I might have the history of my developing understanding of each Essay. And, I have done so, re-reading Emerson every few years. Both men influenced my character.

Perhaps, the most important lesson "Mr. Mac" taught me was how to look at Nature, and what to look for: to see wholeness and continuity, as evidenced by the joining of tree branches as they flow one into another in groupings within the landscape. Or clouds, forming, drifting, all part of a rhythm, a kind of legato, as Mozart's music creates lyrical, mystical linkage of melody. My art would not exist as it is without these gifts of insight.

Nor, would it have embraced the often overlooked, fleeting, shimmering effervescences of life without the influence of a contemporary, fellow student in the 1960s, Jim Sitton. Without speech, he would point to the tiniest fragments of landscape (a branch of an October-coloured tree along a highway), showing me richness in the fleeting vision. He learned that from his teacher, the painter, Howard Thomas. Holding his hands to form a small, inch square frame, he introduced me to a world of enchanting visual minuets. He taught me to treasure the tiny gestures formed at the point of a very fine drawing pen. Jim's letters were works of art, in themselves, composed and drawn with fine, small, delicate, pale, pencil marks, like his exquisite drawings of bones and fish skeletons which he formed into rows of lace-like drawings, scrim-like curtains of shimmering virtuosity. He died, too young, in his mid-thirties, a victim of irrational violence from a stranger. But, I have his letters, and what he continues to tell me in those letters, are lessons in how to be an artist; of what it means to be an artist.


©Margaret Koscielny, 5/5/2013

Anarchy and vandalism, disguised as "art"

Vandalism in the Park, with George?

In my hometown is a beautiful public park along the St. Johns River, honoring the
casualties of World War I. Designed by the Olmsted Brothers, the same landscape architects who designed New York City Central Park, our park was dedicated in 1925.

The centerpiece along the river promenade is a water basin topped by a globe with figures of young men, women and children, reaching up out of the swirling chaos of war toward a winged victory figure. The Memorial is consecrated to the young men who died, as today, in a terrible war far from home, but touched, for better or worse, by American national interests. "The War to End All Wars."

Since October of 2012, there have been what can only be called acts of vandalism, although shallow thinkers might find "acceptable" these actions as "anarchist art"(sic). Because leaders of the local art community regularly exhibit weak criteria in choosing "public art," one could be forgiven for the immediate impression that perhaps these "anarchist" actions were sanctioned by the usual official city art organizations.

Apparently not, if the debris from an Easter "action" is an indicator. It was found, wrapped around the feet of the winged victory sculpture, and other parts, scattered in the water basin below. This is not the first time the Memorial has been vandalized in such a manner. Several years ago, racists epithets and vulgarities were painted on the bronze sculpture, and more recently, things hung on the winged victory figure: the desecration and vandalism of a sacred, idealistic public monument.

One searches for a motive in the anger and hatred expressed, here. Are these people protesting war? The sculpture already does that, effectively. Are they ridiculing dead or living soldiers? Do they hate beauty? Do they want to destroy the meditative contemplation of what human price we pay for war?

No, there is no reason behind the behavior. It is sheer evil, and puts the vandal on the same psychological level as warmongers and terrorists. The enduring beauty of the river, the park and the Memorial are the counterpoint to that evil.

Slow Art

Slowing Down the Process of Art: Craftsmanship, Connoisseurship and Critique

On a recent rainy day in a provincial city lacking access to great paintings and exceptional work by art masters, I turned, in desperation, to a catalogue from my personal library of the  Matisse retrospective I saw in 1993 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York .

It struck me, as I recalled his adventurous exercise of creative imagination, how a master painter sees colour, discerning the layers of different hues beneath what ordinary folk only see as the surface colour of objective reality. For Matisse apprehended the vibrations of light which reveal all the depth of colour present in light waves and pulses bombarding the surfaces of Nature. He built up the colour in each painting over several years. His ungifted, amateur imitators see the decorative design, but miss the construction of the picture. Unfortunately, there are too many amateurs who imagine that a loaded brush of a single vibrant colour will produce the same effects in a much shorter time.

Which brings me to the following problems: without knowledgable dealers who devote the entirety of their practice to searching for the best art in the community, or a critical media to analyze and discuss exhibits and artists, the amateur gets swept up into the same stream as the serious, trained professional, blurring the distinction in the mind of an uninformed public.

The frame shop which doubles as a gallery is partly responsible for the problem, which is an ethical one involving a conflict of interest. If you get your work framed at the shop, you get a show. A so-called gallery which doesn't commit to the artist, but exploits him by making money from framing his work, is a parasite, not a real dealer.

In addition, without critical attention and nurturing by a connoisseur-dealer, a serious artist is deprived of the stimulation of a knowledgable public dialogue about his/her work; the resulting dialectical vacuum leads to an artist's over-inflated ideas about how important he is in the larger scheme of things.

Most artists arrive at the great art capitals by way of the provinces, having served, in the best of scenarios, apprenticeship and gestation at the local level by exhibitions in thoughtful venues, curatorial support, media articles of a critical nature (not P.R. "hype"), as well as patronage by responsive, informed collectors: a kind of farm team tryout before the big leagues.

The rush to the "glories" of the market place, from province to the art capital with clever marketing techniques, rented agents and publicists, has usurped the integrity of the traditional process by which artists prove their worth. Serious critics, gallery dealers, museum curators, art historians and the connoisseurs who collect art in a thoughtful manner, are alarmed at the lack of quality, i.e., craftsmanship, in contemporary technical execution, the lack of depth in thinking relative to the deep forces of cultural tectonics. 

Fast oil money from the Caucasus plunked down on the latest "hot" thing, trumps the kind of steady connoisseurship which the Russian, Sergei Shchukin exercised as he collected one masterpiece after another by Matisse before the Russian Revolution of 1917 swept them up into the collection of the Hermitage. [A little note: Shchukin saw Matisse's large painting,"Dance II" in Paris, rejected it, and on the long train ride back to St. Petersburg, digested what he had seen and changed his mind, acquiring "Dance II" and "Music," both very large masterpieces; seminal works which ultimately led, many years later to the commission for the Barnes Collection mural, "Dance." Some slow train ride!]

Fashion replaces style; lazy appropriationists photographically "steal" famous images; outright thievery of fellow artists' artworks are exhibited as some kind of clever, audacious art action [and reviewed in the New York Times!]; incomprehensible garbage is represented as street "art", and it all adds up to undermine our faith in the ability for art to have meaning. The art public is confused by shallow art rhetoric, critical fragmentation shatters the art order, and all reasonable appraisal of art in the context of our contemporary world explodes. This is art terrorism.

As people are fond of saying these days, actions have consequences.
And, if an argument for the chaos, described,  says that these actions are only reflective of the larger society, I would argue that artists should be responsible people who carefully consider all the issues and transcend the immediate to shape the culture to a greater expression of our common humanity. For, if anything, that is what art is for: to affirm our worth and bind us together as humans; not tear us apart.

© Margaret Koscielny, 4/24/2013

Healing the Collective Unconscious 4/20/2013

Healing the wounds and fears of the Collective Unconscious 4/20/2013


Sometimes, it is not possible to illustrate our anguish over the state of the Collective Unconscious. Instead we look into our own surroundings for comforting images: a Buddha statue meditating bird wings; a hand-carved Chinese table; a box given by the Emperor of Japan to a late friend, artist and son of a Detroit banker who created a new banking system for Japan following the end of World War II; a rug made by Afghani refugees, fleeing from the Russian invasion in 1980; a maple table from the Depression Era; and two bowls made by the photographer, Diane Farris after September 11, 2001; two glass bowls, containing vines which grow in very limited light.

All, metaphors for healing, forgiveness, peaceful hopes, life forms, growing and reaching out for light.

We offer these images made on a rainy Saturday morning because the hand could not express the wholeness of what the eye could see, better, through a camera. The camera made distant our grief.

The future, or "going forward"

A word phrase, "going forward,"  has crept into media vocabulary, spreading from the government, outward, like a virus of obfuscation, permeating ordinary speech in what I take as a substitution for a word which has real meaning: the future. One wonders if the folks in the propaganda mill realize that this substitution suggests a lack of future, and that we may be expected to "go forward" into some kind of apocalyptic miasma, such as the artistic genius, Anselm Kiefer depicts in his gargantuan works.

I, for one, vote for the future, with all its uncertainty, with all its possibilities, creative, as well as anything human beings can conjure up to avoid the realities of Nature and what they owe to it and themselves. I believe the glaciers will melt, oceans and rivers will rise, continents will nudge each other and break apart, civilizations will be blown away, migrations from North to South, from South to North will occur, and people will be drawn to the sea and the river as their Pre-historic ancestors were. I believe that intelligent folk will find creative ways to survive and that the Neanderthal-like will continue to make the wrong choices, this time to permanent extinction. And, I believe, in the eons to come, a better human being will emerge who will live in harmony with a renewed earth which has healed itself without the help of a greatly-diminished population.

And, like the cave-painters of Lascaux and Chauvet, the rock artists of Africa, art will heal.

Bits and Pieces: The March to Mediocrity

Across America musically-illiterate members of symphony boards and professional arts management types (the parasites of the art world) have teamed up with what used to be called, "Madison Avenue," to "sell product" to their subscribers. They have the mistaken notion that "appealing to the general public" with so-called "pops" concerts and faded (2nd tier) rock'n rollers performing with classically-trained musicians will bring in "new" audiences and will improve their bottom line. Bottom fishers! Which leads us back to an earlier point: as with fishing, trolling for the "bottom-dwellers" is not sustainable. There are too many spectacles to distract those kinds of audiences audiences: sports, planetary events, weather crisis, political mayhem, crime du jour. Like recent failed economic policies, the ideology of this formula fails, too, but it's adherents on orchestra boards continue to tout it. Are they out to kill art, or are they just stupid?

Note to marketers/managers: you don't have to "sell" classical music; it sells itself. True story: a young workman clomps through a house under renovation, hears a Mozart piano concerto playing on the radio, stops dead in his tracks to listen, and asks, "What's that?" When told, not familiar with what "Mozart" is, he  whispers, with an expression of sudden illumination and emotion, "I like that."

Note to board members: Art is not a business. Consult experts who know why it is not.
Note to music-lovers: a non-profit cultural resource requires understanding and generous patrons.

Note to educators, public radio/TV stations, newspapers: expose, teach, broadcast, critique. A public forum with time and space, devoted exclusively, every day, to the arts enriches our lives and our American culture. America is not only about finance, sports, politics and Hollywood.

Note to musicians: fire the board and management and take control of your orchestra and your repertoire. Your patrons are on your side. Ask the musician-led Berlin Philharmonic how they did it.

Management, Musicians, Missions

In many cities across America, including my own, the  survival and the very idea of an orchestra is under assault by the people who have been entrusted with their development and financial sustenance: management and boards.

Orchestra musicians, have, within the current system, relinquished responsibility for repertoire, contractual obligations, and working conditions to people who are not musicians and usually have no vested interest in the orchestra other than as a means to acquire social or business advantages. (Union representation is marginalized.)
 
Symphonies, as well as museums, ballet companies, and theatre companies are non-profit organizations. And, since profit is something that carries great weight in capitalist America as an indicator of "success," the governing boards, usually made up of non-musical corporate leaders, can't wrap their heads around the amazing fact that cultural entities aren't businesses: their success lies in the quality of aesthetic experience they bring to their audiences. They can't be run like businesses. And, "making money" is not part of their mission or obligation. Art is their mission.

But we seem stuck with the corporate business formula: "lean, clean business machine." "Reduce overhead,"( i.e., personnel), increase hours, reduce salaries and benefits, hire marketers, advertise, heavily, after "re-branding" and revising the "mission statement." Appalling  thoughts, appalling language: appalling results.

For instance: a 100 piece orchestra can deliver the demanding music of Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, Shostakovich, or Ravel. A 75 piece band, less so, and a 50 piece band, not well. And yet, the latter size is the current formula for a "successful business model" of  management-boards. Thus, come reductions in repertoire: fewer performances, if at all, of larger works for orchestra and chorus. The knowledgeable members of the audience become bored with the predictable musical "chestnuts," and they don't re-subscribe. They crave more music of our time, from late 19th-21st century, to balance the "classics." They want to hear the lesser-known works; they want to be surprised. The musicians want to be inspired; refreshed by new musical challenges.

Another important factor unrecognized by boards and management is that an orchestra is made up of musicians who, through the process of many rehearsals and performances grow, organically, into a cohesive unit. The seamlessness of truly great performances depends on players who listen to one another, respect one another, and inspire each other. It is a "family," and when it has worked together for many years, gives us a sound which is unique to it, and to no other orchestra. (The Philadelphia Sound, The Berlin Sound, etc.) This takes time to develop. A great orchestra can't develop within a policy of adding temporary players here and there to perform works requiring larger forces. "Temp" workers may be useful in the business world, but it's no way to run an orchestra, i.e., make really great music.

There are so many reasons to respect the musical profession. Musicians, who are exceptionally intelligent, have advanced degrees, own expensive instruments, practice many hours a day besides rehearsals, have children in college, mortgages, attend church, and epitomize  American values of self-improvement and hard work. They make many important contributions to society. Generous, good citizens, all.

Orchestras represent the cooperative community spirit by which, it is said, American society is inspired. They bring original thinking in the form of art, something which boards, dominated by corporate conformists and shaped by marketing stratagems, seem unable to grasp. It's not the same thing as selling soap.

Keep the orchestra, fire the board.