This week, as riots and demonstrations ravaged parts of Baltimore, business-as-usual came to a stop for practically everyone in the city, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra’s members were left wondering, like so many of their neighbors, what we could do in the face of the upheaval and heartbreak of a city in turmoil.
The modern concert venue is designed with only two things in view: to create a space uniquely designed for a kind of laboratory listening, and to announce to the world the arrival of yet another architect of genius. The combination of inner sterility and outer megalomania essentially cuts the venue off from the life around it. The resulting hall is not part of the city but stands in opposition to it, defiant testimonial to a dying culture.
Both the LSO and London itself need and deserve a new concert hall – one that is fitting for the future of the city’s prestigious musical life and one that makes sense for the sake of its own success. It should be a beautiful and harmonious part of the face and community of London, and not a thumb in its eye and a middle finger to everyone else.
We must be prepared to show young people that the coal face from which their addictive songs have been chipped contains other, more beautiful and more interesting seams of meaning, and that behind the glittering surface lie treasures that are worth far more than the superficial dross.
It shouldn’t surprise us that orchestras are distancing themselves from the idea of luxury. We generally and perhaps rightly sense that there is something wrong with it. The most obvious reason is the uncomfortable fact that luxury represents a category that might necessarily exclude us – or indeed anybody. That, of course, does not describe classical music.
Self-criticism is a virtue, and part of what distinguishes Western civilisation from its more evident rivals. At a certain stage, however, and for no apparent reason, self-criticism gave way to repudiation.
We asked our major donors directly if we could count on their continued financial support for the downsizing plan to become a regional orchestra. The results were unanimous: nobody would give us the same amount or anything close to it for a lesser orchestra. Most wouldn’t contribute anything at all. We were built on excellence and that’s what we needed to be.
The famous French writer Alexis de Tocqueville discerned a permanent danger, which he described in these terms: the tyranny of the majority – that is to say, the danger that every public decision will be taken by the majority for the majority and disregard both the rights of minorities and the possibility of disagreement.
Music is not an occupation but a celebration of something beyond itself.
We have the impression often that truly serious music has, as it were, put its ear to the ground and heard the far-off murmur of the infinite. And that’s the kind of experience you have obviously from things like the openings of Bruckner’s symphonies and the famous opening of Beethoven’s ninth symphony in which the music is saying, “Look, something is speaking through me from far, far away – and you must put your ear to the ground just as I am doing.”