It is a common criticism today, as it was in 1341, that to look “backwards” is to look upon something old and decrepit, outdated and dilapidated. Time for us moves only forward, and so paradoxically, while our civilization grows old, it is our past that we label as aged and the day itself as eternally young.
Dave was one of my very first supporters and not only encouraged me, but backed me in the hard work of establishing FSI. He was rooting not only our home team, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but for orchestras all around the country.
It is very possible that the music academy, if it harkens to the shouts echoing all around it and proceeds in the proposed march toward reform and “progress,” will pass by the art academy as it hastens back to that crossroads where it took a wrong turn. It is very possible that, by chasing “relevance,” our conservatories, like our art schools before them, will make themselves irrelevant.
At issue, of course, is the fact that the purpose of the traditional music education is to prepare students to participate and collaborate in “the performance and analysis of European classical repertory” at its highest levels. The modern tendency is to see that emphasis as not only a slight to those who will fail to achieve those ends, but as a real offense to those who reject that purpose and the primacy of the European classical canon itself.
It’s starting to sound like a self-evident truth: there is, indeed, something very wrong with the state of higher music education in this country – that it’s not sufficient anymore for music schools to turn out graduates who are merely good or even exceptional classical musicians. That, we are assured, is not enough for an aspiring musician to get by on in the modern world.
It may be that the greatest challenge facing those who love classical music in our modern age is the one facing those who do not also love Beauty. If classical music is not about Beauty, then what is it about?
There is a natural harmony between the principles and values that describe classical music and those that define meta-luxury. Even more significantly, those principles and values resonate most deeply in our human nature, transcending all the boundaries that so worry us when we contemplate the problem of luxury.
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.
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.
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.