Building Communities with Music: Opening Address at the Seaside Symposium

So, why would a research institute focused on the future of live classical music be here with you in Seaside today to talk about architecture and urbanism? The most obvious answer relates to the fact that orchestras have to have concert halls: architecture and urbanism address the questions of Where and How we build them. Those are some pretty big and important questions, and would themselves be enough to bring us together here today. But our interest in architecture and urbanism actually goes much deeper than that – and it’s what brings us specifically here and not somewhere else – like, say, New York or Atlanta.

We certainly didn’t know, when we began to study the problems of orchestras and their concert halls, that our work would lead us here. But we knew for sure that there was something wrong and that orchestras are fighting uphill because of it. And if our orchestras are struggling to keep a foothold in our communities, our communities are struggling to keep music around, too. Perhaps the fight is most visible in our schools, where music education is always either endangered or extinct. But we also see it every year in the towns across America that lose their orchestras to insolvency and neglect. Something is out of balance and all the usual answers and solutions offered to fix the problem just aren’t working.

So we began to dig deeper. We began to question not just the usual answers, but the usual questions, too. That led us to some surprising places, and we started to notice something remarkable: that the challenges facing orchestras and classical music today are not unique to them! In fact, we have a lot to learn from a lot of other fields and disciplines when we look at them in fresh new ways. Some of the lessons we find are cautionary tales, and some are important comeback stories that inspire us with hope and a real vision for the future. The stories of modern architecture and urbanism are both of these things.

If those of us in the world of classical music will look closely, we will see in the mistakes and failures of modern architecture and urban planning the reflection of our own mistakes – the ones we are still enthusiastically making every day, without any thought to the idea that they might be, in the end, mistakes. And they are significant errors because they represent our fundamental assumptions about human nature, our understanding of the ways we relate to our built and natural environments, and our attitudes towards tradition and the past. We compound our problems with every decision we base on these misunderstandings.

On the other hand, the spectacular successes of New Urbanism and the revival of classical architecture provide us with a real model of recovery. And this is perhaps the most important and deepest of lessons to be mined here: the triumph of places like Seaside teach us something very important about human nature and values, about what changes, and about what endures. And we hope that together this weekend we can all begin to hash out the place for music in our communities and how best to build them together.

But before we get to the part about Where and How we build concert halls, let’s take a moment to consider the Why. What is the “end” of the concert hall, the ultimate purpose for which it exists – the telos, if you will? As you can imagine, that’s a very important place to start. The Where and How will have to relate to the Why. And we have broken that answer into three components to present you with today.

The Telos of the Concert Hall

Firstly, the hall is a home for classical music and for the orchestra that lives there. This part is easy to understand. The concert hall is the oikos for classical music in any community. It is where the orchestra resides – where it makes its home – and the place from which it goes out to meet its neighbors. It is the physical presence of classical music that we are obliged to encounter daily, standing there, come what may, shoulder to shoulder amongst its neighbors as a member of our community. It is the place where the orchestra welcomes and entertains its guests and friends with the very best hospitality it can muster. The concert hall, in short, takes part in that cooperative effort of place-making that makes a community a “home” worth loving – that inspires in us what Roger Scruton calls oikophilia.

The concert hall also represents a physical connection to the classical tradition that calls it home. In the same way that our homes come to reflect us, our values, and our lifestyles, the concert hall should celebrate the history and the values from which the tradition and the great canon of music, constantly celebrated and performed inside it, arose. It must invite us to become familiar with, to know, to understand, to respect, and to love that tradition. And that’s more important than you might think – and certainly more important than many of today’s orchestras apparently think – because our orchestras depend not on the novelty-seekers that wander through their doors from time to time – or even in hordes if we’re lucky. Nor do they get by on the grants and funds set aside by government and civic-minded foundations to support adventurous forays in the arts. No, orchestras rely almost entirely on the donations, large and small, of the individuals in their communities who come to love them and the classical repertoire they are so highly qualified to present.

In today’s exceedingly troubled world, it can be a difficult thing to convince even those whose love of classical music is deeply rooted and unshakeable to dedicate a significant portion of their income to support their community’s orchestra. There are a myriad of other causes clamoring for their attention, many of which take direct aim at classical traditions. What happens if the concert hall itself repudiates or denounces the very thing the orchestra will then have to convince its guests to support once they’ve come inside? Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot!

So the concert hall must be a connection to the community in which it lives and a connection to the classical tradition which lives in it, but there is another important point to make about the telos of concert halls. And this one might be the most interesting of all: the concert hall is a place set apart, not unlike a church or a cathedral, for the encounter of something that transcends this world. And like it was for so many souls across so many generations who wore the paths to our cathedrals and churches and kneeled to pray inside them, the experience to be encountered inside the concert hall, if it is to be fully appreciated, must be approached in silence and with an attitude of maximum receptivity. As Sir Roger explains it,

You entered both the church and the concert hall from the world of business, laying aside your everyday concerns and preparing to be addressed by the silence. You came in an attitude of readiness, not to do something, but to receive something. In both places you were confronted with a mystery, something that happened without a real explanation, and which must be contemplated for the thing that it is. The silence is received as a preparation, a lustration, in which the audience prepares itself for an act of spiritual refreshment.1

And in the concert hall we all sit facing, as we do the altar in church, the same point in space in which, nevertheless, the thing we ultimately encounter appears not so much as a physical presence, but as something that moves inside our very souls.

This experience – the possibility of this kind of encounter, which connects us to each other in the present by connecting us to community, to each other in the past by connecting us with tradition, and to each other in the future by connecting us to that which is beyond this world – this is what we stand to lose if we get the telos wrong. But it’s also what we stand to lose if we get the architecture and the urbanism wrong. And too often we do just that. Too many orchestras have been following modern architecture and urbanism down a dead-end street. What do we mean by that? Well, let’s look at some of the mistakes of modern architecture and urbanism. Most of these mistakes will be familiar to those of you who work, live, and play in Seaside, but it has yet to dawn on the classical music world that these even are mistakes.

The Mistakes of Modern Architecture

The first is a problem of scale. The use of machines to assemble buildings has led architects and developers to dramatically over-scale them. This is true of the office buildings, shopping malls, civic plazas, and towers full of apartments and condos that mar our cities and send our suburbs sprawling every which way. It’s also true of concert halls. And often the scaling error spills over into vast concrete plazas and parking garages that become like desert wastelands that must be traversed before the concertgoer even gets to the front door of the hall. We feel like ants crawling across the pavement to this thing looming far above us. While all this is meant to communicate that the orchestra living there is both modern and impressive, it actually leaves us with the feeling that the orchestra does not live side-by-side with us as a neighbor would, but imposes itself on us as some cold, tyrannical machine, quite probably administered by Vogons. The orchestra is left to cast desperately about for some way to convince the community that it is in fact relevant to them while all day, every day, its own home is broadcasting unmistakably and emphatically that it’s not at all.

The next mistake, in which orchestras are thoroughly caught up (and not just when it comes to their concert halls), is the mythology of “progress.” In architecture the most basic manifestation of this idea is the use of synthetic materials just because they exist – and represent “progress” – to create an architecture that we think is, therefore, “of our time.” But the use of unconventional materials (or else the unconventional use of materials) creates new problems that have to be solved – often at great cost in both resources and finances. We end up, for instance, with need for expansion joints and “permeable” pavement. And the usable life of these “progressive” buildings becomes shockingly short. According to Quinlan Terry, a

recent American report on the life of steel and glass high rise buildings put their useful life at twenty-five years. They may last a little longer, but after 40 years or so they are often demolished, the materials cannot be recycled so they are dumped in a landfill site and the laborious process of reconstruction begins again at phenomenal financial and environmental cost.  So Modern construction as a means of providing a permanent home or place of work has been a failure from conception to the grave, and more seriously, it expresses a culture that has no history and no future.2

(Which of course also speaks eloquently to one of our earlier observations about the ends, or telos, of the concert hall.) The cost to maintain these “progressive halls,” to heat them and cool them, and then to tear them down and rebuild them again soars far beyond anything that should be considered responsible or acceptable – and makes the whole project incredibly and tragically wasteful. The progressive concert hall becomes another manifestation of our disposable consumer culture. And as you know, we cannot forever maintain that way of life.

If we think that technology has allowed us to circumvent the best ideas about materials and techniques handed down to us by thousands of years of craftsmen, we also think it allows us to trump localism in our building and planning. We’re no longer restricted by soil, climate, altitude, or local resources. And so what we build in the name of “progress” is not only certain to be less suited to its environment in terms of efficiency, we can also see that it begins to look the same everywhere. Faceless walls of glass, steel, and concrete wherever we go. In the vacant reflections on those enormous glass walls, we lose the particulars and the context that make a place feel like home. Architecture as a triumph of technology becomes just a display of power and reminds us only of the ever-present triumph of the global capitalist – unrooted, wasteful, and drunk on oil.

But wait, the fantastical modern concert hall is not really about any of those things. The building materials are just the medium. The architecture of the concert hall is about artistic expression! Does that sound familiar?

Misunderstanding architecture as primarily some kind of artistic/ideological expression rather than as an art of building well is another mistake. This is the affliction of many “starchitects” and the planners who employ them. And it’s the same kind of mistake that plagues modern art and modern musical composition as well: it’s not art as skill but art as concept. And it ends up being art that has to be explained in order for us to even recognize it as art. I’m going to give you an example here, which you might know because it’s quite famous – and, honestly, because it’s so absurd that once you’ve heard it, you probably won’t forget it:

An Oak Tree is a work of art created by Michael Craig-Martin in 1973, and is now exhibited with the accompanying text, originally issued as a leaflet. The text is in red print on white; the object is a French Duralex glass, which contains water to a level stipulated by the artist and which is located on a glass shelf, whose ideal height is 253 centimeters with matte grey-painted brackets screwed to the wall. The text is behind glass and is fixed to the wall with four bolts. Craig-Martin has stressed that the components should maintain a pristine appearance and in the event of deterioration, the brackets should be re-sprayed and the glass and shelf even replaced. The text contains a semiotic argument, in the form of questions and answers, which explain that it is not a glass of water, but “a full-grown oak tree,” created “without altering the accidents of the glass of water.” The text defines accidents as “The colour, feel, weight, size…”. The text includes the statement “It’s not a symbol. I have changed the physical substance of the glass of water into that of an oak tree. I didn’t change its appearance. The actual oak tree is physically present, but in the form of a glass of water.” and “It would no longer be accurate to call it a glass of water. One could call it anything one wished but that would not alter the fact that it is an oak tree.”3

Really, the gimmick isn’t even clever. But, even if we grant that art as concept or gimmick might be fine for things like painting or sculptures – or whatever you’d call “An Oak Tree” – it presents us with some serious problems in the case of buildings, which must actually be used and lived in. It’s not enough for us just to call a thing a roof or a door or a lintel, it must actually be one – it must perform all the functions assigned to it as completely and perfectly as possible. Similarly, if we had to rely on this thing we’re told to call “An Oak Tree” to be an oak tree, to perform any of the functions of an oak tree – say, for shade, a windbreak, or a producer of acorns – we’d be in big trouble.

The very first function of a door, for example, is to be recognizable as one. The door is the thing we aim for on the face of any building, isn’t it? If we can’t easily find or identify the door, the rest of the building might as well be rubbish. A concert hall, too, at the very least has to be recognizable as one. We have to know where to go to find the symphony concert and then how to get into the hall once we’ve identified it. So if you build a gimmick for a concert hall and it looks for all intents and purposes like a parking deck or a giant can-opener, you’re going to have to put some effort into getting people inside – maybe you’ll have to put up one of those signs like the “Oak Tree” fellow did to explain the joke. And let’s hope that everyone appreciates the joke, because we all know the alternative is to acknowledge that one is “uncultured.” A hall like that is an ultimatum and not a good starting point for a relationship with the members of a community who actually make it a point to seek out culture.

And yet this is exactly what many orchestras are doing for the sake of architecture as “artistic expression” – and it’s compounded by the misapplication of the idea of “progress” to art. But that is a subject worthy of its own entire conference, so I’ll leave it there to be brought up another day. And I will point out only that, ultimately, this mistake is grounded in the original problem of misunderstanding the telos of the concert hall. It is not to be an artistic interpretation of a concert hall, it is to be a concert hall – which is to say it is to perform all the functions of home for the orchestra that we pointed out earlier.

The Mistakes of Modern Urbanism

How about the mistakes of modern urbanism? Again, probably something very familiar to those of you who have invested in the correction, a fine example of which we are fortunate enough to be standing in today. But let’s point these mistakes out for the sake of the classical music world who probably hasn’t even thought about them, even though the city is the orchestra’s natural habitat.

First we might point out the habit of growing by building out and up rather than by the replication of a small and entire unit – like the fractal way in which Nature grows. Quite unnaturally, our towers get higher and our cities swell in concentric circles. A new beltway encircles the old beltway and swallows up the urban sprawl between in an ever-widening blob. Then the center of the circle, the bull’s eye, growing ever more distant from its life-supply, starts to die out and becomes an empty jumble of desiccated bones leaning against the sky – those skyscrapers, or vertical cul-de-sacs as Léon Krier describes them, are abandoned for the sad strip-malls and Prozac-inducing business parks of the sprawling suburbs. I paint a depressing picture, but we all know it well.

Orchestras are making this mistake, too. Their concert halls are turning into musical mega-complexes, gobbling up multiple halls, recital spaces, and music schools into one over-scaled “machine for music,” instead of distributing smaller halls and venues and schools throughout many smaller urban centers and neighborhoods. Often they are built in the center of the city before it is abandoned, or else put there after it has emptied out in a last ditch effort to bring everyone back to the gutted downtown.

An increasingly popular idea is to put the hall in a designated Arts and Culture District. This should remind us of another great mistake of modern urban planning: the single use district or zone. Like the shopping district, the financial district, the business district, or even the wallowing housing tracts of our suburbs, the arts and culture district creates another kind of cul-de-sac. People come into them only if they’ve already made plans to consume some culture – or else entirely by accident, in which case they will probably just want to get themselves turned around and back out again. Which means that they do not encounter the concert hall as a part of the normal course of their everyday life and movements. And yet music should be a part of our normal, everyday lives. So we’re doing something wrong.

The concert hall should be there in our midst to remind us of this great thing that is always in our presence, always part of our history, our culture, and our being, and always inviting us in to partake of it. If the hall can’t do that from the corner we’ve assigned it to, then our orchestras must constantly be elbowing their way into our attentions elsewhere in our busy world. And it’s a hard task for them to remind us about the importance of music in our lives from the fringes of it. It’s a hard task to get us to focus on what’s going on in our peripheral vision and we might argue that this is a big part of the reason that music is disappearing from so many of our schools and communities. It became invisible long before it disappeared.

The Good News

Well, so far it’s been all bad news. But the real reason we’re here in Seaside with you this weekend is to talk about the good news! The good news is that architecture and urbanism are righting themselves. And both the revival of classical architecture and the tremendous successes of New Urbanism provide a model of recovery for classical music. We’re here to tell them about it.

It’s enormously encouraging, even if it’s not all that surprising, to see the impressive professional achievements and architectural accomplishments – and, indeed, the growing number – of classical architects both here and abroad. I’m thinking of men like Quinlan Terry, Allan Greenberg, Robert Adam, and John Simpson. Organizations like the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, which started out as “a small group of determined activists in New York”4 not 50 years ago, are popping up all over the country now – and thriving with actively growing and enthusiastic memberships. Architects, students, and “lay” people alike are lining up to learn how to draw the orders. Imagine that.

Three decades ago Notre Dame University began the difficult work of rebuilding an architectural education program on the principles and disciplines of classicism. That work is paying off handsomely now as their graduates are some of the most sought-after young architects to enter the field each year. And other schools are now following in the path Notre Dame bravely forged: the College of Charleston, South Carolina; the University of Colorado at Denver, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC are all becoming centers for classicism and tradition, eagerly pursued by a hungry new crop of students every year. Indeed, we are seeing in classical architecture something very like the current renaissance in realist artwork that has aspiring artists flocking to ateliers to study – painstakingly and for many years – under the few painters and sculptors who kept the traditions, skills, and techniques of the masters alive while the rest of the world went cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

It’s perhaps our greatest joy at the Future Symphony Institute, however, to see the triumph of the work of David M. Schwarz and his team of architects, who are building – for the orchestras who have figured a thing or two out already – some of the most beautiful and astonishingly appropriate concert halls that we’ve seen in more than a century. From his renovation and expansion of the Cleveland Orchestra’s famed Severance Hall to the new buildings he designed for Las Vegas; Carmel, Indiana; Fort Worth; Charleston; and Nashville, Schwarz’s concert halls are masterpieces and fully worthy of the priceless tradition, represented by the canon of classical music, which will call these halls “home.” We’re honored to have Gregory Hoss, president of that team of architects, here with us this weekend; and I encourage you to check out these halls if you’re not familiar with them yet. We also have with us Cliff Gayley, of William Rawn and Associates, who did the remarkable and intimate Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood and Green Music Center in Sonoma, not to mention Strathmore Music Center, where I am lucky to perform every week.

And urbanism, too, is showing signs of recovery. But it’s clearly New Urbanism that is pointing the way. This is of course the reason why we are so excited to be here in Seaside and nowhere else this weekend. I don’t know if even the visionary founder of Seaside, Robert Davis, or his team of planners and architects really knew just how successful their experiment was going to be. I have to wonder if maybe we’re fortunate that they did not because there was no greed in their motivations – and that fact has helped to save Seaside from the sins that ravage our cities and suburbs. No, Seaside was born of an honest and modest accounting of human nature and the habits of happy human settlement. And it has become a beacon and a model for towns far and wide. Communities inspired by it and founded on New Urbanist principles are springing up everywhere from the Kentlands in Maryland – not far from where I live – to Poundbury in England and Cayalá in Guatemala. And they are all, to the extent that they understand and embody the philosophy of New Urbanism, wildly successful.

New Urbanism is making its way into the often stagnant backwaters of higher education, too, with the University of Miami and Andrews University taking the lead. And while the Congress for New Urbanism is the most visible and important of the organizations formed to promote its principles, we are seeing a vigorous blooming of grassroots efforts – by groups such as the Alliance for a Human-Scale City in New York – to save our towns, neighborhoods, and cities from the devastating effects of poor planning and bad architecture. In the professional arena, New Urbanist design firms and developers are cropping up all over the nation.

And that’s because New Urbanism has given everyone – from citizens to developers to city officials – not only a reason to believe they can build something better, but also the blueprints with which to build it. It is waking us up to the memory that our cities were not always blighted canyons and our neighborhoods were once abuzz with authentic interactions between neighbors. People are investing – more importantly than money – love in their communities. It is a sign of that oikophilia I mentioned at the outset when people insist that their community be a place that is lovable: that it be human in scale, local in context, and neighborly in manner.

Classical music must find its place in this kind of love – love of home, of community, of neighbor, and of the culture that binds all these things together. In all but the most exceptional cases, our orchestras won’t survive if they don’t get this part right. They depend on love and a connection to their communities – a recognition of their relevance and of their membership in the project of placemaking – to survive. What’s more, they depend on all the small towns across our nation – and even around the world – to provide kids with the opportunity to join the marching band and the youth orchestra, to learn to play the recorder in elementary school and the clarinet in high school, to sneak into a concert hall and be blown away by Beethoven’s symphonies and Mozart’s operas (like I did as a kid) – in short, the opportunity to become our next generation of orchestral musicians who’ll go on to play some of the most astounding music ever written in some of the greatest halls ever built.

The classical music world needs to learn the lessons that Seaside has to offer – and not simply those about walkability and mixed-use, but the deeper lessons behind those, too. Because the greatest success of Seaside is what it gets right about human nature, about our relationships to each other and our built and natural environments, and about our enduring values. I believe wholeheartedly that in every community there is a place for music. And that music is a part of placemaking.


1 Scruton, Sir Roger. “Tonality Now: Finding a Groove.” Future Symphony Institute. Accessed 7 March 2018.

2 Terry, Quinlan. “Why Traditional Architecture Matters to our Culture.” Traditional Britain Group. Accessed 7 March 2018.

3 Wikipedia entry: “An Oak Tree.” Accessed 24 February 2018.

4 The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art: About. Accessed 2 March 2018.


Dhiru Thadani and his team insist that this Chicken Biryani they made for us on Saturday night is also, in fact, an Oak Tree: the best oak tree we ever ate.


Slow Food / Slow Music: Exploring a New Old Idea in a Full-Length Documentary

We need a renaissance in food; We must begin to think about the value of our food, not simply its price.

Our cultural heritage is at risk. The knowledge and traditions behind our food are irreplaceable; if we lose them, they won’t come back.

—Carlo Petrini, Founder of Slow Food International

The Concept

A lively, visual exploration of the principles and philosophies that inform our modern Farm-to-Table and Slow Food movements, focusing on what they reveal to us about our human needs and desires, why those revelations are relevant to symphony orchestras, and ultimately what the success of these movements can teach the world of classical music.

The Need for this Film

The prescriptions most loudly recommended for America’s challenged orchestras today stress complicity with the modern realities of speed, technology, and globalization. Shorter, quicker concerts geared towards shorter, quicker attention spans; the sensual and intellectual stimulation of novelty and fashion; harnessing technological innovation to prove that we can keep up; focusing our attention on bigger halls, bigger stars, and wider distribution, emphasizing the global and universal rather than the local and the particular – these are answers we hear over and over.

But what if they’re wrong? What if their most basic assumptions about human nature and our most pressing needs in this modern age are fundamentally wrong?

Two long-time friends, trumpeter Andrew Balio and award-winning chef Spike Gjerde, found themselves sharing the same vision, one in music and the other in cooking. They wonder if they’ve uncovered something true about people, their communities, and how music and food have lost their way through large-scale industrialization and commercialism.

The grassroots movement of “Slow Food” has brought together people who want their lives to slow down, to re-establish a healthy relationship with food, the people who grow it, and enjoyment of eating together. Many will recall how small farmers and citizens spoke up when the EU was established and regional farming traditions were threatened by globalization and mass production. Here in America we’ve seen the rise of the Farm-to-Table movement, the rebirth of the boutique farm and the craftsman, and the growing appreciation for what is small, slow, and local. Perhaps most importantly, we’re seeing a growing conviction that value is more important than price.

If this movement has something important to teach us about human nature and our relationship to the modern age, to artistry and craftsmanship, to our communities, to tradition, and to what is inherently slow even if it’s also more costly, then we need to seriously reconsider the popular recommendations for fixing America’s orchestras.

The Need for Your Help

Much of the filming has already been done. To complete it and to do the substantial task of editing and polishing a finished product, we anticipate having to raise $30,000. That’s not a whole lot by today’s standards, but it can make a lasting and compelling contribution toward the future of our symphony orchestras. Everything depends on their getting these answers correct.

Please consider making a contribution, and know that you have our heartfelt gratitude for any amount is helpful, however small:

The Cast

Spike Gjerde is a chef, restaurateur, food entrepreneur, and local food advocate who lives and works in Baltimore. Through his work, he is committed to creating meaningful and measurable change within his local food system — to wholly supporting thoughtful food production in the Mid-Atlantic and to help ensure a future for its farmers and watermen. Spike leads a team of nearly 300 across six locations in Baltimore including Woodberry Kitchen, Artifact Coffee, Bird in Hand, Parts & Labor, Grand Cru, and his canning operation, Woodberry Pantry. In 2015, Spike became the first and only Baltimore chef to bring home the James Beard Foundation’s award for “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic.” His pioneering work has resulted in widespread media attention, including features in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, bon appétit, Esquire, Condé Nast Traveler, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, and The Washington Post. Spike has appeared on “CBS This Morning” and NBC’s “The TODAY Show,” and was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods America” with Andrew Zimmern. His tremendous success, his enduring love for the symphony orchestra and live classical music, and his deep, instinctual devotion to the principles of the Farm-to-Table movement make him the ideal partner in this adventure.

David Donnelly is an American filmmaker, writer, and artist. In late 2015, he released his first feature length documentary, Maestro. The crew followed several Grammy award-winning musicians across the globe. Four years in the making, many consider it to be the most comprehensive portrait of contemporary classical music ever captured on film. Donnelly made the documentary with the intention of exposing a broader audience to the classical genre. Maestro has been translated into ten languages and is airing on international networks spanning five continents. Most importantly it is utilized as a much needed resource for music educators. Donnelly is also the author of the viral Huffington Post essay Why Failing Orchestras are the Problem of Every American. While filming Maestro, Donnelly founded, a multi-media company dedicated to making the arts more competitive in a free market economy. He is currently working with an array of renowned artists and orchestras from around the globe on a variety of film projects. Obviously, he’s the perfect director for our film project, too.

Andrew Balio is an orchestral musician, serving as principal trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra since his invitation by Yuri Temirkanov in 2001. He is former principal of the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and of the Orquesta Sinfonica del Estado de Mexico. He also served as principal of the Oslo Philharmonic for the 14/15 season. Andrew’s interest in orchestral affairs and challenges began while he was a music student, renting a room from the Boston Symphony’s long-time chairman of the Players’ Committee and thereby gaining a unique and candid vantage point from which to consider the inner workings of a highly successful organization. A subsequent career spent with some of the world’s great – and very different – orchestras has encouraged him to ponder what it is about human nature that nevertheless stays the same through time and across space – and what it is in that nature that responds to classical music, making it so timeless and universal. Andrew’s many years of watching, studying, and seeking out the experts culminated with his founding of the Future Symphony Institute. In Baltimore, Spike became one of Andrew’s first friends, and this long-time friendship born of a shared appreciation for their two crafts led to a realization that they also share the same vision. This project is the fruit of their many shared talks, meals, and concerts.


A Double Role for Musicians

“This is helpful.” A very successful, retired, corporate lawyer and his wife were reviewing a personalized update on The Cleveland Orchestra’s activities over salad with me and a development staff member who had been entrusted with this donor relationship. “But, do you know what would really make me give more? If my musician friends in the orchestra asked me themselves, I’d be falling over myself to increase our gift!”

“We play the music. They raise the money. If they ran the orchestra as well as we played, there would be no money problems. There’s plenty of money in this town. They just have to go get it.” Emphatic advice from more than one senior musician colleague – and advice I’ve heard from musicians in several major orchestras.

It’s true that there is plenty of money in Cleveland – and in probably every metropolitan area of any significant size. But our donor put his finger on a truth that escaped my colleagues. It goes to the heart of why we became musicians.

Music touches people. It moves them and inspires them. After a great performance of a Mahler Symphony, or of another piece representing the great achievements of mankind, we should be different people than we were before the experience. And when someone touches us, shares with us a rare and special experience, we want to know them. This is how our donors feel about us as musicians in their orchestras.

While some donors and board members support the orchestra out of a sense of civic obligation or to enhance business relationships, the true leaders and the ones who recruit other donors and board members are passionate about music and about their orchestra. These are the leaders who would walk through fire to save their orchestra, and they’re the ones who come to the fore during a crisis. The same dynamic is in play as you move down through the donor ranks – passionate orchestra lovers are committed subscribers and donors. And they love “their” musicians.

It was a crisis that led me to adopt my dual role as a musician and development staff member at The Cleveland Orchestra. After a brief strike (lasting 30 hours) in 2010, the musicians and board of The Cleveland Orchestra both arrived at the conclusion that we need more communication and more relationships between us. Ultimately, this led to musicians being invited to attend board committee meetings as unofficial “members” of those committees. I served as a musician delegate to the Fund-raising Committee, because of my interest in learning more about development and because of my realization that success in fundraising is essential to our future as a great orchestra.

More than half of our operating revenue comes from fundraising and endowment. Our Annual Fund provides more revenue than ticket sales for our main subscription series. As we look at the future for a major orchestra in a city with stagnant or tepid growth, the need for a much larger endowment and continued Annual Fund growth becomes stark. Nothing will have a greater effect on the remaining couple of decades of my career.

Our trustees who serve on the Fund-raising Committee have a deep commitment to the orchestra, and most of them have spent decades raising money for us. They were thrilled to have a couple of musicians join them. Volunteering at the highest level and giving financial support is how they demonstrate their love for the orchestra, and it resonates when musicians show their commitment in the same ways. It’s speaking their language. We made it a point to thank them for their dedication and hard work at every meeting.

Eventually, my desire to learn more and my participation on the Fund-raising Committee led to my accepting a position as a major gifts officer in our Philanthropy & Advancement department. I took a six-month sabbatical from my playing position (I joined the bass section in 1997), and worked full-time in development. Upon my return to the bass section, I have continued in a part-time role as a major gifts officer for the past year.

I expected resistance from my musician colleagues. I thought they might see taking a second position at the orchestra as a contradiction of our assertion that playing in the orchestra is truly a full-time job. Certainly, some have perceived me as “close to management” and have adopted a certain distance. Surprising to me though is the fact that the greatest source of objection was the staff members outside the development department. Some key staff members were unable to envision a musician filling any staff role. It took a great deal of time to reach the point where I could even be offered the opportunity officially. Now it is no longer remarkable.

My role is to identify current donors and subscribers who may be able to increase their annual giving to substantially higher levels and who may also be able to make a major endowment gift or estate commitment. While a frighteningly high percentage of our revenue comes from fewer than a thousand donors, we have thousands of other donors who may never have been asked personally to increase their support, and who may have no relationship with the orchestra other than attending concerts and receiving an occasional fundraising letter.

I seek opportunities to meet these patrons and invite them to join me for coffee or lunch where I can share our plans, hear about their experiences, and begin to develop a personal relationship. The best approach has been for me to greet them at their seats before a concert and introduce myself and thank them for their support. When I follow up with a phone call or email, even the people who initially decline a further meeting usually have a few questions about the orchestra. After we’ve had a chance to interact, they often reconsider and respond positively to another invitation.

I find that I never need to sell the orchestra or the idea of giving. These are patrons who have already demonstrated their interest. The most common reason for not increasing their gift is that they are already giving at the highest level they can afford. This is both encouraging and sobering. A minority of the patrons I meet with do become more interested once they feel like insiders. These supporters are the source of our growth.

Here’s what donors want to know when we meet. They want to know that we’re successful – that the institution and the art form are not headed down the drain. They want to know that we’re in internal alignment – that the musicians and management are pulling in the same direction. And, they want to feel like part of the family. Our dependence on contributed revenue makes it indisputable that they are necessary; it’s up to us to make them feel our respect and gratitude.

Orchestras are often characterized by a cliché: European imports that exist exclusively for the enjoyment of the very wealthy. But that completely disregards of course the fact that American orchestras developed contemporaneously with European orchestras (the Boston Symphony is older than the Berlin Philharmonic), and the fact that so many major composers had an American presence (Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Bartok, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Rachmaninoff, etc.). It is an unfair charge. Our donors could have an exclusive orchestra, but they support the orchestra because they want to share it with their community. It’s really important to them to know that we’re growing and reaching new audiences.

As members of the development team, we can make them feel like part of the family, but growing audiences and demonstrating success is something that takes institution-wide efforts. Everyone needs to be on-board.

As musicians, we are in a unique position due to our job longevity, our musical knowledge, and our institutional memory. Development jobs do have a fair amount of turnover and tend not to be held by people with professional orchestral backgrounds. However, effective performance with donors requires a thorough knowledge of the orchestra’s finances, business model, organizational strategy, and the roles of key personnel and volunteers.

People often ask how I fit my jobs together. It certainly helps that they are in the same building. I try to arrive at work around 8:30 on weekdays and leave at 5:30 or 6. If the orchestra is rehearsing, I go to rehearsal; if not, I’m in the office or meeting with donors. On concert nights, I may even have a pre-concert dinner to attend. If I am disciplined, I’ve put my practice time in my calendar and find opportunities to head to a practice room in the basement. Keeping everything going certainly requires better time management skills than I have, but I’m improving.

Another issue that is raised occasionally is that of being a member of a collective bargaining unit and an FLSA-exempt employee at the same workplace. My roles are completely separate, and I have no supervisory role, so there is not a legal issue. Lew Waldeck of ICSOM used to refer to our collective power as an organized bargaining unit. That power consists of being able to say “no” to proposals we can’t live with in order to force changes. It seems to me that to focus exclusively on power ignores our chance to have influence. My experience has been that thoughtful, good-faith influence has great effect and is an ever more necessary part of moving orchestras forward in challenging times. Having a direct role in increasing our financial resources seems to me to be an effective use of influence on the organization.

Finally, I am sometimes asked if I think there are other musicians who would be interested in pursuing a similar role. I am sure that there are, but I do not yet know who they are, or how they would create their roles. I suspect that the roles will be unique to each musician, given our differing backgrounds and experience. The key questions revolve around time, where they are in their careers, management background, and personal strengths. Adding musician involvement to development is not the same as hiring to fill certain positions. The position will have to be shaped to fit the person who fills it.

In our orchestra, musicians are involved in paid and donated playing services, donor events, stewardship, solicitation calls with development staff, and donor thank-you calls, etc. Nearly one third of the orchestra participates as volunteers. I think it’s worth remembering the amount of work that goes into creating and preparing for those opportunities. That is what differentiates the work of paid staff from volunteer generosity. All of it is appreciated by the donors, of course.

Musicians can better their institutions and improve their situations by taking advantage of patrons’ natural desire to know their musicians better. The joy we bring through our music-making creates a bond between us and our audience. Their sense of being part of the family helps them stay close to the orchestra and inspires their support. There is no one better suited to make that happen than we.


London Hall-ing: A New Home for the London Symphony Orchestra

Hot on the heels of what was surely disappointing news for Maris Jansons and Munich’s musical community – that, despite their protracted efforts, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra will not be getting a much needed new hall – came the triumphant announcement that Sir Simon Rattle, appointed as London Symphony Orchestra’s new chief, has secured a commitment from the city’s mayor to seriously investigate the possibility of a new concert hall for London’s top ensemble. Rattle has brought his political capital to bear right out of the gates – for good reason and while all eyes are on him. Despite the loud assertions of pundits who prefer to question his motives, this isn’t just a case of the new music director throwing his weight around. Sir Simon Rattle is instead pointing out the elephant in the music room: London, a concert capital with an embarrassment of riches measured in great orchestras and visiting performers, has somehow managed in all its centuries of legendary activity not to erect a single great concert venue the likes of Carnegie Hall, The Royal Concertgebouw, Musikverein, or even anything approaching the grandeur of St George’s Hall in Liverpool or Usher Hall in Edinburgh.

the Barbican Center
The Barbican Center was voted London’s “ugliest tall building” again in 2014. Is this a fitting home for the London Symphony Orchestra? Image credit: damo1977.

Each of the city’s major orchestras, besides being important and accomplished in its own right, supports and nourishes the rich ecosystem that is London’s classical music community. We can draw an analogy to the many museums in London – and we’ll do so despite the increasingly popular, pejorative reading of the word museum. Here we are using it as a wondrous term, connoting a sanctuary for our vast and beloved tradition. The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is like the British Museum. It is the repository of the best knowledge collected within the lifetimes and experience of its musicians, arguably standing a head above others in stature for its longevity of scope, its relationships with the world’s greatest conductors, and the breadth of its output. For the LSO not to have a proper and fitting home is akin to the British Museum existing only as a traveling collection.

London's Royal Albert Hall
London’s Royal Albert Hall.

So what, then, of the concert halls that London does have? The Barbican Center is a colossal, concrete bunker and the Royal Albert Hall, though storied and beautiful, has no acoustics to speak of. The Royal Festival Hall in the Southbank Center, meanwhile, combines the most lamentable attributes of both. Certainly, musical life in London could and would go on without a new hall. But so will many of the institutions and traditions we treasure continue to sputter along despite our neglect until tarnish and inertia overtake them and we become accustomed to decayed and hollow versions of the vibrant and living things we once loved. Why should London’s most prized assets, including both the LSO and the city’s musical life itself, be left just to “go on” this way? A proper concert hall represents an important piece of the city’s cultural puzzle, still waiting to be solved, and, equally meaningful both to London and its famed orchestra, an opportunity for renewal.


So, if we were to agree about the necessity of such a grand project, what would we build and where would we build it? Is it too early to even open such a discussion? Certainly not – for, as we have often seen, the political jockeying to win such a project begins immediately and dominates everything that happens behind the scenes. Too often the end result of these Machiavellian maneuverings leaves many disappointed observers wondering, “All that money…how in the world did they come up with that?”

At the Future Symphony Institute, we have come to understand that the most important consideration for a concert hall, beyond its acoustics, is the relationship it establishes between the orchestra, its patrons, and their community. The concert hall is the orchestra’s home – the space into which it invites the public as its guests, the setting in which it extends its hospitality and friendship. But it is also the face with which the orchestra looks out upon its neighbors and through which it participates in the conversation of settlement that invests a place with the meaning of home. Its physical presence creates an immediate and lasting impression that communicates directly to the community just what the orchestra believes about what it has to offer and what it perceives to be its role in the life and conversation of the community. For this reason a concert hall, in our estimation, can be either a major driver of or a serious impediment to demand for classical * concerts.


Wiener Musikverein, Image credit: Wolf-Dieter Grabner
Wiener Musikverein, Image credit: Wolf-Dieter Grabner.

Home is an expression of both who we are and where we belong. We mark the places where we belong – the spaces we call home – with those things that reflect how we understand ourselves, who we aspire to be, and how we want others to know us. And we gather these clues, consciously or not, whenever we enter someone’s home – gather the myriad, little, aesthetic decisions and with them assemble a portrait, however astute or incomplete, of the person who made them. The privilege of being invited into a person’s home is the privilege of glimpsing their soul. In a very real way, the hall is the orchestra’s home; everything about it and within it should attest to the orchestra’s deepest convictions about itself and about classical music.

For instance, while it’s something of a fad to build halls that resemble spaceships, there is nevertheless a general lie and an injustice in doing so. And that’s because classical music does not come to us from outer space, or even from the future. It is not created by robots or by alien beings we cannot approach or begin to understand. It comes to us instead from a very long and very human tradition – from people we would recognize, people we can approach and come to know intimately through their music. It’s not slick, plastic, or high-tech. On the contrary, it still relies on a legacy of meticulous, human craftsmanship and unplugged, acoustic instruments. The hall should be the embodiment of classical music’s character: it should above all feel human, feel familiar, feel knowable, and feel intimate as often as it feels exalted.

St. George's Hall in Liverpool
St. George’s Hall in Liverpool

Likewise, to reduce classical music simply to pretty sounds accumulated accidentally over the centuries is to ignore the fact that it revolves around ideals of beauty drawn from the innate order of the universe, and that we recreate that order through music painted on a canvas of time. It’s as great a contradiction to bury classical music in a disorienting and convoluted labyrinth – however shiny or pretty – as it is to stage it in a spaceship. By building such a home for itself, whether it realizes it or not, the orchestra risks suggesting to its patrons that its music is more complicated than it needs to be and – even worse – that they might not “get it.” Every little aesthetic clue in and about the hall inevitably tells its guests not only what the orchestra thinks about itself, or what it wants them to think about classical music, but also – and perhaps most importantly – what the orchestra thinks of them.

Dining inside Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw
Dining inside Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw.

A hall is more than a holding pen and an acoustic space. It is a place in which its guests, too, must come to feel that they belong. Though they will likely never come to know each member of the orchestra, they will nonetheless feel like they know the orchestra as a whole – as if it is a friend to whom they relate, and with whom they while away their evening hours in a sort of intimate communion. In the symphony hall, guests sense the orchestra as a neighbor into whose home they have been invited. The hospitality they experience there can inspire a friendship and gratitude that connects directly to a sense of belonging. And an orchestra can only be successful to the extent that those friendships and that gratitude manifest themselves in the charitable donations of patrons and in the pride and enthusiasm with which they, in turn, offer the orchestra’s hospitality to their own friends and neighbors – especially to those who have not yet come to know this sense of belonging in the symphony hall. The most important contribution a proper hall might make to an orchestra’s success is its propensity to cultivate deep and lasting friendships.


The face of the Royal Concertgebouw.
The dignified and approachable face of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw.

Every act of architecture is an enduring act of imposition wherever it’s committed. Whether a monument, a hall, a home, or an office, every building becomes part of the community upon which it’s imposed. While not everyone will find reason to engage directly with it, they will nevertheless live in its shadow. They must inevitably despair or delight in its company forever after – or at least as long as it remains standing among them. It’s the realization born of this fact, the realization that we’re all “in it together”, that tempers our adolescent urges toward defiant self-expression.

Just as the youth, who thinks little of imposing his window-rattling, musical misadventures upon his neighbors, eventually in adulthood comes to appreciate the reciprocal consideration that obliges him not to offend his neighbors with his noise, so we become sensitive to the plight of our neighbors the more completely we understand our situation to be bound up with theirs in the identity of community. This is the foundation for the manners that make good neighbors. And this is what makes the homeowners’ associations of America’s transient suburbs as perennial as they are reviled: they are an attempt to enforce good manners in the absence of genuine neighborliness from which the sentiment naturally springs.

Old Quebec City
The neighborliness of settlement is visible in this square in Old Quebec City.

Our home is for us a private sanctuary, but it is also part of a larger, collective sanctuary. And we feel this larger place as home too, inhabited as it is by our many neighbors, probably none of whom we chose. In this larger place called home – in our community – we are only one voice of many. And each building, like each neighbor, looks out upon the community with its own face and participates in the ongoing conversation of settlement with its own voice. Like neighbors themselves, these buildings do not always echo each other or even agree, but because they are architectural reflections of their very human subjects, their differences too are tempered by membership in the community. They attune to each other and relate to each other in the community’s natural and never-ending process of becoming home. The result is an organic harmony of individual voices, and this is what we sense in the world’s oldest and most beautiful cities and neighborhoods.

This should be especially interesting to us when considering the case of concert halls. The blending of a chorus of individual voices into harmonious polyphony is precisely the hallmark and heritage of our musical tradition. It would be the most natural thing imaginable for an orchestra to build for itself a hall that sits comfortably in its community, shoulder-to-shoulder with its neighbors, that participates in the act of settlement by accepting its role in the compromise and conversation that makes a place home and strangers neighbors. But how often do we see halls built like this today?

LA's Disney Concert Hall
LA’s Disney Concert Hall may just perfectly reflect its city’s character.

It seems as though the adolescent obsession with individualism now nearly always trumps neighborliness. Too often the modern hall is designed as a solipsistic monolith that rises faceless from a shallow sea of concrete somewhere off the shore of its community. It shuns its neighbors – it does not participate and does not relate. It does not invite the passerby inside with welcoming familiarity that reads as approachability. In fact, should the passerby wander into its remote realm, it’s far too likely that it won’t even be clear to him where the entrance might be. The modernist hall stands defiantly as a foreboding monument to its architect’s ego, and perhaps to the colossal blundering of the planning committees who mistook this emphatic statement of irrelevance for its literal opposite.

But a concert hall is not built for planning committees or for architects. It is built for the ordinary people who will become its neighbors, the music patrons who will become its friends, and the orchestra for whom it will become a face. It must communicate the inspiration and the achievement of the composers and musicians that live within it, but it must speak of those things in the local language and in tones of civility. It must enfold not only concert spaces of varying size, but also spaces for communion, where people can come together and discover neighbors, and spaces for education, where they can come together and discover music. This last point deserves to be stressed: given the incredible responsibility orchestras have to impart their legacy to future generations, it’s imperative that their halls should enfold facilities that reflect both the central and permanent nature of their educational role in the community.

Philharmonie Berlin
Philharmonie Berlin.

One more word on the idea of the concert hall as the orchestra’s face: It is important for the LSO to remember that a concert hall really does become an orchestra’s identity – what we might otherwise called “brand” in the commercial world. In the case of orchestras, branding is often a bit of an abstraction since visually one orchestra isn’t very distinct from the next in the way that a Lamborghini is distinct from a BMW. They have logos, to be sure, but since concerts aren’t purchased in stores off a shelf, the logo doesn’t become invested with the weight and power associated with physical goods. In some cases, the music director becomes the “face” or identity of a group. But that becomes a problem when the conductor moves on or even passes on. For instance, Herbert von Karajan was synonymous with the Berlin Philharmonic (BPO) for decades, and despite the equally important leadership of his successor Claudio Abaddo, the orchestra was challenged to assert its autonomy and identity through another focal point following its contentious breakup withKarajan. In recent decades, the BPO has adopted its own iconic 1962 Cold War era hall by Hans Sharoun as its face. And now that is precisely how it is known. We can cite other examples where mentioning the orchestra calls to mind immediately its hall and creates for us a vivid association with the character that we recognize in it: Boston Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw, Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, LA Philharmonic.


Philadelphia's Kimmel Center
Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center.

What we will also point out, probably to the consternation of dear Sir Simon’s modernist, downright futuristic leanings, is that LSO’s identity is wrapped up in its connection to a rich and storied past – a great tradition stretching back to the British Empire. There are many great orchestras in London. What sets LSO apart is its pedigree, its traditions embodying the collective experience of having played with so many of the world’s greatest conductors. It is, as I said, the British museum of London orchestras, not the Tate Modern. Therefore, it would do well to position itself among its true peers – Vienna, Amsterdam, and Boston, with their profound connections to the history of classical music. (Philadelphia could have been included here, except that it abandoned its connection to its illustrious past when it moved into the Kimmel Center – what a passerby might for all the world suppose is just another corporate office building on Market street. Philadelphia is a cautionary tale.) To this end, it is most regrettable that Edwin Lutyens never designed for LSO a concert hall that would have rightfully stood among the other great halls of the world.


London is a city beloved by residents and cultural tourists for both what it has retained and what it has become over the centuries. But sadly, what the air raids of WWII didn’t manage, the modernists are now pulling off with the banishment of traditional architecture. Yet one would be severely challenged to find a tourist who came to London to see the Gherkin, the Barbican, or Southbank. Nor is it at all surprising or unusual that we see in the choices people make about where to live in London that traditional areas are much more desirable and therefore much more valuable than the cold, faceless clumps of glass and steel that one always comes across with disappointment when walking through town. Even the modernist architects, as architect Léon Krier memorably points out, usually live in gorgeous, traditional homes, leaving their glass and steel monstrosities for everyone else. Public vice, private virtue, as he says.

Inside the Royal Concertgebouw.
Inside the Royal Concertgebouw.

We can imagine at this point that LSO will have a choice between two halls: let’s say either a Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam or a Walt Disney Hall of Los Angeles. That may seem like an absurd scenario – a false choice, really – but as long as traditional architecture remains a clear and viable option and modernist “starchitects” continue to be driven by an adolescent urge to challenge and shock everyone, then that might be the very scenario we are looking at. That brings us to another important consideration. It may be crushing to many in the modernist Kulturekampf, but the ideal source for funding for London’s new hall will likely be private. And for that to happen, there will have to be a careful alignment of branding.

For example, should a bank like Barclays or UBS, who each have a long track record of sponsorship of classical music ventures, be interested in the project, they would undoubtedly require a building that came with a great deal of prestige attached to it, and one that was meant to be permanent. George Szell used to disparage “contemporary” music by dismissing it with a laugh, calling it “temporary” music. There is always truth in a joke, however, and so it is in the case of contemporary architecture, too. Feats of modernist architecture are usually built with the idea of standing for fifty years – an act of mercy on the one hand, and an act kicking the can down the road for the next generation on the other. But traditionally designed and constructed halls, built as they are with the architectural language and techniques that have endured throughout the ages, last for a very long time. They are meant as permanent places for a permanent music.


We are greatly encouraged by the recent decision made by the Royal College of Music to engage John Simpson for its expansion and renovation. Simpson’s plans are beautifully designed to enhance the original and historic Victorian building rather than repudiate it with a glass dagger as is so popular with today’s raging, international, design fashionistas (see Dresden’s Museum of Military History or the Louvre’s Pyramid if somehow nothing comes to mind). There are also wonderfully thoughtful and successful halls being designed today by David Schwarz’s award-winning firm in Washington DC. We hope to see more of them.

In subsequent writings here, we will look at the practical implications that arise from these issues and we’ll examine others, including the question of a building site, as they unfold. More importantly, we’ll look for the insight of those who know these challenges better than we. We are here to argue not only that both the LSO and London itself need and deserve a new concert hall that is fitting for the future of the city’s prestigious musical life, but that they need to imagine it as a place that makes sense for the sake of its own success – that it should be a beautiful and harmonious part of the face and community of London, not a thumb in its eye and a middle finger to everyone else.


* Here, as always, we use the term “classical” with a small c to denote the long tradition of Western art music. When we refer specifically to the music composed during the European age of “Enlightenment”, we will use the term “Classical” with a capital C.


Beauty and Desecration

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a transcription of the plenary address delivered by Sir Roger Scruton at The Power of Beauty Conference, hosted in October 2014 by the Franciscan University of Steubenville and the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project.
It is reprinted here with their gracious permission,
and we encourage you to watch their video of the address.

Just to say a few general philosophical things to begin with about why beauty matters: We live in a world in which utilitarian values are not just triumphant but for many people the only values that there are. There seems to be no sense that things can have a value which is not a form of use. This means that all of us are engaged all the time in what some philosophers call instrumental reasoning. Whenever we’re asked to justify something we try to find a purpose for it – we justify, for instance, the shape of this room in terms of its purpose, which is to gather people together to listen to a lecture. If it’s not very efficient at that, then the room has not actually achieved what it set out to achieve.

In all our activities we are familiar with this kind of reasoning, but what other kinds of reasoning are there? We know perfectly well that instrumental reasoning can’t be the only kind because if something is a means to an end, there has to be an end that it’s a means to. That too needs a justification. So we do reason with each other – rather insecurely but nevertheless we do reason – about the ends of our activities, what our goals are, and whether we should be pursuing the goals that we pursue. This is especially true in activities like building – building a room like this, or setting out on a career, and so on – in which there is a long-term project involved and an end point that you can’t very clearly envisage.

When you set out to build something you can’t clearly envisage the end point just from a ground plan. You need some conception of not just what it will look like but what it will be like to live with it. Only if you know what it’s like to live with it will you be justified in building it. Here is an example of a simple activity in which aesthetic reasoning is fundamental. One reason why modern architecture is such a failure is that people don’t do this. They don’t try to envisage what it will be like to live with the product of their building, only what its capacity is for the number of people assigned to it, and so on. Reasoning about what it’s like to live with something means bringing the end of your activity forward into the present so that you sense its being, as it were, with you in the moment where you are. And that is one of the roles of beauty and of aesthetic judgment in our lives: to do just that.

In another area, of course, we argue about our ends from a religious point of view. We know that people have this conception of the meaning of life, as lying in some way beyond life – either in the transcendental or in the afterlife. And this meaning is sometimes revealed in the present moment, the moments which people are apt to describe as sacred: the moment of liturgy and worship, the moment of revelation, of reading a sacred text, and so on. Perhaps being blessed with that experience is what Saint Paul described as the peace that passeth understanding.

That’s a very powerful emotion and a powerful experience if you can obtain it. But of course we live in a world where not everybody does obtain it or even seeks for it. And increasingly the surrounding culture either ignores that sort of thing or denigrates it. So it’s very difficult to explain to people who are immersed in the secular culture today exactly how you would think about justifying the ends of existence and not just the means. We need some other notion of the real presence in our life of the meaning of things if we are going to be able to justify to others who are skeptical exactly what it is that we want them to do. I think this is our situation today.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir: La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1889
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1889

Here is a picture, a landscape by Renoir. There’s no particular reason for me to have chosen this landscape – and all landscapes presented on PowerPoint are hopeless anyway, because, as you know, it’s backlit and it doesn’t contain the texture of the paint, and certainly not that of the canvas. Still, you see in that a particular artist’s attempt not just to present a little bit of la douce France, which everybody loves, but also to make you love it, too. And whatever goes on in that landscape is imbued with a sense of peace and order and it takes from the surrounding colors the vitality that makes life meaningful. Renoir, like other Impressionists, painted a world to which we belong. Belonging is an all-important aspect of human experience. Not everybody has it, and of course our jails are filled with the people who don’t. Most people in this room, I imagine, got here without criminal offenses, and feel that they do instinctively belong in the world and are in the business of trying to make that belonging more rooted, more permanent, more wound together with coexistence with their fellows. That of course is part of what education is about. And that’s what you see in that beautiful landscape by Renoir: a painting of ordinary fruit trees and an ordinary mountain in the distance, and so on – but painting it all as part of the world to which we belong.

For Renoir and his contemporaries, it was a post-religious world. They were very much people of their time who were skeptical about religion. And in any case, they regarded it as their duty as painters to show that it is this world and not the next that matters. It is quite hard to paint the next world, as you can imagine. It has been done in words by Dante, and a few painters have tried to follow him, but for the most part it has been a failure. Nevertheless our world is not that bad. It is imbued with its own tranquility, and that tranquility can reside in perception itself. That’s what Renoir was telling us: stop, stand still, look. In that perception you will see that this thing in front of you has a meaning all of its own, a meaning which justifies you being in it and reminds you that you belong to it. There’s a moment of standing still that we all can achieve and in which we can let the otherness of the world dawn on us. It’s something other than me – not just imagined by me, but there in front of me and including me nevertheless.

When painters do this – the painters of modern life, as Beaudelaire called them – they don’t behave as photographers behave. This is something very difficult to explain to people these days as everybody goes around with this criminal object in their pockets immortalizing the ephemera of their existence, and as a result desecrating it with their own trivial perceptions. Renoir wasn’t doing anything like that at all. He wasn’t pointing a camera at this landscape. Maybe the landscape didn’t entirely look like that. He was trying to extract from it what it means, not just from a perceptual point of view but also spiritually.

We live in a time when there is much ugliness around us and much desecration – in many ways, a deliberate making ugly of things, or a carelessness as to whether things should be ugly or beautiful. And many things that we regard as beautiful we discover to be desecrated not just by the way we treat them but also by the works of art which are supposed to celebrate them. We know this obviously from our experience of the human form. The human form is all-important to us because it is the primary locus of meaning, the thing that means most to us in the world. The human face and the human body come before us imbued with the life of the spirit. But we can also, as we know, desecrate them – as they are desecrated by pornography and such things, which turn the subject into an object. And being turned into an object is essentially to lose one’s spiritual value.

Part of what lies behind this is a growing obsession with power. Power is the great commodity that is as it were transferred from person to person in the world we are creating. Many people would say, here is old Scruton up in front of an audience enjoying his power. You are transferring to me that power, the power to hold your attention and to infect you with my reactionary attitudes. This power is something that I have not yet justified to you. Many scholars influenced by people like Foucault will say that I couldn’t justify it. The institution is structured by domination, and I’m enjoying that domination and triumphing over you, the victims who are sitting before me. Now, you don’t actually believe that because you know that you are sitting there willingly, but nevertheless you can redescribe the whole of the world in that way. You can take the most innocent thing – the love of a mother for a child, or a child for a mother – and there’s power in that too. If there weren’t, the mother couldn’t protect the child. But yet, it’s not the power aspect of it that’s important here, it’s the love aspect. All our loves create powers.

In all the things that matter to us most there is that element of power. Of the tranquility that Renoir is trying to put across to us in that painting, many of our literary and artistic critics today would ask the question, “What does this tranquility conceal? Who is using it, who is gaining, who is losing?” And you can imagine the text in Modern Language Review which will analyze that painting and try to persuade you that it is there as part of the hegemony of the bourgeois class, representing nature as a place that endorses its comfortable and relaxing attitudes, excluding the truth about labor, which went into creating those fruit trees in the first place – in other words, legitimizing the power of the French bourgeoisie over the French proletariat. In that way Renoir becomes part of the ideology which is being imposed upon us by our Western culture. We need to liberate the oppressed, the victim, from beneath this ideology. And the victim of course will turn out to be whoever the current obsession is – probably working-class women in this particular case.

When you start thinking like that, nothing is as it seems. It’s as though there’s a reality behind everything and that reality is the power that people exercise over each other. And that’s why beauty is a kind of deception – because it’s always concealing those real relations between people in which one class or one person or one group has dominion over another. But of course for the Impressionist painters that’s all nonsense. For them, seeming is everything. What Renoir was trying to do in that painting is to remind you of something that you would otherwise not notice: namely, that the world does seem in a certain way to you and that’s what it really, really is – in other words, how it comes across to you in your immediate perception when you’ve stopped all the instrumental reasoning, forgotten all the powers and the projects, and just look. But because of this obsession with power, people do wipe away the face of the world so that the way things seem is no longer available to us, and that means that beauty is no longer available to us, either.

Chapman brothers: Zygotic acceleration biogenetic de-sublimated libidinal model, 1995
Chapman brothers: Zygotic acceleration biogenetic de-sublimated libidinal model, 1995

Here’s an example of a work of art, if you can call it that, which was created by two brothers. It’s quite normal now in the products of the British art schools for people to do joint works of art like this because that way you get rid of the romantic idea of the artistic genius who has something special to say. You’re doing it together with someone else. And of course, the purpose in this case is to make the human body repulsive, into a kind of liquid, standing in these childish Mary Jane shoes with all the parts deformed – penis instead of nose and things like that. What its point is can only be understood if you realize that these boys were brought up in an art school which tells them that the purpose of art in not to beautify life, in no way to replace the sacred moments that religion might have given us, in no way to give you a sense of the meaningfulness of things. On the contrary, it is to deconstruct those things, to show that life is essentially meaningless, and you can best do this by taking the human body and making it repulsive.

Tracey Emin: My Bed, 1998
Tracey Emin: My Bed, 1998

We all know of Tracey Emin’s famous bed – which last changed hands at two million pounds – in which she presented, well, her bed – after she had got out of it, of course, and with all the debris of her night’s dissipation lying on the carpet around it. And there it is. It’s in the Tate Modern Gallery now, its permanent resting place, although of course those sheets are going to rot away quicker than most sheets do. I want to contrast it with another bed, which I mentioned in the film I made about this: Delacroix’s bed. Delacroix, as you know, is a great French painter from the Romantic period, who is also a highly learned and interested cultural figure, perhaps one of the greatest of the nineteenth-century cultural figures in France.

Eugène Delacroix: Un Lit Defait, 1828
Eugène Delacroix: Un Lit Defait, 1828

Here is his bed. This isn’t an actual bed, of course, this is a painting of a bed. In painting it, he has tried to transfer into the bed some of his sense of the value of lying in it, of being the thing that was in it, and also what it meant to wrestle with the sheets in that way. A comparison of these two does help you to understand a little bit about what’s gone wrong with art today. Tracey Emin’s bed presents itself but obviously nothing beyond itself; it just is there. Delacroix’s bed presents something other than itself. It’s a life that’s been translated into those fabrics, a perpetuation in another form of a spiritual wrestling, which we know from Delacroix’s life and his other paintings – that wrestling with fabric, with reality, the flexibility of this world, and the attempt to impose upon it a meaningful human form, if you like, a testimony to the spiritual life with which we invest all the objects that we’re in touch with. So he was looking for a kind of harmony, order, even a redemption in the shape of those sheets. He’s searching for the trace left in them by the spirit, which will be a meaning beyond the present moment. Here we’re talking about the difference between an attempt to represent life, which is also a transfiguration of a life into something which is a permanent record of the spirit, and the mere debris of a life. Once you see it you realize that only the first of those is a genuine artistic activity.

However, we’ve entered this period in our history where ugliness has become a kind of cult – not ugliness as such but more transgressive ugliness, like those melted-together human figures of the Chapman brothers. It’s an ugliness that pollutes or negates some familiar ideal or value. Transgression is something which also has a certain appeal, especially to younger people. It’s an act of self-affirmation that frees itself from judgment. The transgressive gesture is one that says, “I don’t actually care whether you judge me or not. I’m going do it and I’m going to affirm myself against your judgment, and that is in itself a liberation.” I think we’ve seen this in every sphere of human endeavor since the 1960s: the assumption of the freedom to offend, the freedom to annihilate other people’s vision of what matters, and to show that the values for which other people live don’t count for you. That’s a stage which obviously all of us have to go through at certain points in our lives. We have to fight against our parents, fight against institutions, fight against the people who seem to be preventing us from being what we truly are and going out into the world and claiming it as our own. In the normal run of things that’s not a particularly bad thing to do because, after all, once you’re out there in the big world, feeling the winds of change around you, you realize that you are actually on your own and that it was a terrible mistake to be so offensive to the people you need, and gradually you work your way back to them. You reassume possession of them in their view and you are reconciled and forgiven, as in the famous parable of the prodigal son. So there’s a paradox in this position of assuming the freedom to offend: it’s only because other people’s values count for you that you can be exhilarated by defying them or disavowing their ideals.

William de Kooning: Woman III, 1953
William de Kooning: Woman III, 1953

Nevertheless this is certainly what artists at a certain stage did. De Kooning was a paradigm of this. He’s an artist who, I think, has largely been seen through now, except in America – and the reason why he has not been seen through in America is that a lot of money has been spent on his pictures. So museums, art critics, and private owners conspire together to make sure they are not going to lose the two million dollars that they spent on them. If you can keep the values up, your museum is still worth what you invested in it. This is just called Woman, and it’s his representation of what a woman fundamentally is. All those ideals of womanhood which you might have entertained in your self-deceiving moments are as nothing compared with this representation.

And here is another instance of this way of approaching our ideals. Rusalka – some of you may know this great opera by Dvorak – tells the famous story of Ondine the water nymph who falls in love with a mortal. And it’s a beautiful, romantic story not only about the mystery of woman but also about the importance of chastity and purity in preparing a woman for love, and the danger in which she is put by that. And of course this is symbolized by the fact that there she is living in the water. If she comes out of it, is that the end of her? And if she tempts the mortal into the water, is that the end of him? This story has been told many times, but never as well as by Dvorak. This is the production that Covent Garden made of that opera in which Rusalka, the pure water nymph who dreams of an erotic relation which no water nymph is allowed, is a prostitute and the water is the bath in which she is lying, expecting the stream of lovers. And for reasons that can’t be explained she sings an aria to the moon.

Covent Garden: Rusalka, 2012; Image by Alastair Muir
Covent Garden: Rusalka, 2012; Image by Alastair Muir

Now that’s simply one example of a very ordinary occurrence in opera productions today. The idea in so many opera producers’ minds when given a romantic fairy tale like this is of course to desecrate it if you can, and also to bring in sex, violence, and all the usual stuff in order that the audience you have trapped there – an audience of ordinary, decent middle-class people who spent a couple hundred dollars for the ticket – well, you can really give them a hard time. You’re never going to get them there in any other way because they came for this beautiful romantic legend – and they won’t come again, but you’ve got them for a couple hours anyway. This is the way in which opera productions tend to go now. Why did all this come about?

I think we can’t understand this great movement to desecrate works of art like that if we don’t attend a little bit to the phenomenon of kitsch and the distrust of beauty that arose because of kitsch. The Romantic movement that arose, as you know, at the end of the eighteenth century and dominated all of art through the nineteenth century was a movement away from beauty, the homely sorts of beauty that appeal to ordinary people and that don’t seem to threaten them. There was a movement toward the sublime, presenting great tragedies rather than sweet fairy tales, emphasizing the difficulties of human life, the difficulty of emerging from a life of oppression, and so on. We have many great works of Romantic art which focus on these fairly negative aspects of the human condition but try to find beauty in them nevertheless. All this is epitomized in Beaudelaire’s famous poem to beauty, which I recommend you to read, Fleurs du Mal. There was a movement away from the beautiful and at the same time a fear of the sweetness that beauty can bring into our lives. Isn’t there a kind of deception involved in that? If life really is as bad as we all know it to be, isn’t art deceiving us by trying to make us accept it and find sweetness and consolation in it? Maybe there is no sweetness and consolation. Maybe art should have another role, that of showing the truth to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to perceive it. If art concentrates on beauty, isn’t it going to degenerate into a form of lying, a form of faking things?

Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus (detail), 1486
Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus (detail), 1486

I’ll give you a contrast between two Venuses. Everybody knows Botticelli’s Venus, who is so detached from the world, and I contrast him with the Venus of Bouguereau, being the famous salon painter of the nineteenth century in France who was a wonderfully accomplished painter in the style of Ingres, but a question mark inevitably is placed over him because of this sweetness and gentleness and also the perfection of everything he did, which seemed to many people to be a kind of lying. Beaudelaire expressly defended Manet against Bouguereau because Manet was showing us life as it is without any of this cloying sweetness. You all know Botticelli’s Venus, not an easy way to show it, but in that face you see a particular conception of what the erotic is. Botticelli was a Platonist, who believed as Plato did that beauty is an object of desire but it’s also a gateway to the transcendental, that you understand what beauty really is if you follow through that gateway, leave behind your earthly desires, and unite with the spiritual condition from which they originally spring.

William-Adolphe Bougereau: The Birth of Venus, 1879
William-Adolphe Bougereau: The Birth of Venus, 1879

This face for him was not an object of sexual desire but an object of a sexual desire that had been transcended. She was Simonetta Vespucci, who was mistress of his prince Lorenzo de Medici, and therefore unobtainable anyway. The thought in this Venus is the symbol of the erotic as Plato conceived it, something to be transcended into the spiritual.

Bouguereau’s Birth of Venus, as you see, is all perfection of form but doesn’t mean anything. There she is, sniffing her freshly shaven armpit, waiting for the lover who’s going to come through the bathroom door, and obviously she’ll have to get rid of the company meanwhile. Bouguereau was a great master of color and form, but somehow the sentiment is fake: it isn’t a real Venus. This is sexuality in its ordinary, vulgar form without any attempt to show you the meaning of it and its reflection in the transcendental.

Desecration takes many forms. But if we worry about kitsch – which all artists today do – what do we do about it? There are two ways of dealing with it. First, try and find a way of producing real art that is not kitsch. And that’s a really hard thing to do: producing art that doesn’t have this fake character, isn’t childish and isn’t a Christmas decoration. Or you can do what Jeff Koons does: produce something that is so obviously kitsch that no one could ever accuse you of it. He’s saying, “Of course, this is such obvious kitsch that I must be making another and deeper point.” No one has ever discovered what the deeper point is. But there it is, desecrating a beautiful classical façade probably for many years to come.

Jeff Koons: Balloon Dog (Magenta), 2000
Jeff Koons: Balloon Dog (Magenta), 2000

The causes of this situation in which we find ourselves go deep. We have acquired this distrust of beauty because it is an invitation into realms that have been mined. There are traps here. You might fall into the trap of Bouguereau; however beautiful your human figures, they turn out in the end just to be standard Christmas card porn, or something like that. The reality slips away from you and you’re left with this fake.

Artists have come to distrust beauty. And I think you all know this from modern cinema and much modern music as well. There is an attempt often to show that you’re a genuine artist by producing something that nobody could possibly like, so you must be serious. And there are consolations also of ugliness, consolations of showing that in some way life doesn’t matter anyway. That’s the meaning of the Chapman brothers’ sculpture. Life is simply a nothingness. We happen to have been born and we will die and decay and disappear – and so what? There’s a charm in that kind of view, a charm which I call the charm of disenchantment. Being disenchanted with things gives you a kind of glamor. If you go around a room of people who are ooh-ing and aah-ing with fake enchantment about kitsch, then your being disenchanted gives you a kind of distinction.

Many artists aspire to that distinction of not being taken in by anything, not being dupes to the surrounding culture and values. Added to this there is a desire to desecrate values as well, like putting graffiti on things or a moustache on the Mona Lisa. When that moustache was first put on the Mona Lisa by Marcel duChamps, you can see what he was doing. He was saying, “Yes, yes, yes, but we’ve gone beyond that. That’s all nonsense. You might be taken in by that but I’m not.” And essentially, ever since that gesture which was made a hundred years ago, the majority of art that we’ve come across, at least the art coming from art schools, has been putting another moustache on the Mona Lisa. The question automatically arises as to whether there is any point in doing it twice, let alone a thousand times. The thought behind all this is that we’ve asked too much of art, we’ve asked it to be a substitute for religion, to be the light from and the window onto the transcendental. If it disappoints us, we start becoming angry with it. Disappointment turns to repudiation.

So what is the mission of art, then? Is there a mission we can still maintain? I believe we all have a need for redemption. I don’t mean that necessarily in the religious sense. I mean that we need our actions, our gestures, our plans and projects, to have a fulfillment of some kind, to lift us out of the day-to-day appetites that otherwise swallow us. All our actions aim towards this; they aim beyond themselves to a point of rest in which we can look back and endorse what we have done. This is obviously the case with human relations, especially love relations, but it’s there in all our lives and a life without this, without ideals, gets tired of itself. When people set out on the path of transgression it’s partly because they’ve become disappointed with the possibility of actually achieving this sort of redemption.

Where, then, does beauty fit into this and what can it actually do by way of satisfying this desire? I have argued that the search for beauty is the search for home, for a place where you can be at home with yourself and with others, but in particular where you belong. Going back to the Renoir painting, which is a painting of a landscape as a thing that we belong to, being at home means being at home with yourself. And that means seeing yourself in some way as another, as another person, seeing yourself from outside – not just this selfish self-involved thing you are familiar with when you wake up in the morning, but that other thing which you were when you went to bed, having spent the day with other people. You want to be at home with what you find. I think this search for being at home does not start with high art, nor does it end there. One of the reasons people have become so confused about beauty is because they have constantly taken their examples from the realm of high art, those great and difficult things like Botticelli’s Venus, which you have to think about for an awfully long time before you know what it really means. High art challenges us in the deepest parts of our being, and maybe we get turned off by it, we feel we can’t live up to it, so let’s live in another way. But that’s not where the search for beauty begins, nor is it where it ends.

I think it begins and ends in everyday life. People misconceive aesthetics when they see it merely as the realm of beauty. It is as though that’s all we were ever thinking about when we were going around our world making aesthetic judgments. “Oh yes, that’s beautiful. No, that’s ugly.” But that’s not the way we behave at all. We actually make completely different kinds of judgments. We talk about whether something fits in, whether it’s graceful, whether that would be the right way to go forward, does this color fit with that color and so on. And I think people take revenge on beauty because they don’t see that there’s something more important without which there can be no revenge. And that more important thing is just our instinct to get things right, to make things fit in and harmonize. This is where the aesthetic judgment is a fundamental part of our everyday lives; we are making it all the time.

Now, I’m not a natty dresser but even I had to question whether this tie goes with this jacket. It probably doesn’t, but nevertheless the question occupied me for a certain amount of time, and it was part of my attempt to fit in and harmonize and also to fit in to this occasion where I’m giving a public lecture. You could put this, however, in a much more pretentious and philosophical way by saying that when we do this we’re trying to realize ourselves as subjects in the realm of objects. That’s the language that Hegel and his followers would use. It’s a tough language, but you can see what it means. We are free beings, we are subjects who have an inner life, but that inner life is not meaningful to us if we cannot in some way make it into an outward reality among other outward realities. In all our gestures we are trying achieve that, to become something real, and part of things – to belong, in other words.

So, this realization is something that goes on all the time and all rational beings are engaged in it. Children know about this already. In these two little girls you see what Wittgenstein would call the natural expression of aesthetic judgment. There they are, trying to fit things in the right place on the table. They’re not saying to themselves, “Is this beautiful, is this ugly, or sublime?” Those words are not part of their vocabulary, probably, but they are asking themselves the question, “Is this right? Am I getting it right? Should it be a little more to the left?” You can see the intent expression here, something only human beings manifest. No animals manifest this sense of the rightness and wrongness of things because these girls are not reasoning instrumentally. They are completely beyond the idea of the function of these things. They are trying to fit things together so they look right, so the guests will find that they look right, too. That’s the beginnings of the aesthetic attitude.

We know this as well. We don’t accept the world simply as a thing out there, an assembly of objects. We try and adorn it and fit it to ourselves and us to it. We are always aware of the distinction between things standing out and fitting in. Sometimes it’s right for them to stand out; sometimes it’s wrong. Fitting in is one of the most important aspects of our life in every sphere of human endeavor. We all have this need to be part of something greater than ourselves, and this is something that happens to us all day long: that we know that we are part of something greater and we know that we are either fitting in or not fitting in. Obviously there is a distinction between looking right and being right, but one of the important features of the aesthetic is that that distinction gets collapsed. If you look back at the two children, there isn’t a distinction between the plate being in the right place and looking in the right place. Being and seeming have come together and that’s perhaps something that’s really important for us – to live in a world where every now and then being and seeming coincide, so that nothing, as it were, deceives us anymore.

I think this is part of the great social significance of the aesthetic. We live in a world which has in many ways been uglified, and it’s a world that we want to redeem so that we are part of it once again and our fulfillment is reflected back to us from all the things we encounter. And that’s really part of what I mean by redemption and that is the function of the aesthetic. This search for getting things right is an all-pervasive thing, no matter what circumstances you are in. Even if you’re living in a trailer park you can do things right. You can go to a local timber merchant and buy the Georgian windows to replace the rubbish that would otherwise be there, you can have a little cornice and so on. And if there’s a lot of money involved you can still get things totally wrong.

This is a part of London, and as you can see, someone’s made a mistake here. There’s another example of London mistakes. But here is getting it right. This is just an ordinary Victorian street in London. Someone has built a bridge across it so that two buildings communicate, but this is a totally different thing. Although there’s lots of different buildings there, they all harmonize. They harmonize because they’re standing along a street, they are all built of vertical components which match each other, and contain they classical details, cornice and stringcourse and pilasters and so on. And here’s an example of a modern town center, the center of Reading, built entirely out of horizontals. One of the important differences between them is everybody wants to live here, and nobody wants to live there, and in fact nobody does live there. The center of Reading was destroyed completely by this development and it’s standing empty and vandalized and covered in graffiti.

modernist living room
A living room of modernist design

This emphasis on the horizontal was originally a very aesthetic thing. The modernist aesthetic exemplified in this interior is entirely designed in this way. You can see that, yes, this is a kind of aesthetic ideal. Nobody, I’m sure, has ever sat in this room but nevertheless you can see that it has aesthetic thoughts behind it. Unlike this. But the modernists, of course, were in reaction against this, all this Victorian clutter, which again is something that most people would find extremely difficult to live with now.

Here is an example of a rather perfected modernist interior: Wittgenstein’s house in Vienna, which he designed for his sister. Wittgenstein, like me, had the sense that architecture ultimately must get the vertical emphasis right, must make verticals stand in parallel to each other, and that the sense of detail matters. This is not my preferred form of architecture but you can see the aesthetic instinct at work in everything in this building. He designed it for his sister, who never lived in it. It ended up as the embassy of a communist country, for which it is wonderfully suited.

Haus Wittgenstein, Vienna
Haus Wittgenstein, Vienna

This is an example of what architects really can do when it comes to making corners. This is the corner of a church in Rome, by Pietro da Cortona. You see when you have the sense of detail, the classical idiom and this desire to fit things together, how a building comes alive and captures the light of the sun and incorporates that light into itself, makes it part of its own spirit, so to speak. Even in architecture the human spirit finds its embodiment.

In conclusion, those examples were sort of taken from the air, really, but they’re meant to emphasize the place of aesthetic judgment, of our desire to get things right, in ordinary, everyday life and in our enterprise as builders and dwellers, as people who have settled down. We know that we are free beings, but we also know that freedom demands recognition. This is something that Hegel emphasized. It has to be re-expressed for every generation.

Pietro da Cortona: Santa Maria della Pace (corner detail), Rome, 1667
Pietro da Cortona: Santa Maria della Pace (corner detail), Rome, 1667

We’re not truly free until others recognize that we are free and grant us the space to be free in. And that means that we’re in relations of mutuality with each other. My freedom is always rubbing up against the edge of your freedom, and that boundary between us is the public world where we both belong. And it is in shaping that boundary between us that the aesthetic sense is so important. That’s where, in our search for recognition from each other, we attempt to be graceful towards each other and to bring each other to our side. I bring you to my side, you bring me to your side, so that the boundary where we coincide is mutually acceptable. This reasonably cool grace is a matter of harmony and fitting in. Of course, it cannot be achieved without the habit of giving and receiving: I give way to you, you give way to me, I offer you things and you receive them. This is what the public world ideally should be. That kind of giving and receiving of things is what should be embodied in our ideal forms of architecture.


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