The project of European high modernism in music has not looked kindly on “insular” rummaging forays into local folk music, especially on the Celtic fringe. The very localism of this instinct is an affront to the cosmopolitan sophistication which the international avant-garde was to develop over time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay is reprinted with gracious permission from Standpoint Magazine, where it was originally published in October 2011.
As a composer I have been affected by political considerations and developments over time, and in a range of different ways. Also, I seem to be a part of a huge international community of composers, past and present, that has been drawn towards folk music as a way of developing new, individual musical languages and palettes.
There has been a long history of the politics of traditional music affecting the aspirations and inspirations of composers. In the 19th century, the growing nationalism in central and eastern parts of Europe is plainly discernible in the work of many composers. Whole swathes of late 19th- and early 20th-century musical history are dominated by a roll call of their names — Glinka, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Smetana, Dvorak, Janacek, Grieg, Sibelius, Granados, Vaughan Williams, and Skalkottas. Subsequently, nationalism has become tainted in artistic communities, not just because of the Third Reich but because more recent “big-gun” nationalisms, like Gaullism and Thatcherism, were of the Right.
This has caused a degree of anxious squirming in the world of traditional music, because that very traditionalism — the valuing and nurturing of ancient cultural practice — can so often be associated with nationalism, especially in the case of Ireland and Scotland. Indeed the attitudes of the Irish Left towards their traditional cultures of music, language, and dance during the 20th century were ambiguous and troubled, to say the least. The Irish Republic was built by rightists, nationalists, and Catholics on a range of traditional values as a bulwark to defend the Irish State and people from Bolshevism, liberalism, and the English Protestant crown. The sound of Irish traditional music was the very sound of defensive introspection in the face of a changing outside world — a changing outside world that the forces of the Irish Left sought to import and impose on their own nation.
Many and various ideological and aesthetical hoops have been jumped through over the decades for Irish traditional music to take its present place in the affections of the bien pensants. And in my own country there is still a deep insecurity over the question of Scottish nationalism: is it a creature of the Right or the Left? Even today, with the giddy ascent of Alex Salmond, there is no clear answer. The anxiety over the importance of our past exacerbates this question. Is the celebration of traditional Scottish values and culture a reactionary impetus? Or is it all part of a progressivist thrust towards self-determination in a spirit of local ownership of past identities?
In the discussion of folk music in Scotland, either in its grassroots place in cultural life, or in the work of its many composers, there is also clearly a degree of ambiguity. I have detected this in the music and conversations of my colleagues: honorary Scot Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Alasdair Nicolson, James Dillon, Judith Weir, William Sweeney, Edward McGuire, and Lyell Cresswell — all have an abiding interest in folk music. This interest in folk cultures, when all is said and done, is purely musical. We are fascinated by what we have heard of Scotland’s ancient sounds and want to absorb it into our own souls again. This can be tricky when trying to explain ourselves to our foreign colleagues. The project of European high modernism in music has not looked kindly on “insular” rummaging forays into local folk music, especially on the Celtic fringe. The very localism of this instinct is an affront to the cosmopolitan sophistication which the international avant-garde was to develop over time. “But,” we squeal in self-defensive indignation, “what about Bartok, who was a musicologist in his own musical folk cultures as well as a major composer? Or the Italian avant-gardist Luciano Berio, for that matter?” Indeed, the fragmentation of international modernism has freed up so many potential avenues for composers in recent decades. And it is fascinating that a figure on the Left, like Berio, could have embraced folk music so wholeheartedly in his later years. Concurrently, there has been a steady fascination among English composers of the Left with music that is genuinely “of the people” — particularly the diversely opposing work of Michael Finnissy and Howard Skempton. Some of the composers mentioned in this paragraph featured together in a fascinating concert at the Bath Festival in May, involving pianist Joanna MacGregor, Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell, and the Navarra String Quartet.
One of the central figures in this consideration of politics and folk music is Cornelius Cardew, whose music also appeared in the same programme. In 1968 Howard Skempton joined Cardew’s experimental music class at Morley College, where in spring 1969 they formed the Scratch Orchestra. This ensemble had open membership and was dedicated to performing experimental contemporary music.
However, apparently tensions arose during the politicising of the Scratch Orchestra in the early 1970s: Cardew and a number of other important members were pushing the ensemble in a Marxist direction. Skempton, and many others, refused to be associated with an extremist political line, and the break-up of the orchestra was accompanied by a split between its “political” and “experimental” factions.
The wider political fissures in this area of contemporary music are worth exploring here. The arcane and sometimes bloody ideological warfare on the Left between Trotskyists and Stalinists seems a thing of the past now. Not so in the world of contemporary classical music, apparently. An international conference was held at the British Academy in London last January, entitled “Red Strains: Music and Communism outside the Communist Bloc after 1945.”
With keynote speakers from Harvard, Cambridge, and many other universities here and abroad, the gathering explored the nature and extent of individual musicians’ involvement with Communist organisations and parties, the appeal and reach of different strands of Communist thought (e.g. Trotskyist, Castroist, Maoist), the significance of music for Communist parties and groups (e.g. groups’ cultural policies, use of music in rallies and meetings), the consequences of Communist involvement for composition and music-making, and how this involvement affected musicians’ careers and performance opportunities in different countries.
Topics ranged from “Communism’s cultural legacy: Soviet realism overseas” to “Marxist-Leninist ideology and British experimentalism.” The more eye-catching papers included “A Western Communist as a source for the second Soviet avant-garde: Luigi Nono’s first visit to the USSR in 1963 and its aftermath,” “Samuel Goldwyn, Aaron Copland, and the United States government: Developing a pro-Soviet aesthetic in Hollywood,” and “Left-wing and progressive musicians in the West and their relationship to Eastern bloc dissidents.” (It is well-known that many leftist artists, like left-wing Western intellectuals, had long and shameful love affairs with Soviet Communism.)
Cardew eventually rejected the ethos of the avant-garde by setting up the Scratch Orchestra, which promoted a kind of manufactured “music of the people”, concentrating on political liberation songs such as “Smash the social contract” and “There is only one lie, there is only one truth.” The inspiration for this was the Chinese cultural revolution. This political and aesthetical development was encapsulated in Cardew’s 1974 book Stockhausen Serves Imperialism, in which he renounced not only his earlier association with the musical avant-garde but his friendship with Stockhausen himself.
Cardew was active in various causes in British politics, such as the struggle against the revival of neo-Nazi groups and supporting striking miners and “anti-imperialist movements in Northern Ireland” (aka the Provisional IRA).
A member of various Maoist organisations in the 1970s, Cardew was killed in a hit-and-run car incident near his home in 1981. The driver was never found. Among the ultra-Left there are various conspiracy theories that he was killed by MI5, and he has subsequently developed martyrdom status in some old-guard, avant-garde musical circles.
However, as in all things ultra-Left, there has been a bitter Pythonesque schism among the comrades about Cardew’s true political legacy. A heretical paper was delivered at the British Academy conference which caused an almighty row. “Cardew serves Stalinism: Saint Cornelius and reified constructions of the international proletariat” by Ian Pace, (a formidable pianist and lecturer at City University, London), seems to have pushed a revisionist Trotskyist agenda. One delegate described it as a “diatribe against Mao, Stalin, Hoxha and, of course, Cardew.” (Imagine having the temerity to attack Hoxha. Tut tut. Whatever next?)
One delegate to the conference commented: “I was surprised at just how many people at the conference were actually Communists, rather than people studying music that bears some relationship to Communism. Lots of Americans, and mostly over 60. One guy had a guitar and illustrated his daughter’s paper with live musical examples, including ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ and other 1960s favourites, and most of the audience joined in with all these songs.
“One woman — a professor from Harvard — even had tears in her eyes by the end of one of them. Not quite what I was expecting, and somewhat surreal, but educational more in a sociological than academic way. They all seemed like very friendly and good people, but the sentimentality of the idealism, and the borderline hippy-culture…”
I wish I had been there. I could have relived my youth. As a younger man, I was very interested in the way that Cardew thought to engage the community in music-making, even if this was politically-motivated. In that sense you could say that he has had a big impact on the development of musical education and outreach work undertaken by many ensembles and organisations in the decades since his death. I am specifically referring to those projects which aim to take music into communities which, traditionally, don’t have much contact with the world of “art” music — certain schools and prisons, for example.
You could say that pioneers of this work like Gillian Moore, Richard McNicol, and Peter Wiegold have been influenced by some of this early thinking. I was particularly struck by the story of Cardew joining the picket line at Grunwick and trying to teach the men some chants and songs he had specially written. This is real composer-in-the-community stuff and not too far removed from the work explored by Peter Maxwell Davies in Orkney and elsewhere. I also hear that the Grunwick heavies told him to f*** off, but that is neither here nor there. I have been approached by members of the Green and White Brigade (a group of noisy Celtic fans) to write new stuff for them at Celtic Park, but I hesitate as I don’t want to alienate them in the Cardew/Grunwick manner.
One of my most enjoyable projects as a student was being asked to return home and make notes of where live music was being used in my community. This was Ayrshire, and the town was full of coalminers and other manual workers; that is, the kind of people that the latte-sippers of the liberal-Left metropolitan elite wouldn’t recognise as the proletariat even if they trod on them.
Anyway, it was an illuminating experiment and led to an abiding interest in not just ethnomusicology, but the sociology of music generally. I was on the Left at that time, not the loony Trot wing of course — only the genuinely swivel-eyed get involved with them — rather, I had been in the Young Communist League and in and out of the Labour Party (until the early 1990s). I was a branch chairman during the miners’ strike and delegate to my constituency party, as part of a kind of Bennite caucus, I suppose. I encountered the ultra-Left groups at street level during that time and came quickly to the conclusion that they were jam-packed with poor little rich kids simply masquerading as the proletariat. Something of that aura can be palpable in artistic communities too, where a received and fashionable left-wing orthodoxy is de rigeur.
Nevertheless, Cardew has had an influence on me too. I love working in the kind of community outreach programmes I mentioned earlier, which have had the input of many composers now, over the last few decades. But the real challenge in these is to take the concept of music-making into working-class communities and try to get them involved. Where today can one hear working-class people making music, apart from at football games? Well, one answer is in Roman Catholic churches in places like Glasgow, Liverpool, and Birmingham. Ever since the Second Vatican Council the Church has been involved in generating wider, fuller involvement in the liturgy so that ordinary lay people would feel engaged in the divine praises of the church. That means creating new music for them to sing, sometimes on a weekly basis. In the Dominican church in Maryhill, Glasgow, every week I write a responsorial psalm which I teach to the congregation (Cardew/Grunwick style) just before Mass begins. They therefore sing new music on a regular basis, and this composer is fully involved in the life of his community. Do I have Cardew to thank for that? Very possibly.
So perhaps Ian Pace was right after all; perhaps we are correct to talk of “Saint Cornelius” right enough. Cantate Domino canticum novum, comrades.
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.
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
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.
SLOW FOOD / SLOW MUSIC TEASER
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:
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 CultureMonster.org, 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.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay is reprinted here with the gracious permission of David M. Schwarz, who first published it in Parchment, an online collection of writings about architecture by the members of his firm. We encourage you to look through the firm’s portfolio, particularly to see to the most beautiful, thoughtful, and relevant concert halls being designed and built in America today.
Before pursuing the question of what it means to design contextually, we need to make sure we are on the same page about the term context. The dictionary shows it to mean “the circumstances, background or setting where a particular act or event occurs.” As far as architecture is concerned, the context is usually thought of as the site or neighborhood and the particular event is the building itself. To really get the best sense of what this means, close your eyes and think of a particular place, say the neighborhood where you live. A film strip of images likely unfolds in your mind, detailing the sights, sounds, and smells you associate with that place. By contrast, when describing a place as being without context, we mean that a particular site is lacking clearly visible and definable character. But is that all there is to context?
When seeking design inspiration, we often find ourselves facing this interesting conundrum: how can the design address the physical attributes of a context–the prevalent building types, commonly-found palates of materials, and oft-occurring architectural styles–as well as the ephemeral attributes of context, history and lore of the city or region, and the goals and aspirations of the particular community. Think again about your neighborhood and some other attributes likely enter into your film strip. Do you not also see memories, events (historical and otherwise), and even particular people? And, if you’ve lived in a place long enough, maybe you’ve taken this a step further in your mind by incorporating something aspirational, like an idea of what that place or context should or could be.
We are often asked to strike a delicate balance in our designs to improve the site while doing so in a way that fits within the already established context. Understanding context means more than delving into architectural guidebooks or looking at surveys and photographs of a site. It means that we have to go beyond the immediate boundaries of a building plot and look at the larger influences of a neighborhood, a city, or even the region in which a project is located. And when all of that study doesn’t reveal a particular feel or vibe, it likely means we haven’t dug deep enough. We need to look farther and wider to discover the context. This further study often requires talking to people in the community, looking into the history and tradition of the particular building type we find ourselves designing, studying users’ behavior, and asking users about their motivations, desires, and expectations. Above all, determining context requires a level of deference and curiosity.
Why does any of this matter? It matters when a designer wants their work to be relevant to the owners, users, and communities their buildings will serve. Context, in all the variants described here, has always been a major influence on our work. Our firm cut its teeth doing projects in Washington DC’s many historic neighborhoods and, in so doing, we had to develop a deep understanding and appreciation for the physical contexts of these well-established places in order to be successful. [In the interest of full disclosure, the firm’s early body of work was all completed before I came here, but it is nonetheless what drew me here in the first place.]
Fast-forward to today and a current project I do know quite a bit about: the Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina. You might readily ask, what is it about the context of Charleston that could present a problem? It is, indeed, a perfectly lovely historic city, comprised of many elegant, older single-family, detached houses set amid gracious gardens and woven together by beautiful tree-lined streets. It is, seemingly, a well-defined context. The problem is that our project, technically a renovation and expansion of an existing 1960’s-era municipal auditorium, is a huge building (over 260,000 SF) and larger than anything Charleston has seen constructed in some time.
The Gaillard, both in its original and expanded forms, is an enormous intrusion into the City fabric. The original structure was very much a product of its time–an act of urban renewal (several historic homes were torn down and parts of Charleston’s quirky street grid were changed to accommodate it) expressed as a modernist edifice intended to look ahead rather than to the City’s past. While the old Gaillard grew outdated, both aesthetically and functionally, the community’s views of itself and goals for its future evolved; with the new Gaillard the community now chooses to celebrate its past, instead of ignore it.
Faced with expanding an already-too-large building, we found an opportunity to fashion the additions using discrete and articulate massing that breaks the bulk of the building down into pavilions, hyphens, towers, and bays. The massing is then complemented with a layer of detail and ornament that is friendly, meaningful, scale-giving, and inspired by the historic forms of Charleston’s most beloved buildings. No, all of these things won’t make the new Gaillard Center disappear, but they will help this new building to fit within the community and the context of the City of Charleston.
What to do when that larger context either doesn’t exist or isn’t well-defined? Look harder. And, when you look harder and the aspirations and ephemeral context appear to be different from the physical context that is there, you may just have to build it yourself. Designing with this particular attitude towards context does not mean we will arrive at one universally perfect solution every time if we follow this formula. We will, however, most likely be assured of arriving at a building that will be relevant to, embraced and even loved by, the greatest number of people who will see it, visit it, or touch it on any given day. This result, to me, is a major benchmark of success for our projects. Remaining relevant to the communities where I work is very important to me and what keeps me interested and engaged on any given day.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The author’s book Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terroirists is highly recommended for the psychographic insights it contains that potentially describe an important place for classical music in today’s market.
The connections between wine and music run unexpectedly deep. It isn’t just that many wine lovers are music lovers, too. The brilliant “postmodern” California winemaker Clark Smith has experimented with wine and music “pairings,” demonstrating that certain wines taste better when accompanied by particular tunes. Inexpensive Glen Ellen Chardonnay, he says, is especially tasty if you sip it along with the Beach Boys’ “California Girls.”
I used to be a skeptic about this connection until Smith put on some music and asked me to taste a particular wine and then changed the music on me mid-sip. The taste of the wine turned from sweet to bitter right there in my mouth. It really did. How is this possible? One answer comes from sensory science research. It seems that there are parts of the brain that are particularly involved in appreciating wine and these overlap to a certain extent with the music appreciation areas. Change one element and you can sometimes change the other. Incredible.
Just because the sensory appreciation of music and wine are connected in this way doesn’t mean that there is necessarily much to learn about music by studying wine or vice versa, but sometimes I am struck by certain parallels. In one chapter in my 2013 book Extreme Wine, for example, in trying to understand the changing market status of the great red wines of Bordeaux, I ended up viewing the situation through the lens of grand opera. Once upon a time, I argued, opera was an integral element of the common culture. The composers, the arias, the singers – they were all part of everyday life: when someone whistled a tune in the subway or tuned into a radio program on Saturday, opera was there or at least nearby.
Bordeaux once occupied a similarly commanding height in the world of wine. But, of course, things changed. Opera and Bordeaux both became very expensive and associated with elites. Meanwhile competition grew fierce, especially as new generations emerged who did not automatically conform to the older norms. China kept Bordeaux in its exalted position for a while longer, as Suzanne Mustacich writes in her wonderful new book Thirsty Dragon, but now it seems that the interest has turned from Bordeaux the wine to Bordeaux the tourist experience, and Chinese investors are snapping up lesser estates to refashion into flashy destination resorts.
“Is Bordeaux still relevant?,” I asked in Extreme Wine. And I’ve decided that it is,
but in the peculiar way that opera is still relevant. Opera no longer informs us about music (or culture) generally as it once did. Opera is about opera now, and that is good enough. And Bordeaux is (just?) Bordeaux.
These are just my observations and since I am an only an economist who studies the wine industry I don’t expect that others who know more about music and culture will agree with them. But hopefully they show how I am how trying to use music to understand wine.
Does this rather pessimistic view of opera and Bordeaux apply to wine and classic music more generally? No. When I tilt my perspective just a bit, the outline of an optimistic future for great music emerges.
Fifty years ago it would have been easy to doubt the future of fine wine in America. A thin film of great Burgundy and Bordeaux wines floated on an American sea that was dominated by unsophisticated, industrial wines. Thunderbird, a high-octane lemon-flavored fortified wine, powered the rise of Gallo to its position as the nation’s – and now the world’s – largest wine producer. The best-selling imported wine of all time in the U.S. market was custom-crafted to appeal to mass market American tastes. Have you tried it? Riunite Lambrusco was created to be the “Red Coke” – fizzy, a bit sweet, low in alcohol and irresistible to American consumers. As the advertisements once proclaimed, if you haven’t tried Riunite you don’t know what you are missing, so you might want to pick up a bottle and unscrew the cap (a Riunite innovation among imports when it was introduced).
Most of the wines that guided America out of the wilderness of the Prohibition were commercial products, crafted to please the existing market rather than to elevate American tastes. And yet, while those mass market beverages are still with us, the market momentum has shifted dramatically and unexpectedly towards more sophisticated wines. Data from the Nielsen Company’s surveys of off-premises wine sales tell this story. The market for inexpensive generic wine is still large, but sales are falling in every price category below $9. Meanwhile sales are increasing in higher priced categories, with a 14+ percent increase in wines priced at $15-$20 and more than 7 percent rise in sales of wines costing about $20. The wines that American buyers increasingly seek today are in a different world from the Thunderbird of days past. They are more sophisticated and the best of them proudly reflect the great traditions of winemaking. How did we get here from there? How did wine escape, at least in part, from an industrial wasteland and begin the journey to return to its roots?
My 2011 book Wine Wars plotted the evolution of American wine culture in terms of the dynamic interaction of three powerful forces. First comes globalization that benefits local wine producers by expanding their potential marketplace, which is great. But it also produces a more cluttered and competitive market environment. Consumers, once starved for choice, are now sometimes overwhelmed by it. Upscale supermarkets routinely stock more than a thousand different wine choices that range in price from a couple of bucks to more than two hundred dollars a bottle! Big box specialty stores now carry 8000 wines from every corner of the globe. The “wine wall” where enthusiasts gather to choose bottles to take home is now plagued by the Paradox of Choice. Having no choice is bad (that’s why the communist empire collapsed, according to an economics joke – because everything was either mandatory or forbidden), but too many choices can be just as troublesome.
One way that people cope with globalization and the Paradox of Choice is to try to simplify things. This explains the increasing importance of branded wines like Yellowtail from Australia and Charles Shaw (a.k.a. Two Buck Chuck) from California. An effective brand allows consumers to economize on information: they do not need to know the country, region, vintage, or even grape variety they like. They just need to know what brand they have tried before and enjoyed. The problem with brands, however, is that they risk breaking what I call Einstein’s Law. Einstein said that everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. I think he was talking about scientific theories, but the idea applies more generally. Simplifying wine helps consumers escape the Paradox of Choice, but it risks stripping wine of the very properties that make it appealing to us in the first place. Dumbed-down wine – would you like Bud Red or Bud White? – might be a commercial success, but it wouldn’t be wine anymore, would it?
Globalization and commodification are powerful forces. They push the idea of wine toward oblivion. How can wine resist? The answer, as I wrote in Wine Wars, is that there is a third force pushing back. I call it the “revenge of the terroirists,” adapting the French word terroir which roughly translates as a sense of place. I was counting upon wine lovers who care deeply about wine and wine culture to take up the fight to preserve wine’s soul.
Although there are many ways to characterize the war for wine’s identity, I think the framework that I developed in Wine Wars is fairly useful. What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, however, is the fact that the war isn’t just about wine. It is about everything, or at least many elements of civilized life. The forces that serve to undermine wine’s complicated existence are mirrored by similar forces at work more generally in the worlds of food, art, literature, education, and even music. Given this fact, it would seem like the terroirists’ revenge is unlikely indeed.
Unexpectedly, however, the ubiquity of the challenge seems to have strengthened the terroirists’ resolve. The yearning for a sense of connection that slick brands cannot provide is widespread and growing. I see it manifest in the world of wine as consumers who are increasingly focused on things that matter prove over and over again that they are willing to pay for products that connect them to person and place, to history and inspiration. Having grown tired of the fake, they now seek out authenticity. I know a winemaker who confesses that he just follows the market and who consequently now focuses intensely on wines that are a tangible expression of a particular time and place. He sees the future in organic wines that bring buyers closer to the earth, and closer therefore to the ultimate source of wine experience.
The terroirist revenge, a renewed commitment to authenticity, was not created by wine alone and it does not apply to wine alone either. Rather, it is a movement among the new and the young today – exactly those not brought up in the traditions of grand opera and Bordeaux, but who seek out, nevertheless, the real, the genuine, and the authentic experience. To twist a Rolling Stones lyric, they are surrounded by what they want – or what they are told they want – so they search instead for what they need. And sometimes they find it. They see Einstein’s Law broken all around them, and they choose another path.
The unexpected success of the terroirist revenge doesn’t mean that the wine wars are over, but they give us hope. And the parallel patterns in craft beer, craft spirits, and other consumer categories underlines the pattern. The emerging terroirist class wants to be challenged and they want to learn. Who knows? – perhaps they will even one day embrace Bordeaux with the same ardor as their grandparents. Perhaps they will embrace opera this way, too – and the rest of classical music movement, if they understand what it really is and what it means. I am not sure how it should be done, but the effort must be made. If it can happen in wine, it can happen elsewhere.
Not everyone is cut from terroirist cloth, but there are enough who are for this to be recognized as an important movement – and for this to be an important moment in history of wine culture. Can it be sustained? Prediction is difficult, we economists like to say, especially about the future. But the factors that have provoked the movement’s rise seem unlikely to go away. Cheers to the terroirist revenge!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an edited transcription of the address delivered by Richard Bogomolny at our inaugural The Future of the Symphony Conference in September 2014. View the video of this presentation in its entirety.
I just want to begin by saying what an honor it is to appear on this program with such highly credentialed speakers, and I don’t take this lightly. I’ve been asked to talk about how the Cleveland Orchestra operates, focusing more on the practical side. But along the way I have to tell you those things we believe in and those things we don’t.
My own personal history is that I grew up in the supermarket industry, and I retired from that business. I wouldn’t mention that except for Andy’s comments yesterday concerning potential problems when you bring too much business discipline into an arts organization and what the potential is for that, both good and bad. I’m glad I had the business experience to apply to it, but historically, when you become the president or chairman of this organization, you never lose sight of the fact that the art is the most important thing. Music is number one. We’d like to say that the musicians are number two and everything else is number three.
I grew up during the George Szell era. This was the era during which the orchestra became known far and wide for artistic excellence. There were two elements of pride for the community in those days. They were the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Browns – that’s where my head was when I was growing up. My mother studied at the Damrosch School in New York, which later became Juilliard, and my brother and I each studied music and grew up loving classical music. He played the clarinet and French horn and now plays classical guitar, and I the violin and viola. We both studied with prominent members of the Cleveland Orchestra and attended the national music camp at Interlochen for two summers. It was at Interlochen that I realized I was never going to be good enough to play at the level where I would like to play.
Here is a kind of disclaimer: while I think the kinds of things that impact orchestras today are fairly common among the orchestras, the solutions, in my view, have to be local. What works in Cleveland may or may not work elsewhere, and there are reasons for that. So I’m not here to say what things other orchestras ought to be doing simply because we’re doing them – it’s not that at all. And we make as many mistakes as the next organization does. Cleveland itself is a major part of what and who we are. But I think we have four issues in common.
It’s fairly obvious that financial resources – or the lack thereof – are a major issue in the industry. The development of audiences – their age, their size, and their demographics – is another thing. That leads to the third problem, which is lack of true diversity on the stage, in the boardroom, and in the building. The fourth thing is that none of us suffers from a lack of qualified musicians. The world is continuing to produce more and better musicians than the major orchestras of the world can possibly support. Unfortunately, on the issue of diversity and inclusion, because of years and years of trying and failing, I don’t think that I have much that is useful to provide for you other than a long study of things that didn’t work. So I’m going to talk about history a little bit.
The orchestra was founded in 1918 by Adella Prentiss Hughes. She had two things in mind, both of which have remained central to our existence ever since. Firstly, she wanted Cleveland to have a great orchestra and to avoid the need of always having to import touring orchestras for classical music. And secondly, she hoped the orchestra’s musicians would form a cadre to teach in the Cleveland public school systems. And for most of this time, this has been true.
In 2018 we will celebrate our one hundredth anniversary. We are planning a celebration not of the orchestra but of our community, which has supported us for all of these years. In addition to the Orchestra, we run the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus. We involve in these organizations as many people from northeastern Ohio, and some from even further away, as we can.
Severance Hall was opened in 1930. At the time it was called America’s most beautiful concert hall and I believe that it was. In 1956 or so, George Szell completely revamped and improved the acoustics by changing the concert stage and removing heavy carpeting and drapes, but in the process he buried the six-thousand-piece organ in the ceiling, making it impossible to play. This was at the beginning of the era of high fidelity, and Szell believed that we would be able to play the organ and broadcast it through very large speakers that were installed in the back wall, but that never happened.
Later, we revamped the whole Severance Hall again. We renovated it, we added to it, and we brought the organ down to the concert hall level, where it now stretches around three sides of the stage and is very playable. The hall seats two thousand people, all with an unobstructed view. And the acoustics are really quite good. I think the acoustics are one of the reasons for what is referred to as the ‘Cleveland Orchestra Sound.’ It’s a stage where the musicians hear each other better than anywhere else they’ve ever played.
In 1968 we opened our summer hall at the Blossom Music Center. It sits on 200 acres in the middle of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It was completely renovated in 2002, and the serious work of providing better accessibility, not just for the handicapped but also for the aging population, is being completed in phases over the next couple of years. The pavilion seats 5,700 and another 13,500 can sit on the lawn, all with good visibility. The stage is at the bottom of a natural bowl, with seating and access from the hillside. Touring soloists and guest conductors tell us that it’s the most beautiful and best acoustical outdoor classical venue in the world.
Franz Welser-Möst has been our music director since 2002. He is under contract through 2015 and we’re in the midst of negotiations to extend that now. He just recently resigned as the music director of the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic. I think he had the second longest tenure of anyone there, but when he took the job he said, “I’m not going to complete my term; nobody does.” And he didn’t.
The Cleveland Factor
I want to talk about the Cleveland marketplace. In 1955, we had one million residents residing inside of the city’s legal boundaries. Today we have 390,000. The city went from a manufacturing powerhouse for cars, steel, and oil refinement to a service economy where the largest current employer is the Cleveland Clinic. We were long ago a top-tier economy, and we became a second-tier economy in the 1970s and ’80s. By the recession of 2007–8, we’d become a third-tier economy. Last week the US Census Bureau released new numbers that give Cleveland the distinction of being the second poorest city in America. Detroit beat us out for the distinction of being the poorest.
But surprisingly, for all these years, the Cleveland Orchestra has been supported by our community as a top-tier orchestra with all the associated costs that go with it. We’re the smallest city in the world to have such an orchestra, and it would be easy to conclude that the people leaving Cleveland moved into the suburbs, but the numbers don’t really back that up. It means that our funding base has deteriorated and that support for all of our area nonprofits has fallen to fewer and fewer sources. Many of the area’s Fortune 500 companies have moved elsewhere or have merged – several major banks among them. In 2007, after a very large campaign, the city created a pool funded by a tax of thirty cents per pack of cigarettes for the use of the performing arts organizations in the area.
There’s one other factor besides the economics to be considered, and that’s the historical generosity of the community. In the words of Fiddler on the Roof, I’m speaking about Tradition. In Cleveland, the tradition of philanthropy has origins in the early 1900s with Andrew Carnegie, the Rockefellers, the Severances, and others. It has continued to this day, measured by what the Cleveland Orchestra raises, what United Way, Jewish Federation, Catholic Charities, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and a mass of others have raised annually. I believe that the United Way was originally the Community Chest and it was founded in Cleveland. And the Cleveland Foundation, which was the first community foundation in America, is currently the second wealthiest behind New York City. That’s all going on while people are leaving the area and the economy turns from heavy-duty manufacturing to mostly service and medicine.
But one of the things of interest is the fact that the Cleveland Orchestra had the highest market penetration for both ticket sales and per capita donations in the industry. No other orchestra has developed even half of what we have achieved in their marketplaces. Yet balancing the budget has always been a struggle. And here is why: the nature of the industry. My predecessor as president of the orchestra, Ward Smith, defined a nonprofit as the symphony orchestra. Why? Because the revenue earned from ticket sales and sponsorships never covered, even in the best of times, more than 47 or 48 percent of what it cost to operate. In recent times, that number has been closer to 40 percent than to 50. Covering the other 53 to 60 percent of the annual operating budget depends totally on fundraising – whether you called it endowment, annual bridge, special, or by any other name or combination of names.
On the business side of the symphony orchestra, I believe this is all one really needs to know in setting priorities. Next to governments, for which most boards easily possess the talent – whether they have the will is another story – fundraising is where it’s at in terms of financial success or failure. Every one of our trustees has a fundraising plan to which he has agreed and assists in solicitations for the annual fund drive.
There are some broad principles. It’s often suggested that if the board does the job of fundraising the musicians will be able to keep up with their compatriots in other cities in terms of pay, benefits, and retirement. Conversely, any lack of resources to pay for these increases is generally the board’s fault. And I believe that this argument may in fact be true in certain instances, but it certainly isn’t in every instance and it’s way too simplistic – it’s just not true in many cases, and in others it’s true only by degrees.
I created the chart in Figure 1 not with the purpose to compare orchestras, but to talk about marketplaces. There is new data released by the US Department of Commerce that measures what it really costs to live – not what the CPI is, but what it really costs to live – in each of the areas marked in the left-hand column. The ranking is the regional price parity score from highest to lowest. One hundred is the average, so for anything listed as above one hundred you can assume the cost of living is higher than zero. Those listed as the bottom three, all less than one hundred, are the more impoverished cities. You can say that it costs less to operate there. In the last column you’ll see the actual percentage difference between the scores of Cleveland and the other cities. Cleveland is listed at the bottom as zero; New York is 37 percent more costly, based on this federal study, than Cleveland; and Baltimore comes in somewhere in the middle at 22.6 percent more costly than Cleveland. There’s one other thing that you can deduce from this information. For a dollar spent in Cleveland, you’d have to spend $1.37 in New York to buy the same market basket; $1.19 in Chicago to buy the same thing; and, surprisingly for me, $1.22 in Baltimore. The purpose of the chart is just to show you generally the economics of the twelve major orchestras that I listed there.
What that means is that Cleveland was the eighth-highest paying orchestra in terms of actual dollars, but its musicians had more purchasing power than all the others because of the marketplace in Cleveland. As I said, one dollar spent in Cleveland would buy $1.37-worth of products in New York City. Based on purchasing power – which none of the union players wants to hear about and so, to that extent, what I’m talking about is highly sensitive – the Cleveland Orchestra musicians clearly are able to afford the nicest standard of living compared to the musicians in all the other cities we’ve looked at. And that is, unfortunately, because Cleveland is one of the poorest areas.
But we also adhere to a legal principle: to agree to pay more money than what the figures tell you will be available – as many orchestras have tried to do over the years – is a breach of our fiduciary responsibility to the organization and to the community. And that’s how a lot of orchestras have got themselves into deep trouble, betting on the if-come, which in fact rarely does come.
Musicians like to look at how they stack up against their peers in terms of base pay as a pure number. I think this is certainly a psychological issue; it’s a feel-good issue. They want to be paid as well as Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and New York, and the reason for that is the fact that they can, in many cases, logically say that they play as well. I would argue that these other things show much more than the relative base pay. But none of these arguments are the real reason for showing you these numbers. That, I will discuss in a couple of minutes. I just want you to keep in mind the background of these numbers.
What We Believe In
This is based on both personal and institutional experience. Let’s begin with Excellence. We believe that everything we do – every plan we form, every expenditure that we make – must be tested against what that action will do for or against the standard of musical excellence that we have followed for decades. In times of financial difficulty, only those activities not related to what we call being a world-class orchestra may be cut without consent of the board.
The other thing we believe in is the fact that it’s very hard to play an instrument at the level of the members of our orchestra, how very good the musicians have to be in order to get in in the first place, and how hard they must work in order to stay at that level and to uphold our artistic traditions. While growing up, many of these musicians were thought of as child prodigies in their own communities. It’s been my objective over the years to make sure that the trustees understand and believe that our musicians are special and that they, collectively, are the reason we’re in business.
We also believe that classical music is not dead, nor will the ability to hear any amount of music free on the Internet bury us. Our unwavering belief is that the live concert experience, with the audience being emotionally involved and connected to music, is enduring. You can ask our musicians and you’ll find that none of them buy into the proposition that classical music is dead. In fact, they’ve been asked that question by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which for the last few weeks has been doing vignettes on each of the members of the orchestra, and one of the questions they ask is about the death of classical music.
Last summer we set attendance records at the Blossom Music Center for most attendees, highest average attendance per concert, highest number of age 25-and-under attendees, and the highest revenue – even with ages 18-and-under being admitted free with an adult ticket buyer. And we achieved this in two fewer concerts than we had the year before. Some of this is programming – and some is weather and that’s accidental – but it’s nonetheless true that what we’re doing is not dying.
We believe that we are the most efficiently run of the major orchestras, based on statistical comparisons of operating size and budget – currently around $50 million – and considering the fact that we operate both Severance Hall and the Blossom Music Center. Very few orchestras own and run their own venues. The trustees understand that, operating as tightly as we do, it is no longer possible to save the orchestra from a financial crisis by significantly cutting overhead. That’s already been done and we don’t permit mission creep in this area. We recognize that investments, by definition, must often be made in advance of actually achieving desired results. We also understand that some initiatives will fail or be far less than hoped for.
We believe that it’s neither possible nor desirable to save money by trying to balance the budget on the backs of the musicians. In a crisis caused by events outside our control, we do expect them to participate in sharing the sacrifice, and they have done so in the form of freezes, slower increases, and extra services – within the whole organization, including the music director, the executive director, and the senior staff. It’s very interesting that when Franz Welser-Möst took the podium to be our music director in 2002, we were getting right into the first recession of the decade, and he volunteered 10 percent of his total compensation before he had even conducted his first concert.
We do believe that musicians and staff need to be fairly paid, recognizing and taking into consideration their highly developed talents and level of skill. Here is the reason for the chart introduced earlier showing the relative economies of the twelve orchestras. I know that what I say next is controversial, but I believe it to be true nonetheless. We believe that our employees’ pay and benefits need to be negotiated based on the situation in the Greater Cleveland marketplace, not on what’s going on in New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. Why? Because there is a fundraising reality. As I told you earlier, we’re always having to raise between 50 and 60 percent of our operating budget one way or another, and it’s Cleveland where we raise our money. It’s Cleveland where we do business, where we sell tickets; and it’s not possible to separate these functions from the Cleveland marketplace. The economies of other cities are not relevant to our ability to cover expenses in Cleveland. We cannot raise funds based on population numbers or the strengths of Boston or New York’s economies. And, as you can see, we have no ability to influence the buying power in these other areas. It’s often been proposed that we won’t be able to hire and keep the musicians unless we pay competitively, based on what the other major orchestras pay. For many decades we followed this path. This may or may not become a problem in the future, but as of now it isn’t and it hasn’t been. It’s currently a specious argument. It looks okay on the surface but fails in real life.
We believe that the number of musicians in orchestras must be set by the music director, not by economic issues – even though each open position can easily save more than $150,000 annually. In the early years we might have talked about this kind of thing, but I believe today’s board would not even hold a discussion on the subject. We understand that, even though we’re likely to have 250 musicians from around the world wanting to audition for a single open position, reducing the actual numbers of musicians in the orchestra, forgetting what the impact might be on sound balances, is a very slippery slope towards disaster. During contract negotiations, if there were a showdown on an impasse, we and the musicians all know that we could easily hire a whole new orchestra and replace the musicians with other talented musicians, but it would never again be the Cleveland Orchestra, where we have a tradition of hiring the best players who audition. And those players are then taken under the wings not only of the music director but also of the current members of the orchestra, who help teach them the style in which the orchestra plays Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms. This remains a part of the George Szell tradition, and it’s been self-perpetuating. It’s kind of amazing to watch.
The orchestra does not like to go on stage unprepared – for either educational concerts or regular concerts. The musicians expect to work hard during rehearsals. They are skeptical if they don’t. They do not appreciate guest conductors who are so impressed or so overwhelmed that they coast in rehearsals. They complain to management not for being overworked but for not having enough rehearsal time. On tours, if you’ll walk the halls of the hotels as I’ve done many times, you’ll hear them practicing in their rooms instead of sightseeing. This is an experience that I’ve had many times, not just once or twice.
Every orchestra I know describes itself in terms of excellence – a term that is almost completely subjective and quite un-measurable. What is clear to me is that most orchestras in the top ten or fifteen largest American cities are very, very good. Why? Because their musicians are highly trained, highly skilled, highly dedicated, and substantial members of their local communities. They care about their job, their artistry, and their audiences. The orchestras themselves have usually good to great artistic leadership. Any one of these orchestras is capable of giving great concerts.
However, to my chagrin and the chagrin of others, playing great music and wonderful concerts ceased years ago to ensure the success of major orchestras. While that should be enough, the fact is that it isn’t and it hasn’t been for a while. This has certainly been the case in Cleveland. If it were enough, there would be no need for conferences like this one, the Philadelphia Orchestra would not have gone into bankruptcy, and the Detroit and Minnesota orchestras would not have had financial troubles. All of them play very well. On the flip side, though, I’m convinced that not playing great concerts of great music will ultimately ensure failure.
During both the recessions of 2001 and 2007–9, many of the things that hurt were predictable, even if out of our control. The endowment and pension funds got blasted by the market decline, creating unfunded liabilities in the pension fund that would require large cash payments over years to fix. Even if the market were to bounce back hugely, money in the endowment would never be able to ride the market back up because all of us were using principle to fund the operations. The donor base at all levels of wealth dried up because people were scared and their advisers were telling them to perhaps pay off their existing pledges, but certainly not to get any more heavily involved.
If you were like us, something else happened that I’ve never heard mentioned anywhere else in the industry. Each orchestra went into survival mode with key members of staff and board leadership involved day and night in trying to save the institution rather than in building the artistic side of the business, which is where our organizational leadership ought to be spending its time. In my view, there is only one way to avoid that trap, and that is to build a large enough endowment – roughly six times the annual budget – which can help an organization ride through inevitable business cycles. We’ve been trying to do this, with our goal to be there by our centennial in 2018. As of now, we’re not on track to do it but we may end up close.
This experience told us, though, that we really had to change. The change would likely have to be transformative rather than incremental. We had to look at things differently in order to do things differently. The Committee on the Future of the Cleveland Orchestra was formed and met for a solid year. It was made up of trustees, senior staff, and non-trustees who were important in the community, including elected officials and business leaders. They looked at every line of the financial statement and thought through every idea, crazy or not. It was during this time that we considered downsizing.
Because of the extreme hits to the market value of both the endowment and the pension plan and the resulting implications, we seriously looked at downsizing from a world-class orchestra to a truly regional orchestra. This was precipitated by potential large future operating losses based on loss of attendance and donors. Even though we already had the smallest operating budget of the other big ten orchestras except for Washington, we found that we could save millions of dollars annually by eliminating those costs which were directly attributed to being what we called “world-class” – that was union contract and benefits, touring, publicity, and so on. But there wasn’t one person in that room willing to propose such a step.
Since fundraising was crucial to any plan, we went out and spoke to our major donors, corporations, and foundations – particularly to our most generous individual donors, myself included. We asked them directly if we could count on their continued financial support for the downsizing plan to become a regional orchestra. The results were unanimous: nobody would give us the same amount or anything close to it for a lesser orchestra. Most wouldn’t contribute anything at all. We were built on excellence and that’s what we needed to be. Even when faced with the choice of going out of business versus survival by downsizing, the results were clear.
The turn-around plan was a five-year plan. Most of us had been operating traditionally with five-year plans and we were caught in that trap in those days. We looked at strategic imperatives, the excellence of the brand, and this might have been hubris but we believed, based on what others were telling us and what we saw ourselves, that we had established a kind of brand recognition that, if marketed correctly, could help us to develop residencies. The term “The Cleveland,” as we were known in Europe and Asia, often results in the need to answer the question, What is a Cleveland? But the last time we were in Japan, for example, the emperor and empress came to one of our concerts – something that no one at the hall could remember ever happening before. This evoked a huge response, with the audience standing and applauding loudly with much pride.
Well, the obvious part of the turnaround plan was that we cut nonessential overhead and reassigned work. We cut non-musicians’ labor with one-time reductions of five percent; music directors took another ten percent cut; the senior staff, including the executive director, actually voted themselves a ten percent reduction. The not-so-obvious idea was that of having to pursue excellence and innovation.
The goal was to remove six to eight weeks of total overhead from the Cleveland operating statement. This was based on the underlying reality that the economy of northeastern Ohio was too weak to support us as they had done in the past. We would have to look elsewhere in order to solve our financial problems. The target was to replace the lost ticket sales in Cleveland with ticket sales and donated funds from residencies outside the area. We would either strike out in a new direction with high risk or wait until the problem of our market ran us out of business. Even so, such a plan would take years to develop. We would no longer tour in a situation where Cleveland donors had to pay for the cost of the tours. We had to create a plan where, if we toured, the tours had to pay for themselves. Otherwise, we couldn’t afford to go. We defined residencies as a creative way to enhance the program of playing great concerts.
Miami would be our first opportunity because they were nearing the completion of both the new concert hall and the opera house and because of friends in their marketplace willing to help us. Miami’s hall was scheduled to open in 2006–7. We began negotiations and flew important individuals from Miami to Cleveland on multiple occasions so they could see what we were doing in our own marketplace, hear concerts and operas, and see initiatives in education at all levels. We reached an agreement to have the Cleveland Orchestra be the Orchestra in Residence at the Knight Concert Hall when it opened. The plan worked and the residency commenced in 2007. We started spending two weeks each season in Miami, then three weeks, and currently we’re spending four weeks in Miami, beginning in January and concluding in March of each year.
The activities in which the orchestra and musicians participate there are constantly evolving and expanding. Residencies require the building of strong relationships with existing organizations in the community – with schools and universities, cultural and education groups. First we were going to play two concerts each week at the Knight Concert Hall. The music and guest artists target the broad population of ethnic groups residing in Miami. The repertoire is often different from what is performed in Cleveland. We do side-by-side rehearsals and training sessions for musicians wanting to play in orchestras. We do that with the New World Symphony and with the Frost School of Music orchestra at the University of Miami. Our musicians and Franz Welser-Möst lead master classes and conducting sessions. We do chamber music, concerts and coaching, children’s concerts, family concerts, Musical Rainbows, and everything else we know to expand the geography beyond the Adrienne Arsht Center and the Knight Concert Hall. In some cases, in order to raise funds not covered by earned income from the sale of tickets, we set up and operate fundraising departments in residency areas. In Miami we set up the Musical Arts Association of Miami to fundraise. Every year Franz Welser-Möst opens the season down there, and we now have Giancarlo Guerrero as our principal guest conductor. He’s also the conductor of the Nashville Symphony.
Setting up residency is a huge investment in time and money, which are in particularly short supply during a recession. Currently we’ve established residencies in Miami, at the Musikverein in Vienna, the Salzburg Festival, the Lucerne Festival, the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and the Lincoln Center Festival. Some of these we do in alternate years. We expect that a major new residency in Europe is likely to be announced shortly. We have established a brand. The marketplace sees that we know how to operate with flexibility during these residencies, to give value for the money and for the people we attract. We’ve not yet solved the problem, which is serious, of having our musicians away from home during residencies. In the case of Miami, it’s a four-week period, and it’s a difficult situation for all concerned. I’m not sure we’ll be able to solve it in the near term, but we’re all working on it.
One of our imperatives is what we call ‘Communicate and Align.’ Its intent is to have musicians, trustees, staff, and audiences engage with each other in new ways with no agenda other than getting to know each other on a different level. The musicians show up and socialize after ‘Fridays@Seven’ concerts, during which we host world music presentation parties. On another occasion, the Development department and the Fundraising committee of the board hosted a thank you lunch for members of the orchestra, most of whom came from rehearsal and stayed for two hours. We now have members of the orchestra on certain board committees, like the Total Concert Experience task force, the Fundraising committee, the Facilities committee, and the Technology task force. They have become valuable, contributing members. One string bass player, Henry Peyrebrunne, asked for and received a year’s sabbatical from Franz to work in our Development department and learn what fundraising is all about. He has recently completed that year and has joined the staff part time while going back to playing in the orchestra full time. There are many examples of dinners and after-concert events, open rehearsals, and such where we try to get the four constituencies together.
Just before the recession of 2007–8 hit, which closely followed the one in early 2000, we solicited a grant of $20 million from the Maltz Family Foundation to fund audience-building initiatives. After the recession hit, they honored the gift but spread it out over several years. With these funds we created the Center for Future Audiences. It had several goals, made all the more necessary by the second economic crash in the decade. We needed to rebuild our audiences and also to admit that lost subscription sales would be hard or impossible to rebuild. We would be fighting a universal, nationwide downward trend in subscription sales. We needed to concentrate on individual concert ticket sales and marketing. We needed to identify once and for all the existing impediments to concert-going and to set about removing them – things like the presumed dress code and concert etiquette. Does it really matter and to whom? There were winter and summer transportation issues. We targeted ticket packages that included busing from the various neighborhoods for our older population, particularly in winter, and out to Blossom, which is geographically halfway between Cleveland and Akron.
We needed to look at supply and demand, also. In terms of the numbers of concerts being presented and the demand for tickets created by current audiences, there were huge differences in the way we were operating now and the way we operated in the nineties, when the number of concerts was expanded because demand was high and good seats were simply unavailable. After 2001, we believed it was important to reduce the number or concerts and the corresponding number of available tickets. Really, the strategy was to set up a shortage of tickets, if possible, and increase the demand.
The chart in Figure 2 shows the number of subscription tickets – it’s the top green line that becomes dotted and trends downward – and it crosses the blue line, which represents individual ticket sales. Much of the overall ticket sales figures are the same. But what’s happening is that, with the demise of subscription purchases, many people are buying fewer concerts and so it takes more people to buy the same number of seats. That’s pretty obvious. What’s really happening is that we’re selling more tickets to more households today than in any other time in our history, but they’re buying fewer tickets because they’re not subscribing to multiple concerts.
We did a considerable amount of research on the question of ticket prices, which had gone up industry-wide at a rate twice that of inflation. There was a price-value reorientation that we thought was different, and we looked at the strategy by audience segments: 25 and under, 25 to 40, 40 to 60, and above 60. We found little or no resistance to the cost of box seats or the dress circle seats, always in big demand, with few seats available. We did find price concerns for most of the other audience groups.
We had tried many programs in the past to bring in younger audiences, particularly college students, but with little luck, even though Severance Hall sat in the middle of the Case Western Reserve University campus. The Maltz Family and the new grant were tied to this effort at every step of the way. First, we created a multimarket ticketing plan, dedicated to building the youngest audience in America by 2018, our centennial year. We tested an under-18-free flagship program at Blossom, and a year later we brought the under-18-free program to Severance Hall. With each free ticket there needed to be an adult ticket purchased. We created a student advantage pricing program for college students and a fan card program where $50 buys the student unlimited concerts, based only on the availability of tickets. We introduced the ‘Fridays@Seven’ concept, in which the orchestra plays probably two-thirds of its regular program of Thursday and Saturday that week, but with no intermission. Afterward there is a world music festival with food and a party in the Grand Foyer. And it was hugely successful! Last year we created the Total Concert Experience task force and populated it with people from all over the community to give us a fresh look at how to do things better.
The 25-and-under program has been hugely successful. All of the programs I mentioned earlier have helped, but the student program attracted 110,000 students since its inception – 40,000 during last winter’s season alone, which means that last season 20 percent of the Severance Hall audience was made up of people age 25 and under. Saturday night has become date night again, and we had twenty-three sellouts on Saturday nights during the season.
The backbone of success has been our focus on social media and the Web. In raw numbers, we went from attracting 13,000 hits in 2012 to over 100,000 last year. Most importantly, we focused on engagement, which is the number of people who actually participate once they get to the social media interface, and we found that ours is an industry-high at 17 percent.
We know we haven’t reached our full potential, but we also know the results have been very positive. In Cleveland, this means pursuing innovation with staged or semi-staged operas. Last season we created a fully staged production of The Cunning Little Vixen by Jánaček. We do ballet partnerships with the Joffrey and Miami ballet. We do a couple of concerts each year using the original music to movie scores for ‘Fridays@Seven’ programs, and we have adjusted the way we concertize around the world, only going where we cover our costs. And, as I said, where we have residencies, we don’t just drop in and play concerts; we do master classes, we do chamber music coaching; we spend a very intensive period of time – a week to two weeks at a clip – making very intensive use of the musicians.
We have residencies at home, where we go into particular neighborhoods and for a week play concerts in venues there – it could be a barber shop, a small café, or a supermarket. We play concerts in those, and at the end of the week it all culminates in a full Cleveland Orchestra concert at one of the big venues in that area, maybe a church or a school auditorium. Three or four months before the residency week begins, we go into the school system and we have over forty visits to each of the schools by our musicians. There they do what they do best in terms of trying to turn on the students to the kind of music that we play. For some of the younger students, this may mean showing them how to play the instrument, letting them touch it or hold it, and playing it for them. Attention span is relatively low, so we’re in half-hour segments there. But for older students, usually we plan an hour with a theme. And in the themes we select, we try to relate the music to the classes they’re being taught. Music becomes a way to teach those classes.
We do that because we learned over time that the first place a school system goes to get rid of budget costs is to the music program. And that’s because it’s usually a distinct program – they know how many teachers they have, they know how many dollars are budgeted, they know what getting rid of it all saves. We’ve taken a different tack, which is that when we go into the schools we try to teach the curriculum using music as examples. And we’ve had a great deal of success with that, but, as you can imagine, it’s very intensive. There are some orchestral musicians who have been doing this now for close to fifteen years and are really good at it. There are some musicians who don’t do it, but we’ve never had a shortage of musicians to go in and work this way in the schools.
To diverge, we played an orchestra concert under Franz at, I think, Saint John High School in Cleveland – an inner-city school. There was no music in the school at all. The principal tried to get the audience to order – we were all in the gymnasium – and he could not do it. I said to our orchestra’s president at the time, who was sitting next to me, “This isn’t going to go well.” We were scheduled to perform Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and that was the whole program. But the school’s principal couldn’t get the students to quiet down.
The minute Franz took the podium, without turning to his audience and without saying a word to them, he just started to play. He played the beginning, cut us off, and then started to speak. You could hear a pin drop for the rest of the hour. These kids – most of them were black and all from the inner city – came up afterward wanting different things: they wanted to talk, wanted autographs, wanted to know how certain things worked or didn’t. It took us three hours to get back on our buses to Severance Hall. I had thought, “We’ve got an uneducated audience and this isn’t going to go well.” But the reverse was true. They were fascinated by the music, by the rhythms. There was no hint of disinterest or boredom. It was amazing to watch.
Communicate and Align
Well, I could talk for hours on this subject, but the only other thing I will say has to do with board leadership. It’s my view that boards matter. It’s my view that board leadership is necessary for both artistic and financial success. These things need to be board-driven. And to my view, failures and successes, by whatever definition you use, ultimately fall to the trustees. It’s our collective responsibility to fix things and to see that things work.
In the nonprofit world, I think everybody will agree that decisions have to be made more by consensus than in the corporate world, where the CEO can just make a decision and edict that it happen. You can’t really do that with volunteers because the volunteers can leave at any time. And for the most part they didn’t bargain for problems. They don’t like to find themselves in the newspapers – they don’t want the institution involved in publicity they consider inappropriate. And if and when they do, they can walk.
You have to engage the board in a way that it’s willing to make the decisions, and the only way that works is by constant involvement. We have a rule at Cleveland that we never vote on a major issue the first time it’s presented. By the time it’s presented the first time, it will have worked its way through several committees, depending on the subject matter. The only exception is if something has a time limit imposed from outside the orchestra so that we have to vote on it at a particular meeting. But they get a chance to make the tough decisions, and for the most part we’re able to give them the decisions to work on when it’s still timely.
So things have worked for us in that way. It’s not that we don’t have the same kind of problems you find elsewhere. We are as bound to the community and its financial structure as any institution could be. It’s why I like to make the point that says that when you arrive at a contract, whether it’s for labor or for buying lights or music stands, it’s the market in Cleveland that matters and it’s there that we have to convince our musicians that they are better than fairly paid. But they have to consider the purchasing power of the community when they make that decision.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an edited transcription of the lecture delivered by Léon Krier at our inaugural The Future of the Symphony Conference in September 2014. The video of this lecture can be viewed here.
Many of our doings and sayings are really motivated by fear. René Girard, who is well known in this country, has differentiated very clearly desires – metaphysical desires, desires which are directly motivated by bodies, and desires which imitate other desires but which are not felt, which are not considered to be of strict necessity. We still do not quite understand what motivates this desire – that the desire of desire can be stronger than the desire itself. For instance, Girard identifies anorexia as not a physical but a mental debility in which somebody desires something that he does not understand and that can destroy him. And fashion is really that phenomenon which explains or realizes the extraordinary dominance nowadays of metaphysical desire. How otherwise to explain the fact that, for about eighty years now, many gifted musicians refuse to write music, but write a kind of anti-music which instead of giving pleasure gives pain?
How can one explain that despite the failure of modern architecture – which was very visible already from the start – such a flawed theory, demonstrated by extremely bad results in both the urban sense and the architectural/technological sense, came to be repeated so many times around the world and then became the dominant system, not only in our cities but above all in our education system, forbidding any reference to traditional architecture or urbanism except as something which is no longer allowed? I studied for two terms at Stuttgart University, and when I understood that what was being taught there was going to destroy any idea that had motivated me to study architecture, I gave up.
I had the extraordinary chance to have been born in a very beautiful environment, and I found the pleasure I had known in that formidable environment again this morning, very briefly at six o’clock, when I got up in my room here in the hotel. This is not a romantic vision of Caspar David Friedrich, but it’s actually the main square on Charles Street. It is this experience, this personal experience, that has marked anybody who is really interested in traditional architecture or traditional music. Most people are marked by this extraordinary experience, and I think the most important distinction which we have to make is that traditional architecture and traditional music are not historical phenomena, but transcendent phenomena. They are like language, or like mathematics, or like anything good: they are really atemporal goods – good beyond their time.
I try to educate my students to make a fundamental distinction – not to use the term historical architecture, but to distinguish traditional architecture and modernist architecture by a technological difference. In fact, traditional architecture is defined by technology, and therefore is atemporal. It is not linked just to the past, but is that experience of humans building at their scale because there is no other possibility. Obviously the use of fossil fuel energies has created the extraordinary possibility to ignore human capacities, to ignore climate, to ignore soil, and build virtually the same kind of buildings everywhere, independent of climate and of geography.
I grew up in Luxembourg City, which was virtually intact despite the Second World War that passed over and destroyed the northern part of the country. But I was educated in the small town of Echternach which had been completely destroyed by the Brunstad Offensif. Most of the American artillery was sitting on one side and they would bombard the Germans on the other by artillery, and on the way, they destroyed the city. This is considered by most people as an historic city but is in fact a reinvention of the 1940s and 1950s. I grew up in these building sites and it was an extraordinary experience which has lasted for a lifetime. I have pursued this kind of environment all my life. And I realize, now that I am 68, that all my theories and writings have been about how to make such an environment – not only to preserve it, but to create it ex novo.
I spend my summers in Mallorca practicing music, and also under this porch I have been writing a book which is called Corbusier After Le Corbusier. In it I am reforming, correcting, and translating Corbusier’s ideas into traditional architecture. For a musician it would be extremely interesting (and I think there are people actually attempting) to take Pierrot Lunaire and write out the ideas – because there are ideas in Pierrot Lunaire as well as interesting forms and expressions – but to translate it in a mode of Mahler or of Mozart, or of anyone who wrote music which you can listen to the second time without getting bored.
Because what those great musicians have done is virtually invented a world from scratch, building on an enormous edifice of sounds, to create something which is entirely new, in the same way that architecture was invented two thousand, three thousand years ago – many, many centuries and millennia ago. Musical architecture, in that sense of symphonic monumentality and extraordinary spatial dimension, is something relatively new. It is such a glorious experience that you cannot imagine that it will go for a thousand years. There won’t be ten thousand Brahmses or Mozarts writing two thousand five hundred symphonies.
On the other hand, I think that, because they have discovered this world, once we have studied it and, with our sensibilities and the enormous talent which is born every day, met this world, that it will become our own. And then one can probably write a fifth or sixth Brahms symphony which will be as good as the first or second. I think it can be so because there really are new worlds. Discovering one is like moving into a painting – imagine a great landscape of Claude Lorrain and painting it the other way around. It’s virtually an invention of landscape but you can move in it. It’s actually what film does: from one image you create a world. The one world is concentrated in a single image.
I grew up as a modernist, of course, in revolt against my parents. My mother was a musician. I drove them mad with Schoenberg and Webern and so on. My mother always said of Stravinsky’s music, “What is this horse burial? Why do you play this?” And of course, my first building designs were extreme acts of provocation and protest. It’s really when I did my first project for the town where I had been educated, Echternach, that I realized Corbusier could no longer be my master – because plowing any of these enormous buildings which I had been drawing into such a town would mean utter destruction. It is only when I started doing these kinds of projects that I felt the necessity to really relearn a craft that is no longer taught.
Now, it took me twenty years to build the theory which is now being practiced as New Urbanism. It was truly an act of rediscovery – uncovering what had been done for thousands of years before. But what we do not do today is understand the motivating force of modernism. We really don’t understand what modernism is. Well, there are ways of approaching the problem or explaining it by metaphor and by allegory. Modernism in architecture – and music – is very much like the artificial invention of a language, like Esperanto. Esperanto was used by tradesmen and by a very small number of people. But imagine that a very powerful political group took over not just a province or a country, or even a continent, but over the world and imposed Esperanto as a single language, forbidding all other languages and declaring them as purely historical – no longer valid, no longer legitimate for use today. That is what has happened to architecture and even to music.
In architecture it can be explained very simply in a material way. Because of the introduction and use of fossil fuel energies and the fabrication of new building materials, like steel-reinforced concrete or plastics or plate glass – all of which we need enormous amounts of energies to produce – we can achieve building performances which before were not possible with traditional, natural materials. Yet there is no specificity to these new materials. Most people think that concrete or steel or the industrial production of nails created new architecture. In fact, it is not architecture that they created, because the forms which are possible with concrete are independent of the material and there is nothing you can’t cast – a classical arch in concrete as well as a square hole. There is nothing authentically modern to have square forms with concrete, or completely free forms. There is no form for these materials because they can be shaped in any way. You can cast the buildings, put them upside down, and they will be fine for a while. There’s no real authenticity with so-called modern materials.
And because there is very little experience, there is of course no language. There is no language comparable to the language of traditional architecture, which is extremely complex and which is very specific to regions or altitudes formed by different cultures and climates. I think if one used synthetic materials for a thousand years it is absolutely certain that human intelligence and senses and sensibilities will create a language to be the equivalent of traditional architecture, but it will take many centuries. We have not even started. That is why these buildings, which have been produced lately, are so completely out of control. They are just the size that some financial will or political will – or some kind of will independent of traditional scales – allows us to build. Now, when you consider that in the future fossil fuels will become extremely expensive, very scarce, and probably very difficult to use, suddenly we can see that the future of modernist architecture is very limited, and therefore also of modernist art.
The question is “What is modernism?” It is the excess of modernity. It is trying to be more modern than being modern. We are all modern – we cannot help being modern. Just by being here we are modern. So it is not a quality to be modern. We are modern whether we like it or not. It is a question of fate, not of choice. Whereas modernism is definitely something to do with an ideological scheme.
And this started much earlier than synthetic materials. It has to do with the development of Europe, with the political development and also the military expansion – this extraordinary will to expand beyond the limits of Europe and to absorb other cultures. Architectural language had been troubled for at least 250 or 300 years – well before modernism started. Modernism can actually be explained as a reaction against the trouble in the language.
We began to see strange confusions. For instance, we find a building that looks like an abbey or a monastery – some religious building. In fact it is not an abbey. It is a house for a very rich man designed by a very talented architect. It pretends to be a monastery, but it is a house.
Or consider a building designed by the very talented architect Persius, who was a student of Schinkel; and though it looks like a mosque, it is not. It is a pumping station for the fountains of Pottsdam, built in the 1840s. This was the strange trouble in the language: why would one create buildings which would no longer represent what they historically mean?
You had then extremes like a simple block of flats in Geneva where you have the whole history and all the styles of the world you can imagine just unfolded for such a lowly purpose. And that leads to protest. It is so extreme and completely absurd, that there is no more language; there is just noise, messages that are meaningless, and it leads to protest and refusal.
Twenty years later, in 1914, a very talented architect in Denmark, Ivar Bentsen, foreshadowed the Bauhaus in two competitions for the opera in Copenhagen. The square was all the same architecture. You can only distinguish the opera house by a kind of tower which is dressed like it was an actual building. Modernism in that sense can be seen as a protest against Victorian excess, against this enormous outbreak of eclecticism.
The protest led to other more important movements, producing buildings like the one Mies van der Rohe built it at the Illinois Institute of Technology. What is it? It is not a warehouse; it is a church. I think the cross has been replaced by a searchlight, which is very interesting.
Then, of course, there is the Pompidou Center in Paris. Now the question is, if you build pumping houses which look like mosques, houses which look like monasteries, culture palaces which look like some oil refinery or some building having to do with industry, or a church which looks like a warehouse, what should monasteries look like? What should warehouses look like? What should industrial buildings look like, in order that there is no confusion? It’s very difficult to understand. These buildings, these reactions against Victorian excess, are considered to be more rational than Victoriana. In fact, they have very little to do with reason. The Pompidou Center was planned not only to have the walls move, but also the floors were meant to move up and down. That is why the structure was carried outside as were the stairs – so that everything could move because movement was meant to be progressive.
That is really where we are. How has progress – this idea of progress – come to dominate something which in fact should give stability? Historically, the stability of structure has never prohibited mobility of use. Throughout history we have buildings change use and change meanings; market buildings become churches and so on. There is a very long history of change of use, despite the solidity and immobility of the immobile. Immobilier in French and immobiliare in Italian refer to the fact that buildings are immobile. They do not move because they are not cranes or instruments. Now, why such a stupid ideology? That such an excessive set of ideas should become dominant is still difficult to explain.
At the same time the Beaubourg was built, Christian Langlois built an extension for the Senate building in Paris and Spreckelsen built his arch of La Défense. They are both modern architecture produced by the same regime. But of course the French state would never see itself symbolized by the building of Monsieur Langlois.
But whatever happened in the Beaubourg could be done in any kind of building. You didn’t need the mobility. Actually the mobility never happened: they built solid masonry walls inside, in order to have a proper museum. The floors never moved. You can perform that feat on oil derricks or boring platforms on the high seas because, though they are extremely expensive, they bring in inconceivable amounts of money. But, as we know, culture does not make direct income.
All this happened in architecture at an extremely large scale, destroying historic cities of incredible value. If a painter would take a painting of Gozzoli, a beautiful wall painting in San Gimignano, and would start to restore it in this manner – saying, “I don’t believe in historic restoration; I want to express myself, so we will restore Gozzoli!” – there would be world scandal. How can such an idiotic idea to destroy a really important work of art be funded? That is exactly what is happening not only to our cities but to our landscapes.
They are guided, and now disciplined and actually ordered, by two charters: the Charter of Athens and the Charter of Venice. And these cannot be reformed. I tried to understand this set of ideas – like the Charter of Venice, this completely absurd set of ideas – that says if you restore an historical building you must not imitate history. You have to differentiate anything you do by material, by color, by proportion, by character – in fact, you must violate the historic building. Otherwise it is not modern. That’s what the Charter of Venice says. The Charter of Athens stated long ago that cities should not be reconstructed as cities, but be divided, deconstructed in extremely large zones of single use – housing one way, culture another, education – all separate, and linked by public or private transport. They are unsustainable ideas, and yet they dominate the world.
And not only do they dominate the world, but they dominate particularly bureaucracy. And bureaucracy does not think. By its nature it cannot reflect critically on what it does. It must apply what it is told to do by law and by regulations which it is supposed to administer. And that is where the thing becomes extremely toxic, because when we now try to build traditional towns or traditional buildings we are faced with a bureaucracy that not only does not understand us but opposes us.
I became interested in an important project in the center of Moderna. The officer of restoration refused the project. We went to the minister in Rome and he sat down with us. He said, “Professor, can you tell us why you put peaked roofs on your buildings?” We were sitting in a room above Rome; we could see thousands of peaked roofs from where we sat.
I said, “I’m sorry. It is either peaked like this or inverted like that. You think there is a flat roof, but there is no flat roof. Have you ever looked at a flat roof? It is always leaning one way or the other because the water has to be carried away.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said, and we went on. But that is the mentality, because bureaucracy is not supposed to think.
A year later I had another project for the EUR district in Rome – a district built partially under Mussolini – and I was to restore the main square with a huge parking area going under the buildings. When the project was presented, everybody liked it. But the head of public monuments refused it, saying, “You cannot do imitative architecture. Mimetic architecture you cannot do.”
I responded, “But Signora, can you tell us what is non-mimetic architecture?”
“We are not supposed to engage in theoretical discourse.”
Again I said, “But Madame, we are imitative beings. Everything in nature is imitative, mimetic. Flowers imitate flowers, humans imitate humans, everything is imitative and repetitive.”
“We must not engage in theory,” and she stopped the project. It was never built. This is now the system which dominates our towns and cities, and it cannot be reformed. It will die its own death by the exhaustion of fossil fuels, or by simply becoming too expensive.
Traditional architecture is technology before any style. It is technology and typology of building solid buildings, responding to purposes of individuals or of communities, of small or large groups, and it is the accumulation of these experiences which creates the tradition. It is a technique to resolve the building in a pleasant, practical, and lasting way. Innovations happen when they are necessary. In the Middle Ages you do not invent hangars for airplanes. There are no airplanes. But when airplanes appear, there are suddenly hangars for airplanes. That is when innovation happens typologically. Most architects are educated nowadays to be inventive, to create typologies. They present a building and they say, “This is my typology.” Completely insane – a building is not a typology. No one can invent a typology just because he or she likes it. We are in a situation, really, of regression, not of advancement. The fear of backwardness, of not being “in tune”, not being “cool”, is I think paralleled by the fear of age. Why don’t people want to age anymore?
So they buy a beautiful, old house in a beautiful village and then they paint it red, flatten the roof, or make windows which don’t fit. It’s the idea of being different, but different from what? That is always the question. Because the fact is that we are all individuals. Whatever we do is individual. Whether we write, we sing, we walk, we stand, we cook, everything we do is marked by individuality. So there should not be any fear of not being individual. We cannot help being individual any more than we can help being modern. We are individual and we are modern. It is not something about which we should bother. Anyone playing the trumpet will play different from the one next to him, because the shape of his lips or his lungs is very different from that of the other, despite their being similar. This obsession with being individual, of developing individual expression, is nonsensical. And you can only develop individual expression within disciplines which are already shaped and which have been practiced.
The thing now with modernist art that has dominated for so long is that we have no more art. Most museums of modern art for me could be closed down without any interest. My test is always this: if you take a piece of so-called modern art and you put it next to the dumpsters and rubbish in the courtyard and it is taken away, it’s not art – because anyone with any sensitivity or any intelligence will recognize a work of art. It has something more about it than just rubbish.
This is where I come to the parallel of music and architecture. Building a very large complex is symphonic work. If you build a large complex over twenty or thirty years – like building a town – you need some discipline which is going to ensure that there will be harmony of parts despite the contrarianism of the users who are going to inhabit it. You need some simple discipline, which can be understood and shared by a large number of people. That is what traditional architecture was about; and that is why we have these incredible treasures of traditional architecture still surviving, despite the will to deform or to destroy them or to wipe them out.
I am practicing this for the Prince of Wales in Poundbury, England and it has now several phases complete. We have built about 45 percent of it. It’s going better and better. It started with enormous difficulties, because the builders were not able to pursue such complex tasks. But now they have been trained and we have architects who have been well trained; and the buildings which come now after twenty years of work and practice are really extraordinary.
What is distinguishing about traditional architecture – and I think you will find a similarity in music and its universal differentiations – is the very great distinction between vernacular building and classical architecture. In all cultures which have practiced architecture in a systematic way, you have this distinction of vernacular building: very simple buildings which are just walls and pillars and roofs, representing a language of construction which does speak of nothing else but construction. A door is a door, a window is a window, a tile is a tile. There is no message beyond its own being, whereas classical architecture is something more. It is really an artistic translation of building beyond elements of construction into a language that transcends the pure utility of the simple nature of an opening or closure or embrasure or a covering. In Belgium for fifty years now we have given a prize which distinguishes between vernacular and classical architecture – because they are achievements which are of a very different nature, even though they are complementary. You can understand this clearly when you see it in a picture from Venice. Anyone can see which buildings are more important than the others because they are marked by a more elaborate language.
I introduce the differentiation of vernacular and classical in town planning because when people see a street that is not straight, not a gridiron design, they say, “Oh, it’s medieval.” It’s not medieval. Geometry in nature is always meandering. There is no straight line in nature. It’s an invention of the geometry of Euclid. There is no straight line and there is no square angle in nature. There is nothing regular or completely self-identical. It’s all similar, but still all slightly different. To have the correct terminology is very important if you reconstruct, because it’s not self-evident. It has to be so clear that people can easily accept it. Between the gridiron plan and more natural geometry there is enormous consequence for the experience and the use of towns.
The gridiron plan became the dominant technique of building towns in the Indies, in South and Central America, and also in North America where it was used almost exclusively – except in villages lost somewhere in the hills of West Virginia, let’s say. But once you conceptualize these two ideas, you can use them, because they are also intellectual models. You can use them to very powerful effect not only to espouse the land – vernacular geometry is much easier to conform to the land – but also to create very great tensions between the straight and the meandering, between the flow and the node. It is this mixture of geometries which is, I think, most satisfying when you experience towns. There is no better demonstration of this dynamic than Venice: the Grand Canal and so on. Even though most buildings are very regular, they often occupy positions that are very irregular when you look from the air. And that irregularity allows adaptation to the geographic and climatic conditions much more easily than does the gridiron plan.
In this differentiation between vernacular and classical, the classical is reserved for very important buildings, which are for the whole community or for the whole town or for the whole nation, creating a hierarchy of expression and locations – in contrast with the more simple, more laconic nature of the vernacular. For instance, in this form of vernacular geometry, you can have very modest architecture without being boring. It’s always very interesting. Whereas when you have Euclidean geometries and gridiron plans, you must have much better, more ambitious architecture in order for it all to be bearable. Nothing is more boring than barracks architecture. So it’s the mixture of these two geometries and the correct placing of the hierarchy of buildings going from private or individual to public and more common-use which are the tools we use to order a great town. I applied it even to Washington DC: flooding the Tiber Creek creates a big lake, and Americans do not have to go to Venice on their honeymoon – they can come to Washington.
In architecture, it is a well-accepted idea that vernacular is pure technology of building. But it is not pure technology in an abstract sense; it is human technology impregnated by the size and the strength and the capacities of the human body, just as musical instruments are designed for the human hand or for the mouth or for the ear. It is the translation of this simple, purely technical performance into an art form that is what we call classical architecture. And you have it in all different cultures which have developed architecture. But in modernism this distinction doesn’t happen: there is no distinction between concert hall architecture and house architecture. It’s just that one is big and one is small. The Villa Savoir, a charming building of Le Corbusier which measures twenty by twenty-two meters, becomes the Royal Festival Hall in London, which measures fifty by seventy meters. Same number of elements, same architecture. Yet it’s by enlarging size that you change also meaning in nature. Galileo wrote pages on the fact that you cannot design a horse that is a hundred meters tall: it will collapse under the laws of gravity. It is this appropriateness of size, scale, and character which I think marks and limits architecture and gives it shape.
I was struck by the tuning of a piano or a violin. You first overstretch the cord or string, and then release it until it comes to the right vibration, until the tone is harmonized. I do this with my students. They have to take precise measurements of a column, or a vase or a car, and then they have to manipulate those measurements in order to understand why something is classical and to understand that that is a live value, a living designation.
For instance, you take a classical column – Tuscan, the most simple Doric kind – then you vary diameters. Keep the same number of elements, the same moldings, but make it much narrower or much wider, arbitrarily. The result can be called the anorexic or the bulimic column. Or change the vertical proportions. By making slight changes you can powerfully change the column’s character. It goes from elegant to heavy, from martial to enchanting. Or use the same elements but misplace them; it becomes a-tectonic. The logic of form and construction is disrupted if you do not assemble it in the correct way.
If the vernacular and the classical languages are such a very strong reality of the historic and the transcendental experiences of architecture, is it the same with music? You cannot have an allegretto that lasts for twenty-five hours. You would go crazy. These variations of tone, of rhythm, of timbre, of quality are limited, but it is actually their contrast which creates music. So how much classicism do you need to be a happy person? That’s really the question. How much classicism do you need to build a beautiful town. It doesn’t need to be all classical. You need a very large dose of vernacular. You cannot have cream every day.
A kind of ideal of classicism was performed by Burnham and his colleagues for the White City in Chicago. It was an extraordinary creation, but it was not a model of how the world could be. It was an ideal, Worlds Fair kind of world.
Another extreme of classicism would be the Beaux Arts utopia, where everything is beautiful – even the toilet seat is decorated with pearls. But it’s unsustainable in a psychological and an aesthetic sense.
And at the opposite end of the spectrum you have animal architecture, which is without any meaning beyond its own self. It’s just a pile of material that performs a certain utility. It has also its own beauty, because whatever we do over a long period of time we can only stand it and it can only survive if we cultivate beauty. Even the most solid building cannot survive for very long if it is too ugly. It just becomes unbearable. It will be blown up and destroyed. So it’s beauty which gives a building a quality that is absolutely necessary for its survival. But I think it’s the mixture of these two qualities of classicism and vernacular which gives a town or a landscape its lasting quality. In Venice, or in Williamsburg, for instance, you will find this kind of mixture of classical and vernacular.
Today, following the categorical confusion which modernism brought about and which was largely unconscious, there is no intelligent theory of modernism. We read Le Corbusier – and I love Le Corbusier, despite his problems – because he was a great writer and poet, but his work is childish. There is no serious theory there, no rational theory of how to build the world. It’s unsustainable.
This now being the predominant set of ideas, often the industry continues anyway with the traditional models of vernacular and classical, but when they do they always get it wrong in scale or expression or size. There is a reason why very large common buildings need to be more elaborate than houses: because when you have a simple barn blown up a hundred times it becomes extremely brutal in shape. You need something more to make it not only symbolically more important but also more readable. Classical architecture is that set of forms which allows greatest readability of elements at a distance, imparts permanence, and also creates symbolic value and beauty at a scale which would not be inherent in common building forms.
Today we are faced with strange vernacular temples, hotels that imitate cottage but are the size of an aircraft carrier. Or we have little palaces – cottage size, but obviously ridiculous in scale. When you have relatively small settlements – and let’s put this in the context of music, as in the simple song with the single voice – it can go on for, say, four minutes. But if you have a single voice carrying on for twenty-five hours, you’ll get bored. To orchestrate five hours like Wagner does, you need a lot of art and it needs to be very well modulated to be bearable. I lived in a small village where there was no architecture for sixteen years. There were just three columns inside the church – just enough to have walls, openings, some tiles on the roof, and divided window panes. But art is not missing when this is placed in a beautiful landscape. The landscape takes care of the art. But in large cities you need a much richer language. In the nineteenth-century, this led to the proliferation of imperial carnival classicism – crazy buildings which become such an extraordinary performance. The education required to achieve this performance becomes tyrannical and leads to complete rejection. The Beaux Arts movement trained people until 1958, and then it was finished because, even though it was collegial education, it was also very tyrannical. The same tyranny has descended upon scientists and engineering students – it’s extremely gruesome. Doctors have to study for ten years – absolutely horrendous – day and night. Why this revolt did not happen in medical education or engineering is a mystery to me. Why just in architecture?
The best formula is this mixture of classicism and modernism, where just a few public buildings have a bit more than vernacular. And that can make very charming environments. We understand it by contrast. A building four hundred meters high topped by a statue of Lenin nearly a hundred meters high is public imperialism. The private is reduced to nothingness. On the other hand, we have private imperialism. Think of Fifth Avenue and, of course, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It is quite a nice building, but it’s utterly meaningless among the giants of Fifth Avenue. It is completely humiliated in that setting. The properly structured, classical city is much more balanced.
I limit general building fabric to a very simple theory. Despite the fact that we have motorized vehicles, and even if we have unlimited fossil fuel, no problems with technology, and equipment galore, we should still practice traditional architecture and planning because they are imbued with a humane and aesthetic scale, which is really important.
And I identify nine ways of ordering towns and placing buildings. By arranging architecture on one side and urbanism on the other, you have between them nine modes, or combinations, by which to do it. There is a lot of choice, depending on the landscape and so on. What is perfectly unbearable as a generalized proposition is the combination of classical geometry and vernacular architecture. We generally call it “barracks architecture” and it is perfectly unacceptable. It’s fine for barracks and factories, but not for common habitat. So you have these two possibilities of geometry in combination; and then what is an absolute necessity is to have, within towns and within walkable distance, mixed used and mixed scale, which naturally leads also to mixed architecture.
But mixed use is not an absolute guarantee of a fine city, because you can create a single building containing all uses – and this was Corbusier’s idea: to have a landliner where you have the church and the factory, the public offices and the art gallery, and the housing and everything all in one building. But that is not a city; it’s a building. Buildings are not cities and cities should not be buildings. A large city is not a large house.
You have another deviation when you have uniform volumes, independent of use – where the businesses, the houses, the public offices, the temple, and the library are all contained within the same uniform volumes, controlled by a cornice line and disciplined so they become completely uniform. That’s equally nonsensical. Then you have “anything goes” mixed use. Even though mixed use is a necessity, it’s not a sufficient condition for a meaningful town.
Now, the distribution of vernacular and classical: if our home is the size of a monastery, the housing is a monumental mosque and the church is a tiny, little, dog house. You can call that well-applied but mis-sized architecture and vernacular. You can also misapply classical architecture to the utilitarian building and the church becomes just a naked box. By analyzing small or large buildings according to these principles, you are able to value whether a building is correctly structured, correctly scaled, or semantically – in the sense of meaning – correct. Only once you have a correct composition can you have a beautiful building. Otherwise it is just illusion, confusion, and deconstruction.
I think that the most important book written about energy was Kunstler’s book, The Long Emergency. And I think it is absolutely necessary to read that book. What it teaches us is that the oil peak is not going to be a symmetrical figure. It rise will rise to its peak and then there will be abrupt, very brutal change – in which we already find ourselves – leading to extreme wars and extreme violence, perpetrated to maintain our dominance in that field and in order to run our pack of instruments and maintain our mode of life. Curiously and interestingly, this peak corresponds to the nadir of the traditional arch, which used to dominate.
Modernism was very interesting when it was an experimental art, when just a few rich clients would build their interesting houses. It has become absolutely lethal as a scheme for mass building – a toxic investment. And it’s going to disappear with the increased cost of energy. It’s the fossil fuel economy that really has changed our mode of managing the air, time, energy, and land, and it is going to change. We have to prepare for that because otherwise it will erupt over our heads.
What dominated traditional architecture was climate and soil, and these conditions created very different architecture between regions. For instance, the architecture of the Basque hillsides and that of the Landes region, which is just twenty kilometers away, are very, very different. Meanwhile, the architecture of the Basque hillsides is virtually the same as that in the Himalayan Mountains because they have similar climatic conditions. It is really climate and altitude which have a very strong influence on the shape and style of buildings, historically and traditionally.
When you have a lot of fossil fuel energy you can build the same building in any climate and any altitude, but it will have no permanence because the energy it will take to maintain these buildings will be too expensive. There is only one model to counter the hubris of scale we now achieve, this excess of verticality or horizontality – and they are related problems: suburbanism piled high or suburbanism spread thin. Three dominant building types – the skyscraper, the sprawler, and the landscraper – always occur in excessively large, single-use zones.
Such zones reach beyond the limits of human scale, following the Charter of Athens which we might also apply to gastronomic intake in something like this way: instead of twenty-one varied meals each week, we have all the liquids on Monday, all the meats on Tuesday, all the fats on Wednesday, pasta on Thursday, Friday (for Catholics) fish, all the alcoholic drinks on Saturday, and the baked goods on Sunday. Then after one week the individual is dead. This is what we have been applying to cities. Housing is not the same as houses. To misunderstand that leads to the deconstruction of settlement. It’s inhuman because it has nothing to do with human settlement. And it’s not sustainable.
This incredible, extraordinary repetition represents the deconstruction of the landscape of human beings. We must reconstruct our overgrown cities because exceeding their proper size, as overgrowing the specific size of a cell, is disease – is cancer. This is what is happening to cities. It is as if families grew, instead of by multiplying the number of individuals, by growing the bodies of the parents until they far exceed their natural size; and this is what has happened to cities that have over-expanded, sprawled horizontally or sprawled vertically.
It is the excess, the cul-de-sac reality, which creates planned congestion. Enormous skyscrapers are vertical cul-de-sacs, which congest the network on which they sit. Why there are not more opponents of skyscrapers I do not understand, because they are completely unreasonable. Imagine skyscrapers developing not just for a generation but for 500 years. Let’s say we have no limit to fossil fuel. It would be absolutely unbearable, except living on top, to be in such a compound. It is idiotic, a completely silly idea, and it’s toxic investment. It’s destroying the future of humankind.
This extraordinary jump of scale, which you have independent of ideology, could be represented as Medieval economy, Renaissance economy, and the economy of the nineteenth century. Most utilitarian states already have enormous lots – lots taken just for housing that would be the size of three traditional towns. These enormous lots are often given to a single architect with a single function, which leads necessarily to boring architecture, and boring architecture is unbearable. So architects invent interesting forms to make the boring program more lively, and hence there are things sticking out and leaning over – this silly ballade, which is no music, it’s terrible boredom and meaningless.
Even if we had no limits to energies we should still go back to traditional plotting – in Poundbury, after all, we have the Prince of Wales as a single large landowner, but we have lots which are very different sizes, allowing very different forms of use and therefore also of architecture. Poundbury developed as polycentric instead of having a polynuclear nature. If you have enormous concentrations, this also leads to extraordinarily and extremely rigid social stratification. It is social zoning. For instance, in Colombia you have zones according to income – something like nine categories of income. You cannot buy a house if you are from one class in a zone of a different class. But it is differentiation of scale – great variety of scale, mixed scales, mixed use, mixed architecture – that leads to a rich and varied traditional architecture environment.
The buildings at Poundbury are now as good as any historic buildings in England. We limit our heights not metrically but by numbers. I think that a good scale for towns is three floors: what you can walk every day ten times without getting bored. Anything higher is a stress. I lived in Madrid on the eighth floor, walking up it twice every day in order to keep in shape – but it’s hell walking eight floors. So imagine even the slightest irregularity in the use of energy; when electricity is no longer assured high buildings will become extremely difficult to use.
But this limitation to three stories is no limitation to height. We are not against high buildings per se. The Eiffel Tower is a three-story skyscraper. The Capitol in Washington is a one-story skyscraper. The Washington Memorial is 150 meters high; it has no story. So you can build very high, symbolically powerful buildings, without having many stories.
Going back to small scale operations, we only use small builders, with a maximum of twenty employees. In that way you bring back and you encourage small scale, local craftsmen – those who can actually live where they work. And this redevelopment of crafts allows you to use forms which you are not able to use – a richness and an authenticity of elements which you are not able to use – with large forms of industrial building.
The project in Guatemala called Cayala is now having a lot of success. It took eight years to get it off the ground, but we had very good architects who are our main partners there and who were trained at Notre Dame University in Indiana. We now have this new generation of talent that has been properly trained. In music, you are lucky because you still have the old craft of playing instruments the proper way being taught. In architecture, we don’t have that. We have one school in the United State which teaches the craft of designing traditional buildings, and unfortunately often the industry is not able to follow. But every one of these sites is a teaching instrument.
Many architects think that imitating traditional forms is not creative, but nobody can reinvent the roof or the window. It is a complex in itself. You don’t need to reinvent the window. It has been invented. All these reinventions are just noise. The problem we have to deal with is that the industry is often reproducing traditional models, but their replacements are all fake and therefore one of the toxic results – maybe the most important toxic result of modernism is that traditional architecture has become a product of scandalous inauthenticity. The market actually buys the worst kitsch. People get fake houses. They spend their life’s earnings to get a fake house, which after twenty years is just rotting, as you well know. So every building site is reeducation of the industry.
Conservation: I know architects who have spent their lives restoring beautiful, historic buildings. They never get a prize; there is no glory. There is now one prize in this country, the Driehaus Prize, which finally recognizes the quality of people who do the right thing. You can get the world star by doing something like this – I drew this long ago and now it’s built: the army museum in Dresden looks like that. There’s no word for it but idiotic, because there’s no value in it.
Now people are so illiterate that they cannot distinguish architecture anymore. When a good restoration is done properly, they think it’s historic but not inventive. But to do a proper restoration now is an unbelievable effort of invention, conviction, education, and persistence – over months and years – to get it right. Otherwise it’s just full of mistakes.
Consider the Euro bank notes: I counted on the seven or eight bank notes eighteen mistakes of architecture. Imagine that many mistakes in some official government document. The perpetrator would be locked up. But the people who drew these, they are are scot free. It’s comical.
Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. True, but the eye has to be in a certain position, otherwise beauty cannot be in it. A man can admire the beauty of a fire, but if his feet are in it, his eye will be filled with horror. To him there is no more beauty in the fire. Everything in nature, including whatever we do, is beautiful. Even the worst sound is beautiful if we have the right distance from it. Conversely, you can play the loveliest music you want, but if you are a kilometer away from it, it’s meaningless – it’s just noise in the distance. The distance, the height, and the relationship to the beholder need to be correct. That is where modernism fails on all scales. And that is what we are trying to rectify.
Editor’s note: This address was written for and delivered to an English audience,
though it remains entirely relevant to our own predicament.
Why does today’s Western art music strive so conspicuously for cultural relevance? Why are many of our university music faculties more concerned with cultural theory than with applied music? Why have we lost confidence in historical and applied models of musicology, and moreover in the tonal tradition that forms the basis of the greatest musical heritage known to mankind? In this talk, I will trace the roots of this malaise over the past century. I will explore the ways in which an explicitly Marxist agenda has caused Western art music to abnegate its past, and in doing so, to render itself marginalized in comparison to popular music of chiefly African-American origin. I will also show how political influence has played a large part in the contemporary perception of the Western musical heritage as elitist and thereby culturally taboo.
What makes for good music? Until the First World War there was a general consensus that Western societies valued music that was written with cogency, formal command and structure, and that communicates the higher values of those societies – in which respect we might refer to such words as nobility, beauty and complexity, by which latter term I mean the capacity to reveal hidden levels of meaning upon greater exploration. A major work of Western art music does not merely reflect the human condition, but inspires us beyond our own limitations towards the best of which we are capable.
The experience of good music lifts the spirits, challenges the mind and opens us to the riches of Western civilization. Even works of Western art music which may be considered of lesser stature have the capacity to accord enjoyment from their craft, proportion and charm of execution, in the same way that we may derive pleasure from an Agatha Christie novel despite being aware of its formulaic nature. In the best composers we discover a capacity to surprise and constantly renew their chosen forms with a distinctive individual voice. This renewal leads to organic development and also to experimentation, sometimes with dramatic and effective results.
Although an appreciation of music is probably innate to mankind, it would be a mistake to believe that Western art music will yield up its secrets without an appreciation of its context and techniques. Certainly we can appreciate music that is strongly rhythmic, or that relies on simple repetition for its effects, without much in the way of specialist knowledge. But when encountering a Bach fugue for the first time, many of the uninitiated will be put off by what appears arcane, impenetrable, and difficult to follow. To traverse the unknown region, a roadmap is necessary.
The roadmap comes in the form of understanding both the circumstances in which that piece came to be written – the details of the composer’s biography and the way in which the work in question fits into his output and the overall genre in question – and the means by which the piece makes its effect. The first consideration belongs to the realms of history and musical appreciation. The second belongs to the realm of musical techniques.
If our aim is merely to appreciate music at the level of the amateur, so that we can enrich our lives as a result, we need to go down both of these routes on the roadmap. If our aim is either to write music that is worthy of comparison with that of the masters, or to perform it in some way that does it justice, we need to travel further and explore more widely.
In doing so, we will discover that much of what we consider characteristic of Western thought as regards the melodic and harmonic components of music is in fact the product of observed phenomena of long standing. Writing in Dimensions of Paradise, John Michell says “Long before Pythagoras made his famous experiments with lengths of string and pipe, the relationship between number and sound had been noted, and ancient rulers specified certain lawful scales that had to be followed in all musical compositions. The reason for this was that they recognized music as the most influential of all arts, appealing directly to the human temper, and thus a potential source of disturbance in their carefully-ordered canonical societies.”
The Pythagorean method of tuning is, just like modern equal temperament, a form of syntonic temperament, in which each tuning is the product of powers of the ratio 3:2, giving us the cycle of fifths that is familiar within tonal harmony. Another fundamental of tonal harmony, the chromatic scale, originates in an equalized version of the harmonic series, and this equalization in turn owes its impetus to the just intonation established by Ptolemy of Alexandria. As was established by nineteenth-century theorists Riemann and Hauptmann there is nothing accidental or random about the basis of Western music, or indeed of what we have come to regard as hierarchical tonality. It originates in the observation of mathematical and acoustic phenomena and it is likewise a mathematical sense that illuminates our concepts of musical form, proportion and structure. Sir Thomas Browne had it correct when he said, “For there is a music wherever there is a harmony, order or proportion; and thus far we may maintain the music of the spheres.”
As may therefore be expected, the Western musical tradition places a high emphasis upon codification through a notated score and pre-composition. Indeed, the principal difference between Western and non-Western music lies in the West’s relative disdain for improvisation. Whereas Indian art music, for example, places improvisation at its heart, Western art music relegates improvisation to specific and relatively minor roles – chiefly instrumental cadenzas and melodic embellishments. Because of its codification, Western art music is concerned with music not merely as an act of the moment, to be experienced simply by those present, but as an act of legacy, whereby once a composition has been born, it can enjoy a future that is open to posterity, since its score can be interpreted and reinterpreted by successive generations. This codification is akin to the progression from the collective oral tradition of storytelling at the dawn of mankind to the individual authorship of literary work after writing was discovered. It follows that the interpretation of Western art music is therefore also a complex matter embracing distinct schools of thought and specific techniques with much scope for individual input.
We can see, then, that Western music places a clear divide between its art tradition of codified music and its vernacular tradition of uncodified or improvised folk music. We should not deny the appeal and importance of that vernacular tradition. Indeed, the interchange that occurred between national folk traditions and Western art music in the nineteenth-century brought about a renewal that was far-reaching in its influence. Composers such as Vaughan Williams, for example, not only employ actual English folk music as a basis for art music composition, but also write melodies that are inspired by the contours of folk melody, so that they sound as English as the models that inspired them. This, however, is a conscious transmutation. The use of a folk melody in Western art music is the act of the cultural observer and recorder from the world of codified music, not the act of an authentic folk music exponent for whom notation is incidental to the living improvisatory tradition of that music. Nevertheless, there is a justified claim to superiority for Western art music over that of the improvisatory tradition, in that its premeditation leads to greater melodic, harmonic and structural complexity and thereby to more profound possibilities of expression through an extended form such as the symphony.
The secure foundation established by Western art music has contributed to a flourishing of musical performance as well as high standards of music teaching and of musical literacy in the general public. Even as the growth of radio and television during the twentieth-century made concert-going less popular, the following for Western art music among all sectors of society remained strong, as witnessed by the continuation of the private music clubs (which were a leading employer of young musicians and those with a local, rather than a national, reputation), brass bands, music appreciation societies and amateur choirs and orchestras. Significantly, this was a participatory tradition. Western society viewed engagement with music, even at a modest level, as culturally enriching and as a hallmark of the educated man or woman. Further, music’s strong association with the Church was such as to mark music out as morally improving, for after all were the angels not depicted with harps?
One of the main aspects that characterizes the pre-1914 tradition of Western art music is its confidence. The majority of musicians and music educators were not generally beset by existential angst as to the justification for their art. Tonality was expanded, experimented with and challenged by such composers as Wagner and Debussy, but it would only be a small number of composers who, led by Schoenberg, would deliberately break with tonality. What has been described as the late nineteenth-century crisis of tonality is in fact an organic process that would find its logical conclusion not in Second Viennese School serialism, but instead in what might be described as tonal freedom, whereby composers such as Scriabin or Hindemith would retain a background context of tonally-derived melody and harmony while seeking to enrich that context through the extension of tonality into less familiar territory. In other words, musical renewal rested ultimately not with those extremists who sought to cast away tonality’s naturally-derived basis and replace this with an artificial construct, but with those who saw the horizons of tonality widening rather than narrowing. The music of Sibelius offers us many examples of this new approach to tonality, particularly in his Seventh Symphony. Other examples of such organic development would be the progressive tonality of Nielsen and the highly distinctive harmonic world of Robert Simpson which is firmly rooted in classicism and often based on the opposition of particular intervals or keys.
The theme of the replacement of an organic order with one that is artificial and man-made is not a new one in modern ideas. The idea of cultural struggle, in which an established order is subverted by direct opposition, is likewise familiar. These are Marxist concepts and should be seen as such. Let us be clear; the nineteenth-century crisis of tonality was manipulated for propagandistic purposes as part of a much wider cultural crisis in which Western civilization and culture and their established order came under direct attack from Marxism. The revolution that brought about atonality and serialism was the same ideological revolution that deposed Europe’s crowns and that, at its point of greatest early fulfilment, led to the Communist ascendancy in Russia. As one of its architects, Georg Lukacs, would write, “Who will save us from Western civilization?”
What Lukacs and his fellows abhorred above all was the unique and sacred nature of the individual within the Christian worldview. Lukacs was determined to reduce the individual to a common destiny in a world which, in his words, “had been abandoned by God.” Another leading thinker of this ilk, Walter Benjamin, tells us that “religious illumination,” must be shown to “reside in a profane illumination, a materialistic, anthropological inspiration, to which hashish, opium, or whatever else can give an introductory lesson.” He goes on, “Do not build on the good old days, but on the bad new ones.” If man were to lose his connection to the divine, his only remaining creative option would be political revolt, which, according to Benjamin and his colleagues, would bring about a Marxist revolution.
Of course these developments were not without reaction and resistance. However, what was to be remarkable was the way in which Marxist intellectuals of the Frankfurt School succeeded in the post-1945 period in discrediting conservative reaction by identifying it explicitly with the Third Reich. For the Frankfurt School, creativity was impossible, anyone who adhered to universal truth was an authoritarian and even reason was subject to the shifting sands of critical theory. Culture was to be abolished; a “new barbarism” was to be created through new cultural structures that would increase the alienation of the people. Before long, from the ashes of a war-torn Europe, a surprisingly broad intellectual coalition had formed that supported and funded the Frankfurt School and its front organization, the Institute for Social Research. This gave the Frankfurt School the means to set in place its intellectual undermining of Western civilization.
The major works in which this is done include Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment of 1944, which gives us the concept of a manipulative culture industry, and The Authoritarian Personality of 1950 by Adorno and others. This latter work was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and sought to connect the Freud-derived concept of the authoritarian personality to conservative and fascist ideology, and to anti-semitism. It should not be thought that Adorno and Horkheimer were writing with the intention of protecting Jews from prejudice. Rather, they, along with Marx, were opposed to all religions, including Judaism. They wanted to destroy the principles of both Jewish and Christian civilization and force the “scientifically planned reeducation” of Americans and Europeans. While the overtly politicized conclusions of The Authoritarian Personality have since been comprehensively disproven, they were not disproven quickly enough to prevent their cultural influence becoming widespread in the post-war years and even today. Indeed, they remain foundations for many of the ideas that are dominant in today’s academy.
We should look particularly carefully at the legacy of Adorno. Adorno as a pupil of Schoenberg and Berg believed that composers should relate to the past as a canon of taboos rather than a canon of models for emulation. His concept of art was also structured on that of Marxist Kulturkampf, in that he saw the duty of art to be “corrosively unacceptable” to the sensibilities of the middle class, and therefore to be a succession of shocking, difficult and obscure events.
The Adornoist concept has the advantage of wrapping music up in an impenetrable web of self-meanings. It means that music structured on these lines is likely to be theoretically extremely complex, divorced from significant cultural reference, emotionally arid and exceptionally difficult both to play and to listen to. Of the thousands of works written during the post-war years in this style, not a single one has attained genuine public popularity. They speak only to an elite, and that elite is specifically ideologically driven. As far as many executant musicians are concerned, they are indeed tolerated but not loved. Indeed, many would say that one might just as well love industrial noise as the work of Stockhausen and the post-war Darmstadt School, for all its undoubted intellectual accomplishment. What is created is effectively non-music, non-art, because of its rejection of the musical values that I outlined at the beginning of this talk. It preserves something of the colour, the instrumentation, the dynamic variety of Western art music, but it ignores what David Hellewell has called “music’s unique language; the dialectic of notes.” Even Adorno admitted that atonalism was sick, but as he said, “the sickness, dialectically, is at the same time the cure…The extraordinarily violent reaction protest which such music confronts in the present society…appears nonetheless to suggest that the dialectical function of this music can already be felt…negatively, as ‘destruction.’”
Moreover, Adornoism gives itself a license to view the past through its own distorting Freudian prism; for example, Adorno believed that the chord structure of late Beethoven was striving to be atonal, but Beethoven could not bring himself consciously to break with the structured world of Congress of Vienna Europe. For Adorno, an individual such as Beethoven was not autonomous and acting with free will, but was instead the prisoner of unconscious historical forces. Such arguments are merely Trojan horses for Marxism, since they can rewrite history according to an unlimited degree of political interpretation.
The effect of this movement on Western art music has been disastrous. Because Adornoist music cannot exist without significant public subsidy and is explicitly Marxist in its aesthetic, the general tendency of governments to become more controlling with regard to the arts in the post-war period has had a field-day. Without the government supporting the Adornoists, they would have failed in a blink of an eye when subjected to the popular market. When William Glock became director of the BBC Third Programme in 1959 he presided over a decade in which the Adornoist avant-garde was given public support while dissenters were consciously suppressed. Yet this support achieved nothing in terms of producing a wider popularity outside the limited circle of initiates. Rather, it furthered the fragmentation of our musical culture and an alienation of the West from its cultural heritage.
A combination of centralising tendencies and Marxist ideology with a decline in support for composers who do not fit the Adornoist and government image of what they should be, has left multiple generations without access to new music in the classical tradition which has the prospect of speaking directly to them. I can assure you that this tradition has been there – in the music of such post-war figures as Howells, Ferguson, Arnold, Lloyd and Arthur Butterworth – all of which have written vital and much underrated music – but even though all but the last are dead, their music remains largely sidelined by the mainstream today. They have become a narrowly specialist taste, and one that is nowadays increasingly dismissed as socially elitist and thus contrary to the egalitarian zeitgeist.
The concept of an official line on what composition should be – so very Soviet in its way – has led also to a situation where it is axiomatic that musicians be if not actively Marxist, then at least tolerant of working within that ideological framework. This gives us “luvvies for Labour”; it also means that those who doubt the left-wing consensus are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their livelihoods. The constraining ideological framework is not always obvious; it is often a superstructure far above the head of the individual musician, but it is there nonetheless. Orchestras, for example, are highly unionized organizations; the Musicians’ Union negotiates standard fees and terms of employment for orchestral musicians, and it in turn affiliates to the TUC and the Labour Party.
As soon as the Frankfurt School saw the burgeoning of mass entertainment and popular music they seized upon it as a means of Marxist dialectic. One of the most interesting aspects of pop music is that it is concerned largely with a group aesthetic and with the reproduction of the same experiences – musical stereotypes – that are already established as commercially successful. For Adorno, this stereotyping meant that exposure to pop music disengaged the mind, making the experience of music less sacred and increasing alienation, a process which he called “demythologizing”. In addition, pop music was largely non-Western in its origins, consisting of commercialized versions of African, Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean folk music. Adorno says, “contemporary listening…has regressed, arrested at the infantile stage. Not only do the listening subjects lose, along with the freedom of choice and responsibility, the capacity for the conscious perception of music…[t]hey fluctuate between comprehensive forgetting and sudden dives into recognition. They listen atomistically and dissociate what they hear, but precisely in this dissociation they develop certain capacities which accord less with the traditional concepts of aesthetics than with those of football or motoring. They are not childlike…but they are childish; their primitivism is not that of the undeveloped, but that of the forcibly retarded.”
It is significant that every time mainstream pop music has tried to move beyond stereotype – as is the natural tendency of human creativity – there have been powerful forces dragging it back. Time and again during the 1960s and 1970s, jazz and pop music moved forward because of engagement with aspects of the Western art music tradition. The work of George Martin, Gil Evans, Charles Stepney, Claus Ogerman and those working in progressive rock drew directly on Western art music to create art music from the roots of pop music. In addition, an entire genre of music grew up – labelled “easy listening” – that presented jazz and pop music in arrangements that were considered more acceptable to those whose ears were attuned to art music. All of this resulted in a brutal record industry reaction in the late 1970s in which the nihilism and Leftism of punk and electronic music was vaunted and primitivism embraced once more. In the past two decades a further development has taken place, in which we are for the first time confronted by the phenomenon of all but the elderly having grown up in the post-1945 era and thus having been targeted since youth as consumers of pop music. This has allowed pop music finally to displace Western art music within the media and within our education system, as pop is now held by the decision-makers concerned to be culturally equal if not superior to its art music counterpart.
Those who perform Western art music have inevitably seen the landscape of their profession altered totally by this cultural shift. The former confidence in the cultural value of what they do has been replaced by an insecurity of purpose; a questioning of their very reason for existence. The contemporary focus on the physical appearance of classical artists and on short, memorable pieces as the vehicle for their success belongs to the world of pop. What it is not is the popularisation of classical music. Rather, it is the dumbing down of the Western art music tradition by presenting it with the same commercial values as pop music, with attendant assumptions of limited shelf-life and quick profits rather than long-term viability. What more can we expect when the Chairman of Universal Music Group considers that classical music is “rather unwelcoming” and “a bit like an elitist club”.
Artistic quality is now judged more on the basis of record company and media hyperbole than by an educated public, because that public has been systematically disempowered from the ability to exercise meaningful artistic judgement. The loss of the live concert experience as part of our culture has been more visible in Britain than on the Continent, but it is perhaps most obvious in the loss of community and amateur music-making dedicated to the Western art music tradition and even home listening in the form of the radio and recordings. Increasingly, that tradition is losing its hold as its exponents and enthusiasts become older and die off, being supplanted or even replaced altogether by pop music. One has only to listen to Desert Island Discs to become painfully aware that for many men and women who occupy leading roles in our society, who are otherwise educated and sensitive human beings, Western art music is something as remote to them as the planet Jupiter. Indeed, the Culture Secretary tells us that he never listens to Radio 3, and prefers Classic fM, which he finds “accessible and informal” – and this despite the fact that today’s Radio 3 falls over itself to dumb down, fetishize youth, and employ announcers whose gauche chumminess must be making Cormac Rigby and Patricia Hughes turn in their graves.
Shortly after the election of the New Labour government in 1997, those responsible for British music education were essentially told that they would be compelled to embrace the Government’s educational priorities. Those priorities were towards Leftist multiculturalism and political correctness, and to the replacement of education with vocational training in pursuit of a social engineering agenda. Institutions would no longer be permitted to be determinedly exclusive in their admissions policies; the focus on excellence was seen as “disenfranchising people”.
Interestingly, this development presaged the cult of the amateur and the disparaging of expert status that has since become such a prevalent feature of the Internet. It owes its roots, of course, to the prevalence of postmodernism, itself an ideology owing much to Marx. Once the idea that there are central concepts of value or meaning that run through all good music can be thrown aside, or that critical rationalism is a basis for assessing the worth of a statement that lies outside of the realm of pure opinion, the ground is clear for all sorts of phony replacements.
Above all, what is promoted is a closed, totalitarian arts system. It is a system where government funding creates an expensive elite based on ideology, not ability. It remains dedicated to the Adornoist means whereby Western art music is to be subverted: firstly by the promotion of art music whose ideology is that of alienation, which is by definition anti-populist, and where complexity and obscurity of method are valued highly. Secondly, pop music is endorsed by the arts establishment and with it the concept that anyone, regardless of ability, can become a pop star instantly simply through winning a television talent contest and receiving media promotion. Music education now gives less emphasis to the history and techniques of Western art music and more to free expression and improvisation. Indeed, there are in our schools, according to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (Master of the Queen’s Music), “music teachers who thought that even to teach standard western musical notation was to indulge in extreme elitism, claiming that it would inhibit the children’s creativity, and was alien to the “working class values of ordinary people.”
Increasingly, cultural relativism is a third means of attacking the West; non-Western music is given equality if not priority with Western art music both in our education system and increasingly in arts funding. Concepts such as “diversity” and multiculturalism in general are part of this trend. In his excellent book, “Cultural Revolution, Culture War”, Sean Gabb reminds us that, “In October 2003, the Association of British Orchestras organised a symposium on Cultural Diversity and the Classical Music Industry, and effectively required attendance from every classical music organisation in England larger than a string quartet. Among those addressing the symposium was Professor Lola Young, Head of Culture at the Greater London Authority. She said: ‘We must change the look of the classical music industry.’ She was supported by Roger Wright, head of BBC Radio 3, who confessed that everyone at the BBC now underwent ‘diversity training.’” Practitioners of Western art music have a new-found obsession with “relevance” – they must make the case for their existence in a society that once considered them a vital element of their culture.
In a climate of austerity and cultural hostility, the vital structures that support and nurture Western art music have been placed under unprecedented stress. Local councils have discontinued elements of their music services and, driven by opposition to elitism, ended their support of assisted places at the junior departments of the conservatoires. Western art music classes and activities in publically-funded adult further education have been cut drastically. Meanwhile, the Church, once responsible for the development of young musicians through its choral tradition, has also increasingly replaced Western art music with pop. Our present Archbishop of Canterbury, who had African drummers and Punjabi music at his installation ceremony, has declined the customary office of vice-patron of the Royal College of Organists that his predecessors have held since the foundation of the College in 1864.
Let us move on to consider what is taught in our university music departments that concern themselves with Western art music – that is to say, those which have not closed under the recent funding pressures. Presaging New Labour by a couple of years came the movement entitled the “new musicology,” also called cultural or critical musicology, a jackdaw hybrid of gender and queer studies, cultural theory, post-structuralism, postcolonial studies and the theorising of Adorno and Benjamin.
What is notable in the “new musicology” is how little of originality it contains. It is as if someone were to gather up the most leftist elements of university teaching and then unite them in a single Marxist behemoth. There is psychology, of course, and pointless theorising as to whether one can tell whether Schubert was gay or not from his use of the German sixth. There is cultural theory a-plenty, the return of extended prose written in numbered paragraphs, and the meaningless, self-referential cant of structuralism and post-structuralism. Indeed, Professor Lawrence Kramer has said that in order to survive, musicology must embrace a network of “postmodernist strategies of understanding.” To appease the multiculturalists, ethnomusicology has now taken much of the space and funding formerly allocated to dead white males, meaning that the folk songs of obscure Third World tribes are now accorded the importance that the powers-that-be feel they deserve. Feminism of a particularly assertive kind has been allowed free rein, determining among other things that sonata form is sexist and misogynist. Here, we are no longer talking about music as music, but instead music, in the words of Professor Susan McClary, “as a medium that participates in social formation.”
What the new musicologists have done is effectively set up a straw man in order to justify their ideological lurch. That straw man is the idea that music has no meaning and no political or social significance. As Charles Rosen points out, with the exception of nineteenth-century critic Hanslick, it is doubtful whether anyone has ever actually believed this. Rather, there has always been what we might refer to as a divine fusion in the performance of music between what is deemed to be the composer’s meaning and significance and that overlaid or recreated by the performer, and then a third overlay of meaning and significance by the listener. Not only are those perceptions likely to differ between individuals, they may well differ among the same individuals on different occasions, depending on emotional state. Even the eminent may legitimately see different and contradictory things in a musical work.
The authoritarianism inherent in Adorno’s vision is equally prevalent in the new musicology. New musicologists usually seem to be telling us what to think and what to feel when we listen to music. By imposing meaning they present their opinion as dogma. By refusing to acknowledge the essential subjectivity that is at the heart of musical meaning they deny the individual the right to experience music in his or her own way and – heaven forbid – to use cultural references that are not chosen from the fashionable Left. The result is an edifice built on sand; once one does not accept the authority of the critic to dictate significance and meaning, much of what remains is merely ideological cant. Does the recapitulation of the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth represent “the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release”? Susan McClary published just that analysis, which to my mind is an excellent illustration of the way that this mode of discourse has a tendency to lapse into self-indulgent fantasy.
The aim of all this is, of course, to offer a further justification for the Adornoist position. By connecting music with other disciplines, links are created that are harder to break and that make music harder to isolate within the academy. By borrowing highly obscure modes of language and reference from those disciplines, and talking about music in terms of cultural or critical theory, new musicologists make it more difficult to discuss their work in anything other than its own terms, unless the critic stands wholly outside their viewpoint. They also fulfil Marxism’s inherent self-hatred by focussing on the effort expended in method and execution rather than the value or intelligibility of the results. And by ensuring that those disciplines chosen support the broadly Adornoist view – in other words that they support the concept of paternalistic, nanny-knows-best culture ruled by experts who tell the underclass what to like and what to think, they create a perfect ideological fit with academia’s Leftist zeitgeist and with the culture industry as defined by New Labour and left unchallenged by our present government.
What we are witnessing is effectively the continuation of the process that drove Western tonal music underground under the weight of post-war ideology. Traditional musicologists and music historians are no longer welcome in British academia unless they are willing to accept the new musicology. Indeed, Lawrence Kramer has said, “The theories that ground [postmodernist] strategies are radically anti-foundationalist, anti-essentialist, and anti-totalizing. They emphasize the constructedness, both linguistic and ideological, of all human identities and institutions. They insist on the relativity of all knowledge to the disciplines–not just the conceptual presuppositions but the material, discursive, and social practices–that produce and circulate knowledge. While often disagreeing with each other, poststructuralists, neopragmatists, feminists, psychoanalytic theorists, critical social theorists, multiculturalists and others have been changing the very framework within which disagreement can meaningfully occur.” Once you can control disagreement, there’s not much else that isn’t within your power.
I conclude, then, with an exhortation. To listen to and to play or sing Western art music is now a counter-cultural act. It is an act of profound rebellion against our politically correct Cultural Marxist zeitgeist as well as being a source of pleasure, moral and spiritual improvement, and enhanced appreciation of the connection between the human and the divine. Let us not be afraid to relegate pop music to its proper place, to embrace our Western art music heritage and to resolve to make it a central part of our lives as educated men and women. Whether in our local community or nationally, let us support those who perform and teach this heritage, and let us give particular attention to the riches that are to be found in the music of our own island and culture; supporting organizations such as the English Music Festival which celebrate it, and independent record companies such as Chandos and Hyperion who have devoted much time and expense to producing first-rate recordings of it. And let us never forget these words of Bulwer-Lytton: “Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.” If we care for our souls as we should, let us nourish them with good music, and let us then become better people for doing so.