Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Musical Sandbox

The preeminent violinist and conductor Joseph Silverstein once quipped, "Seattle is a great place to live, but it's a cul-de-sac for classical musicians." In other words, the road to nowhere if you remain too long.

After reading David Brewster's recent blog entry, it occurred to me that Seattle has been the nursing home and final resting place of many greats. Milton Katims and Henry Siegl, two national treasures that were made to feel irrelevant in old age, withered and died here. Rainer Miedel, passed away in 1983 after a brief battle with cancer. Manuel Rosenthal, one of the last of the living links to musical Paris of the 20's and 30's, home to Ravel and Stravinsky, was terminated as music director of Seattle Symphony after locals discovered the woman he was with wasn't (yet) his wife. For almost seventy years Rosenthal was France's most important conductor. It may be advisable for the next maestro-in-waiting to take a long, hard look at Seattle's Cult of Provinciality.

Back in 1941, world famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham made this remark of Seattle's musical audiences and its arts patrons: If I were a member of this community, really I should get weary of being looked upon as a sort of aesthetic dustbin. With programming choices becoming more market-driven, orchestra musicians and their saviors will be forced to pander to the lowest common denominator of artistic taste in order to survive. Back in the days when Northwest Chamber Orchestra was still on life support, teetering on the verge of demise, the ensemble was reprimanded by management for venturing into the Moderns; Prokofiev in the same program with Shostakovich was a no-no. Whitish blue-haired audience members canceled season subscriptions—what, no Pachelbel Canon or Albinoni Adagio? A spellbinding composition by Alfred Schnittke created pandemonium in the audience, followed by apoplectic fits in NWCO's boardroom.

I have a message for hopeful superstars stepping onto the Seattle scene: wannabes turn into hasbeens around here. The clever ones pack their bags and leave before it's too late. Oboist nonpareil Alex Klein fled from the University of Washington's environment of self-satisfied mediocrity to become Principal of Chicago Symphony under Daniel Barenboim. Alex now teaches at Oberlin. Paul Coletti, the prominent viola soloist and chamber musician, departed from the ADS (Aesthetic Dustbin Seattle) and is currently a faculty member of the Colburn School at University of Southern California. Los Angeles seems to attract geniuses and hold onto them. Joshua Roman, young cellist extraordinaire, caught on in the nick of time, stepping out of you-know-where: the kindergarten sandbox.
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