Saturday, November 29, 2008

Time And Ebb

As demand for live, classical music performances ebb with the economy, the arts world teeters with an over supply of conservatory-trained professionals unable to find steady employment. I applaud the foresight and wisdom of journalist/oboist Blair Tindall, author of Mozart in the Jungle—Sex, Drugs and Classical Music. This book, particularly the final chapter, should be required reading for eager, young conservatory-bound musicians. Tindall writes: Outdated rhetoric charging that the arts are a "necessity" sounds hollow at a time when so many Americans are hungry, homeless, unemployed, and without decent health care. Ironically, some of them are performers and artists. Culture can improve the spirit in so many ways, but only for those who can afford the time and money to attend performances or become involved in making art themselves. How can families justify spending money on performance subscriptions during times of intense, economic hardship?

Like Tindall, I believe audiences need to ask their local symphony, opera and ballet companies during the next "emergency" fund drive, how much executives, conductors and soloists are earning. While administrators of shows and ballets scramble to cut costs, I admit the option of replacing live orchestra with recorded music, as Oregon Ballet is doing for a portion of this year's Nutcracker, is a practical step.

After serving for over twenty years as concertmaster for Pacific Northwest Ballet, I know how tempo-sensitive dancers and choreographers tend to be. And who can blame them? Taped or "canned" music makes sense for long-term sustainability and artistic dependability. I'm reminded of the New York performance PNB gave of Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15 at City Center in 1996. I remember the incident well, as I was brought along to tour with the company as concertmaster (back in those days, my services were highly valued). The hurried tempos of conductor Stewart Kershaw caused Co-Artistic Director Kent Stowell to bolt from his chair, run down the aisle in distress, and yell "It's too fast, Stewart." I don't think Stowell deserved blame for his outburst. Too fast or too slow tempos have the potential to derail a ballet performance. As far as I'm concerned, Stowell's actions might have been deemed pre-emptive, a way of sparing his dancers from impending disaster in the high profile scene of Manhattan.

With today's increasingly superb technology, live orchestras and undependable conductors are dispensable. If we think back to the onset of the Great Depression, "talkies" meant devastation to many musicians; playing for silent movies was a respectable livelihood. And many shows today have replaced orchestra musicians entirely with the synthesizer, a far more cost-effective and reliable option.

This Thanksgiving, I offer my gratitude for being blessed with a loving, supportive and intelligent family, and for being liberated from you-know-what. I look forward to creating new goals and fresh traditions. The Talvi ladies shown in this photo are not push-overs, that's for sure. Though often in the minority, we stand by our values.
from left: Anna, Sarah, Marjorie & Silja Talvi

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