Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Forgoes Classical American Music For The Ugly Duckling And Cinderella Ballet Extracts

One of the major problems confronting American symphonic orchestras in the 21st century is balancing their curatorial function as a preserver of the Western classical symphonic tradition with their curatorial function of presenting the best of modern and contemporary classical music -- especially modern and contemporary American classical music. With aging American orchestral audience members (the average age of 60 seems low to me based upon my three classical symphonic outings this past week), most American orchestras now reserve most of the second halves of their programs for the European warhorses which the aging audiences feel they should have the right to listen to, live, on a weekly or monthly basis.

A little of this conservatism can be good in that it exposes newer generations to the classics of the Western orchestral repertoire -- works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, et al. But what are we to make of this season's all- Mozart, all-Wagner, all-Richard Strauss, and all-Tchaikovsky evenings? Most of these programs -- repeated three or more times in a week -- are, I feel, cheap and bad marketing which usually doesn't appeal to any educated people from the younger generations -- the pool from which American orchestras badly need to replenish their audiences.

And then there is the preponderance of simply weak and wasteful live, classical music programming in America. Consider this week's program by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a Symphony which has tried to milk as much national classical music attention as it could this past half-year. This week they are programming a promising first half followed by a wasted second half: Adolphus Hailstork's short Intrada (deserved, but brief, recognition for a distinguished African-American classical composer, whose major Walt Whitman choral settings premiere at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, this spring) and Jean Sibelius's great Violin Concerto, with recent prize-winning young violinist Sergey Khatchatryan, whose youth is being used to market the whole program) are on the first half. Highly promising so far.

But then the second half of the evening is wasted on a contrived, fairy-tale theme that would be better suited for a Saturday morning children's program: Sergei Prokofiev's The Ugly Duckling and extracts from Prokofiev's Cinderella ballet. [Do American Symphony Orchestra League marketers think that Ducklings and Mother Gooses actually sell tickets to adult and young adult classical evenings?]

Anyway, rather than entice 100 to 300 new young adult intellectuals per night (yes, they are out there studying your marketed offerings) with some 20th or 21st century classical American orchestral music on the second half, the program is wasted and American culture loses all contact with the symphonic achievements of Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, William Schuman, and a dozen other American orchestral master composers whose works are too deeply felt for reactionary, aging audiences; and not trendy enough for Martini Twist Outreach Concerts, where the emphasis is too often on entertainment values, motorcycles, and retro synchronized-light shows.

Erotic Musical Light Show by the Russian Musical Bank. Coming soon to a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Martini Twist Outreach Concert?

Photo credit: (c) Russian Musical Bank. index.php?m=prc&id=88
With thanks.


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