Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cleveland Orchestra To Celebrate Its Upcoming Centennial, In 2018, With Commissions To Four-Plus European Composers And One 'American'(?) Composer

... "But hold on. Before we pop corks in artistic celebration, let's take a closer look at two of these endeavors: opera and commissions. They're exciting, if also conventional. And they happen to be almost uniformly Eurocentric.

First, commissions. The [Cleveland Orchestra] centennial project of five world premieres leading to the orchestra's 100th season in 2018 is itself admirable. Orchestras and audiences are in constant need of replenishment through works by composers who savor the colors and expressive richness a mass of instruments can produce.

By looking forward, however, the orchestra actually is going retro. In 1958, the institution celebrated its 40th anniversary with a commissioning project of 10 works....

George Szell led the 1958 premieres, just as music director Welser-Most [his contract extended to 2018] is expected to conduct the centennial scores by Marc-Andre Dalbavie, Osvaldo Golijov, HK Gruber, Matthias Pintscher and Kaija Saariaho. Although this group is distinguished, each composer has had a work performed by the Cleveland Orchestra in the past decade -- and none is American. Others deserve a creative shot.

Szell's commissionees included five Americans (Paul Creston, Alvin Etler, Howard Hanson, Peter Mennin, Robert Moevs) -- a sign he had a broad view of the art, even if he didn't necessarily savor contemporary music, which he called "temporary music."

Along with the composers in the centennial project, the orchestra's programs in coming seasons will bring premieres by Britain's Julian Anderson, George Benjamin and Oliver Knussen, Austria's Johannes Maria Staud and Germany's Jorg Widmann. The sole new American work next season, Paul Chihara's viola concerto, will be led by Jahja Ling.

Aside from Chihara's concerto, subscription audiences next season will hear music by only three other Americans (John Adams, Samuel Barber, Charles Ives). Two others, Sean Shepherd and August Read Thomas, will be relegated to a single new-music concert led by Knussen.

Orchestras have a duty to perform music by composers of many nations and styles. An American orchestra should pay more than passing attention to its own country's composers, including such established and rising figures as William Bolcom, John Harbison, Nico Muhly and Ollie Wilson [sic]. The Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony are stellar examples of ensembles that acknowledge this vibrancy." ...

Donald Rosenberg, Plain Dealer Music Critic "Cleveland Orchestra's plans for commissions, opera have Eurocentric ring -- commentary" The Cleveland Pain Dealer July 12, 2008.


The Cleveland Orchestra

Childe Hassam
Poppies, 1891
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift (Partial and Promised) of Margaret and Raymond Horowitz, 1997.135.1
Copyright © 2008 National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Martin Puryear
Lever No. 3, 1989
Gift of the Collectors Committee
Copyright © 2008 National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., respects American classical civilization.


Blogger JW said...

That sucks, yes? Believe me, people are talking about it. Don't expect any backtracking from the orchestra. Among the most hidebound and craven among arts organizations yet also among the best orchestras, they consistently underachieve due to an ingrained aversion to fresh thinking. The chosen composers are surely distinguished, but they are far from the only ones; there are certainly many American composers of equal (or greater) distinction who would have made suitable choices Here is where an orchestra's artistic administrator is supposed to step in and offer balance, objectivity, or well, something! Only in America do orchestras give the finger to our homegrown talent, while offering keys to the kingdom to foreigners. That American talent is ignored is an example of the atavism of xenophobia that gripped orchestras for decades, going as far back as the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. Perhaps we've forgotten: it was then that the NY Phil refused to hire Henry Hadley as its principal conductor. Famous and respected (he was the first American conductor to be internationally celebrated) though he was, he was an American and therefore couldn't possibly be as good as a foreigner. How little things seem to have changed.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

Thank you for your strong and thoughtful comment, John. I agree that American orchestral (and public radio!) culture has suffered over the past generation from significant regressive tendencies. And yes, there has to be a role for orchestra's artistic administrators in trying to correct for imbalances whether in choice of repertoire or guest conducting talent. This is especially true locally now that the National Symphony is rumored to be looking for a European conductor and music director to follow Leonard Slatkin. And isn't this also where Bob Shingleton's railing against the power of "creative" management agencies -- in New York and London or Hamburg -- come into play?

Thanks again. I look forward to more comments.


(Sorry for the delay posting your comment; we were lost yesterday somewhere in south-central Delaware trying to return from a few hours of sun and surf and sea-gull gazing.)

5:40 AM  

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