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It's an ecosystem, Maestro

0 Robert Levine

Riccardo Muti, who last week taught us (and the Met Opera orchestra) about Verdi, this week is teaching us about the value of some American orchestras:

The Riccardo Muti era at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra officially began Thursday at Symphony Center, as the CSO’s 10th music director announced plans for his first season. He did so with a combination of relaxed good humor and expressions of serious concern for the role symphony orchestras, and classical music in general, can play in today’s troubled world….

“Symphony orchestras are the windows of a part of our great Western culture,” he said earlier when asked if he believes U.S. orchestras face extinction amid the serious economic woes of the great recession. “The big orchestras such as Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago cannot close their doors, because if that happens it will be not only a scandal but also a disaster for society.

So small regional orchestras such as Minneapolis or Milwaukee or Atlanta or Nashville or San Francisco can close their doors without it being a “disaster for society”? Thanks for the support, Maestro.

It is sad but true that too many people associated with big orchestras (generally not their musicians) don’t really understand that they are the equivalent of climax vegetation in a complex forest ecosystem. Mature redwood trees are miracles. But they wouldn’t exist without smaller redwood trees, dead redwood trees, and huge numbers of other species.

Orchestras like Chicago are as great as they are because they, too, are embedded in a complex ecosystem - of youth orchestras, private music teachers, music schools, per-service orchestras, regional orchestras, and non-profit organizations of every kind. Take those away and what’s left is the equivalent of a few redwood trees in the middle of a desert. They’ll still be impressive; they just won’t be alive for very long.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

…to quote John Donne. It applies to orchestras too.

On a lighter note, Muti apparently read the other puff piece in the New York Times last week about a fellow conductor:

“In America they use the word ‘vision’ a lot,” the Neapolitan maestro, 68, observed dryly at a press conference, streamed live from Symphony Center over the Internet, in which he commented about the CSO’s 2010-11 schedule. “What is vision? I do not see myself as St. Francis, offering Chicago my beatific visions.”

I wonder just which devout Austrian Catholic conductor who was interviewed at length about his beliefs last week he might be referring to?

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