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The Cult of Youth

2 Robert Levine

Mathew Gurewitsch had an interesting article the other day in the New York Times on The Cult of Youth:

IN the world of the contemporary symphony orchestra, youth is not so much a stage of life as it is a battle cry. Youth orchestras! Young conductors! At times it begins to seem that nothing else counts.

Last December in Vienna, Christoph Koncz, a cherubic ex-concert master with the training orchestra at the Verbier Festival, in the Swiss Alps, and now, at 22, a principal second violin with the Vienna Philharmonic, recalled the Salzburg Festival debut of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra under the fire-eating Gustavo Dudamel, then 27, in 2008.

“The atmosphere was fantastic,” Mr. Koncz said, unwinding after an ill-starred premiere of Verdi’s “Macbeth” at the Vienna State Opera. “The audience went wild. It was like a party.”

And why does the Cult of Youth appeal to conductors in particular?

Last August in Salzburg, Franz Welser-Möst, music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, explained the appeal. “Professional orchestras are jaundiced,” he said. “Youth orchestras are full of enthusiasm. Old maestros love that.”

Yup. Us old farts are so tired of the music that it’s gone to our livers and turned our skin yellow.

Or maybe what we’re tired of are conductors - especially those that think that because they’re on a podium they actually know more than we do. And, of the rather small minority that really are as good as the orchestras they stand in front of, some are simply not the kind of people that are enjoyable to work for.

I’ve never played in an orchestra that wasn’t thrilled to work for a conductor who was 1) a really good conductor; 2) a really good musician; and 3) a decent human being. It’s unusual enough to see the three combined that the novelty alone is likely to cause excitement in most orchestras. In fact, many orchestras would be willing to give considerable ground on point #3 in order to get the first two.

I wonder if those who push The Cult of Youth really understand what the logical end result is of such thinking. If young orchestras are better than old orchestras, then why bother to support old orchestras? Of course, without the employment opportunities provided by old orchestras, there won’t be very many young musicians of the quality necessary to excite “old maestros.”

I would guess that even the excitable Maestro Welser-Möst might prefer an orchestra full of old farts to young orchestras that can’t play in tune and in time. I wonder if he understands that people devote years of their lives to learning how to play an instrument at a professional level in order to be able to make a living doing so?

There used to be a professional orchestra in south Florida. But the Florida Philharmonic couldn’t compete in terms of funding, board strength, and general sexiness with the New World Symphony, the Miami-based quasi-professional training orchestra that ended up sucking up much of the oxygen in the local ecosystem necessary to support professional arts groups.

It is seldom acknowledged that the greatest irony of the FPO’s loss to the NWS is the fact that a number of FPO musicians were NWS alumni. They went from exciting to - unemployed.

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2 comments feed top ↑

  1. Comment by Nicole Stacy
    December 29, 2019 at 9:59 PM

    “I’ve never played in an orchestra that wasn’t thrilled to work for a conductor who was 1) a really good conductor; 2) a really good musician; and 3) a decent human being.”

    I have! Seems to me it’s a bonding thing: what brings people together faster than a common enemy? To paraphrase Voltaire, when one doesn’t exist, sometimes it is necessary to invent one.

  2. Comment by linnea nereim
    March 17, 2019 at 1:40 AM

    Any ideas how we can help Franzi celebrate his big 50th birthday this coming August 16th?