Note the language in the press release: "trademark mix of engaging and adventurous programs," "exciting and innovative brand of music making," "a 33-week season of exciting programming reaching audiences in new and creative ways."
Then you take a look at the season and....there's a lot of Beethoven. The only living composer by whom we hear more than one work is John Adams, and none of those is new. Adams is, obviously, well-known in these parts, unlike Sofia Gubaidulina and George Benjamin, so it's hard to see what might be innovative or exciting about two weeks of repeats of big works by him.
Don't get me wrong. I like Adams and his music, but he's become the default representative of new music at SFS, and there are plenty of other worthy composers in the Bay Area, in California, and in the United States. SFS managed to observe big Mendelssohn and Handel anniversaries, and of course we will be hearing an awful lot of Mahler in the next couple of seasons, as in the past few, but couldn't they take note of Elliott Carter, still writing important and interesting music at the astounding age of 101?
Here's the money quote from Joshua's article:
"Sometimes, what we need to react to is the interest that exists outside of the city and internationally," Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas said in an interview. "The rest of the world is playing catch-up to what we've already done, but people here still want to share in those things."Seriously, what exactly does that mean? I don't think I could say that with a straight face, it's so confusing. It seems to mean, everybody else is now trying to be innovative, so we can do something more conservative, but maybe not. Maybe it means, everybody wants to hear Mahler! Maybe one of my readers can explain it to me.
So my frustration has three parts:
- The conservatism of the season
- The claims of innovation and excitement when five minutes of looking at the season make it clear that it's a conservative season full of greatest hits, with very little new music
- The much more interesting and innovative seasons announced a couple of weeks ago by the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Summing this all up, SFS is putting on what I'd call a very safe season but calling it something entirely different. We're being told that blue is yellow, and so I'm having one of those cognitive-dissonance moments. At least S.F. Opera was honest about why they're doing a season with twelve performances each of Madama Butterfly and Aida. If what MTT wants to do is revisit old favorites, maybe he could say why, and what he intends to do that'll be new or interesting with those old favorites. Maybe they could say a lot more about how they put together a season.
And on to a comment I must reply to assertion by assertion.
First of all, there can never be too much Beethoven and I for one am happy not to see him shuttled out to the "My Favorite..." summer schmaltz this time around but given the prominence he merits.I believe there can be too much of any composer, however central to repertory or to musical history. Regular repetition has a number of bad effects: the players and conductor can get tired of the music and fall into routine performances. It's lazy program-making to keep playing the same composers over and over. The audience can become persuaded that the composers who are most repeated - and you know who they are - are the only ones worth listening to. The audience can become unwilling to be challenged or to be open to other worthy composers. The constant repeats crowd out other good music.
I would be less critical of all the Beethoven if the works were being paired with works by other composers in some interesting way. In his first season at the BSO, for example, Levine paired Beethoven with Schoenberg, and those programs were both a critical and audience success. But nothing like that is being done here.
And, seriously? Taking a ten-year break from listening to the Beethoven symphonies was one of the best things I ever did for myself musically. I heard a lot of other music, and when I tried them out again, they were newly fresh.
True, it may not be the most adventurous season, and no one will think Salonen has taken over as Music Director, but really, what is the use of all this carping when the SFS is offering the rest of its season at half price and begging people to buy tickets?The half-price sale is over and since this was the fourth time they've done it, it's now an annual event. Having such a sale isn't the only way to sell more tickets, of course. They could look at their overall pricing policy, their programming, their scheduling, and so on.
I'm also carping about next season, not this season, which has more programs that I like.
They're following the same path SFO has traveled, hoping for similar results. I would love to see a more adventurous season too, but for now, I'm happy we aren't reading about the imminent demise of SFF and stories about how thinly spread MTT is while the orchestra is about to go under.You'll have to explain to me, then, why it is that the LAPO and NYPO have come up with considerably more interesting seasons, with many world premieres, interesting pairings (see Brahms Unbound at LA, and Salonen's Bartok, Ligeti, and Haydn series at NY), a performer in residence who is performing several of the world premieres, etc. The NY audience has long been regarded as impossibly conservative, and yet Alan Gilbert is forging ahead, and being cheered, for his programming.
SFS is very well managed and I think there is no danger at all of them going under; the situation is not remotely comparable to the current problems at the Philadelphia Orchestra or the LA Opera.
I believe sometimes it's appropriate that we look at organizations which are important to our community and deserving of our support with a bitten tongue once in awhile.No arts organization, no institution that is important to a community benefits from journalists and bloggers muzzling themselves.