Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Civics Lesson

A few weeks back, A.C. Douglas zeroed in on one paragraph of a posting by Greg Sandow, and used it as the springboard for 1) a lament about the state of classical music and 2) an attack on Greg.

I'd suggest that anyone interested in orchestra management and the audience this take a look at these postings, in the following order:
  1. Greg's original posting, containing some background information about a concert at which Semyon Bychkov substituted for an indisposed Christoph von Dohnanyi, and a question posed by Greg about reader interest in financial questions possibly raised by the repertory Bychkov conducted

  2. Drew McManus's response to Greg's question

  3. Greg's follow-up

  4. ACD's first blast at Greg and subsequent comments

What's interesting about this is that ACD neatly elides (or avoids completely, or ignores, or hides) the whole point of Greg's posting. Let me elucidate.

Greg is not claiming that what an audience is or should be really interested in is gossip about personalities. That's ACD's take on it, for his own purposes. To quote ACD's mischaracterization of Greg, "See? Classical music fans should be no different from the celebrity- and celebrity-gossip-besotted morons who read publications like Entertainment Weekly."

Note that what Greg actually discussed was the process of switching the repertory von Dohnanyi had originally chosen for the repertory Bychkov wanted to conduct, and how the New York Philharmonic had paid for an expensive piece like the Shostakovich Seventh Symphony. What this has to do with celebrities or celebrity gossip is beyond me. We are not talking about whether the second percussionist is having an affair with the second-stand, inside-chair violist, or whether the conductor is about to make his Nth marriage to a violinist 35 years his junior.

What Greg is saying and Drew is seconding is that the financial operations of musical institutions such as orchestras are something like the financial operations of governments, and that audiences have every right (and, to my mind, every responsibility) to be interested in how an orchestra manages its money and chooses its repertory.

I pay taxes, and for that reason I try to pay some attention to how my state and local governments spend that money. How much goes for schools? How much goes for paving roads? What about health care? I read budgets, and I write to my elected representatives.

I also make contributions to local arts institutions. For that reason, I try to stay informed about how the institutions spend that money. It's not gossip to wonder why the Opera paid $3 million for "rebranding" a few years ago, for example, or to think that perhaps the money could have been spent better.

It's a matter of civics. It shouldn't be characterized as anything else.

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