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My friend Wickham has a Credenza

from Sunday, October12th of the year2008.

Well! I seem to have set off a little blog froth about this whole Orchestra Programming issue. Essentially, my argument was a simple, local one, which is to say: I think the New York Philharmonic could do a better job representing living, American composers on their concerts while maintaining their commitment to performing the old warhorses at the highest possible level. This got me to thinking in a slightly more meta way about it, inasmuch as New York is a unique place where you can have something like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a lot of “Mad Famous Ott” in it, and that’s as accessible to us as New Yorkers as a performance piece in which a genderqueer Ukranian-American adheres hamentashen to her nipples and plays burlesque songs on her accordion. You want to be able, as a consumer of art, to have access to things you know you want to see (Old Warhorse! Beethoven 9! Starry Night!), and then you want access to whatever funky things your friends are doing, and then you want this Third Thing, which is the thing that you didn’t know that you wanted that some genius-ass curator set out for you. For instance, check out this concert:

Copland: Appalachian Spring
Britten: Violin Concerto
Revueltas: La Noche de los Mayas

or like:

Ligeti: Clocks and Clouds
Salonen: Violin Concerto (LAPA commission)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5

Each one has a Warhorse, a Secret Delight, and Something you Probably Didn’t Know. It’s good programming not because it’s adhesive hamentashen or a trip to the Met, but some judicious combination of the two. Those were both L.A. Phil concerts from the 2008-2009 season, by the way. You know who else is doing a shit-hot job? The Boston Symphony. A few years ago, when Jimmý first took over, you got the sense that he was programming New Music in the way my dentist tells me to floss; the tone seemed the same. Now, check out their season overview and see how artfully handled it is. The result is some delicious combinations: Messiaen, Boulez, and Berio: TEXTURE QUEENS! Tchaikovsky, Kirchner, & the Schumann Piano Concerto: THE SSRI SISTERZ!

Check out some of these other blogs and their reactions to all of this. Most interesting to me is this one here, in which an homosexual in Portland engages with the PR Director of the orchestra:

PRDúd Segði: If you look at the orchestra’s entire performance history of Beethoven 9, you’ll find that, on average, it’s performed about once every five years. Many times throughout its history, this orchestra has gone a decade or more between performances. Is that too much for Beethoven 9? Debatable, I guess, but consider this: Portland’s population is growing at a rate of about 40,000 a year. That means today there are 200,000 people in Portland who weren’t even living here the last time the Oregon Symphony did Beethoven 9. If we could capture 1 percent of them, we could fill an entire concert hall with people who’ve never had the chance to hear this orchestra do Beethoven 9 before in their lives ““ and that’s just 1 percent of the newcomers. That doesn’t even take into account all the other people who’ve lived here their whole lives and still never heard the Oregon Symphony do Beethoven 9. How many of those are there? Another 1.8 million?

Now, I actually totally agree with him. This is a completely good way to think; you want to make sure that people have access to the warhorses! Especially Beethoven 9, which is one of those things that can really change your shit right up when you hear it live. But what you need to do is take Beethoven 9 as a starting point and ax yourself, what is the Most Awesome Way I can turn this into an unforgettable evening? My friend Wickham has a Credenza. This thing is enormous. It’s like, twenty feet long and ten feet high, when paired with its attendant hutch. No matter where you put it, it’s going to be “The room that hath the credenza upp in.” So what she did was construct a nook for it in her loft, and then bought furniture that comparez and contrasts with this giant fuck-off unavoidable ÞING so that the end result is a very pleasurable visual and emotional experience vis à vis the credenza. What she did not do, as the Oregon Symphêrny did, was pair it with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music. That’s like if she had run out to Laura Ashley and stuck some floral ottoman in front of it. I love me a floral ottoman, and I really like that Vaughan Williams. It’s just not doing anybody any favors in the context of that programming, least of whom Beethoven 9!

More gossypp: check out this interview with Emmanuel Ax. Manny say that, basically, the New York Press has been ragging on the Phil for being boring programmers for decades. I’m not sure that I like the whole discourse of “the mainstream media is on my case,” but the last thing that you want is an aggressive relationship between the press and the local orchestra. Nobody wins there. Anyway, the rest of this post has an interesting analysis of the rest of the orchestra’s season, concert by concert.

I think there is a way to do it so that everybody wins. If you make it your mission as an orchestra to do a complete Beethoven cycle in the fall and a complete Sibelius in the spring, it’s the best kind of design challenge.


  • loving this.

  • An homosexual in Portland is loving this, too.

  • From an essay collected in Wayne Koestenbaum’s Cleavage (originally published in… New York Magazine):

    “1984: at a now-defunct boutique called Ben’s Village, I bought a pair of cotton tropical-print unisex pants that I named ‘fish pants’ because blousy fish swam on them in wallpaper patterns. A friend had advised, when I’d told him there was no room in my life for fish pants, ‘Change your life to fit the pants.'”

    I have tried to live my life according to this maxim.

  • I think there is a way to do it so that everybody wins.

    Well, of course there is, and the good news is that a fair number of orchestras are starting to at least try to program that way, and without hearkening back to the days when a single work of unlistenable modernist dreck was presented as the medicine audiences had to choke down to get to the Brahms they’d come to hear.

    That the NY Phil obviously isn’t going this route may be a reflection more of their unique situation (being the Orchestra Of Record in a city that’s already bubbling over with quality new music performances for those who like that sort of thing) than of any national trend among major orchestras. Most of us aren’t anywhere near as creative as LA, but at least a lot of us see the value in trying to get there…

  • YESYESYEYSYES! and third, “the thing that you didn’t know that you wanted that some genius-ass curator set out for you” thanks you for articulating this—that shock of recognition (you’ve written about it before) when you see/hear something that fills a longing you did not know existed until it was filled. sounds erotic. IS erotic. and oh-so-many-other-things, like CRUCIAL. thank you.

  • I agree with killian. Case in point, the Baltimore Symphony concert I attended at Strathmore last December, which had Beethoven’s Pastoral on the second half of the program, but 2 Aaron Jay Kernis pieces on the first part. delightful.

    Also I attended this SFS concert mentioned in Civic Center, and I found it distinctly odd. The pieces were all so meaty, and felt like they could have each been the centerpiece of their own concert. And I rather liked the Tchaikovsky.

    Also I like your use of Jimmý. I feel like it should be prounounced Jimmayyy!