A serious place in the American dream

A serious place in the American dream


norman lebrecht

May 29, 2015

At last year’s League of American Orchestras conference in Seattle, they put on a sexist rapper to entertain the delegates, many of whom declared that this was just what they’d always wanted from a symphony orchestra.

sir mixalot

At this year’s gathering, the Cleveland Orchestra with Franz Welser-Most performed the following programs:

1 Strauss: Daphne

2 Beethoven: Pastoral Symphony; Strauss: Symphonia Domestica

3 Messiaen Hymne, Chronochromie, followed by Dvorak 5th symphony.

Get the message? No frills, no spills, not even a star soloist. Just music at the highest possible level of execution, performed with passion, concentration and a sense of mission.

Get the message? Get serious about music, America.


  • AZ Cowboy says:

    And yet, for a conference of the League of AMERICAN Orchestras, Cleveland didn’t play one work by an American composer. No Chadwick, Payne, Converse, Piston, Bernstein, Sessions… nothing. Quite sad.

    • Scott Fields says:

      Very thoughtful of V.Lind to interject vile racist stereotypes into the discussion. You go girl!

  • Scott Fields says:

    To quote the British music icon Nigel Tufnel: “Well, so what? What’s wrong with being sexy?”

    • GONZALEZ says:

      Nothing wrong with being “sexy” (yes, quoted). Everything wrong with being IGNORANT and proud of it!

      • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

        Agree. To encounter a high level elected official at the opera, symphony, or ballet performance is very rare in the US, where the state of unreason is considered a virtue.

        • Don Ciccio says:

          Not that rare actually. It is known that Yo-Yo Ma played for the last few presidents. Harry Truman and Richard Nixon (yes, Nixon) were classical music connoisseurs, and Ronald Reagan was known to enjoy classical music and ballet. In fact there was for years a performance series at the White House; the Pablo Casals legendary recital being just the most famous of the many concerts.

          Closer to our time, the Kennedy Center is known to have supporters from both parties, and in fact during all these years that I live in Washington I saw with certain regularity (if not as frequent as I would wish) members of congress attending the offerings at the center, including classical music and ballet. And not only them: I saw a few times former First Lady Laura Bush either at the Kennedy Center or at the Music Center at Strathmore – the best concert hall in the DC region. (I am however still awaiting to see Michelle Obama.)

          Anyway, don’t let these facts stay in the way of your prejudices – but what was that thing about ignorance?

          • Don Ciccio says:

            I should also add that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is an opera fanatic. And there are more.

          • PDacher says:

            Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Ginsburg, who are usually on opposing sides of decisions, are well-known patrons of the Washington National Opera. They both appeared as supernumeraries in the company’s production of Ariadne Auf Naxos. Justice Scalia got an unexpected treat when the soprano playing Zerbinetta wound up in his lap: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/reliable-source/2009/10/rs-opera26.html I was there; it was a hoot to see.

          • V.Lind says:

            Yo-Yo Ma (and Itzhak Perlman) played at the Obama Inauguration. Well, sort of…though as far as I know that is the last of the hip-hoppy Obamas’ connections to classical music.

            There is a reason the Kennedy Centre is named as it is. For one brief shining moment and all that, the White house was indeed populated by people with an interest in and knowledge of the high arts. That’s when Casals was there, as well as Bernstein and many other musicians and dancers, as well as writers and artists. And the Kennedys went to artistic events on their own time as well as hosting top artists at the White House — it was not just an act. They knew what was what, not just the names of the top two classical sellers in the world.

            Times have changed. Artistically, despite the fact that Richard Nixon could play the piano, it has been downhill ever since. Kennedys could reel off acres of poetry. The Obamas can probably sing along at a Will.I.Am concert. (Which the LOA probably thinks good fodder for its next annual meeting).

          • william osborne says:

            Be wary of the talk about politicians supporting the arts. The opera house at Kennedy Center was built over 40 years ago, but Washington still ranks a disgraceful 154th in the world for opera performances per year (while having the world’s 11th largest metro GDP.)

            Look at the rankings for opera performances per year for a few other capital cities, all listed on the website of Operabase:

            Berlin 1
            Vienna 2
            Moscow 3
            London 4
            Budapest 6
            Paris 7
            Prague 8
            Madrid 13
            Stockholm 15
            Sydney 22

            Even Athens in impoverished Greece comes in at 37th.

            Then rinky-dink Washington limps in at 154th. Our so-called National Opera housed in Kennedy Center is in reality our national joke. These numbers tell us what our politicians really think.

  • Alvaro Mendizabal says:

    Impossible to describe my disappointment to LAO for letting go THE once in a lifetime opportunity to see Mr. Lebrecht go GANGSTA on stage.

    The industry is seriously going down the tubes….

  • V.Lind says:

    Lucky old Cleveland.

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Comments like this are why there will never be public funding of the arts in the US.

    • Scott Fields says:

      My God. American arts funding doomed again. Curse you Nigel Tufnel!

    • NYMike says:

      It’s hard to imagine national public arts funding in the US where a culture of bible and gun ala 1800’s Dodge City not only still exists, but grows stronger in parts of the country.

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        1) I was responding to Mr. Brenninkmeyer.

        2) As you must be aware, public funding of the arts isn’t a national matter but purely a local one. A more perceptive person wouldn’t be asking why the yokels of Possum Snot, Kentucky don’t want to fund the arts but why there’s no significant public funding of the classical music in San Francisco (a bastion of the smuggest progressivism) or Chicago, the only place in the world with less political pluralism than North Korea. Hint: it’s got nothing to do with neocons (or is it neoliberals? Can’t keep these Left boogeymen straight) or the Koch brothers.

        3) Few businesses can get away with the contempt for their customers that artists display. Guess what? You’re not in one of them. Assuming you ever get off your precious duffs and start advocating public funding of classical music, the best way to scupper your efforts would be to quote the comments here: haughty, ill-informed Europeans and Americans trying to curry their favor by pretending to be haughty, ill-informed Europeans. Art may be eternal, but you and your institutions can vanish with little trouble and not much more regret. Otherwise you might consider employment with an autocrat somewhere.

        • Sarah says:

          Evidently the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra need to be giving lessons nationwide. Their appreciation for audience members of all ages, shapes, and income levels is awesome and one of the main reasons for why we fought for them. These sorts of musicians DO exist.

  • Tim says:

    Hang on. Let’s put this into context.

    The rapper slot at the 2014 Conference lasted for about 10 minutes or so (two songs). The bulk of that full-evening programme was part of the SSO’s ongoing Sonic Evolution project and consisted of three brand-new commissioned orchestral works inspired by Seattle musicians (Luis Tinoco took Bill Frisell as his starting point, Du Yun was inspired by Ray Charles, and Gabriel Prokofiev by Sir Mix-A-Lot). I understand that Sir Mix-A-Lot appearing onstage was very much an afterthought and a pretty late addition to the main events of the evening.
    Of course, though, once he had invited people to join him onstage, then the rest of the evening took a backseat as far as the press were concerned.

    What is not mentioned is that on the previous evening (also part of the conference, I might add, and where there were far more delegates in attendance – many had checked out and left by the time of the Sir Mix-A-Lot event), the Seattle SO and Chorus gave a truly terrific concert consisting of Dutilleux’s 2nd Symphony and Ravel’s complete Daphnis & Chloe.