A couple of nights ago I attended a concert, to hear a string chamber orchestra from my native country, previously unknown to me. The Wegelius Chamber Strings consists of some 20 young musicians; to my understanding, they are mainly from the Swedish-speaking coastal areas of Finland. The conductor, Ms. Helsing, was very accurate with her beat and nobody had the least bit of trouble following her. Every member of the group seemed like a solid musician, and although individually they might not be classified as virtuosi, together they played wonderfully well, better than a similar group here would do. The reason had a great deal to do with their homogenous background and training. During the performance, bow distribution and even use of vibrato was uniform, something one doesn’t witness too often here. This could have been the result of extensive rehearsing, but I tend to believe it all came naturally to these musicians. The concert was very enjoyable, even to my critical ears. One of the cellists played like a true soloist, but with a last name of Nuñes-Garces his roots must be in Spain, and was an exception from the rest. The program notes left me somewhat hungry, as it had a Brandenburger in it and one movement was titled Pesto.
Eons ago, when I was studying in Vienna, it was a well known fact that the Philharmonic members, especially the strings, were not particularly fine instrumentalists on their own, but as a group their playing was splendid. Again, we come to the fact that they were products of the same school and style of playing, and naturally made music well together. A Strauss Waltz was done to perfection in every New Year’s concert, whether the musicians looked up or not. Mozart sounded as it should, with nothing artificial added to the mix.
In the aftermath of the genocidal conquest of North America, the United States came to be a country “built” by immigrants and for immigrants. It has taken an enormously long time for different ethnicities to blend, something that is still far from being complete. Canada, our Northern neighbor, is far ahead of us in this respect, but even there a lot of work needs to be done. I am a firm believer in a unified mankind and world, but it will take generations to build.
The same is true with music. Out of necessity we have a great mix of players from all corners of the earth in most orchestras, but it doesn’t mean that these people have a lot of understanding or even respect for each other, whether musically or in real life. From the second and especially third generation onward, a blend is easier to reach. But, at present, we have a lot of relatively recent immigrants whose musical training and backgrounds are worlds apart. Perhaps in a big symphony orchestra this doesn’t matter quite as much as in a chamber group, except visually, especially if the conductor can really be in charge, in a positive way.
A Soviet-born and educated player is very different from his/her Chinese-born colleague, and often feels no need to change his/her ways, as in that culture musicians were taught they were superior to the rest of the world. The same was true in other fields as well, but we all know it was the result of internal propaganda and far from the truth. Yet everyone needs to compromise in their ways, if a unified society, musical or any other kind, is needed and required. There is no supreme culture: we all have a lot to learn from each other, and should be grateful that this country gives us the opportunity for this.