Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Musical Evolution

Wolfgang Amadeus wasn’t particularly happy in the city, but Salzburg has done remarkable business in Mozart’s name, cashing in not only selling tickets to hear his music but also selling everything else from sausage to clothing carrying his label. Personally I love the taste of Mozart Kugeln, although I doubt they have much to do with the composer.

Watching Tony Palmer’s excellent ‘The Salzburg Festival – A Brief History’ brings up this often silly franchise element, but most of the documentary is dedicated to more serious musical matters. It is no secret that the Third Reich and Salzburg had a special relationship, and only a few there considered the Nazi presence an occupation. Even long after the war, music of many composers who had been strictly verboten previously continued to be excluded from the Festival’s repertoire. Just like Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan had a certain stigma attached to his persona, yet nobody could deny either man’s musical talent or ingenuity. Still, it took decades after Karajan’s death before the audiences in Salzburg could hear compositions of another native Austrian Wolfgang, Erich W. Korngold.

What came to my mind was how obviously stuffy classical music can be, and how full of themselves many performers are. Museums are important, but there certainly is life outside their walls. Eventually even the Salzburg Festival was able to, or forced to, depending on one’s view, evolve and modernize its offerings. Many traditionalists naturally protested any change, but isn’t this the case with most major music institutions today with their graying audiences? Evolution happens through experimentation and not every change is a success. However, we cannot often foresee what works and what doesn’t. In business we in this country, as well as in Europe, try to create a finished and final product and then market it. The Japanese model seems to work better: a lot more products enter the store shelves and, like in nature, it is survival of the fittest from that point on.

Teaching means passing on a tradition, hopefully a worthy one. Although I feel like violin playing as an art form reached its climax many decades ago, and luckily I was able to hear some of its greats and even work with some, I try to keep an open mind. At some point, somewhere, the next successful evolutionary step will be taken, even if it won’t happen right now.

Looking at various conductors in the documentary, I realize what a golden time the present is for that profession: so many leading orchestras are in search of new music directors. In addition to Barenboim and Eschenbach leaving, Salonen in Los Angeles will no doubt give up his post to dedicate more time for his new position in London. New York must also be searching for someone to take over after Maazel. Even Utah Symphony is looking for a new figurehead; one can't help but wonder if certain information revealed in 'Mozart in the Jungle' helped to vacate this post, as that organization has higher moral standards than most. Many Europeans don't relish the fundraising aspects and CPF (Cocktail Party Factor) that come with the job, but for a qualified American conductor this should be prime time indeed.