Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year, Old Problems

Although it is the only American daily newspaper we read, since downsizing its physical dimensions the New York Times can no longer claim All the News That's Fit to Print is true with a clear conscience. Or perhaps it continues to be the case but less fits in the smaller size. We also get the Christian Science Monitor but that has become a weekly magazine. A reader still finds excellent journalism within its pages and the topics would not typically be found in another competing publication. We enjoy the Economist which unlike American money-centered magazines covers a multitude of subjects from global politics to sciences and arts. Thank goodness for the internet and access to different viewpoints from other parts of the world. If they are written in a language I do not read fluently enough, there is always an instant translator available. Yes, the results are often funny sounding but with a little imagination the reader gets it right.

The New York Times has excellent opinion pages, with some superb columnists. And its weekly Science Tuesday is so popular in this household that unless I have read the paper online the night before or get up before anyone else, I often end up waiting for my turn. As far as science goes, I get my share with the Scientific American but many of its articles are a bit too in-depth for everyone. Often I find the magazine challenging and enjoy having to learn and understand something totally new. It is one publication that can be finished and picked up again and there are still new discoveries to be made.

Today's NY Times has an Op-Ed on art museums and their financial problems, plus a short ArtsBrief Blog about the Musée du Luxembourg closing its doors in Paris, laying off around 100 people. During the years of (imagined) wealth museums bought very expensive paintings and other art and often built additional wings, obviously at a high cost. Now, faced with economic reality, they are ready to sell some of their prized art to stay in business. Many condemn them for even thinking of such a horrific act, but in all reality, if an individual had built a new home which he/she couldn't afford today, there would be a For Sale sign outside. Would it be wrong if a performing arts organization put their fancy auditorium, often the real reason for their fiscal misery, for sale and return to performing in less glamorous surroundings? Could they also auction off a conductor, perhaps with his women and/or inner circle of friends, or other executives? Then we could clearly see what these people are worth. Hiring equally or more adept but less expensive replacements should be easy in today's world. New Jersey has had to sell at least some of their prized instrument collection; the situation became so messy I gave up trying to follow it.

The television was on and tuned to the local PBS station in HD on New Year's Eve. We saw part of NY Philharmonic's concert. Someone who didn't know what the occasion was remarked on uninspired looking musicians, some of whom resembled "washer women from Eastern Europe". I personally was disappointed by the small amount of joy radiating from the podium. It was pretty much what Swedish colleagues had complained about. Perhaps Copland's music calls for little or no expression, I can't say since his works never managed to "move the earth" for me. Lennie's West Side Story would have been far more fun to listen to, but that would have brought out an unfavorable comparison to the DudeWhat should have been a festive occasion ended in the television being switched off. Reading the rave review in today's paper made me wonder if this was the same concert I had watched. The otherwise excellent and normally objective paper has an occasional tendency of sounding like regional press, especially when it comes to praising their resident orchestra. Yes, it may be necessary to be overly supportive in today's situation which cannot be all rosy. This would be more understandable in a provincial town, which advertises just about everything being World Class, an expression that carries as much weight as calling a hamburger World's Best does. Is it possible for an old musician, who has had to sit a lot, to suffer from a World Class Hemorrhoid? New Yorkers unfortunately (or should I say fortunately) hear many of the world's top orchestras rather regularly, so it is easy to compare the local band to others. Complaining about the acoustics of Avery Fisher will only go so far: we all know the sad ending to the story of the boy crying Wolf! too many times.

The next night's telecast from Vienna was the total opposite. Yes, one knows how the waltzes and polkas by different Strauss family members are supposed to go and no one can question Vienna's pit band's expertise in playing them. However, there were also some works Offenbach and Lumbye (the "Danish Strauss") that received the same tender and loving treatment by the musicians and their elderly French conductor for this occasion, 85-year-old Georges Prêtre. I think that the Viennese all suffer from a slight case of arrhythmia. The second beat in a Waltz comes exactly when it is supposed to and so does the third. We cannot build an auditorium as gorgeous as the Musikverein in Vienna, neither will an American orchestra ever be able to understand what makes a Viennese Waltz tick. Our musicians come from too many cultures and backgrounds; the opera musicians in Vienna probably feel the correct musical pulse while still in the womb. All the orchestra members have received basically similar training which has its benefits. The concert was splendid; the only thing bothering me was the need to add additional elements to the broadcast to America, such as visiting a bakery and confection manufacturer, absent from the European broadcast. The French senior baton artist was clearly having fun. I don't know if anyone was looking up as the musicians know this stuff by heart, but the main objective was achieved: everyone was having a grand time, truly World, no, First Class.