Silence Prevails

Dorrance Stalvey, who single-handedly planned,
directed and managed the Monday Evening
Concerts at L.A. County Museum of
Art since 1971, died Sunday at 75,
after a yearlong illness, while the
following words were being written. His
passing, while not unexpected, takes from
our midst a genuine musical hero we
can ill afford to spare. It’s now
all the more urgent that the shameful
situation described in my article
and “shameful” is the exact word that
comes to mind not be allowed
to stand.

–A.R.

Double Talk

As I had hoped, a number of pens (or word processors) have been active over
the past few months in response to the actions by the Los Angeles County Museum
of Art in drastically curtailing its music programming. Nothing has yet been
amended from LACMA’s original announcement. The Residency Concerts – the EAR
Unit and XTET series and the Rosalinde Gilbert Chamber Concerts – have been
canceled as of now; the Monday Evening Concerts, the crown jewels of the museum’s
musical activities, have been granted one more year of existence. The free concerts
– jazz on Friday afternoons and the Sunday Live concerts by young musicians
– will continue, at least for now.

Some of the correspondence from LACMA officials to the protesters has been circulated
by recipients, and it makes for depressing reading. Let us you and I, for example,
take one paragraph from a recent letter to a well-known and distinguished arts
patron, and read it together. It is dated June 16, and comes from one Bruce
Robertson, who is the deputy director of art programs at LACMA and the chief
curator of its Center for the Art of the Americas. “Over the last decade or
more,” Mr. Robertson begins, “we have been very proud that LACMA’s classical-music
programs have consistently won awards for their quality.” No argument so far.

“At the same time,” Mr. Robertson continues, “we have noticed declining audiences
and a real divergence between the programs and audiences and our art programs
and membership.” May I suggest, as I did in a letter of my own to Mr. Robertson,
that the fact that many of the LACMA concerts have drawn small audiences is
not at times the fault of the music, but the fault of LACMA itself for obliging
its concerts to exist with zero publicity support: not a penny’s worth of advertising
budget. Perhaps if Mr. Robertson had looked in on these concerts himself, he
might have noticed – to cite one instance of many – the interesting tie-in a
couple of years ago between the “Made in Los Angeles” concert series and the
similar exhibition at the museum. The museum exhibits were lavishly promoted;
the concerts, not at all. Divergence?

Mr. Robertson goes on: “We feel that the musical landscape of Los Angeles is
changing and that what LACMA needed to do 20 years ago, when we started developing
our current classical musical programs, is not what we need to do now . . .”
Yes, the musical landscape is changing, and a great deal of the credit for this
goes to the progressive musical forces in the area: the Philharmonic, CalArts
and the Monday Evening and Residency concerts at LACMA. The significance of
the LACMA programs isn’t the matter of the small houses, but the power of word
of mouth that has, on many occasions, counteracted LACMA’s do-nothing policy
in this regard. Take just three of many examples: the Arditti Quartet, the bassist
Stefano Scodanibbio, the pianist Marino Formenti. All three made their local
debuts at LACMA with pathetically small houses; all drew near-sellout crowds
from then on. With just minimal support from LACMA’s publicists, that phenomenon
might have been repeated on a regular basis. For a LACMA spokesperson to blame
audience drop-off on changing tastes, at a time when critics worldwide write
enviously about Los Angeles’ musical progress, liberally citing the LACMA concerts
along the way, suggests that either Mr. Robertson and his office mates have
no conception of today’s musical world, or that they don’t want to know.

They even seem to believe that their “core mission, of serving the public through
making the visual arts available to them,” can somehow function in silence,
setting aside a unity of the arts on which civilization has rested for several
millennia. Somehow it doesn’t strike me that free Friday jazz is going to go
very far in piercing that silence. Nor will the free Sunday Live concerts, since
their broadcast medium, KMZT-FM, does so with the stipulation that they include
no “difficult” (i.e., contemporary) music. The condition of music, which all
the arts were once wisely said to approach, seems ever more distant.

That You, Ludwig?

It’s a sunny Viennese morning in the summer of 1804. The musicians gather at
the Lobkowitz Palace, dressed in livery but with hairstyling of two centuries
later. Beethoven shows up, a large bundle of musical scores under his arm, cleanly
notated despite what we know of his penmanship. He looks a lot like the several
W.B. Mähler paintings of the real 34-year-old Beethoven, including the famous
scowl, but he is actually the actor Ian Hart. The musicians gather for their
first-ever reading of Beethoven’s new symphony, a huge new work in E flat; there
are complaints about the length, about the rhythms; there is small talk about
whether the symphony is to be dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte or simply titled
“Eroica.”

The audience arrives, a gathering of invited nobles including a sourpuss named
Count Dietrichstein. He is obviously the Martin Bernheimer of his day, prepared
to despise the new symphony before he hears a note and equally prepared to make
sure everybody knows it. (There was an actual Count Dietrichstein in Beethoven’s
life, but not for another 20 years.) The great and revered Joseph Haydn arrives
in time for the last movement. He, too, wears a sour face, but at least lets
loose one quotable statement. “Everything is different from today,” says Herr
Haydn, and we know that history will prove him right.

One false start, but then the music sails on effortlessly. Imagine: an orchestra
in 1804, presented with the most innovative orchestral writing of its time –
violent rhythmic quirks, sudden key changes and dynamic shifts, and practically
at sight they start to sound like, well, like Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (who, indeed, they are). Eroica,
Nick Dear’s “award-winning period drama,” on a BBC Opus Arte DVD, serves
up a lavish chunk of musical and historic absurdity, beside which our old friend
Amadeus pales into a steadfast document of unimpeachable accuracy.

This entry was posted in A Little Night Music. Bookmark the permalink.