Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gidon speaks out

Gidon Kremer
Gidon Kremer, violin hero and champion of new music for many decades now, has released two letters (one included here) detailing his frustration with the trend toward the "celebritization" of classical musicians. His complaints about fêting "rising stars" and name-dropping at the famous Verbier Festival are making the Internet rounds.

From his comments: "...all of us have something to do with the poisonous development of our music world, in which “stars” count more than creativity, ratings more than genuine talent, numbers more than…. sounds."

I have been thinking about the marketing error which hasn't done our music world any favors; namely, the tendency to conflate the experience of attending a classical concert with being blown away by a rock show. Be dazzled by superstars! Conductors! Soloists! Perhaps in revealing designer gowns! Head-banging and long hair! And even laser light shows. Check out the youTube Symphony Orchestra vids

What I'm missing is the acknowledgment of the individual composer's voice: the person who works largely alone, assembling the sounds that fills his mind and heart into meaningful structures; the musician who sorts what's worthy of staying on the page, struggles with what's meaningful, what's do-able, what deserves to be written and heard, what is schlocky and irrelevant, what may seem banal, but won't get out of her head anyway, and therefore should find its place in the score; the artist whose ideas can only be expressed through his own unique use of musical language.

I actually think this person is as vital to our democratic freedoms as the novelist or the poet. These people wrestle with the ambiguity of reality. A good novel has no stock characters or predictable outcomes. It is an exploration of a story that reveals the many sides of truth and allows the reader to ponder his or her own assumptions. The innermost thoughts of an artist, channeled into his work, reveal the complexity of sorting and sifting it all. This is the opposite of holding black and white views: a practice that makes a blunt instrument of politics.

Great music, which comes from a composer's struggle with his own inner soundscape, is ultimately about us. Creating a personal grammar, an individual sense of inflection, devising structures, conjuring sound colors, imagining worlds that have never existed...these are all in the realm of the composer's charge. As one of my favorite living composers, Osvaldo Golijov, (hear Dawn Upshaw singing "How Slow the Wind") says: music has "the power to build castles of sound in our memories." The truths that these artists uncover have the power to remain in our own hearts, memories and minds, revealing something of ourselves to ourselves. Music causes us to perceive differently, and that is to our benefit.

As a kid, when I was feeling alienated, I often thought of Brahms as my best friend. I wonder how many other people have felt this kind of kinship with another soul through their music? I just think that promoting the performer above the touching of consciousness to consciousness, composer to listener, debases that primary relationship.


  1. Love this post, Heather. Keep 'em coming!


  2. Bravo my friend, or should I say: WORD! Fantastic post.

  3. Well argued. I would question only your connection between the impact of music and strengthening democracy. History is too full of art-loving, cultured beasts, both as creators and in the audience. (Just look at the Koch brothers' contributions to the NYC music scene for a current example.)

  4. @Ron, I think I wasn't really clear...I don't mean that music itself strengthens democracy. I mean that the process an artist goes through in cultivating an individual voice is vital...introspection, being his or her own worst critic, seeking truth...this kind of personal baptism by fire to create something of opposed to groupthink and censorship. What others do with the music can't be controlled by composers...Shostakovich comes to mind.

  5. Thank you, Heather. I knew your meaning right away, that the word "democracy" may be used in an ad hoc, figurative way, in this case specifically regarding musical creativity. Please keep posting. your Dad.