Thursday, November 08, 2007

Patriotism, Philanthropy, and Poor Programming

As much fun as this blogging thing is, it's easy to fall behind. Mea culpa.

Had a great evening with my friend Federico Cortese several nights ago at Agata & Valentina Ristorante on 79th and 1st--which is fantastic, by the way. He was born in Italy but has lived here for several years. His knowledge of our system of government and his well-reasoned opinions about same were challenging and intriguing. I have a few friends who are naturalized citizens, and the level of patriotism, love for our country, and engagement with its politics and policies are quite inspiring. Frankly, it even puts me to shame a little that I am not always as up on things as I ought to be. Plus you get to learn so much! Federico is a conductor up in Boston, and we had a very interesting discussion about the role of the State in sponsorship of the arts in Europe as opposed to the fact that here philanthropy plays a large role (whereas in Europe it is almost non-existent). One of the consequences of that is that, in programming a concert set or series, it is more important to take into account audience tastes and tolerance for things that are a little unusual. In other words, there is a certain extent to which market forces, if you will, affect the arts here. An obvious conclusion, perhaps, but the contrast is stark compared to Europe, where a music director could theoretically program 12 hours straight of Philip Glass and there would be no repercussions. Shudder.

A couple of weeks ago I joined the Stanford alumni team (along with my good friends Allison Amend, Danna Chung, and Lorri Elder) volunteering at New York Cares Day at a public school in Brooklyn. We spent the day reshelving books and generally organizing the library and sorting out a science closet. It was a very worthwhile experience. One thing really struck me: they honestly have enough books to have kept the Nazis busy for months. Nigh on 500 dictionaries, crates of children's fiction books still in the cellophane, etc. And this is at a relatively poor school. I'm clearly oversimplifying and don't have full possession of the facts, but it seems to me that at least some of the problem with public education in this country (which, while it may be a public good, is not a right enshrined in the Constitution) is a misallocation, rather than purely a lack, of resources.

Hard to believe it, but I had a disappointing afternoon at Carnegie Hall. The first piece on the program was Joan Tower's In Memory. OK, I swear to God I think this is what happened: she had a couple glasses of white wine and fell asleep in front of the original version of Psycho and then woke up and lifted the non-shower-scene incidental music, strung it together, and called it a composition. I am not alone in my opinion about this. Next was Joshua Bell playing Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto. As always, he played beautifully. But somehow the piece, except for part of the second movement, did not inspire me. The playing by the Orchestra of St. Luke's seemed lackluster all day. The next piece was the world premiere of a violin concerto by a 15-year-old named Jay Greenberg. Now don't get me wrong, I am 18 years past having something premiere as a mid-teen at Carnegie Hall, so Mazel Tov and respeck (to quote Ali G). That said, it was basically pretty ADHD and not amazing. My friend Jon Leaf was with me, and we found it hard to clap while most of the rest of the house gave him a standing ovation. I felt like something of a jerk. His comment? "I don't think that inferior work should be encouraged." A man of principle, and I admire him for it. All in all, a poorly done program.

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