I opened my in box yesterday to find the following response to my post about the 2007-2008 season from OSO music director Carlos Kalmar. He has allowed me to print it in it’s entirety. I think it’s a thoughtful response, and one that might prove informative and illuminating. I’ve included my response to his email as well. There has also been a healthy discourse with OSO resident conductor Gregory Vajda in the comments section of that post as well.
Yes, there is always this terrific struggle when you program a concert. In the case of our entire season, it is a very long-term project, because I do not take things lightly, and I put an immense amount of thought into what is going to be played. Is there something to criticize? There always is. But remember this: No matter what I may decide regarding program ideas, there will be intelligent people who feel otherwise. In the end, though, everybody has to accept that it’s the Music Director’s responsibility to create programs. I welcome any kind of suggestion, and I’m always willing to listen to critical input.
Very often it simply comes down to a different point of view rather than a program being “wrong.” For example, take our last program — L’Ascension together with Carmina Burana. Even though it was my idea to do it this way, I still think the programming is brilliant! Of course the audience remembers the power and blast of the Orff. They would have done so even if there had been another piece in the second half. But was there intense silence and awe after the Messiaen? Yes, there was! Would this program have worked better if we’d stayed impressionistic or “French”? Absolutely not; it would have been too much of the same thing.
This is a great example of how we have different takes on things — and that’s good. Input is appreciated. Where I have difficulties is when a program that is well thought-out is not acknowledged as a positive and good effort. Charles might have built the program differently — and his programs might have been criticized as well. It’s endless.
On the “Inside” programs and scripts: Yes, I think Charles is right. We should work more on scripts. But none of the conductors/presenters are Bernstein. He was the best ever. The rest of us have our limitations and should work on improving.
and my response:
Thanks for passing this along. It’s good (if a bit scary) to read, because it reminds me that I don’t write in a vacuum. I certainly do admire the care with which the programs are assembled – I almost always “get” the logic which binds them together, and any differences in opinion occur because, well, Carlos and I are different people, with different experiences and backgrounds, and maybe also differing outlooks on life.
It’s always dangerous to look back and armchair quarterback this kind of stuff, precisely because I didn’t make the decisions, and my subjective view of how a concert is received also very much depends upon my own personal experience of the concert, which often is drastically different than that of the audience or even my colleagues (just ask Heather about my after-concert self flagellation sessions!).
So, I do agree that sometimes it is best to agree to disagree, and that any set of concerts which inspires any sort of discussion is much, much better than bland programming which results in a shrug of the shoulders and the fact that the pre-concert meal is better remembered than the concert!
This discussion is so apropos, since I’m knee-deep in six books about Shostakovich, most of which strongly disagree with each other as to his character and motivations, and so I’m reminded that even as far as music history, so much is subjective and emotional rather than empirical and rational.