season review back and forth

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.


5 Replies to “season review back and forth”

  1. I just wonder why this great discussion isn’t being facilitated by the Oregon Symphony? I think the passion that people bring to their perspectives on music, especially if they disagree, is what may bode best for the future. I think it would be very, very smart for the OSO to be at the center of this kind of discussion on it’s website.
    Think about it: Come to a concert, listen critically and deeply, form strong opinions, engage in the discussion, come back next time, and repeat. Hmmmm….maybe Third Angle should beat the OSO to the punch on this idea….

  2. I think that an interactive component to the OSO’s web site is essential, especially as a part of the whole ‘web 2.0’ schema of creating communities that cluster around an experience by using interactive features of an organization’s web site.

    If you go to any major (or even minor) new organization’s web site now, there are ways for users to talk about the news segments, offer their own take on the news, and argue about what the truth really is.

    I can see similar opportunities centering around just the sorts of things that are being discussed here: programming, performance quality, soloists, guest conductors, etc.

    If you added to that the opportunity for ticket-holders to download portions of that evening’s concert (imagine how many people would have run home to download a movement of the Adams Chamber Symphony, or the opening movement of Carmina Burana) when they get home that night, it could be a tremendous boost to not only the OSO but the whole classical music scene in Portland as well.

  3. What a great idea! Let’s add to it, since we are all telling everybody at the symphony how to do their jobs in this nice free wheeling exchange in the blogosphere, a part on telling the orchestra how to play their instruments, how to dress, how to not scowl at the audience. While we’re at it, let’s tell the Schnitz how to do everything, and then we can move on to Standard insurance, and tell their CEO, marketing people, sales people, and their grunts how to do their jobs, too. What a great thing!!!

    Everybody can spend their free time telling everybody else that they want and how to do it!!! And then we can be all things to all people, since art and quality are subjective things!

  4. I think my sarcasm meter just pegged! Are you telling us to shut up? Or just having fun? Or blowing off steam? Or maybe you’re making a sly posting which actually demonstrates why one would not want such an interactive component to a new OSO web site? Maybe all of the above? Regardless, thanks for stopping by, and caring enough to comment.

  5. I love it…..what passion you have, Therkel, defending the orchestra from the dark forces of (shudder…) conversation…..keep up the good fight, and please feel free to come up and say hi at the next symphony concert. But only if you feel it won’t compromise the quality….

Add your thoughts.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.