Drawing by Picasso, 1917

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.


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.


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