Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Patronage, the Canon,
and how the game is still afoot

by DKH

I was sufficiently annoyed by Bob Freeman's post in the Chronicle of Higher Education's blog last month (“Needed: A Revolution in Musical Training,” 29 August 2014), to have begun a response. After all, everybody who is anybody in philharmonia—musicians, management, the public . . . even, gasp, musicologists—has been thinking about these matters and acting on them for a generation now, i.e., since Freeman was at Eastman. Often with stunning result: consider, to cite just two paradigms, the thriving youth-orchestra movement in the U.S. and internationally, and the virtual concert hall. How many trombonists (political scientists, writers) get degrees is neither cause nor effect. Every university I know anything about does booming business in multiple majors, crossover, and audience building (or, better, building cultural literacy). Even I, old, white, and prevailingly European, can now speak from experience about turntabling and Korean drumming and ska.

But a few days later there were already several dozen responses to Freeman's post, mostly approving, and the debate was well engaged. There was plenty of good news in the air, too: for instance what appeared to be victory for both the artists and the public at the Metropolitan Opera. To say nothing of echoes from June 2014 of two blockbusting grants, $32 million, to the Chicago Symphony, the largest gifts in its history.

A contribution of $17 million from the Zell Foundation, announced by billionaire Chicago real estate tycoon and former Tribune Co. board chairman Sam Zell and his wife Helen, provides for the naming, in perpetuity, of the position of CSO music director, a post Riccardo Muti has held since 2010 and whose tenure recently was extended with a new five-year contract through the 2019–20 season. A $15-millon gift from the Negaunee Foundation (established in 1987 “to celebrate the arts and education in greater Chicagoland”) provides annual operating support and endowment funds tor the CSO’s education and community engagement wing, the Institute for Learning, Access and Training. It will be known from now on as the Negaunee Music Institute at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

This is, by the way, the swansong of the remarkable Deborah Rutter, chief executive at the CSO (2003–14) and now president of the Kennedy Center—the kind of leader, and there are more than a few, able to untangle, fix, fund, and go forward.

And then:

The very same Chicago Symphony Orchestra announced a new $2-million endowment: the Randy and Melvin Berlin Family Fund for the Canon. The published language goes on, hair-raisingly, to describe a mission “to support programming by classic German and Austro-Hungarian composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert and Schumann.” The first year of the program indeed, underwrites performances of Beethoven's Ninth (20 September), the Brandenburgs (November), the Beethoven Triple (March), and a program of Mozart Piano Concertos with Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben (April).


One would have thought that the canon might by now have included, say, Daphnis and Chloe (nay, The Rite of Spring) and the Four Seasons, and maybe the Peer Gynt suite. Mendelssohn continues to qualify as “German and Austro-Hungarian.” The formulation as published sounds like something penned in Planned Giving that got out in the frenzy of euphoric press releases. I'll bet the Berlin Family has broader tastes.

And more power to them: they know what they like and are willing to pay for it. (They've also endowed Berlin Family Lectures in the humanities at the University of Chicago, beginning October 16, a chair in multiple myeloma research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and a good deal more over a long stretch of time.) Lord knows our orchestras can use every new dollar that comes their way. The CSO almost certainly will spend it wisely (very good thinking, too, in the case of the Negaunee Music Institute).

But you gotta wonder about that definition of “the canon.”

D. Kern Holoman is curator of Musicology Now and has been actively involved in classical music philanthropy for forty years.

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