The Walk After the Talk

If you’ve been following these pages, you already know that over the past eight weeks I’ve attended five conferences and countless other seminars, award receptions, and other events all over the map. So you’d think I wouldn’t want to hear another speech for the rest of the summer, right? But today, I found myself listening again to Peter Sellars’s remarkably assertive keynote address given at the American Symphony Orchestra League conference in Los Angeles which I attended on June 1. Thanks to the League, you can too.

At the time I remember being mesmerized by his assertion that the music being written in this country right now is the most vital music ever composed. And I found his metaphor for the orchestra’s neglect of new music extraordinarily compelling:

If you want to respect your grandparents, take care of your kids: you can’t keep your grandparents alive forever. They are back and are still with you in your own children… In America we fell in love with an artificial life support system that wouldn’t let certain things die, telling ourselves it was out of love that we were doing this; and we starved the kids.

But maybe that’s because his telling me that new music should and must be front and center is a textbook example of preaching to the converted.

This second time around listening to his speech, I was even more drawn to comments he made which have implications that run even deeper than the programming of new work. My current two favorite pull quotes are:

How serious can you be about your life is what a symphony concert is about. It has not one thing to do with leisure time: NOT related! America’s obsession with leisure is exactly the crisis.

It’s too late in history to build walls; what we really need are models of shared space.

Of course, I continue to wonder what impact his words will ultimately have on the people who attended that conference which was predominantly comprised of orchestra managers and other music industry professionals. At a different conference nearly halfway around the world from Los Angeles, that of the International Association of Music Information Centres in Gothenburg, the Swedish Music Information Centre’s executive director Roland Sandberg rightly pointed out that “exposing someone to something doesn’t necessarily change that person’s behavior.” Indeed, Scilla Askew, who runs SOUNZ, the New Zealand music information centre remarked that a leading NZ critic who typically vilifies all new music once wrote: “Music should never be programmed unless it’s a masterpiece.”

We can accomplish a great deal with articulate advocates, but advocacy in and of itself is never enough.

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