I’m sitting outside, picnicking with my family in a beautiful spot, sharing a view of a gorgeous river with 5,000 fellow residents of my rural community at southern Maryland’s River Concert Series. I see lots of young kids, teenagers, multi-generational families, people from all walks of life. I see a hillside just behind the stage, full of children running and playing. We’re watching the Chesapeake Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Silberschlag. The River Concert Series has been uniting my community for thirteen seasons.
The Dutch government is slashing two hundred million euros literally overnight from the country’s arts budget. As a result, STEIM, along with many other arts organizations and music ensembles in the Netherlands, is losing funding in a drastic and devastating blow to the culture sector (read The Dark Age Netherlands). Despite all of STEIM’s activities and generous service and support to the international community, on January 1, 2013, it will lose its entire structural funding.
I am what is known in certain Asian circles as a banana: yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Yellow as a product of Chinese parents; white as a result of my being born in Canada to parents who immigrated to Canada before I was born. And as it is for many second-generation Asians, the question of my identity includes a complex web of issues that have no easy resolution.
The wonderful, astonishing truth is that the arts are utterly useless. You can’t eat music or poetry or dance. You can’t drive your car on a sonnet or wear it on your back to shield you from the elements. This “uselessness” is why politicians and other painfully literal-minded people during times of budget crises (which is pretty much all the time now) can’t wait to single the arts out for elimination. They consider that what we do can’t honestly be compared to the real business of life.
In 1999, I wrote a piano piece and over the next year converted it to a longer four-movement full symphonic score. I proceeded to exhaust my contacts at no less than 12 major orchestras around the U.S. I received one response, from the Austin Symphony, which commented that the string parts were pretty tricky. That was it. The piece lay dormant until the summer of 2007 when, while I was camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and trying to start a fire with the Detroit News, I read that Leonard Slatkin was attempting some interesting approaches to programming, so I sent it in.
Only works that a composer explicitly wanted published should be published. Obviously, the reality is rarely that simple. In some cases, though, it should be. Samuel Barber had over 50 years during which to consider whether he wanted his early pieces published. He did not choose to do so, and I believe strongly that those wishes need to be respected.
At its core, Sean Griffin’s intermedia opera Cold Spring is an attempt to bring museums and archives together with performing institutions and local artists for mutual self-reflection and appreciation of each other as cultural thinkers. The work initiates and empowers an active interpretation of our lives as they relate to science and our notion of what constitutes meaningful progress.
In a year or two, the world’s attention will have moved away from the urgent questions raised by Fukushima. Therefore I feel that far from showing disrespect, the nature of this cantata and the spirit in which it was created make it a powerful means to show and magnify precisely the deep respect and attention we need at this moment.
If today’s art world truly resembled today’s musical world, “popular art” would be a thriving multi-billion dollar industry, but there’d also be “classical art” exhibited in small, subsidized museums catering to the rarefied tastes of a small minority of connoisseurs who believed strongly in the intrinsic superiority of long-dead artists, and “contemporary high-art” populated by un-popular living artists.