Richard Einhorn: Yesterday Is Not Today

The Hermetically Sealed Classical Music Community

RICHARD EINHORN: I just don’t think that much about Tchaikovsky. It’s not very high up on my list. Beethoven is higher up on the list, but it’s not music that I tend to engage with. I think that the issue of why our music is not being played as much as it could be is a very, very, very complicated issue right now. Ultimately, I think it’s a cultural and social situation in which there’s plenty of blame to spread around equally; not only amongst the administrators but amongst everybody else. The reason why I write music is that at some level I know that there is some sort of desire to have this music as part of our culture, and as part, and a desire to, you know, as Frank Zappa would say, consume it. I think the tragedy is that a lot of really wonderful experiences are being passed by for a variety of very complicated reasons.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, what are some of these reasons?

RICHARD EINHORN: I think that one reason is that there is a real disconnect between the kind of aesthetic that you were talking about with Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, or even a composer as quote-unquote modern as Debussy or Ravel and the kind of music that’s going on today. I think music of that time was written primarily by people who were trained in a very quote high musical culture that was very different from the musical culture that you or I come out of in which there was a mingling of different styles, of different ideas, of different kinds of music without a preconceived notion of one being better or worse than the other. And so what happens is that when composers like us suddenly start to write and confront an audience and a tradition and administrators and musicians and conductors and singers, when you confront that, it’s like literally coming from two different planets.

FRANK J. OTERI: What’s weird about that though is that those administrators, those orchestra players, and the audience attending the concert are living in the same time we are.

RICHARD EINHORN: Yeah.

FRANK J. OTERI: They’re getting that same mixed-cultural message as well, so why hasn’t it affected them?

RICHARD EINHORN: That’s a very good question. I wish I had an answer. I just don’t understand it. I don’t understand how people can take so little interest in their own time. I just know that they can do it and they do. And you can talk to them, you can talk to people who literally have no idea who the Talking Heads are and they’re my age! A friend of mine, who in fact is a well-known composer herself, had never heard or heard of Patti Smith until very recently. This is really a shock. I think we can turn the tables around and say the other thing, which is that it’s a disgrace and it’s terrible that composers like Arvo Pärt and Giya Kancheli and Morton Feldman are completely unknown to everybody else. I think it’s disgraceful that these people have their heads in the sand, but I think the rest of the world has a lot to discover in terms of really, really fine music and fine composers.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s weird because that same audience, theoretically, would go to the Museum of Modern Art and go to a Jackson Pollock retrospective or go to the theater and see the latest David Mamet play.

RICHARD EINHORN: OK, that’s another one of those complicated reasons that we’re getting into, which has to do with the chauvinism of the music community itself and rather than insult my colleagues, I’ll say the twentieth century music community rather than the twenty-first, because we’re hopefully better.

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