The Many Views of Betty Freeman
The Last 40 Years
FRANK J. OTERI: I wanted to begin by getting your view of the current state of funding for the arts in the United States, specifically new music. Congress is back in session today and they’re doing another one of their votes on the NEA which may or may not have negative ramifications on the contemporary music world and I wanted to get your opinion on how you see things, and on how it has changed in the last 40 years since you’ve been involved in the field.
BETTY FREEMAN: Well, certainly they’ve changed in the last 40 years, certainly due to the preponderance of television, and rock music, and pop music. When I started listening to classical music, these things didn’t exist. Television didn’t really come in until the late ’50s. So when I started in music, this other element didn’t exist, there was only classical music, and then there was swing and sway with the big bands. But in the last 30-40 years, the preponderance, the emphasis on pop and rock, and now all the Latin music…that has been a big huge change.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now, is that something that could be helpful to the contemporary music world, or do you see it as a negative toward what we’re trying to accomplish.
BETTY FREEMAN: Well I think it’s siphoned off a lot of the young people including my own children and grandchildren. They have no interest in classical music, and when I take them to the opera I never ask them if they like it because I’m afraid of the answer.
FRANK J. OTERI: (laughs)
BETTY FREEMAN: I just tell them we’re going.
FRANK J. OTERI: What operas have you taken them to see.
FRANK J. OTERI: So standard repertoire. Not new music
BETTY FREEMAN: No. No they don’t do new music.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now in terms of funding for new music, looking back over a period of 40 years, do you feel the situation has gotten better or worse in terms corporate funding, government funding, private funding.
BETTY FREEMAN: I only know the situation in California, unfortunately. For example, the L.A. Philharmonic used to be funded by corporations and my understanding is that most of the corporations that funded the symphony have moved out of Los Angeles. They’ve moved away to other cities and other states too. So most of the big funders, and I think that includes Mercedes, and Arco, and the big supporters of the Philharmonic, aren’t there – the headquarters aren’t there.
FRANK J. OTERI: So now they no longer support the Orchestra.
BETTY FREEMAN: So that’s a big change. And privately, private support doesn’t seem to be strong anymore. It is in New York, I know that for Carnegie Hall, and for the Metropolitan Opera, I don’t know about Lincoln Center, probably not, but it is strong in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia. In southern California, the big money is in the film industry; it used to be in the aircraft industry also. The film industry doesn’t support culture; it doesn’t support the Museum, or the music – the Opera or the Philharmonic. They support their own people. I’m sure they have their own hospitals, and schools. They have their own support for their own people. But they do not enter the cultural community of Los Angeles at all. They don’t even attend. They’re not even on the Board, except, I think Steve Martin is, or was on the Museum Board but now I’m not sure.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now 40 years ago, was the relationship different between Hollywood and the concert hall?
BETTY FREEMAN: No, but there were other forms of support.
BETTY FREEMAN: But they weren’t played in the symphony.
FRANK J. OTERI: That’s only starting to happen now.
BETTY FREEMAN: There’s been no connection between classical music and the film industry as far as I know.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now, in terms of government support, on a state level and on a federal level. Do you feel things are better, worse than they were in 1960?
BETTY FREEMAN: I don’t know how much the Philharmonic gets in government support. The only thing I do know, because I was on the Board for 5 years. I dropped off the Board when the emphasis changed from raising money for an endowment, which is what our Symphony needed, and still needs, we had the 17th lowest endowment of any orchestra in America… We’re actually the 6th biggest in budget. So when I first sat on the Board, they were raising money for the Board for an endowment, which I thought was a great idea. But then they came up with Frank Gehry and the new building. Now I’m not really interested in buildings. Some people are and some people aren’t. I’m interested in what goes on inside a building. It doesn’t matter to me if I hear music in Carnegie Hall which is certainly one of the plainest buildings that there could be, but has wonderful music. The same in Amsterdam with their hall there; it’s wonderful music, wonderful sound in just a straight hall. Boston also. But all the fundraising went for the Frank Gehry building, the new building which isn’t ready yet; they’re just starting. It’s been about 7 years in the works. That’s when I dropped off the Board.