The Many Views of Betty Freeman

Promoting a National Contemporary Music Culture



Betty Freeman at the Hollywood Bowl
Museum Exhibition, June 25, 1988
Photo courtesy Betty Freeman

Betty Freeman with Bill T. Jones
in Berkeley, June 23, 1995
Photo courtesy Betty Freeman


FRANK J. OTERI: One of the things that has interested me about the way funding has worked, for the most part, both corporate funding of orchestras, private donors, and even government funding, things like the NEA, is that money is given to institutions but there’s rarely a mandate to try to push contemporary music, specifically contemporary American music.

BETTY FREEMAN: Except to smaller groups. There are smaller groups that raise money for contemporary American music. The American Music Center, Meet The Composer, things like that. There are smaller groups. I don’t think the government should enter into specifics. I like that idea that they support big institutions.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now it’s interesting because you look at models in the other countries like Canada. Canada has a situation where half the content that’s broadcast on Canadian radio has to be somehow of Canadian origin.

BETTY FREEMAN: That’s awfully provincial. Personally, I really do think that. That doesn’t grab me when things are limited like that to nationality.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s a way to make sure that people hear these composers.

BETTY FREEMAN: Well maybe they don’t deserve to be. I have a list of hundreds of names that could be dropped easily.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, here in the United States, the orchestras play so little American repertoire to the point that a lot of people don’t even realize that it exists.

BETTY FREEMAN: So now I have a solution to that. Instead of what they’re doing now, these friends of mine, they’re sandwiching in contemporary pieces. They’re having a piece opening with Bach, or Beethoven, then they’re having a contemporary piece, then they’re having a little Mahler or something. And they’re very proud of it. But it doesn’t work; it just doesn’t work. My solution is to have two contemporary pieces and an older piece sandwiched in the middle. That would bring a different audience. It would bring me, for example to concerts. I almost never go anymore to LA Phil concerts. The programming is so tragic.

FRANK J. OTERI: Which is weird because with Esa-Pekka there’s more contemporary music there than there is in the rest of the country.

BETTY FREEMAN: No, no, not really… It’s older American; it’s not that much contemporary.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now, getting back to your grandchildren and their not necessarily being interested in opera, and you being afraid to ask them what they thought. Maybe if they were doing more contemporary works, younger people would be more interested. They would feel it connected more to the here and now.

BETTY FREEMAN: That’s a good suggestion. Where should I take them?

FRANK J. OTERI: (laughs) That’s the problem.

BETTY FREEMAN: It is a problem.

FRANK J. OTERI: We don’t have larger scale institutions that are devoted exclusively to contemporary work

BETTY FREEMAN: No, but I don’t mind the way things are. I’d be suspicions if everybody liked contemporary music. There’s no reason why they should. I can’t believe, and I know it wasn’t true, that everybody liked Beethoven when it was first performed. Everybody didn’t like Berlioz when it was first performed. I know that the Troyens was never performed in his lifetime. They didn’t like contemporary art when it first came out in the 40s in America. It doesn’t bother me.

FRANK J. OTERI: But interesting enough, if there’s a Jackson Pollock retrospective or a Mondrian retrospective in New York, there are lines around the block.

BETTY FREEMAN: Yeah, but that’s today. That’s work from 50 years ago.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, but the same thing hasn’t happened to music. You don’t have lines around the block for Schoenberg.

BETTY FREEMAN: But you will in 50 years.

FRANK J. OTERI: So you think 50 years from now Schoenberg will be standard repertoire.

BETTY FREEMAN: Not Schoenberg because I don’t care for Schoenberg personally. I admire him, I respect him, but I don’t love him. So I wouldn’t say Schoenberg. But there are other names today that there’s no question that they’re the names that will last 50 years, that people will listen to. Want me to name them?

FRANK J. OTERI: Sure.

BETTY FREEMAN: Well, it’s all the people I like. People like Thomas Adès, Boulez, there’s a huge list, George Benjamin, Kaija Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg, Harrison Birtwistle, Mark-Anthony Turnage.

FRANK J. OTERI: So, you really feel people will be attending Harrison Birtwistle in the future in the way people are attending Beethoven.

BETTY FREEMAN: Yes, I have no doubts. I absolutely have no doubts about it.

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