In Sunday's LA Times' August 14th Calendar section, Mark Swed does a brief survey of the problems - and triumphs - of the leading symphonic orchestras in the United States and discovers the usual litany of problems - but he also finds ways to deal with those problems without the orchestra's selling their souls. Below is his summary:
What must not be forgotten, however, is that people like orchestras. Even the movies know that. Two of the summer's biggest blockbusters, "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith" and "War of the Worlds," are unthinkable without John Williams' traditional orchestral scores. His music may be derivative of such 20th century composers as William Walton, but that traditional approach to scoring has been integral to the filmmaking of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg almost from the beginning of their spectacularly successful careers. From this fact alone, we can take hope.
But orchestras must continue to connect with their audiences. Nothing I heard from the old Big Five last season equaled the sensory thrill of Salonen conducting Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" at Disney Hall or of getting lost in the sex and spirituality of the Philharmonic's "Tristan Project." No one made as effective a cultural point as Tilson Thomas did in San Francisco when he devoted a captivating evening to examining the influence of Yiddish culture on American music.
The once Big Five are still big and could still be great. But big is not necessarily better. Fresh is better. Engaged is better. Rapport between orchestra and audience is better. Leading is better than following.
Times have changed. Capitals shift. Economies swing. The artistic climate is as unsettled as its meteorological counterpart. For the orchestra to survive, it must be flexible, true to itself and of its time and place. Everything else is fair game.