To the editors:
Hang in there! Lewis Lazare, referring to his discussions in the July 2 Culture Club and the subsequent response of symphony manager Henry Fogel (July 23) concerning the current renovation/expansion problems for the Chicago Symphony (CSO).
Despite the fact that Mr. Lazare missed his targets, especially his criticisms of conductor Daniel Barenboim, he gave all us little musical fish something to think about and respond to.
Tempers are running high with this 92 million dollars hanging in the balance. It’s actually 200 million dollars estimated to face-lift respective edifices at the Lyric Opera and the CSO to transform their 19th-century persona into modern cultural complexes to equal the best houses in Europe.
I agree with Mr. Lazare when he had requested some answers on some of the “untested” aspects of the CSO renovations. Whenever money in the millions is expended we’re always told that everybody benefits, like the Lotto. And likewise here that we will see expanded repertoires, educative agendas, greater stars, state-of-the-art productions. But speak to anyone who works in raising money for music in Chicago and you’ll find that there somehow will be less money now for music for the smaller musical fish. These renovations constitute some monstrous magnet erected now to attract potential dollars to the only two places who already command the lion’s share of all funds made available for music in Chicago.
I believe I speak for a great many artists in the city that an expansion project of this magnitude requires some new agenda that includes the musical community beyond the insider board rooms. Otherwise culture and music as now will never grow. By this I mean it would be quite diabolical to expend millions merely to pay heftier ticket prices (and when do ticket prices ever go down?), to acquire a new seat to sit and listen to the same tired repertoire of Wagner or Brahms ad nauseum or the newest insider-chosen prize winners who recycle the same compositions. The fact remains that most of the significant works of the century, opera and orchestral, are yet to be heard in Chicago. And I can easily name close to one hundred. If you consider this, along with a less tolerant public for the NEW (example: Shapey’s magnificent Concerto a few years ago), I don’t see the NEW on the horizon for Chicago. We also know that NEW works need more rehearsal funds and no one to date has the ambition to solve this funding problem.
The greatest conductor for modern works has been invited by the CSO annually, Pierre Boulez, but he refuses to venture too deeply into the repertoire for lack of rehearsal funds. A score by Ligeti, Xenakis, Feldman, or Scelsi would have been an historic event for Chicago under Boulez’s hands and the CSO.
Mr. Lazare made reference to music director Daniel Barenboim’s lack of commitment to Chicago. And although Mr. Fogel defended him admirably I don’t think scheduling 18-hour days for Mr. Barenboim “fighting on the frontline . . . every day to drum up audience and financial support” as Mr. Lazare says will help the cause. The CSO has a very capable staff on the various frontlines taking away daily potential dollars from us little musical fish. What is arguable is how often does the CSO give free concerts like the one brainchilded by Catherine Cahill at the Grant Park band shell? Although it took a CSO strike to trigger this concert it drew thousands of potential future CSO subscribers, many who admitted to having never heard the CSO after living their lives in Chicago.
I believe Mr. Barenboim is genuinely motivated by a challenge. You may recall he faced a Sartrean void as director of the moribund Orchestre de Paris, where he polished and dragged them impressively through basic repertoire as Bruckner only later to fall victim to the Bastille Opera scandal where anti-Semitism pervaded the air. Recall that Mr. Barenboim was not the first unanimous choice for the directorship and he does have repertoire problems for those of us who find passion in the music of our own century.
Yes, you can say that Chicago thus far seems to be just simply another facet of Mr. Barenboim’s career, a few octaves on the piano rather than the entire keyboard. But name another conductor who ever commits to any one place for any length of time without suffering a slow creative death.