To the editors:
At age 26, pianist Anthony Molinaro has plenty of time to learn how to inspire something more thoughtful than the question “Whose fault is it that we don’t have great pianist-composers like Rachmaninoff these days?” (March 5), especially if his search for new material is as ardent as this article implies. Apparently nothing Mr. Molinaro said could persuade a Reader contributing writer to break ranks with all her colleagues of recent years and not damn all modern music out of hand. This Reader article, like others that are more focused on music review, tends to strip impressionable people of the will to take a step that could turn into the discovery of a lifetime. Yes, some people do take seriously the inference of such a question.
Mr. Molinaro, music teachers do not create audiences. If anything, they “create” musicians. You create audiences. Instead of lamenting the museumlike state of classical music, why don’t you get out there and play something that others are not playing? Your Bennett-Gordon Hall program is obviously very challenging, and it is important to keep playing Bach, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff. However, that program sure seems out of character in an article that laments classical music is in trouble because “everybody’s playing the same things.”
Rachmaninoff was a living anachronism, just like Richard Strauss, another great composer who lived well into this century. Wynton Marsalis, one whose brilliant trumpet playing pushes utterly no new frontier, is another living anachronism. I understand the impression that can be created by these musicians, but I’m hoping that you will find something in your own time, of your own time, to champion. There are some very great pianist-composers of our time. Are they like your beloved Rachmaninoff? Not those that I have in mind. Here’s one, and he’s right here in Chicago: George Flynn of DePaul University. Flynn, however, might be a little more like one of Rachmaninoff’s contemporaries and countrymen, Alexander Scriabin, with whose piano works you are no doubt familiar.
“It is music of primal passion and orgiastic madness. This is music to accompany The Bacchae of Euripides. It is music that is built upon such long lines of tension and with such grandness of vitality that the listener is overwhelmed, overawed, and transcended,” wrote Gordon Rumson, a pianist-composer, about Flynn’s work. It is not just a listening public whose will to discover can be squelched by misinformation. Musicians succumb also to this bane of sincere artists everywhere. It is not an easy task to maintain one’s repertoire to concert-performance standards, but I suggest that it is only the performing musicians who can right the wrongs. Only interpreters with passion can bring audiences to the new, and they must take the time to do it.
No music lover, let alone a pianist, should be unaware of the miracle that is the beginning of Kanal. Ask George Flynn for a score or a recording. Listen to his titanic solo piano work American Icon. Ask for scores to Salvage or Derus Simples. Ask Greg Hamilton, your exact contemporary and a pianist who recently negotiated the convulsive nightmares and delicate lullabies of Flynn’s Pieces of Night, about the rewards of tackling some of the most active and densely scored music in the history of the piano. He’ll tell you about how music of uncompromising allegiance to modern musical language can pierce one’s belly with the visceral force of a glowing red rapier, just as the fugue of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier does. I dare you, Mr. Molinaro. I also dare the Reader’s contributing authors to open their ears to the music of our time instead of characterizing its composers as lunatics or their interpreters as frigid automatons.