Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian plays bass in an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Max Factor

The comments by Max were important enough to deal with in a separate post. Does anyone besides me read comments? Just curious.

Insouk asks if musicians have some input into programming. Some in Mr. Hovnanian's unnamed orchestra have urged their representatives, the Members' Committee, to push for a committee of musicians to offer input into repertoire and scheduling. The Committee has regarded these requests as an elegant dinner party guest might regard a turd in the punch bowl. They have protested that another committee would somehow cripple the Members' Committee to represent the orchestra, although we have had Audition and Tour Committees for years. An uncharitable view of this strange state of affairs is that the Members' Committee is jealous of their standing in the orchestra. An alternative, less uncharitable view eludes some of us at this time.


Kudos to Max for opening Pandora’s can of worms, letting the cat out of the bag, or whatever. The issue of input into programming and choice of conductors is indeed on the minds of many musicians. His commentary precludes me from dancing around the topic with a few superficial and sarcastic non-sequiturs.

[Full disclosure: I recently resigned from the Members’ Committee. Actually my letter, submitted in December, took nearly a month to make the long arduous journey from the mailboxes, down the hall, and around the corner, and so was only recently acknowledged.]

The starting point for this issue in my mind is the fact that there is a decent amount of dissatisfaction among musicians with choices in programming and repertoire. If more people were satisfied we wouldn’t hear calls for musician input.

At first glance from a musician standpoint, having more input seems like a no-brainer. But it is inaccurate to assume ‘musicians’ are of like mind. The logistical issues of which viewpoints will be considered, and how, need careful consideration. As I have written about earlier, there is a fairly strong anti modern music sentiment among players, one I do not share. I am not convinced a tyranny of the majority on that issue is in the best long-term interest of our art. If performers throughout history had as much influence as some of my colleagues would like to wield now, I wonder if we would be enjoying the works of Hummel and Dittersdorf rather than Beethoven and Mozart. Who can say? (I know as a bass player, maligning Dittersdorf, who gave us two concertos (!), is tantamount to treason, but there you have it.)

On the other hand, large swaths of the repertoire go unperformed for years or decades, much to the chagrin of many players who chafe at playing many of the same pieces too often while others go unheard. It would be as if the famous museum across the street from our concert hall closed a wing or two and left them dark until somebody raised a fuss and demanded to see inside. In the musicians’ hallway (what passes for a lounge here) there hangs a lengthy repertoire ‘suggestion sheet’, which seems little more than a sop for musician complaints. What it reveals however is a heartfelt interest by players as well as the existence of a valuable store of knowledge concerning repertoire that seems to go largely untapped.

Opinions about the wisdom of forming a committee to deal with these issues are divided. I’m not sure if a poll has been conducted to see how many favor the idea. Also, I haven’t seen a detailed proposal about how such a committee would function – who would serve, for how long, and to whom would they be accountable. Max is correct in pointing out the arguments against ‘dual unionism’ are disingenuous considering the existence of the other committees he mentions, to which I would add most conspicuously the music director search committee, who seem to be answerable to no one. (IMO they are either going to triumph or lay an egg, by which time it will be too late to discuss the details of how it all came to pass…) The issue of musician input into repertoire, programming, etc. hasn’t been debated on its own merits by the musicians as a group, to my knowledge.

One thing I know for certain: I’m never drinking punch again.

1 comment:

MK said...

Not to open another can of Pandora's worms out of the bag previously inhabited by the cat, but I wonder if you could (dare to) comment on the differences in programming in the current two music-director-less seasons, as opposed to when a music director was around. I should think that a music director usually cares to make sure a given season's programming has some coherence and diversity. Not that that always worked out, but I get the impression that the past two seasons (apart from things like MusicNOW and Beyond the Score) were a bit of a hodgepodge of the tried and tested and the utterly random. Do Haitink and Boulez still provide some input beyond the concerts they conduct, or who makes these decisions now in the absence of an MD? Thanks