Right way, wrong way, old way, new way. Snap quiz: In which field of endeavor is there a constantly simmering argument between tradition and change? Answer: All of them. As I was reminded by this Wall Street Journal column about — baseball, in particular about one talented newcomer to the game whose on-field deportment has turned him into a lightning rod for the ire of the old-school crowd.
Can one draw parallels between this froufrou and similar set-tos inside classical music? With ease. The National Pastime has its designated hitter, interleague play, wild cards, on-field celebrations, player salaries — the list of hotly debated old vs. new topics goes on and on. Meanwhile, Ye Old Classical Musicke has its concert presentation, audience deportment, "serious" vs. "dumbed-down" programming, labor/management disputes, heavily hyped stars, tonal vs. modernist — again, I could go on.
But with all these similarities, there's still a big difference between the respective internicine battles within baseball and classical music. In the former, the back-and-forth adds to the fun of following what is, despite its many problems, a very successful enterprise, successful more because of than despite its willingness to change with the times in order to cater to the tastes of its audience. In the latter, the debates get to the heart of the struggle to define the present and determine the future of a treasured but troubled institution, one badly in need of serious audience-based reforms. Maybe we classical lovers and practitioners would do well to rip a page or two out of the baseball playbook. (Photos: Two of the coolest things to hit LA lately from Latin America, the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig and the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Gustavo Dudamel.)
CD of the Week. Isn't it great when an out-of-the-blue album from an artist you've never heard of makes you fall in love with music all over again? That's the feeling I got from tenor Kyle Bielfield's "Stopping By," an album of 28 American songs by composers ranging from Stephen Foster and Amy Beach to Leonard Bernstein and Irving Berlin. What a sweet voice and sweet style! The title, by the way, comes from Robert Frost's poem "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," featured in settings by three of America's finest song composers, Ned Rorem, long-time Smith professor John Duke and Samuel Barber, the last in an early unpublished song otherwise unavailable on disc. With pianist Lachlan Glen and, on a few selections, cellist Michael Samis, this is a CD to enjoy straight through or to dip into when in need of comfort and solace. You'll be hearing more of it on NEPR. Can't wait? Purchase and download it here (yes, they take dollars).