Classical complaints we wish we could hear
The first piece of proper criticism I ever wrote was an essay dissenting from the obligatory English adulation of Edward Elgar. I was, and on the whole remain, an Elgar sceptic.
How very brave of Lebrecht for daring to criticize the great Elgar! But considering that he also wrote scathing assessments of such English musical icons as William Walton and Michael Tippett, in both cases trying to spoil the fun of their centennial celebrations, no one should be surprised. I'm reminded of playwright Tom Stoppard's delicious bon mot about the journalist who thinks "that the most interesting thing about any story is the fact that he has arrived to cover it."
But then check out the recent piece in The Guardian on this year's centennial of Benjamin Britten, and a pattern begins to form. To quote:
It is certainly true that his sheer dominance over the British musical landscape can be burdensome to his successors...As time separates us from Britten's death, though, it is possible that a more relaxed attitude to the composer is emerging.
Hey...wouldn't it be cool if we Americans had classical composers who loomed so large over the musical landscape that one could bravely out oneself as a non-fan, and whose centennials triggered huge, soul-searching reassessments? OK, there's Leonard Bernstein, whose 2018 centennial will no doubt be quite a party. Then there's...Copland? Barber? Not quite. Sure, Copland's "Hoedown" and Barber's "Adagio" are household tunes, but their composer's names aren't; neither could most Americans name anything else they wrote. So, the "problem" the British face with their composers turns out to be one we American classical fans have never experienced, and could probably live with.
With all that as a windy prelude, here's my short list of similar gripes we'll never hear in the United States, but it would be cool if we could:
"Another William Schuman festival? I know box office is important, but couldn't they challenge us with a little Brahms once in a while?"
"I'm so fed up with how Romantic music is ghettoized onto special programs, rather than included on mainstream concerts. What are they afraid of — someone will see Chopin on the program and not show up?"
"Hilary Hahn is on Letterman again? I know she's great, but aren't there other good violinists out there?"
"Do these performers have to be so gosh-darned exciting all the time? I'm trying to get some sleep here!"
"If the New York Times is going to make its annual slide show about musicians who died in the last year so totally classical, why don't they just call it "classical musicians who died?"
"How come the Tanglewood Contemporary Music Festival has to be so totally about living composers and current styles? I mean, don't they realize that "contemporary" really means, oh, about 1967?"
"Does WFCR have to keep playing classical music as if they were the only game in town? Jeez, with all the competition out there, they should really raise their game."
Your additional gripes are welcome. My goodness, how busy they keep me (yeah, I wish).