Michael Tilson Thomas, featured earlier this month for TED, spoke about the development of classical music, with awesome pull quotes like this: “The big difference between human happiness and sadness? Thirty-seven freakin' vibrations."
By noon on Sunday, Michael Tilson Thomas has done more in four hours than you've done all day...especially if you're like Opera Chic and had been out partying the night before between a magnum of Magnum of Veuve Clicquot at Ibiza (the chic Milan restaurant, not the island)!
Before San Francisco Symphony rehearsals at 10am, the SFS Music Director likes to walk his dogs, shop for organic produce at one of SF's Farmers' Market, and get Vietnamese take-out. Then he's ready to start his day!
Opera Chic has a weakness for Michael Tilson Thomas, a great American conductor, one of our greatest really, a man who, if anything, is underappreciated -- he is one of our foremost musicians. And the sad thing is that, all things equal, if he were European and more aloof -- or even a bit of a douche -- many Americans would probably appreciate him more.
There are book clubs. Why not symphony clubs? I think the major
performing organizations will have to look at the expansion of their
roles in educating people, in leading the process, in creating new
...When an audience goes to see a play by Shakespeare, what
percentage can follow it line by line? Not many. They can hear the
famous lines. A good deal they pick up form the production, the way it
is done. Maybe we’re going to see some kind of change in the musical
fashion of performing. We’re in a bells and whistles age. We’re in a
world of video, and some musicians treat it the way some silent movie
stars treated talkies — it’s just a fad. It is important that musicians
get inside of this, rather than have it forced on them.
Now, this is not about Mr. Peskin personally -- a gentleman who loves his Speedos, Californian friends alert us, and Opera Chic does not discriminate against the hirsute -- and this is not about whether Mr. Peskin may or may not have an axe to grind with MTT personally. Maybe -- unheard of for a politician, of course -- he may simply be out to score some cheap populist points ("classical music is for the rich", blah blah blah -- tell that to the armies of broke fans scrounging for that standing room seat or that new Rossini DVD).
The issue at large here is, the USA -- a country currently more feared than it is respected worldwide -- should obviously be proud of its splendid orchestras: the CSO, the NYPhil, Cleveland, the BSO, the LA Phil, Philly. And the SF Symphony, of course. They're the envy of the classical music world.
But if once upon a time we Americans had to import cranky Italians, certifiably insane Hungarians, and persecuted Jews in order to make our orchestras achieve the greatness they deserved, well, that era is over, thanks to Leonard Bernstein, to Thomas Schippers, and to a very few others -- little more than half a century ago, the first American who conducted the Scala orchestra here in Milan was at first regarded as some sort of mythical creature, like a unicorn -- "look, an American conductor!".
We do have foreigners running some of our orchestras now -- isolationism, quite discredited in politics, certainly has no place in the arts -- but thanks to our best conductors we also wipe that latent sense of smug superiority off off the faces of the few clueless Europeans who still have one, when it comes to classical music.
Whether the husky Mr. Peskin knows this or not, we owe it to people like -- and we're going in alphabetical order, because this issue is too important to turn it into a top 10 chart -- Marin Alsop, James Conlon, William Christie, JoAnn Falletta, Alan Gilbert, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Kent Nagano, Andre Previn, Leonard Slatkin and, yes, Michael Tilson Thomas. And I'm certainly forgetting others.
Talk of renegotiating contracts in a big recession is one thing; insulting major artists as a bunch of freeloaders is entirely another -- by the way, the smarter Europeans, even if this is a season of budget cuts over here, too -- know that subsidizing great art makes a lot of sense because life is not all about professional sports and reality TV.
Maybe Mr. Peskin is unaware that other cities in America, not to mention the better funded, subsidized foreign orchestras and opera houses, would be thrilled to have a musician like Michael Tilson Thomas around more often. And San Francisco would be much poorer -- much less than the US$ 1.6 mil it cost to keep MTT in his place.
Opera Chic still remembers the cheering in Florence, at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, for our own James Conlon. James Levine two summers ago enchanted the Lucerne Festival -- a famously Marxist institution financed by Swiss banks.
Michael Tilson Thomas's family has helped make America great for generations. Insulting him because he dares to charge the rates that his peers -- very few all over the world, it's a small club -- have regularly charged for decades is simply douchy. With two unpopular wars costing us what will eventually amount to several trillion dollars, one supposes we American taxpayers might have other places to look into when it comes to budget cuts.