Sunday, March 04, 2007

Unter Donner und Blitz

It seems another thrashing of the dead Wiener Philharmoniker horse is making its rounds. (Here and here)

Even your humble author has weighed in on the matter. I'm sorry, but unless the Viennese or Austrian authorities are willing to impose the change by legislation or by funding cuts to the Staatsoper (indirectly forcing the members to comply), there is simply nothing to be done. I might agree with this statement,

A decade after it supposedly committed itself to entering the 21st century, I believe that the Vienna Philharmonic has relinquished its claim to serious consideration as a dynamic cultural organization.

Not, though, because they don't like women at the desks or because they're too conservative. The first is unfortunate and not at all our way of doing things, but - alas - if the Austrian cultural czars were that bothered, they'd do something. Therefore, I conclude they aren't that bothered. The second? Give me a break.

No, I agree simply because I am not sure how in touch they are with the Mitteleuropa tradition with which they are so frequently associated. Their pre-1938 and post-1945 sounds differ; they've worked with a diverse crew of conductors; they've added and (undoubtedly) subtracted from their repertoire. Listen to the famous Bruno Walter recordings, i.e., the big two, and hear the Wiener Philharmoniker that made its name. Listen after 1945, and the voice is still there, just quieter. Ever quieter. To my mind, the tradition of central Europe that made the WP what it is claimed to be was lost or stored in a closet.

Also, the virtuoso American orchestras are proving that they are by no means second-rate. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, and - increasingly - the Los Angeles Philharmonic are showing themselves the equals or betters of their Teutonic colleagues. In fact, I might say that the Wiener Philharmoniker isn't a dynamic cultural force because it isn't conservative enough. It isn't the link to the past that it once was, and it doesn't have a reputation for innovation. They have dined out on the past more than they've actually provided a tangible link with it. If you are going to keep the past alive, you have to live in the past. Not just say, "Well, we have tradition." You have to live that tradition.

For better or for worse. That judgment is, necessarily, left to better minds than mine.


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