On my way home from Goshen College the other day I was listening to Alec Baldwin’s podcast interview with Zarin Mehta, the recently retired executive director of the New York Philharmonic. And the thing that stood out to me was how deeply Mehta loved the music. He didn’t have to - he is an administrator and not a performer. But he was there at the concerts, and fully engaged in listening and enjoying the art.
He spoke of several concerts the Philharmonic had played that had moved him deeply, and of soloists and composers who were exceptional. He spoke of his family’s history with classical music and of his own evolution as a lover of the arts. This is so different from my own approach, and it shamed me.
I get bored listening to CDs - the same nuances and transitions over and over, and rarely any mistakes, or any surprises. Since regular concert attendance is pretty much out of the question for me - between my busy evening rehearsal and concert schedule, the three-year-old, and the limitations of South Bend - I haven’t really spent any time listening to classical music for pleasure in years.
But I love a concert. I just keep coming back to the essential humanity of the experience. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than a person working hard and performing to the very best of his ability. And a symphony orchestra is fifty to eighty HIGHLY skilled people, working their respective tails off to present a masterpiece composed by another person, in a composition process that may have been the work of years or decades (or minutes, for Mozart). Independent of the quality of the music-making, that amount of work and effort - week after week - is amazing and wonderful.
It’s good karma to attend other people’s concerts, and to listen to them. For whatever reason, I am out of the habit of hearing live music, and yet I expect attendance at my own events. I ask people to come out over and over.
Since hearing this interview, a fire has been rekindled in me. The web is full of live music, by great orchestras and soloists, and I have listened to a concert a day since Zarin (I call him Zarin) guilted me into starting.
Although the internet makes it possible to enjoy live music at home, there is something magical about a concert experience, and I am not getting that online. But still, somehow, concert recordings are more meaningful than studio recordings, because I know what goes into those. I can picture myself in the oboe chair and hear the orchestra around me, and I can imagine myself making choices in the moment and then I can compare those to what I am hearing on the recording. It’s fun, educational, and excellent karma.
No, I am not actually paying for a ticket, and I realize that people like me, listening at home without purchasing anything, are helping to drive real orchestras out of business, but keeping better abreast of the field is a huge start for me. We do donate to arts organizations, we will be teaching our daughter to appreciate music, we work in the field every single week - and when it is possible we will again attend live performances. This is what I can do now, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do it.
Thank you, Zarin Mehta, and thank you, Internet, and thank you, twenty-first century business models which cause great live music to be archived online and available on my schedule!