Look at the program book of the symphony concert you are attending. Then look again at the musicians on stage. Then have a third look at the conductor just entering the stage. Take one more look to one side of you and then the other, and then glance in the direction of those sitting in the rows in front of yours. Once you’re done looking at all this tell me in a few words what you see.
Let me tell you what I see and hear at most of the dozens of concerts I attend and review on a regular basis. Let me add, if I may, my similar take on the hundreds of CD’s I review and write about on my blog. Let me tell you in a few words what I have been seeing and hearing for most of the sixty-plus years I have been going to the opera, the symphony, the ballet, chamber music concerts, conservatory recitals, and watching Live from Lincoln Center on PBS and Ed Sullivan on Sunday evenings before then.
I have been enjoying the music-making of a large number of mostly Caucasian, middle-aged men – marvelous musicians one and all – and wondering why they are always playing the same old pieces by the same old early 20th and 19th and 18th century composers mostly with Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic names, depicted in the program books with impressive portraits or vintage photographs of faces that look like nobody in my family.
As for those seated round and next to me at the concerts, I would describe them succinctly as a vast sea of white-haired, white, mostly female faces. Same goes for those up on the stage, except the majority of them are males and also white-haired and white.
Now in my mid-seventies I still remember back in the early years of this century when the first pioneering women conductors took on major podiums and rocked the music establishment. I was not around when Antonia Brico guest conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in 1930, but outside a gig here and another there, she had to go it alone and found her own orchestra in 1937, which at first had an all-female contingent. After that, years of unemployment for women conductors…
Gallons and gallons of water flowed under the bridges of the musical establishment until we finally saw Marin Alsop come on board to helm the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007, years after JoAnn Falletta took up the baton in Buffalo in 1999. The classical music world moves at a snail’s pace.
Conductors of color… May I count them with the fingers of one hand? Singers of color… Many females in my time, few males, now a little better than my memories of Julliard and the old MET in the 1960’s but still a ways to go… Look at the current MET roster. Look at the casts of most of their productions this season. I don’t know what you see but all I look at is another sea of white faces.
For us to build a future for classical music in our country we better have a good look around and see where we need to go from here, so that our grandchildren will be able to enjoy the wonder of classical music written and performed by people of all races and all ages and all sexes that look and sound like those seated in the darkened auditorium that make it possible for the music to go on and for the players to get paid.
Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com