Among the many amazing things I could mention about the NEA Institute in Classical Music and Opera is this: We have been amazingly busy. Even over the weekend, between shows we were seeing, things to write for the institute and what some of us call "work work," there hasn't been time for much else. But y'all back home will get the benefit in a reporter totally psyched with new ideas and a new sense of mission.
The day after hearing about the Downtown Entertainment Development Task Force in Lexington, we made our first trip off the Island of Manhattan to visit the Brooklyn Academy of Music. And looking at BAM was quite intriguing in the context of hearing about a serious proposal to develop an arts district back home. BAM is an institution which has become a major force in its community as well as the nation. Part of the intent of the Academy is drawing audiences in through as many avenues as possible, from events at the opera house to movie theaters in the facility, which roll arthouse fare such as Into the Wild and The Darjeeling Limited. And the multi-venue facility is looking to expand. During a Q&A with president Karen Brooks Hopkins and executive producer Joseph V. Melillo, with the new Lexington proposal fresh in my mind, I asked about facilities with BAM sensibilities around the nation -- Ohio State's Wexner Center came up -- and if they consult with other facilities, which they do. But the most interesting moment was as we departed. Melillo leaned over to me and said, "You've got a great guy in Lexington. Jim Clark. He knows all about BAM."
Certainly, I haven't talked to anyone about this proposal, and I am well aware Lexington has to accomplish its own vision of an arts and entertainment center. But Melillo's comment was a reminder we have a guy in the process with a grasp of the possibilities.
~ Thursday was Carnegie Hall.
It was incredible to hear the stories of the Hall, including Tchaikovsky conducting there and that Gustav Mahler conducted the U.S. premier of his Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) there 99 years ago. That was the same piece we heard there on Thursday night, and judging by the reviews we wrote, everyone in the institute seemed to let their imaginations run a little bit, especially with Cleveland Orchestra conductor Franz Welser-Most looking somewhat Mahlerhian on the podium. Sometime in the next few days, after I have had a chance to retool my review based on advice from Joe Horowitz, I'll post it here,
~ Friday night was the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie's Zankel Hall, dug into the New York bedrock. Being a casual new music fan, I was very excited to hear this concert, but it turned out to be a major disappointment. Rather than regale you with my lowlights, I'll recommend Steve Smith's New York Times review, which nails the problems. One great line for those of you who don't take the link: "Audacity is admirable. But execution also counts . . . "
~ Saturday afternoon, we had two sessions back at Columbia University. If you're used to having weekends off, that could be grounds for grumbling, but these were great chats with Henry Fogel, president of the American Symphony Orchestra League, and James Conlon, the director of the Cincinnati May Festival, among other posts.
Fogel was overall upbeat about American orchestras, and he mentioned one thing that struck me. Talking about orchestras that do good jobs of hiring new music directors, he brought up the Eugene Symphony, which has a record of tapping rising stars for its podium, including the Baltimore Symphony's Marin Alsop and the Nashville Symphony's new maestro, Giancarlo Gurrero. I mention this, because talking to John Carpenter, co-chair of the Lexington Philharmonic's search committee, he frequently mentions Eugene. So, our folks seem to be casting their eyes upon a pretty successful model.
Conlon talked at length about his mission to present works by composers that either died in the Holocaust or had their careers severely marginalized by the actions of the Third Reich. It is a compelling story that was followed up by a concert performance of Alexander Zemlinsky's A Florentine Tragedy Saturday night with the New York Philharmonic. Unlike Friday's new music letdown, this was a splendid moment of discovery. The performance wasn't spot free, but it was quite a compelling drama based on Oscar Wilde's play of the same name. It definitely helped make Conlon's case that we've missed some great music we need to be paying attention to.
I could easily go on, but I have our last full day of the Institute to get to. It includes a lunchtime music quiz with Bruce Adolphe, whose Piano Puzzlers are a regular feature on Performance Today. Then we're off for a private recital with Jeremy Denk at BargeMusic, a "renovated Erie Lackawana Railroad Barge at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge," according to our schedule.