I’ve been attending the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York for about twenty years now, and spent Friday night at its penultimate performance of the season–Bach’s “St. John’s Passion,” Frank Martin’s “Polyptyqe,” and Mozart’s Requiem. Here’s a nice write up. A few random thoughts:
1. The festival is financially supported by a long list of corporate and private donors, and by The New York State Council on the Arts. A real, rather than rhetorical question: is state funding really financially necessary to put on the Mostly Mozart Festival? Or is it there so that, for political reasons, the imprimatur and funding of the state is implicated in the festival, in order to create an inextricable link between state funding and otherwise private artistic performance?
2. The Bach and the Mozart were, of course, traditionally tonal; the Martin piece, composed in 1973, was dodecaphonic, or twelve-tonal–interesting, but certainly harder to listen to. The Martin piece was played by the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya, who performed it barefoot, in a rather odd-looking (but not at all unpleasant) dress, reminding me, in her performance style, of a cross between AC/DC’s Angus Young and Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Elizabeth in the 1994 film version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (I mean that as a compliment on both counts).
The enjoyable result was a bit like listening to contemporary classical religious music performed by a crazed shred metal guitarist–a first for me.
I suppose it’s one of my idiosyncratic obsessions, but I couldn’t help reflecting, even in my enjoyment of the concert, on the inadequacies and missed opportunities of Ayn Rand’s writings on aesthetics. Nothing in Rand’s Romantic Manifesto prepares one for an experience of the kind I had at the concert, and a great deal in the book militates against it. What is one to make of a book on aesthetics that offers a theory of music but makes no reference either to Bach or Mozart? And however unconventional one might find Frank Martin’s music, it (and music like it) surely deserved more engagement than Rand’s dismissive, moralistic rhetoric in that book would suggest. I realize that there’s recently been some interesting revisionary work on Rand’s aesthetics, and I’m the first person to say that her Romantic Manifesto contains some brilliant ideas (along with the fatuous ones). But on the whole, I’m inclined to think that Rand’s aesthetic writings are a dreary, joyless, and depressing affair, which detract at least as much from aesthetic experience as they contribute to it–something I often find myself thinking in the midst of novel-but-enjoyable aesthetic experiences like the one I just had. I wonder whether others influenced by Rand’s writings have had similar reactions.
3. A parting thought: as I watched the chorus and soloists make their way through Mozart’s Requiem, I couldn’t shake the thought that they all looked like children: they looked the way children do when performing on stage for the first time, beaming rapturously and ingenuously at the audience, engrossed in the performance, but thoroughly enjoying the attention being lavished on them–with the difference that these children had the musical skills of phenomenally talented adult professionals. I also can’t help thinking that a scene like that is part of what makes life worth living–and, I guess, part of what will supply the inspiration I’ll need to teach the six course load I have this semester. Classes start Wednesday.