A Peculiarly American Paradox

by James Conlon

Gore Vidal once observed that at a certain age writers turn to politics or alcohol. I am a musician and am turning to neither, but in recent years have found, conversely, an increasing satisfaction through writing. For that reason I welcomed the invitation from MusicalAmerica.com to write a blog on a somewhat regular basis.

 The title “A Rich Possession” is taken from a translation of the epitaph on Franz Schubert’s grave: The art of music here entombed a rich possession, but even fairer hopes.

 I have enjoyed the privilege of a life of making music, which, in the end, is its own reward. The most precious aspect is that of living on a daily basis in close proximity to a great artistic, spiritual and intellectual force. Classical music is a Rich Possession.

 But there is a problem, and I think those of us who love classical music and live in the United States need to see it with greater clarity.

Probably no other country (at least not yet) can boast as many great symphony orchestras, opera companies and conservatories. We are training and producing a stunningly high level of young musicians. The paradox: every arts institution I know is struggling to keep and develop its audience. The arts might need to be repackaged, but without compromising the quality and essence of the inherited art form of which we are the custodians. How and why we have come to have more supply than demand, and what I hope we can do about it, will occupy a significant portion of my future writings.

Will our great country recognize again the necessity of a prominent place for the Classical Arts? How did we allow things to get to this point, and how can we fix it? We are proprietors of a very rich possession…and fairer hopes. Will we know how to maintain the former, and realize the latter? The status of classical music—of all of the classical arts—will not be enhanced without the determined efforts and thoughtful advocacy of those who treasure it most.

Tags: Franz Schubert, James Conlon, musicalamerica, Rich Possession

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