The Performer's Predicament
IN ORDER to understand the situation of performing musicians today, it is necessary to realize that there is now, to a historically unparalleled extent, no relationship between the music famous artists perform and the music serious composers are writing. The evidence from concert programs and the box-office is ubiquitous. A performer’s career can no longer be advanced, but rather only harmed, by any association with new music. Such new music as is programmed is played either by musicians at the second level of public renown or-and then only occasionally-by stars making a quick descent into charity. No matter by whom it is performed, the new music is hastily learned and quickly forgotten.
Even that doughty champion of the avant-garde, Pierre Boulez, has conducted a largely conventional repertory of music by dead composers during his years at the New York Philharmonic; and for all that, he is leaving his post with a dissatisfied audience which, despite his efforts to please them, sees him as what some members of his own orchestra have called “20th-century limited.” And it is plain that the appointment as Boulez’s successor of Zubin Mehta, a “name” long connected with the imposition of conductorial personality on widely accepted -music, is fresh proof of the primacy in today’s music business of the performer over the contemporary composer.
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