August music

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(HOST) Music abounds in Vermont in the summertime. Commentator Olin Robison reflects on the many musical pleasures of August in the Green Mountains.

(ROBISON) With so many problems in the world, I feel almost guilty enjoying the summer music so much. That, dearly beloved, is what a seriously Calvinistic upbringing will do to you, but bear with me here. It isn’t that I am unaware, or unconcerned, or indif- ferent to the terrible things that are present in our world. It is just that the music is so good, and this time of year, there is happily so much of it.

It is the time of festivals, great and small, urban and rural. Lots of them. These festivals have become staples of orchestras, of dance companies, of theater companies…and also, of course, staples of the places where they perform.

There is something for almost everyone. My choice is classical. It is enough to make one forget that the art form is in fact threatened – and seriously so.

There have been a host of studies in recent years, mostly found- ation funded, almost all of which focus, at least in part, on “the graying of the audience” for classical music. The audience for classical music really is getting older and not being replaced by equal numbers of younger listeners. And this is true just about everywhere – by which I really mean North America and Europe.

Almost no major orchestra in America now has a recording con- tract. The reason is simple: production costs are too high for the return on investment. Classical music accounts for a terribly small share of the music market for recorded music: only three to four percent. And most of what is out there is reproductions of what are called “archive editions”; in other words, old recordings, digitally remastered.

We are enormously fortunate to live in a time when we can, for a modest investment, hear the works of the great masters performed by the finest musicians of our time – and over and over if we wish. It was not always so.

Much of what we today accept as a part of the classical canon was music that even the composer heard performed only once, namely on the occasion for which it was written. Beethoven’s Second Symphony and his Third Piano Concerto premiered on the same evening to an audience of 26 people. Much of Schubert’s music was never even heard by the composer because he didn’t think it was good enough for public performance.

It was only just over a hundred years ago, in the 1890s, that the Boston Symphony Orchestra began to develop what eventually became an agreed upon canon of classical music, almost exclu- sively as the result of the effort and financial support of one man. Thank you, Henry Lee Higginson.

We are exceptionally blessed. There is now so much music for us to hear.

Now, with your permission, a personal word: I hold a Doctorate in Theology from Oxford University. I remember lengthy, sometimes tortured discussions at Oxford about the “soul”. I must confess that I am still uncomfortable trying to talk about the soul, but I do know this: whatever it is, it is deeply touched by the music that is ours if we only reach out to it. The music, in turn, will reach out to us.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and of Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.

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