Orchestra Obscura

In 2001 the artist David Hockney startled the art world by theorizing that advances in realism and accuracy in paintings of many Old Masters such as Ingres, Jan van Eyck, Caravaggio, and Vermeer were not just the result of the artists’ technique and creativity, but also involved the common use of optical devices such as camera obscura, camera lucida, and curved mirrors to enhance their perspective. I immediately thought of the slippery slope of cognitive perception after reading the latest post from the noted blogger Emily Hogstad, who has been deservedly acclaimed for her detailed and comprehensive revelations relating to the Minnesota Orchestra debacle.  Suffice to say her latest article created a different kind of buzz. 

C.OMany in the social media crowd have been quick to condemn her for perceived disparaging remarks directed at the musicians of the Chicago Symphony (who have shown unwavering support for the MN Orchestra musicians and have often employed them during the lockout), as well as the audience itself, described in the piece as “completely noncommittal”. After what was an undoubtedly spectacular performance by James Ehnes and the CSO (which she recounts in somewhat hyperventilating terms), she left at intermission, skipping Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I was surprised at the general tone of the article, which (to me) has a certain snark and preachiness about it, no doubt unintentionally. And it highlights in no uncertain terms the dangers of looking out of one tiny window, orchestrally speaking.

But the piece is quite heartfelt and raises important points, many of which are part of the robust discourse happening at so many levels now in the business. The fact is that to some degree the antiquated, abstract, and almost totally foreign protocols of the traditional orchestral experience do turn off a lot of patrons. Some orchestras do look bored and distracted the whole time (and some sound like it). And as we are now experiencing, some great orchestras are simply taken for granted by their own communities and donor base until it’s (nearly) too late.

Even if that show happened to be an off night (I wasn’t there), her comments about the CSO musicians and audience seem to me unfair and misguided, presumably a result of Ms. Hogstad’s current inability to disconnect from recent concert experiences in Minnesota, which must be quite emotional these days. Good thing she wasn’t in New York to experience the frequent “walking ovation” displayed by a good portion of the audience at some of the city’s most esteemed institutions.

Ms. Hogstad is an incredibly gifted and knowledgeable writer and is obviously passionate about music and musicians. She raises some important questions towards the end of the article; I’d humbly suggest a few more road trips might point a way to some answers. Perspective is everything, especially broadening it.

If Song of the Lark is new to you, dive right in here. For this week’s mind-bending MOA news, click here.



photo credit: Sigfrid Lundberg via photopin cc

2 thoughts on “Orchestra Obscura”

  1. I love Emily’s blog, and found her latest post fascinating. It takes bravery to make such complicated thoughts public. Much about a concert experience is subjective, and the juxtaposition of the two orchestras in such different situations defined that particular one for her in a way I was interested to hear her describe. I think anyone who feels she was being unduly critical of the CSO missed the point of the piece.

    • Thanks for your comment. That’s what I meant about a slippery slope with regard to perception. I don’t think anyone missed her points (unless they preferred to), but I can also understand why some would be critical of her comments re CSO and the audience.
      It would be interesting if Emily heard a live recording of the Berlioz in a year or so and was able to detect not only the precise orchestra playing but also whether they and their audience seemed disconnected or bored.


Leave a Comment