I’m not one to overestimate the effect of a rave review, but it’s always nice when one appears in the New York Times. “Revelatory,” wrote Zachary Woolfe, on December 21, of Trinity Church’s “Messiah” under Julian Wachner.
You’d think the church fathers would be delighted. Instead, this week the announcement came that the music program was going to be suspended.
Wachner, 42, is also music director of the Washington Chorus, who added the post of Trinity Church’s music director in 2010. (He’s currently on unpaid leave from yet another job, an associate professorship at McGill.) In Washington as in New York, he’s showed a lot of enthusiasm and ambition, adding new-music programs – the Washington Chorus now does a program every year devoted to a living composer – and branching out into other venues new to his organizations, from the Atlas in DC to New York’s Alice Tully Hall.
Julian Wachner, music director of both the Washington Chorus and Trinity Wall Street, discusses his plans to perform the complete cantatas of Bach — plans that may be shelved now that the church has temporarily suspended its music program.
All this costs money, and Trinity Church evidently decided it needed to rein in expenses – somewhat abruptly, in mid-season. In an announcement Monday at the new Bach at One series, according to the New York Times the Reverend Canon Anne Mallonee announced that the concerts were being put on hiatus. In a subsequent statement to the Times, she said that the church was going to “recalibrate the music and arts program.” When contacted this week, the church declined to elaborate further, and Mr. Wachner, in his capacity as Trinity Church music director, can’t talk either.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing about arts organizations’ financial woes these days, and plenty of bankruptcies or even quiet foldings-up of tents (San Antonio Opera, anybody?). Yet the Trinity Church case stands apart. Here was a program that appeared to be both a public and critical success, and its funders, it appears, may simply not want that much art, or not want, at least, to pay for it. It’s a sobering reminder that the arts, even in places where they appear to enjoy a safe haven, are sometimes more marginal to more people than those of us who love them may think.