But the fall also marks a culmination for Golan, whose 10-year trek through the legal system on behalf of fellow conductors, academics, film historians and others ends Wednesday at the Supreme Court.
Golan and his colleagues are asking the justices to overturn a decision by Congress giving copyright protection to millions of works by foreign artists that once were in the public domain.
Films by Alfred Hitchcock, paintings by Picasso and the symphonies of the great 20th-century Russian composers are among the works that are no longer available to be freely quoted, copied, played, shared or republished without paying royalties or seeking permission. In Golan’s case, that means he can no longer afford music that once was part of his basic repertoire.
Congress said that applying the copyright to such works was necessary to comply with treaties and foreign trade agreements and that the show of cooperation will mean copyright protection for the work of American artists overseas.
But those on Golan’s side — the ACLU, Google and the American Library Association, among others — say Congress’s action violated First Amendment rights, complicated efforts to digitize the world’s great libraries and obscured the original intent of the Constitution’s copyright clause: “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.”
“This case raises the question, ‘What is copyright really for?’ ” said Golan’s attorney, Anthony Falzone, of the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. “Is it just something that benefits authors, or is it something that benefits society?”
Golan is a low-key, 44-year-old conductor who heads the University of Denver’s Lamont Symphony and the Yakima Symphony Orchestra in Washington state. He seems to defy the stereotype of the temperamental artist at the podium; he instructs a conducting student to be firm with her musicians but adds that there is nothing wrong with saying “please.”
He was recruited to be the lead plaintiff to show the real-life effects of Congress’s decisions, which fall mainly on small and community orchestras. He said he can think of no better example than what for many was probably their first exposure to classical music.
“ ‘Peter and the Wolf’ is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, pieces to introduce kids to music,” he said over dinner after a rehearsal. “We all saw it when we were kids. We took the field trip to the symphony downtown: The oboe played the duck, and the flute played the bird, and the horns played the wolf.”
Orchestras used to be able to buy the the Prokofiev symphony for $100, he said, and play it until the sheet music was worn out. Now it must be rented, at a cost of several hundred dollars for each performance.