ARTS ORGANIZATIONS ALL want the same things -- superstar musicians and singers, superstar conductors, superstar ballerinas, and it is wonderful to have them. But they are not the only ones that can give us true, valid art. I feel that one of the responsibilities of the arts leaders is to encourage and be firm and determined to give the public what they, as leaders, feel is true art -- and not be led mainly by trends and sometimes media-fabricated publicity . . .
An example of how "extra artistic" factors affect attendance: Only recently we had a very particular and successful media event at the Kennedy Center. It happened by chance, but nevertheless, it confirms the point I am trying to make. The Mostly Mozart Festival was scheduled to appear during our first Festival of Festivals this summer, together with other concerts of the Carnegie Hall Festival with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Aspen Festival. The attendance, as reflected by advance sales for the entire Festival, was quite good.
The first set of concerts with the St. Paul went very well -- concerts were generally well attended, but not completely sold out, with name soloists and fine performers. The Mostly Mozart Festival, which was coming a couple of weeks later, was doing more or less the same -- but just a few months before -- by coincidence, a new symphony K. 19A by the child Mozart (9 years old) was discovered in Europe. Mostly Mozart organizers were delighted with this discovery and thought that if this work was premiered at the Kennedy Center it would add to their Washington debut. It was reported, the news repeated and used in articles, advertising, radio interviews, television -- arousing the curiosity and anticipation of the public. Sales immediately soared; but there was another important happening: A private concert and reception was scheduled at the White House to have the actual premiere played for the president of the United States and the distinguished guests that were gathered there for the occasion. Result: Everyone wanted to hear that symphony, the concert was wildly sold out, and not only that, but the whole Mostly Mozart engagement was sold out regardless of the program. We were all delighted, and I hoped that the coming Aspen Festival Concerts would meet with the same success and the public would continue with the same enthusiasm for the Aspen Festival, with similar programming.
The result was not as expected at all. The overflowing crowds did not come. The attendance diminished to its original level because there was nothing spectacular to write about, or to be a part of, except the great quality of the concerts, which were just as fine artistically as the previous ones . . .
Therefore, I had to conclude again that the effervescence of such media events dies quickly. Besides the musical and historical value to musicians and musicologists, I wonder how much public interest there will be for Symphony K. 19A, and how many orchestras will program it regularly in the future, now that it has been heard . . .
The star system focuses on the personality rather than on the work: It puts a premium on well-knownness for its own sake. It leads institutions to employ "media events" to build up big "names" with the ultimate hope of selling more tickets. Unfortunately, we are all collaborating in this glorification of celebrity often in lieu of quality. The brand name soothes a deep insecurity in us all . . .
It is a process of education and we must be willing to sacrifice fame and money in order to succeed. Compromises have to be made, I suppose, but we need the support of those who understand these lasting values. Deficits are the price of maintenance of freedom to present performances according to artistic interest rather than supply and demand criteria. We would indeed be a poorer society if our reading consisted only of best sellers and our artistic events featured only superstars whom people bought tickets to see rather than to hear or admire the art. As marvellous as they may be, household names do not "artistic life make." With this goal in mind, here is where we can be creative, in setting our own atmosphere, environment, building, and somehow leaving a mark of what we truly believe . . .