A MEMO detailing symphony orchestra waste and duplication and attributed to the practitioners of Reaganomics has surfaced. Its revelations both serve to justify cuts in federal arts support and to act as a caution to private donors. A usually pliable source made available the memo that follows.
Orchestral size exploded sooner and faster than our federal bureaucracy. Examples: Once a few violins sufficed, now there are 40 or more. Percussionists proliferate at a faster pace than food-stamp users. This bloating coincided with, and was related to, the coming of the welfare state in Bismarck's Prussia. The rot set in before the rise of musicians' unions and exists in today's non-union British orchestras. It's a management problem.
Duplication is frequent as many musicians play the same note at the same time. The use of modern technology and a pruning of nonessential performers would provide greater precision at less cost. Salary savings will permit replacement of old equipment. Many violinists still use Stradivarius violins, long out of production.
Orchestral tours typify fiscal irresponsibility. They are neither cost effective nor musically justified in an era of tape and long-playing records.
The federal government ought not to dictate how orchestras spend their funds. But, because unthinking critics have expressed concern, some of it perhaps sincere, about the effects of needed budget cuts, it is appropriate to note that realistic options exist.
Option I: Reduce orchestral size to that available to Hadyn at the Esterhazy estate. A major reason why Hadyn wrote more than 104 symphonies and why post-Hadyn productivity declined was that he did not have to contrive parts to justify using 100 or more players. Because audiences expect to see a full stage it may be desirable during a transition period to hire teen-agers at sub-minimum wages to simulate playing music. It must be emphasized that no truly capable musicians will lose their jobs.
Option II: Dismiss all musicians. A hidden tape will provide music; actors will simulate performers. No home stereo will ever match the thrill of a tape in Lincoln Center. Critics might recall that younger concertgoers are used to rock singers mouthing lyrics.
Option II significantly reduces the musical demands made upon the conductor, thus giving appointing boards a wider pool of actors from which to appoint their music directors, principal conductors, principal guest conductors, associate conductors, etc.
Ironically, tight budgets may facilitate the improvement and maintenance of our national superiority in music. Less rehearsal time and fewer players should encourage the performance of music that takes little time and has few parts. These specifications are best met by the scores of Anton Webern and his followers. It's appropriate to encourage music based on his no-frills system since his teacher was Arnold Schoenberg, an American citizen by choice. What's more pointedly American than the 12-tone system that gives all notes a chance to be heard but preserves competition as to their duration, volume and distribution among musicians.
Association with Webern has obvious political benefits. It answers those questioning our devotion to equal opportunity or to upholding the antitrust laws. Monopoly control is exemplified by the Beethoven Fifth Symphony in which output is dominated by a few notes. In the end it is the listening public that pays for the waste. Performance of Webern and his followers can end the race of rising costs and inflated ticket prices.