Tale of Two Cities and Two Conductors: Let us first consider Cincinnati, where the wind-chill factor goes as low as minus 59 for certain famous football games. Funny thing: The effectis a least as chilly in Cincinnati whenever American composers surface.
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra recently announced its programs for the 1982-83 season. On 24 subscription concerts to be played between the end of September and the middle of May, there is not one single, solitary note of American music. Naturally there's Beethoven, Mozart, Bruckner, Mahler and Richard Strauss; there are quantities of Dvora'k and Barto'k, and some Berg, Schoenberg, Schreker and Nono. Debussy is there along with Ravel, Falla, and Saint-Sae ns. Nor will Busoni, Stravinsky, Henze and even Mauricio Kagel be neglected in the Queen City on the banks of the Ohio River. Jana'cek and Walton, Wagner and Haydn are to be heard, and Lutoslawski. There will be performances of "Sho-Ko" by Maki Ishi, and Elgar and Rachmaninoff.
But no Americans need apply for a hearing in the beautifully renovated Music Hall that is one of the chief musical adornments of Cincinnati.
Who is the music director of the fine symphony orchestra in the city that is, in so many ways, quintessentially American? His name is Michael Gielen. He was born in Dresden, Germany, on July 20, 1927. He was named the new conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony without ever having conducted the orchestra or having met its musicians. He has a solid reputation as a conductor of the music of the Viennese school of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. What he does not have is any interest in music written by composers who have, for a full century, been writing in this country music that needs no apology.
To give Gielen the benefit of whatever doubt may be appropriate, it is to be hoped that his stance is more a product of unfamiliarity with American music than of open contempt for it. There is something insulting to all creators of the riches of this country's grand orchestral repertoire to think of listing their names, but just in case Gielen has never been pointed in the right direction, let me recall just a few:
The New England School of Chadwick, Foote, Beach, MacDowell, Parker and their friends; the singular Charles Ives whose innovations pre-date and parallel those of Schoenberg; the Chicagoans Carpenter, LaMontaine and Sowerby; Easterners of several generations: Copland, Harris, Thomson and Thompson, Piston, Palmer, Foss, Riegger, Sessions, Schuman, Barber, Bernstein; and then the Westerners: Stevens, Imbrie, Kohs, Harrison and Rudyhar. These names may well be unknown not only to Gielen but to many thousands who regularly attend orchestral concerts in this country. If they are unfamiliar, it is because for so long so few conductors of our major orchestras have felt any strong, continuing desire to investigate the music being created in the United States.
Now let us consider another conductor, also born in Europe, also born in 1927. His name is Mstislav Rostropovich and he is just four months older than his Cincinnati counterpart. Both men are the sons of musicians. But there the similarities seem to end.
Here on the banks of the Potomac, where the wind-chill factor has also been quite cold enough, thank you very much, Rostropovich consistently champions the music of this country's composers. Nor is his enthusiasm for American music confined simply to programming. He has already, in five years as music director of the National Symphony, brought both Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein to Washington for gala evenings marking major birthdays, rightly hailing both of them as national treasures.
More importantly, Rostropovich is following directly in the footsteps of those earlier European-born predecessors who were great conductors of American orchestra in previous generations: Frederick Stock, Leopold Stokowski and Serge Koussevitzky. Those were men who, thanks to active musical intellectual curiosities, sought out and regularly conducted the newest music of this country. They did it not out of a sense of duty but because of their conviction that the music created in their new homeland was of immense value and that it was essential that the orchestras of such major music centers as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston should play that music for their audiences. There is no question that had those three great orchestral leaders not discharged their responsibilities to American music as they did, we would never have come to know that music that is today established as the superb central core of our musical heritage.
Let us consider, then, the National Symphony Orchestra's programs for the same 1982-83 season, the same number of weeks as Cincinnati's. Last Tuesday Rostropovich unveiled his plans for the coming season. Four major American works are already scheduled. Emphasizing the importance he places on American composers, Rostropovich will be conducting music commissioned by the National Symphony: an overture by Stephen Burton, one of today's most talented younger composers, whose music has been commissioned and played by the Chicago Symphony and who will enjoy three major premieres in the current calendar year.
He will also conduct another NSO-commissioned major composition for chorus and orchestra by Jacob Druckman, a recent Pulitzer Prize winner, professor of music at Yale and one of the country's leading composers. When Christopher Keene appears with the National Symphony as a guest conductor in November, he will give the local premiere of a new suite called "Three Hallucinations," which composer John Corigliano has adapted from his film score for the movie, "Altered States." And, reaching back again to the Koussevitzky era, Rostropovich will revive the handsome Suite for Strings by Arthur Foote, a reminder of the distinguished quality of music written in this country at the turn of this century.
Strange parallel and strange divergence: By one great American river the foreign-born conductor of one of our leading orchestras has not placed a note of American music in an entire season. By another great American river, the foreign-born conductor of another of our leading orchestras is continuing the policy that has been his since he first began to conduct in the United States. It's good to be in Washington with Rostropovich and the National Symphony.