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Dear San Diego Symphony,
You know I love you. In over 10 years of subscribing to both the Jacobs Masterworks Series and the San Diego Opera, we’ve seen a lot of each other over the years. Your performances have only gotten more consistently excellent, and you’ve frequently thrilled me by playing pieces I particularly adore, showcasing your talented players in concertos and commissioning new works.
But I confess: the line-up for the 2013-2014 Jacobs Masterworks Series leaves me, if not cold, then lukewarm, so I have to ask: Can we please change things up a bit?
Do We Need That Much Romantic Music?
Don’t get me wrong: I love that you’re doing a Beethoven Festival, even though you did one three years ago. Beethoven is undeniably great. Besides, he’s a bridge between the mannerly Classical sound of Mozart and the expansive Romantic music of Brahms and Tchaikovsky, so I don’t see that as a problem.
But I added up the dates of composition for all of the pieces in the series and found that the average date for the entire season is 1845, meaning the average age of each piece is 168. It’d be one thing if this were the result of some 20th century music being countered by a good amount of music from the Classical or Baroque periods, but the very oldest piece on the slate is Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.
And that’s the only Mozart. There’s no Haydn, Bach, Vivaldi or Handel.
The Bernstein/Gershwin concert and the two brand-new commissioned works hardly make a dent in the average because of 38 pieces on the roster, more than half were written between 1805 and 1910 and fit pretty squarely into the Romantic period. Admittedly, there’s a lot of great music from the Romantic period, but it’s hardly the be-all, end-all of the Western canon.
Where Are the Great 20th Century Composers?
It’s a tricky business to name the “greatest” composers or works of any period, but lists of great 20th century composers usually include the likes of Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti and Igor Stravinsky. Of those composers, only two will be played next season: Béla Bartok (Violin Concerto No. 2) and Dmitri Shostakovich (Symphony No. 15). And what of the great American composers, like Aaron Copland, Steve Reich or John Adams, whose music is both rich and immediately accessible? Not a squeak.
Format = Zzzz
Of the 13 concerts, nine fit the same format: one or two short pieces to open, then a slightly longer piece like a concerto, followed by a large-format work, like a symphony.
In an ideal world, this would give the audience a wide variety of styles of music to enjoy and allow the organization to slip some newer or lesser-known pieces in with the famous pieces that audiences turn out for, not unlike canny parents who blend kale or spinach into their children’s fruit smoothies. To be fair, three of the 13 concerts do this. But by programming such a preponderance of music from a single period, the opportunity to showcase the ensemble’s stylistic diversity is lost amid the Romantic chestnuts.
You know I’ll stand by you and renew my subscription despite these concerns. I’m really excited to hear the one late-20th century symphony you have programmed because I know you’ll play its socks off.
But please bear all this in mind when you’re planning the 2014-2015 season. Don’t be afraid to program more pieces and composers who you haven’t played before. Don’t be afraid to load a masterworks concert with short pieces or just one or two long ones. We trust you to play what you select beautifully. Trust us to appreciate it.