The Faces on the Stage

Allan Kozinn reviews a concert by the Juilliard String Quartet, joined by clarinetist Charles Neidich, playing music by Wolfganag Mozart, Ralph Shapey (premiere), Elliott Carter, and Johannes Brahms.

A correspondent notes (after reading the review and seeing the photo that accompanies it):

Call me a grump, but 5 old white guys playing old/dead white guys’ music doesn’t thrill me so much. (Quoted with permission)

This is an interesting observation, and brings up an important issue in opening up our music to broader audiences. I do think that it is more a matter of presentation than of substance, and I think my correspondent would agree:

On the flip side, a woman’s presence doesn’t make it automatically better.

I don't think I've been to a concert recently where the faces on the stage were as old and as white and as male as this one. In fact, the only pictures like this one I've seen recently were a George Bush bill-signing and a GOP presidential debate, but at least Neidich and the Juilliards had musical instruments in their hands.

It's a complicated issue. Elliott Carter is quite old, but he wasn't at the time he wrote his Second Quartet, and the Juilliard Quartet was present at its creation, so there is a connection to youth in their performance. Ralph Shapey was old when he wrote 2 for 5, but the piece itself is young. Mozart never was old, but he was white and he is long dead. Brahms was near the end of his life when he wrote the Clarinet Quintet, but it is precisely that work's autumnal glow that we cherish.

The point is not about eliminating DWMs from the culture, or even old ones (pop would thin out pretty damn fast, no?), or about criticizing the Juilliard Quartet; it's about providing as many ways into concert music for people without experience in it. People notice the make-up of ensembles and programs, and it's not limited to "PC"-types and liberals: My correspondent is a political and social conservative.


  1. Anonymous3:54 PM

    My esteemed, "liberal" correspondent has educated and enlightened me over the years. He exposes me to music I wouldn't ordinarily have much access to. A lot of it is composed/performed by women. His blogroll includes many accomplished females.

    When I see a review that doesn't include a representative of half the world's population, I find it rather surprising.

    So you can blame Steve for my "idiocy."

  2. I find this DWM argument to be a bit juvenile, particularly in the context of classical music.

    Classical music is a tradition from Western Europe, which up until 1950 was 99% white. Composers of this music can do nothing to help the fact that they are dead anymore than they can change the colour of their skin.

    The gender portion of the argument has a modicum of merit but again, a composer/performer cannot help what gender he/she is. Sure, women were historically not afforded the same opportunities as men but no amount of handwringing on our part can change something that has already happened.

    Equality, if there even is such a thing, goes both ways. The feminist idea that women are inherently better than men is, frankly, repugnant.

    If your correspondant is not interested in things created by DWM, than she chooses a life without the Western canon of art in all disciplines, not to mention the majority of scientific and medical discoveries.

    Not reading Shakespeare, hearing Mahler or seeing Guernica just because their creators lack melanin, have an extra dangly bit and are no longer breathing, is nothing short of masochism. In doing so, you deny yourself innumerable sources of pleasure and beauty...for what?

  3. Anonymous8:28 AM

    I love a lot of men, their "dangly bits" and many of their contributions to this life.

    I am simply surprised and a little bored in this day and age when a cultural program totally excludes women, particularly one that includes 20th century music.

    As a paean to the past the concert served admirably, as do a depressing number of concerts all over the world. When young women don't see their gender represented in a field, it is more unlikely they will ever set such goals of excellence for themselves.

    I understand that complex economic and practical issues come into play, and many music institutions are even more conservative than I, but I see a lot of short-sightedness. The entire Juilliard Quintet will eventually join the ranks of DWM, and the institution will have made it more difficult, from the lack of example, to replace the ensemble with musicians who can appeal to 21st century audiences.

  4. Anonymous wrote: The entire Juilliard Quintet [sic] will eventually join the ranks of DWM, and the institution will have made it more difficult, from the lack of example, to replace the ensemble with musicians who can appeal to 21st century audiences.

    What do you imagine the Juilliard Quartet is? Some bloody rock band? They’re not up there to pander to the tastes of “21st century audiences.” They’re an ensemble comprised of first-rate musicians dedicated to their art and to the performance of great music for whatever audiences value both.

    Period. Full stop.

    Nothing else matters. Nothing!


  5. Anonymous10:45 AM

    And for that reason, you are possibly looking at one of the last all-male JQs.

  6. I do agree with ACD in theory although if he could dial down the vitriol a tad, we may have a more illuminating discussion.

    Sure, we may be looking at the last all male JSQ but I fail to see how that is at all relevant to anything.

    The idea that the JSQ has a social obligation to swap out one of its members for a woman on the grounds that they are discouraging young women from aspiring to play music is nonsense.

    The JSQ is not the only SQ in existence, and in my experience, there is at least one woman in nearly every chamber ensemble I've ever heard over the last 10 years.

    I recently attended a concert of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble and I was surprised to see that all eight members were male. That's how rare it is these days.

  7. The Omniscient Mussel wrote: I do agree with ACD in theory although if he could dial down the vitriol a tad, we may have a more illuminating discussion.

    Illuminating to whom? There’s no illuminating the Anonymous types. One can’t win them over by informed, reasoned argument. All one can do is to rub their noses in their own ignorant and mindless equalitarian idiocy. Vitriolic response to that idiocy is the quickest way to accomplish that.


  8. Illuminating to both sides. The point of a discussion is not to convert, but to volley back and forth. It is impossible to convert someone, they must decide for themselves that they are going to change their opinion. A discussion only facilitates this by getting alternative viewpoints some airtime.

    Wait a minute...how did Miss Mussel end up defending Anonymous? Oh dear.

  9. Miss Mussel wrote: Illuminating to both sides. The point of a discussion is not to convert, but to volley back and forth.

    Indeed it is. You’ll get no argument from me on that point.

    After several decades of on-and-off discussion with such mindless creatures on this matter, however, my patience for such discussion has reached its limit. At bottom, people like Anonymous have no interest in music, art, aesthetics, or anything else of real importance. Their only interest is to impose their imbecile equalitarian will wherever and whenever they can. That will is anathema to the domain of art, the only domain where equalitarian has no place whatsoever; is in fact inimical to that domain’s essential nature which is elitist through and through as it ought and needs to be, much as we all wish it were otherwise.

    You want there to be discussion with Anonymous? You do the honors. I’ve done my time on the front lines and know the utter futility of such an enterprise.


  10. Blogger managed to eat two postings of mine - one of them said "I've addressed this issue at my blog," the other was more substantive. I doubt I will be able to reconstruct much of it.

    Omniscient Mussel - It's not your main point, but I missed where anyone either claimed that women are inherently superior to men or that feminism claims this. Feminism has many mansions; sure, there are people in one or two claiming female superiority, but not many.

    See Iron Tongue of Midnight for a longish response to this whole discussion.

  11. Anonymous4:27 PM

    While, it seems generally A Good Thing that the world of classical music performers is no longer an exclusive white man's club, I nevertheless consider it a serious cultural defect to devote overmuch attention to the "racial" and sexual demographics of chamber ensembles.

    I'm as much a devotee as anybody of the music of DWM, and of the notion of an artistic "canon" in general. I only decry these things where they appear to be limiting our artistic experiences rather than expanding them.

    I still thrill to the experience of Unexplored Territory -- by which I mean musical sensibilities that are new to me. And most of those experiences will now be outside the canon.

    After all, it's really not a zero-sum game!

    Bill Brice

  12. Lisa--> you are right, the ultra-militant portion of the feminist camp is the minority and Miss Mussel has used these few as a representative for the whole, a behaviour that Miss Mussel finds shortsighted and childish in others. There must be a mirror around here somewhere...perhaps Miss Mussel should have a look in it :)

    Bill--> Are you the original anonymous or a second one? Miss Mussel was certain you weren't a dangler!

  13. Anonymous4:57 PM

    All my anonymouses are signed with my real name. I would not want to assume the identity of that most prolific composer of all history!

    And, no, I am in nowise dangle-deficient.

    Bill Brice