if i were king of the forest!

Keith Chaffee, proprietor of the fine LA culture (non-pop and pop) blog In Which Our Hero, has asked, in another forum, what you would do if you were Music Director of the Utopia Symphony. Here's my answer:

--shorter concerts and more concerts (the concert music world operates economies of scarcity when they should operate economies of abundance)
--no big name soloists unless they play unusual (and by that I almost always mean "new") repertoire
--frequent premieres; even more frequent second performances
--local composers, especially if they are unaffiliated
--talk about the music from the stage, with examples
--as a general rule, talk about unusual pieces as if they are familiar (I can almost guarantee that they all have effects that everyone has heard before) and the familiar repertoire as if it were fucked up (because it is)
--I would have the occasional concert or semi-staged version of certain operas; it can make you hear them differently, which is always good (NOTE: Keith had said he would not have these, as the are being produced by the Utopia Opera Company)
--give the strings a rest every now and then; the wind/percussion repertoire is rich and expanding
--I'm not sure what you (NOTE: a different poster had called for such explorations) mean by exploring the boundaries between concert and folk music, so I won't comment
--no film music unless the film is being projected behind the orchestra
--no fucking pops; I mean it

EDIT: The indispensable Lisa Hirsch programs the Utopia Opera Company here. 


  1. Well, since I inadvertently started this conversation (thanks for bringing it here, Steve), I'll toss in the things I'd do with my own Utopia Symphony:

    -- we are an American symphony; it will be a rare concert that doesn't have at least one piece of American music on it

    --crossover is a good thing, but the artists involved need to be people who've shown some interest in, and skill for, the classical world. I want to commission a mandolin concerto from Chris Thile; a McFerrin concerto from Bobby McFerrin

    --and on the matter of concertos in general, I want to de-emphasize the holy concerto trinity of piano/violin/cello. Let's feature instruments that don't get a lot of solo love, or aren't even orchestral instruments -- the Rouse flute concerto, Ginastera harp, John Williams tuba, Spivakovsky harmonica. And like Steve, I put less emphasis on star soloists; over a 4-5 year period, I want to give each of my first chair players a moment in the spotlight with a concerto of their choice.

    -- Let's play with structure; not every concert needs to be overture, concerto, intermission, symphony. Why not a half-dozen overture-length pices? Three short concertos? A symphony, repeated after intermission with a different conductor?

    -- I want to take a look at what you could call "ex-warhorses," pieces that were once repertory standards that have fallen out of fashion. Can we rehabilitate them? I'm thinking of pieces like the Franck symphony, or Goldmark's "Rustic Wedding Symphony."

    -- We will NOT be doing choral works, concert performance of operas, or chamber music. In my Utopia, we have the Utopia Chorale, the Utopia Opera Company (and heck, yeah, I'd let Lisa program for them), and the Utopia Chamber Players, all of which are superb.

  2. Thanks, Keith. The end of your post, where you mention the Utopia Chamber Players, initially I thought "What about the Utopia String Quartet?" Then I realized that that is the one place, the string quartet, where the totality of the field is pretty dame close to Utopia.