We were dismayed to read in the New York papers last month that Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts seems to be abandoning its Mostly Mozart Festival. It now appears that by the summer of 1996 this popular concert series devoted to Mozart, his contemporaries, and his followers will have come to an end. By discontinuing the twenty-seven-year-old festival—which presented six concerts a week for seven weeks each summer—Lincoln Center will be shifting its attention away from the performance of great music. Attention and funds will now be redirected to theater and dance at the New York State Theater just across from the festival’s home, Avery Fisher Hall.
Although the press appears to have done its level best to discover why Lincoln Center may be gutting this world-famous music series, no official answers have been forthcoming. One reason, perhaps, is that the New York Philharmonic—which under the baton of Kurt Masur has been a box-office failure at Carnegie Hall—now wishes to schedule its entire concert season at Avery Fisher Hall. But that cannot be the whole story. A more likely explanation is that the management of Lincoln Center—like the management of most of our cultural institutions these days—has succumbed to the craving for novelty and media attention. Despite its success, the Mostly Mozart Festival is no longer “news.” Although it attracts large audiences who come to hear great but familiar music, it is not controversial, avant-garde, “cutting edge.” Of course, to regard this as a criticism of a series founded to perform classical music is absurd. But such is the situation we find ourselves in today, when the very notion of a “classic” is widely attacked as oppressively elitist.
The problem is that great music can only remain a living presence if it is made available continuously and inexpensively. Of course older, experienced concert-goers are reasonably familiar with Mozart; of course it is these music lovers who make up a major share of the audience at Mozart concerts, as they do at concerts of other masterpieces. Merely to note that this music is beloved by already sophisticated listeners, and therefore hardly needs repeated exposure, is to ignore that there are younger listeners who have not been so fortunate. Being the products of our wretched educational system and our perverse popular culture, these younger listeners stand to lose the most when music administrators—along with their earnest collaborators, the jaded music critics—decide that it’s time to use philanthropic funding to put on novelties from around the world and provocations from other, so-called interdisciplinary, art forms.
Because new people are born every day, a new audience for the classics is also born every day. Records and CDs provide a valuable resource, but they are no substitute for the culture of live performance. The Mostly Mozart Festival is one of our premier repositories of that culture, and its planned dismantling marks a great loss in the artistic life of this country.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 12 Number 10, on page 2
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