There was an interesting email in my inbox this morning. It was from the American Youth Symphony, inviting me "to sponsor America's Hot Musician, a new national television program debuting on the Oxygen Network this summer, created to spark interest in INSTRUMENTAL music within the nation's schools and the MTV/Hip Hop Generation." My interest was piqued; here's more from the program's website.
One the ideas I visit often is the challenge of understanding a work of art in its own context; that is, to try and imagine, for instance, what an impressionist canvas by Monet would have looked like to a viewer contemporary with its creation. How would it have been perceived by eyes accustomed to realism in visual art? How striking and daring would the colors and textures have seemed? Or to imagine--beyond what they literally sounded like, as with the period instrument movement--just how unexpected Beethoven's symphonies were to his audiences' perceptual worlds. How would the motivic play, the technicolor orchestration and suicidal speed, have thrilled listeners whose cutting edge was Mozart? Or how about the truly wild Symphonie Fantastique from Hector Berlioz only a scant six years after Beethoven's revolutionary Ninth?
It can also be important to understand that some works, when considered this way, stripped of the affectionate, context-free veneer of history's storytelling, may have a very different character than is currently popularly ascribed.
Here's a link to a great article about the state of U.S. opera by the L.A. Times music critic Mark Swed. What I like most about Swed's writing is that he writes from a non-East Coast point of view.
For all the attention being lavished on the innovations at New York's Metropolitan Opera and the ones expected at its Lincoln Center neighbor, New York City Opera, there is, right now, no center to American opera.