The whole machinery runs like an exercise in Palestrina counterpoint: carefully regulated to avoid any kind of discord. (And then everyone wonders why classical music doesn’t get more attention in the media!)
I’m reminded of an old saying: “Don’t get in a fight with a skunk.” You might win the fight, but you won’t come out of it smelling very nice. However, in this case, it seems that neither side will emerge with a pretty scent.
It’s considered no dishonour for an orchestra to rent itself out for recording purposes. (The London Symphony Orchestra often does it.) But to do so in a concert performance is considered an embarrassment, and a dubious first step on a slippery slope. The Brooklyn Phil appears willing to sell its artistic integrity to the highest bidder.
And for a composer to sue an orchestra that has presented his music badly or wrongly – especially if he hired the ensemble – looks like a self-inflicted wound. What composer wants to be seen to be buying his or her progress in the musical world? And other orchestras might think twice about performing Currier’s music, now that they see the lengths he’ll go to settle the score (so to speak) if he’s unhappy with the results.
At present, the case raises some very obvious and specific questions. How did the issue of the work’s duration go unresolved until the time of its premiere? Why did the Brooklyn Phil not abide by the last-minute cuts made by the composer?
But beyond these nuts-and-bolts matters, the conflict sheds light on some larger concerns – that may or may not be answered as this case draws on. How common is it for composers to hire orchestras to perform their music? Why, exactly, is this practice considered shameful? Is there any way to go about it that would make it more respectable? Or is this a road that neither performers nor composers should ever venture down?
And, at the bottom of it all lie even more fundamental questions. Has the relationship between composers and orchestras become so strained nowadays that what ought to be a common artistic goal – the performance of a world premiere – can easily descend into an adversarial relationship? What are a composer’s and an orchestra’s “good faith” obligations to each other when they are working together – regardless of the financial arrangements?
Personally, I suspect that both Currier and the Brooklyn Phil made the mistake of entering into an agreement in which each, deep down, felt “used” by the other. No good can come from that sort of thing.
You can hear a brief excerpt from Currier’s Gaian Variations online. (Go here, click on “samples,” and scroll down till you find it.)
© 2013 Colin Eatock