|Jun. 27th, 2011 @ 04:26 pm on orchestras...|
|Why my criteria matter - Sandow:
Why should it matter, to measure orchestra quality in such detail?Well, repertoire matters, and hand-in-hand with that is the expectations by the audience (as well as the musical director and the orchestra itself). A local orchestra may not be expected to take on Ligeti or Takemitsu, or may be expected based on the conductor to take on new (generally tonal) music more often (Seattle under Schwartz, or Baltimore under Alsop, both of whom are champions of new composers, and new American composers at that).
Because, to begin with, we for the most part discuss how well orchestras play only in the most general way. We have an idea, let's say, that Cleveland (or at least this used to be the belief) stands above most American orchestra. Or that Berlin might be the best orchestra in the world. But what exactly do we mean by that?
Or we think that San Francisco, under MTT, stands very high. But do we mean that their programming does, or their playing? How does their playing rank, compared to other American orchestras their size?
Compare this to what any baseball fan knows. You're a Mets fan? If you're serious about it, you know their strengths and weaknesses, position by position. Stellar shortstop, really good third baseman (though he's injured), promising young first baseman (also injured), left fielder who forgot how to hit.
So, too, the San Francisco you cite - I really don't know MTT's tastes beyond what shows up on the PBS shows, which are mostly early and late Romantic, or tonal 20th Century (Copland). Even his late-period Stravinsky recording was with the LSO. For those that don't "live with the orchestra", its hard for us to know how large a range of material it is they play.
So in this, the baseball analogy does somewhat fall short. In baseball, everybody plays, well, baseball. Orchestras are judged by the quality of the "core" rep (the Beethoven cycle, the Brahms cycle, the Wagner operas, Stravinsky's Rite, Debussy's Faun), the diversity of works they play in a particular period, and the diversity of periods they can play, much of which is the decision of the board and the orchestra's leads when they select a music director.
This is different again from baseball where the owner (representing the board) selects the manager who drives the emphasis from there. In orchestras, the members have a say in who they pick, which in turn has an impact on what they play as well as how well they play it.
Thus, a comparison of De Moines vs NYPO is much more an apples-oranges comparison than it is to just compare a minor league ball team with a major...and that's even before the ways an orchestra can rise above its status under a talented leader, like Birmingham under Rattle did throughout the 90s (who still knew his limits - Birmingham played a number of Mahler symphonies, but he never recorded the 9th with them...).