Friday, November 5, 2010

Mass Appeal

Barack Obama was not the only public figure to endure a heavy coat of shellac this week.  Joshua Kosman had much to say about the “less than exciting debut” of conductor Carlos Kalmar on the podium of the San Francisco Symphony in Davies Symphony Hall this week, particularly regarding his interpretation of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.  I make this observation to call attention not to my own alternative point of view over on but to the first comment submitted by a reader at the San Francisco Chronicle Web site.  That comment, submitted by “lindalipscomb” at 8:15 AM this morning chose to refute Kosman’s judgment with the following sentence:

Witness the prolonged standing ovations afterward given from the audience.

Since I was in Davies at the time, I can affirm that there was, indeed, an enthusiastic ovation;  but does that say anything about the nature of the performance?  As far as I am concerned, all it says is that, in the performing arts, there are any number of bravura gestures that have been calculated to trigger ovation responses.  It is hard to imagine that Orff did not saturate this particular secular cantata with such gestures;  but, even if he didn’t, just about every conductor who performs this work finds ways to do so.  Kalmar was no exception;  and Kosman’s review grants this proposition, even if grudgingly.

The real question, however, is whether or not one makes a judgment call on the basis of what is basically a reflex audience response.  Personally, I feel that there ought to be more to a serious listening experience than operant conditioning.  As I examine Kosman’s text, I feel justified in assuming that he shares my opinion.  Presumably, those who read written accounts of performances are more interested in the nature of the performance than in that of the audience response;  but I suppose there will always be those who read only for the sake of finding affirmation of opinions they have already formed!

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