by James Hogan
Soon this January we’ll be inaugurating a new president, which got me thinking about democracy and classical music. Whacky, I know.
The New York Times ran an article in December about Gilbert E. Kaplan, a very well-to-do businessman and patron of the arts who has developed an acute passion for Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”). He has had the fortune of conducting the piece with over 50 orchestras around the world, but his most recent performance, a December 8 concert with the New York Philharmonic, was subjected to harsh criticism by some of the Philharmonic’s very own members.
“At best [Mr. Kaplan's] conducting is incompetent. At worst it’s laughable,” one musician is quoted as saying. And there are others disgruntled too, some by the suspicion that the only reason Mr. Kaplan was invited as a guest conductor was his significant monetary contribution to the Philharmonic.
I sheepishly admit that ever since my high school band director made me a drum major, it’s been a far away dream of mine to conduct a symphony in concert. You know–gilded concert hall, tuxedo tails, the whole thing. This article, and the criticism of Mr. Kaplan, make that dream a little more distant. Does a common man belong on the podium? Is it silly to think that if anyone can be the President of the United States, anyone can conduct Mahler?