Magazine article The New Yorker

Rite of Spring

Magazine article The New Yorker

Rite of Spring

Article excerpt

Rite of Spring

The Shift Festival, a convocation of orchestras in Washington, D.C.

Some concerts were presented outdoors, among the cherry blossoms of the Tidal Basin.

"I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty": John F. Kennedy's words, carved in the white marble cliffs of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., have always seemed more wistful than hopeful. These days, with brutality and ugliness in the ascendant, they have a critical edge. On a recent visit to Washington, I often had the sense that the graven voices of the memorials were speaking in admonishing tones. Jefferson: "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind." F.D.R.: "We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization." Kennedy, again: "This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor."

I was in town for the first edition of the Shift Festival, a convocation of four American orchestras, which was presented by the Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts, with events unfolding at the center and at other venues around the city. No evident political agenda motivated the festival, and yet the proceedings couldn't help colliding with the crises of the day. Whenever the National Endowment for the Arts was mentioned at one of the Kennedy Center concerts--Shift was funded partly by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which, in turn, relies on the N.E.A.--raucous cheers went up from the audience. In a speech introducing a performance by the Boulder Philharmonic, Jared Polis, a Democratic congressman from Colorado, brought up the Republican plan to eliminate the N.E.A., triggering loud boos.

Such hints of partisanship may have made some participants nervous--classical-music institutions tend to flee from politics, as from everything else current--but to my mind they only assisted in the festival's aim, which is to encourage fresh thinking in orchestral programming and presentation. Shift takes inspiration from a defunct Carnegie Hall event, Spring for Music, which, from 2011 to 2014, attracted two dozen orchestras and much offbeat fare to New York City. One trouble with Spring for Music was that the inventiveness of the programs often got swallowed up in Carnegie's Gilded Age grandeur. At the Kennedy Center, the emphasis on new and native music seemed more pointed, emphasizing connections between allegedly elite institutions and modern life. Thirteen of the fifteen works in the festival were by Americans, most still living. Delegations from the orchestras were able to visit elected officials and demonstrate their public-spiritedness.

I attended the first half of the six-day festival, catching a flurry of events involving the Boulder Philharmonic and the North Carolina Symphony. (The Atlanta Symphony and the Knights, the Brooklyn-based chamber orchestra, came later.) The Boulderites were particularly zealous in challenging traditional concert formats. On a brilliant spring morning, with the cherry blossoms in bloom, ensembles drawn from the orchestra's ranks--a string quartet, a piano-and-violin duo, a woodwind quintet, and a percussion trio--stationed themselves around the Tidal Basin, within earshot, variously, of F.D.R., Jefferson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The results were captivating, despite gusts of wind that occasionally sent music stands tumbling. The woodwinds, whose penetrating tones gave them an acoustical advantage, waylaid tourists with the quintet version of Beethoven's Sextet Opus 71. Staffers were on hand to explain the festival to passersby--the sort of grassroots promotion that has become essential in the classical business.

The Boulder Philharmonic also offered musical nature hikes in Rock Creek Park. Dave Sutherland, a music-loving employee of the Boulder Parks Department, has been leading such walks in recent years, illustrating elements of the orchestra's programs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.