I believe that orchestras are going to survive, in their own communities, based upon their relationship with their own communities. I am a firm believer that they cannot build that relationship without any recognition of the artists within those communities.
– Ed Harsh, President and CEO of New Music USA
Recently, a handful of active composers within the Cleveland community wrote an open letter in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer articulately calling into question the Cleveland Orchestra’s upcoming season and its painful lack of American music. The orchestra’s transgression: in a season that comprises roughly 70 pieces, only a single work is that of an American composer. In such a musically active and creative American city, composers Keith Fitch, Clint Needham, Jeffrey Mumford, Andrew Rindfleisch, Greg D’Alessio, Liza Grossman, and Margaret Brouwer have had enough – they, along with many others, want to see a change to this age-old problem.
Last week, Naomi Lewin, host of WQXR’s Conducting Business, invited our President and CEO Ed Harsh to discuss the topic with the letter’s co-signer Keith Fitch, alongside Simon Woods, the executive director of the Seattle Symphony.
It goes without saying that a letter such as Fitch’s resonates deeply with our entire organization. But Ed charges composers with an equally important call for action, arguing, “There is a very important piece of responsibility on the composer’s side, which is: if you are going to talk community and if you’re going to make the case of your role as a positive member of the community, you have to act that way. Doing this challenges you on a lot of levels; some of them personal, some of them on the level of your public persona. It also challenges what music you’re writing. That can become slightly uncomfortable for composers like me, in my generation, who are brought up on the 19th century notion of ‘the artist knows best,’ and everybody else has to kowtow. That’s not where we are. We’ve got a role in it too.”