The legendary Kolisch Quartet had the singular distinction of playing its entire repertoire from memory, including the impossibly complex modern works of Schoenberg, Webern, Bartok, and Berg. Eugene Lehner was the violist for the quartet in the 1930’s. Lehner’s stories about their remarkable performances often included a hair-raising moment when one player or another had a memory slip. Although he relished the rapport that developed between them without the encumbrance of a music stand, he admits there was hardly a concert in which some mistake did not mar the performance. The alertness, presence, and attention required of the players in every performance is hard to fathom, but in one concert an event occurred that surpassed their ordinary brinkmanship.
I have recently returned to Vietnam to begin the fourth season of the Hanoi New Music Ensemble. My husband Jeff von der Schmidt and I are the first American Artistic Advisors to Vietnam, helping to shape the first professional new music ensemble in the country. The group is moving forward quickly, reflecting our former Ambassador Ted Osius’ observation that “one year in Vietnam is equal to ten years elsewhere.”
Jeff conducts the ensemble and I coach the strings as well as guide administrative development. This is our ninth trip to the country since 2006, and we feel that we have a second home here, with dear friends, familiar audiences, and endless stimulation provided by a different culture evidenced through food, music, architecture, and attitudes.
Osaka, Japan, is usually off the radar of most tourists. It is Japan’s second largest city and contains many of the advantages of Tokyo on a slightly smaller scale. The food scene is one of the most exciting in Japan, with local specialties such as okonomiyaki (a version of a Japanese pizza cooked on a griddle with your choice of ingredients), unusual fish from the ocean nearby, and small restaurants that present Kushikatsu cooking of seemingly endless ingredients grilled on skewers.
The arts scene is also important, with three local symphony orchestras, lots of chamber music, and local theatre and opera such as Bunruku which combines traditional music with life-sized puppets in 500 year-old stories.
Building upon what exists, creating that which does not exist — Culture is something that needs to be nurtured on top of accumulated history and memories. . . . it is about creating a condition where the old and new coexist in a fine balance.
This quote by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando is an accurate observation about the creative process. I recently had the opportunity to attend an important exhibition of his past and present work at the National Arts Center in Tokyo, Japan. I was unfamiliar with his architectural achievements and happy to learn more about this influential and accomplished person.
The Edifice Complex continues to rear its head — yet another new performing arts building is conceived with little thought to the art that will reside inside and outside. Juxtaposed articles in The Scotsman demonstrate clearly how a new building can exacerbate local problems with little interaction with local artists and the community’s music education institutions.
The Edifice Complex demonstrates the income inequality problems of the developed world that have evolved over the past few decades. Wealthy patrons in many cities want to justifiably indicate the maturity of their cultural scene through the construction of a world class facility for the performing arts or a museum to show their collection of priceless treasures.
My observations of our world have a recurring theme — ample resources exist alongside an inability to spend wisely. Whether looking for solutions to the pressing problems of the environment, education, or politics, people who control the money rarely look beyond their individual experience to explore what is best for their community.
In politics, each voice tries to scream the loudest to be heard rather than finding a compromise. We have charter schools with their own focus to the detriment of public education. The oil industry continues to deface our planet for profit. And in the cultural world, we throw money at status entertainment rather than developing paths to future creativity.