Today, James Oestreich at The Times reports on a single, lonesome “boo” that was sent into the air after the performance of Webern’s “Five Canons After Latin Texts” during a Friday evening Mostly Mozart Festival concert.
I suppose a boo, even a single boo, in our age of concert complacency, is something to report on, especially since, often, at classical concerts, one is not sure if the audience is even dead or alive. So, a boo, at least, is a sign of life and a particular order of vitality.
But Oestreich’s article casually assumes that the boo had a single, identifiable origin: a predjudice against atonal music.
The concert in question (which C.C. did not attend), was a mixed bill of Mozart and Webern. Oestreich’s report claims that the boo came after the first Webern set. Now, I can see how one might assume that since no one booed after the first Mozart set, that, well, someone booing after the first Webern set would mean that of course the booer was aiming his ammunition at the ugly, crass atonal fare.
But there are other reasons people boo in concerts. Like, for instance, if the performer sucks.
I bring this up because Oestreich, in his piece, gives no indication as to the quality of performance during the first Webern set. Not knowing Christianne Oelze, the soprano, I cannot assume anything about her performance. But the review never says she sang the songs well, nor that the clarinetists performed their jobs to perfection. (Oestreich even criticizes some “questionable utterances from the winds” in a later Mozart piece. And, come on, if you’re fucking up Mozart, chances are your Webern isn’t going to be flawless…)
The assumption here is that the boo was really only about musical aesthetics. I’m not saying it wasn’t, since individuals opposed to atonality have rarely been ones to keep it to themselves, but I think Oestreich could have done a better job of ruling out other possibilities, rather than letting the readers assume that Webern’s music is the obvious cause of outrage.
To his credit, Oestreich seems to attempt to be even-minded, even pro-risk when it comes to Louis Langre’s desire to broaden audiences’ tastes by programming atonal fare. But, there is still this rote manner through which he addresses Webern’s presence in the concert; as in the way he describes the boo as being “provoked”, or when he writes that the all-Mozart second half of the program “smoothed over any possible offense.”
Mozart can be just as offensive as Webern, especially if you’re hearing it for the ten billionth time, which is likely.
Or, especially if you’re hearing it because some retarded programing exec believes that’s all you ever want to hear.