The Arts: Beyond Reviews and Revenues

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New attention was focused on so many aspects of the musical arts during the ' 70s -- in large measure because of the increased use of television to bring the major orchestras, and ballet and opera companies (including the Metropolitan) to wider audiences.

For instance, it was estimated that more people saw the first Met telecast of Puccini's "La Boheme" (1976) with Luciano Pavarotti and Renata Scotto than have ever, or will ever, actually hear the work in an opera house.

This widespread interest led also to the proliferation of small professional or even community orchestras and opera companies. More people have become actively involved with music in performance on a grass-roots level -- in performance, in administration, or by attending. Music became a vital part of more people's lives than could have been imagined in the past.

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Big business also began discovering the tangible promotional and image-related benefits of supporting the arts in America. The increasingly costly process of presenting live music found substantial underwriting, from business as well as the National Endowment for the Arts. One benefit from this corporate support has been the increased ability of orchestras to tour cities large and small.

Meanwhile, the actual creating of music has seen a substantial change. Gunther Schuller stated the case eloquently during a Fromm Music Week at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood, in Massachusetts. Composers, he said, had done a lot of experimenting with a new language that has taken music into realms never before deemed possible or comprehensible. But he also felt that exploration had become a means into itself -- that composers were writing for peers or to fulfill theories, rather than from inspiration.

By mid-decade, this trend came to a crossroads. Suddenly composers like George Rochberg rejected their atonal "serial" roots and began writing melodic, tonal music.

Naturally, some have called this a betrayal, but many others have welcomed the greater honesty they feel this switch represents. Whatever the arguments, many composers have reassessed their styles. Suddenly, accesibility and emotional impact no longer carry the unflattering overtones they did at the beginning of the '70s.

This is not to say that those composers who had found something meaningful to say in a non-melodic idiom have found it necessary to change. These ontinue to contribute meaningfully to the entire scope of new music.

And where recordings have helped to get new music out and available, again the cost factors and the slender market- ability have created problems that have stymied the potential impact of recordings. Again, with few exceptions, only if foundation funds or other ways of financing have been made available, do major works get recorded by the big companies.

The evidence of a real groundswell for live music, opera, and ballet has been one of the most encouraging signs of the past decade. But the creative side -- compositions that add to the ongoing tradition that keeps these ensembles from being merely museum pieces -- is not having its outlet.

This will be one of the major challenges of the '80s. So will containing the spiraling costs of the arts so that we do not quickly revert to an elitist situation.

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