Money concerns force DSO to drop concert
Britten's 'Requiem' 'very expensive'
One of the headliner concerts promised for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's 2007-08 season is being scratched. Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, which was to have been performed under principal guest conductor Claus Peter Flor, will be replaced by another program because of money concerns.
"We were reviewing the budget for next year, and we determined the need to make a few programming adjustments," says Fred Bronstein, president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Association. "It's a very expensive piece to produce, and we just determined it would be prudent to postpone it."
You know, I understand that the War Requiem is an expensive piece to perform. It requires a full orchestra, a chamber orchestra, a full chorus, a boys' choir and soloists, and it's still a rental piece. It's modern and difficult and probably not a huge audience draw, although every time I've seen it performed, it has been to a full house.
However, in a time of war, when the message of Benjamin Britten and Wilfred Owen is as relevant as ever before, and particularly in a community as conservative as Dallas, in which support for the president's increasingly unpopular and idiotic war remains inconceivably high, it is, in my opinion, impossible to cancel a performance of this piece without covering yourself in the stink of artistic cowardice.
I mean, the War Requiem didn't get more expensive to perform in the time since it was programmed by the DSO. But the statement that it stood to make about the futility and pity of war? That just becomes more relevant and desperate (and controversial, at least in this town) by the day. The War Requiem is a vastly important work, one that an audience has much to learn from. It represents the very best of what a contemporary symphony orchestra should be trying to accomplish, bringing music of the highest quality and most significant social relevance to a community. Canceling a performance like this one, even for financial reasons (or perhaps especially so) doesn't just disrespect the veterans who have faced these issues in a slightly more harrowing setting than a cushy concert hall. It disrespects art.
Because I have become a grouchy old man, I sent an email saying as much to the DSO back in May. After getting a response from an anonymous Patron Services Center representative (a response that felt like a canned response, which I found to be a hopeful sign since it suggests I'm not the only person who responded negatively), I sent the following, which pretty accurately represents my current thinking about the issue and the responsibility of artists in troubled times.
I did not receive a response. I did not require one.
Subject: War Requiem
Date: May 21, 2007
I understand the financial difficulties of putting together a performance like that. But it is also unfortunate and frankly suspect timing that this piece should find itself on the block in the midst of a controversial and politically charged time of war. Britten's piece is divorced of politics, addressing instead the undeniable horror, futility and suffering of war, topics that go beyond politics and patriotism and force the listener, no matter what their partisan beliefs, to look deeper. Regardless of the financial reasons for doing so, canceling your performance of this piece in particular sends a strong message, and not a positive one.
Music matters. The artistic choices that an orchestra makes send a message to a community. If this is a matter of purely financial concern, then I and a great many other will be watching your choice of replacement repertoire with great interest. I wish you the best of luck in maintaining your organization's artistic integrity as you make that choice.