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The problem with the various classics

diversity? Not again! The claimed diversity is very often the new egalitarianism.

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The problem with the various classics

diversity? Not again! The claimed diversity is very often the new egalitarianism. Especially in the classics. Where one is now ostentatiously remorseful for the transgressions of the past. At least that's how they think it is in the English-speaking world, where they often have a different, more deeply rooted history of racism towards blacks and Asians.

Certainly not so much at a music spectacle as distinguished as the Lucerne Festival, the orchestra gathering on Lake Lucerne that is no longer as posh as it is now, although it has of course done its homework in other areas. With its Motti it wants to challenge at least a little bit.

In 2016, this was achieved with "Primadonna", which focused on female conductors. And only one, fortunately meanwhile, natural development followed. This summer there were at least seven women. A certain sustainability can be stated here at least.

Momentary encounter in the Bahnhofspassage on the way to the concert: the fine, white, elegantly dressed couple struts towards Jean Nouvel's KKL entrance to the cultural pleasure. The dreadlock-banging black man coming towards them then turns off towards the supermarket. Reality in Lucerne?

Two black women conduct the Chineke at the opening and the finale! Orchestra from England, which only employs people of dark skin color. In London, for example, they want to be visible and heard, to draw attention to the fact that in the very colorful British society, classical orchestras are still largely white-dominated.

But isn't that a new kind of racism that excludes Asians? And the late romantic music of the well-rehearsed black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor could be programmed by any capable dramaturge. That rather reflects the lack of imagination in our schedules.

Despite this, the Philadelphia Orchestra, which comes from a city where up to 40 percent of the population is black, only has one black double bass player on the podium. And there is certainly no racism in auditions for vacant positions, which are now often taking place undercover.

So everything would have to start much earlier than at the festivals, the end of the excellence flagpole. Philadelphia boss Yannick Nézet-Séguin campaigns for Florence Price, who was doubly disadvantaged as a black woman in the 1930s. Thirty years after Dvorak's death, she still wrote symphonies that sounded like Dvorak, embellished with a little black folklore. You can and should play that for reasons of variety and repertoire expansion, but there are also reasons that are not just racist, why it has happened so seldom up to now.

The situation is similar with the gallant musical haberdashery of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. It is a very nice addition to Mozart (and has often been announced as the “black Mozart”), just as Anne-Sophie Mutter intoned one of his glossy paper violin concertos with the Festival Orchestra, or the Mahler Chamber Orchestra began one of his two shortest symphonies at the start of the concert perfectly designed to sparkle.

Then she devotes herself to the proven miracle of Mozart's Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola in the finest, magically straightforward, almost vibrato-free interplay between Isabelle Faust and Antoine Tamestit. The stupendous quality makes you forget any thought of diversity.

The choice of the composer Tyshawn Sorey and the soprano Golda Schultz as artists étoiles is at least controversial. Was it more because of the color of their skin than because of their ability? At least that was the subject of some media, including international ones. Hardly anyone knew the composer before, the really great Golda Schultz has only been on the road for three to four years in her respected career - in the past, such laurels were also earned here through many years of productivity.

But it doesn't matter, Schultz currently has a beautiful, contemporary song program only with female composers on offer, also on CD, which of course went well with the festival. And Sorey even fills the (smaller) Lucerne hall with his esoteric, long-winded improvisations. Which speaks more for the acceptance of contemporary music that has now taken place among the festival audience and will probably be the greatest success as a result of the long-standing director Michael Haefliger.

Despite the attention-getting topic, like everyone else this summer and no matter how finely embellished the numbers, it has to contend with a decline in visitors. In 33 symphony concerts, an occupancy rate of just 74 percent was achieved. At Víkingur Ólafsson's superb, totally unwoke solo piano afternoon, which encircled Mozart and his (white) contemporaries, only half the seats were occupied. Resolving these post-Covid operational issues may be more important than any diversity effort for now.

The Lucerne Festival was also unable to show how these should be solved. If in Germany the Turkish part of the population, even in the third or fourth generation, can hardly be found in the conservatories and universities, because most families make no effort to occupy this area, how are the companies or the orchestra supposed to solve this imbalance ? This certainly cannot be solved by paying attention to Islamic, Asian or black composers alone.

Even without any diversity, one can enjoy the wonderful sound of the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under its sovereign boss Antonio Pappano in a program that intelligently combined exoticisms in the music of Rossini, Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov.

For some time now, however, it has always been really true, good and beautiful in Lucerne when the Lucerne Festival Contemporary Orchestra, which has been composed of academics and alumni since 2021, is used in addition to the Festival Orchestra, which has been brilliantly proven under Riccardo Chailly.

And when Anne-Sophie Mutter is again at the helm to premiere the baroque-loving, long-bowed, flying “Air” for violin and orchestra with the conducting composer Thomas Adès with all her competence and dedication, when on this Saturday evening there is also the eclectic mix of works from Nørgård , Stravinsky and Lutosławski elicits storms of enthusiasm in a packed hall – then something is going very, very well here.

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