Patrons of the Arts

My wife and I attended a lovely event Friday evening. It was a salon concert performed in the home of an individual. It was a solo classical guitar concert where the performer was a young man on the concert circuit. Complicating matters, albeit slightly, was the fact that the fee charged for attendance was also designed to fund a local orchestra.

My experience with respect to this solo classical guitar recital was observed from my vantage point on at least three levels . On the one hand, and the most obvious, was the aspect of my having been the recipient of a wonderful classical guitar recital. The second facet of this experience focused around my wife and her welcoming reception to this. The significance of this particular facet has to do with the fact that this particular guitarist and I shared a common experience at the Mannes school master classes.

The facet examined herein is my take upon the sociological aspects surrounding patronage of the arts within current United States society.

Although I am and was aware of the necessity of patronage, particularly regarding artists such as Michelangelo, Mozart, Bach, etc. admittedly my first exposure to patronage was through the Tom Wolfe book, ‘Radical Chic’ of 1970.

Within this small book Wolfe described the event of one Maestro Leonard Bernstein’s party on behalf of the Black Panther Party. In fact, the subtitle of Radical Chic is, ‘That Party at Lenny’s.’ You see, Leonard Bernstein was a wealthy artist possessing liberal persuasions. He and his wife lived in a penthouse suite on Park Avenue in New York. So he invited his extremely wealthy white, elderly, expensively attired friends to attend a party held on behalf of the Black Panther party, a radical black political faction espousing an agenda containing no small amounts of enmity towards whitey, both vocal and violent. Several references were made to Lenny’s “… million dollar knick knack shelf …” A more incongruous meeting of societal sectors would be hard to collect. However, and according to Wolfe’s intimations, the agenda of this party was less to do with raising the awareness of the plight of the Black Panther party than it was to promote the white attendees’ individual agendi of self aggrandizement.

There might be a parallel drawn here I feel, although the categorization of the subject foci and the ultimate outcome, are obviously wildly dissimilar.

My wife and I both realized that the concert was to take place at a private residence. After navigating to the appropriate space and time coordinates, we were greeted on the street by a staff of parking attendants who directed us towards a very long and elaborate driveway where a team of valets greeted us at the entry of a very very stately home. A JR Ewing type of home. A very well dressed man and a very well dressed woman smilingly greeted us into the home. We could not help but notice their $125 dollar haircuts. We were ushered in and were gracefully directed to the area downstairs via a large wooden spiral staircase where several coat racks awaited. Back upstairs a lovely offering of pre-concert hors d’oeuvres awaited us as well as a bartender with an open bar of everything your thirsty heart could desire.

The smiling attendees were, except for a very rare individual or two, were adorned with the most expensive fineries Nordstrums, Bloomingdales and Barney’s could offer.

At 8:25 sharp, another perfectly attired well coiffed smiling middle aged woman arrived with a gorgeous sliver bell with its matched silver bell ringing hammer. After executing three well rehearsed taps she politely requested that everyone take their respective seats in the living room. The living room, by the way, was set up with a mini stage. The sixty or so of us politely found our seats and equally politely and smilingly assisted others who required assistance.

With this, a larger than life personality type gentleman with perfectly dyed black hair and an extremely expensive suit smilingly welcomed us to this gala event where we would be treated to the offerings of this very fine, very talented young musician.

And without much ado, our young hero of the evening regaled us with his truly brilliant gifts. The program was varied and melodic. There were no ‘modern’ offerings as such within the program or, more accurately, no music featuring angular and seemingly discordant atonalities. The majority of the music haled from between 1850 to 1930. Again, the artistry and the music was lovely to the point of breathtaking.

There were a few standing ovations where those few insisted on showing their appreciation for specific pieces offered. A unanimous standing ovation was given our young man after the finale of the recital. Occasionally there would be a look of appreciation and downright awe where our guitarist, during the middle of a piece and at a logical breathing point within it would reach up and fine tune the guitar.

Prior to the encore promised us, yet another perfectly attired perfectly coiffed middle aged smiling woman greeted us and advised us of events along these lines scheduled for the near future.

She also advised us through her perfect teeth and perfect smile that those who would host such an event do so at their own expense. No surprise to anyone apparently.

At one point Mr. PBS, after attempting to hawk some PBS DVDs to the audience, advised that the guitar that had been played by our young hero was built by one of the attendees and made a fuss about pointing to him. This made a huge impact upon our audience. All heads turned accompanied with sufficient startled exclamations and widened eyes. As a matter of fact, this particular luthier happens to be a rising star within the classical guitar community and actually does build a particularly fine instrument.

The encore was presented. The recital ended. The ovation was provided. And now it was time to accomplish three matters needing immediate attention, aside from those of a biological calling. The first, of course, was to meet our young artist and tell him how much you appreciated his artistry. The second option available to the crowd was to take advantage of the post recital offerings of a variety of charming desserts obtained from the caterer du jour. The third option at the audience’s disposal was to meet and greet said luthier.

The pre and post recital conversations afforded me with a wealth of opportunity to eavesdrop on a number of conversations.

I must add that under normal circumstances eavesdropping does not fall within my standard cadre of conduct. In fact, I think it quite rude. However, and rudeness aside, I realized I would be writing about this bit of societal subculture and felt it incumbent upon my part to absorb as much repartee as possible.

The bulk of the guitarist’s conversations involved kind words and offerings such as, “You played so lovely. We enjoyed your music so much.” Nice enough, right? Other comments referenced the young man’s youth. “My goodness, you’re so young. How long have you been playing guitar?” There were others attempting to establish a form of connection. “My son has a guitar. He sometimes plays in a band.” And to the luthier. “How long does it take you to build a guitar?” “Did you go to school to learn?” “How is one guitar
different from another?” And so on.

Now. Are any of the above questions or comments out of the ordinary? Of course not. Are any of the questions stupid or insensitive? Absolutely not.

These are the types of questions you would field from most audiences in most settings. To a technical crowd or ones extremely familiar with this type of repertoire and instrument the questions might revolve around string maintenance, choice of repertoire, right and left hand fingering choices. The luthier would field questions regarding wood choices, fan or lattice bracing, scale length, kerfing choices and such.

And so, and after putting proverbial pen to paper, I am left with the following impressions. That despite the finery displayed and the obvious comfort with old money settings, and despite any political positions one may or may not occupy, the fact remained with me, as always, that these are just people. No more no less.
And to each and every one of the attendees there, they deserve the credit for hauling their carcasses away on a Friday night with the specific objective of listening to live music.

In and of that one trait by itself, all of these attendees there, although well above my humble station, deserve a well deserved applause. And further, most of these people shelled out some serious cash in order to maintain and further the arts. To this end, not only have these people earned my respect, I feel I am in personal debt to them.

What prompted me to put this missive in the form it currently inhabits is to provide myself alone with a forum with which I could understand how these folks operate.

I walked away from the concert thinking pretty much one thing, “How can these people shell out so much dough when they are obviously novices to this?”

And I walked away with a quite negative impression. And after additional examining by organizing my thoughts, I have come to realize that there is very little, if any, of the posturing and self-aggrandizement of the Radical Chic crowd.

Rather, these are people who have recognized they have been placed, for whatever reason, in a fortunate position and they have become comfortable with the fact that with this position comes a substantial responsibility.

Unlike some we have seen, these moneyed people recognize they have the ability and the responsibility to effect what they can in order to raise the quality of life within our society. While they may not be expert within the areas of fine art and music, they recognize that it is their charge, in many cases their charge alone, to utilize their resources in order to ensure that our civilization does not fall into the abyss of mediocrity. And to that end, they rely upon those in the trenches to advise as to the best or wisest cultural investments.

And so, and after a good deal of reflection, I feel humbled before these people. If not for them, much of the music and art made available to the public now would be relegated strictly to the imaginations of those gifted enough to possess such abilities.

Thank you patrons of the arts. Sincerely. Thank you.