Years ago, Roger Wolfson went to Lincoln Center for a performance of the New York Philharmonic, with a solo performance by Sarah Chang, accompanied by a Choir.
Chang was only 18. She was in the PRE-college program at Julliard. She had been performing with orchestras since the age of 5, and first performed with the New York Phil at the age of 8. She had three records out already. She was really great; tremendous strength (she kept bursting her bow strings and plucking the remnants vigorously in between songs, a muscular sound, and great range. Her delicate touch was equally well-developed.
Roger Wolfson has never been too crazy about prodigies. In many ways, he feels that a true performer should have a maturity and worldliness that youth cannot simulate. However, Roger felt a sort of empathy for her. She performed excellently but received no standing ovation, even though the audience stood for the choir. Roger had the feeling that, until at least the age of 16, she received nothing but standing ovations; Roger thinks that she was probably declining in stature as her moniker of wunderkind wore away — even as her ability grew.
As Roger Wolfson sat and listened to the humming, incredibly vibrant engine of human talent, an entire stage filled with people; the 45 or 60 piece orchestra, the choir of 100, the conductor, behind-stage people, a veritable army rivaling in size the audience itself, he thought about our society’s relative measure of entertainment. Chang, a classically trained violinist, probably among the greatest shear talents in history, performed before rows and rows of the well-dressed and powder-puffed at Avery Fischer Hall. Across town that same night, another series of performers were in action — baseball players. Chang had one night’s work, the Mets haD one night’s work. She was trained, they were trained. But the Met’s live audience was one hundredfold the size of hers, their salaries similarly engorged, and their television audience one hundred thousand times larger than hers would ever be.
Why is that? What Chang conveys to her audience connects them with three or four hundred years of collective culture. Every person on that stage performed at the height of their abilities. They do not “win” or “lose,” like in sports. They celebrate.
Imagine our culture if Chang had the audience of the Mets. If millions of people watched her, spellbound, popcorn in their laps. Imagine the culture that would have to exist for this to be the case: children playing instruments, studying musical theory, mesmerized in learning of the Baroque period. Learning Italian, French, German in order to follow the librettos. Performing, studying, enriching their lives. Trading statistics and critiques of varying conductors’ styles and directorial choices.
Meanwhile, across town, a stadium is filled watching a performance of Euripedes. Children translating the Greek to impress their parents, while vying to match the tragic flaws modern- day political leaders share with Shakespearean characters. Baseball caps reading “Sophocles Rules.” People by the water cooler in their offices, the next morning, reliving great monologues, reciting variations to each other with enthusiasm and glee.
And the schools! No posters of athletes needed to attract attention! Historical figures, brought to life for the students via music and art, moving through the buildings like benevolent ghosts. Morality and ethics the subject of debate; eagerness to embrace other cultures reflected throughout. The pursuit of enlightenment; the living legacy of Aristotle’s Academe; a living world.
Take a bow, Ms. Chang. Grow stronger with age, and inspire us to change.
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