Alan McIntyre op-ed: Music for the soul
The fall in Connecticut brings cooler evenings and the return of football, but it also marks the return of some of Fairfield County’s best classical music. Oct. 24 is the start of the 48th season of the Stamford Symphony, and it is my honor to have recently taken over as the chairman of the board of this wonderful orchestra.
Our mission as an orchestra is very simple. We hope to enrich our community by bringing the highest quality classical music to lower Fairfield County. In fulfilling our mission we are unapologetic about focusing on serious music. Music is a universal language, but like any language it can take time to learn and it requires commitment. Great music asks big questions and it shouldn’t just be sonic wallpaper as often portrayed on “smooth classics” radio stations. At its best, classical music is food for the soul and it should trigger an emotional reaction in the audience. I know that when I have that connection, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and those are special and memorable moments.
While the music of Beethoven and Mozart has stood the test of time for a reason, the Stamford Symphony also plays new music on every program, because at some point all classical music was new. Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony was revolutionary when it was first performed in 1805, and Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” caused an actual riot when it premiered just over a century ago in Paris. I agree with Aaron Copland, the great 20th century American composer, who summed up his attitude toward “new” music in the following quote. “Most people use music as a couch; they want to be pillowed on it, relaxed and consoled for the stress of daily living. But serious music was never meant to be used as a soporific. It is created to wake you up, not put you to sleep. It is meant to stir and excite you.” We hope that in presenting a regular diet of new music at the Stamford Symphony that we will indeed excite our audience.
Despite what you may have read about the decline of classical music in the United States, somewhere between 25 percent and 45 percent of the U.S. adult population say they have listened to classical music at some point in the last month and, the orchestral community in the United States is growing. The United States now has more than 100,000 musicians in 1,400 symphony, collegiate and youth orchestras playing more than 27,000 classical concerts a year. Classical music is alive and well and the Stamford Symphony is proud to be carrying on a great artistic tradition.
While our orchestra has Stamford in its name, it serves all of Fairfield County and we draw both our audience and our board of directors not only from Stamford but also from Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Westport, Norwalk and many other surrounding towns. Although our main home is the Palace Theatre in Stamford, we also play throughout the area and have performed recently in Westport, Greenwich and New Canaan.
While our primary mission is to enrich our community through stimulating and exciting performances, we also have music education programs that reach thousands of students every year. There are well-documented academic benefits from exposing kids to classical music, but we are primarily trying to build a love of the music itself in future generations. In doing so we are honoring the words of the great German composer Gustav Mahler who said that “tradition is the passing on of the fire, not the worship of the ashes.”
Our ambition is to be the leading professional orchestra between New York and Boston, and with a roster of outstanding professional musicians, we already bring New York quality classical music to our own doorsteps in Fairfield County. So it was gratifying to be recently named “Best of the Gold Coast” in the performing arts category. This season we will play the classics such as Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, but we will also challenge our audience with new music and will present crossover artists such as the world-renowned trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. As we move into the fall, our board is committed to building an orchestra that generates community pride and passion just like our high school football teams do, and we hope you will join us at some point this season to share in some of the world’s greatest music.
Darien resident Alan McIntyre is chairman of the board of directors of the Stamford Symphony.