About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

February 1, 2016

Listening to Grass Grow (Not)

While mining our 40 year history, I was gratified to remember the many people who joined my effort. More recently, preparing for the annual submission of grant proposals to fund next summer’s 41st season, deeper mining revealed more interesting stuff. We clearly did not

rest our heads upon the grass
and listen to it grow.
—Splendor in the Grass (Pink Martini, not Wordsworth)

Among the ~1200 artists who appeared in over 700 Gretna concerts 37 have won Grammy Awards, countless more have been nominated, and five are MacArthur (“genius”) Fellows. Next year I may try to count the many winners of competitions, like the Cliburn, Leventritt, Young Concert Artists, Queen Elizabeth, and Tchaikovsky.

Not only did our musicians represent major orchestras in the US like the Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras, others came from more than 20 countries abroad like China, Bulgaria, Russia, and Brazil. They have been soloists in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln and Kennedy Centers, Severance Hall, Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Tanglewood, Blossom and Aspen Festivals. 

We offer great young performers before they become household names or win Grammys and iconic performers after they have, but not the growing fad of ‘recreative tributes.’ So we have heard the ‘real’ Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, George Shearing, Cleo Laine, The Four Freshmen, The Modern Jazz Quartet, St├ęphane Grappelli and Lionel Hampton. Pianist Leon Fleisher (July 1) was taught by a student of a teacher who was a student of a teacher who was taught by Beethoven.

We have commissioned and premiered dozens of new works. In many cases the composers, like David Baker, William Bolcom, Edgar Meyer and Allen Krantz, performed their own music. Dancers danced their own choreography and jazz singers sang their own songs. When Tierney Sutton sang songs of Joni Mitchell, she put her inimitable stamp on them as Joanna Pascale did for Paul McCartney’s songs.

It was fun looking back, but the challenges lie in the future. In words of conductor Alan Gilbert, we must always try “to sharpen our sense of purpose and . . . justify our very existence.” How do we do that? By taking new paths, some of which may be dead ends, and trying new ways, not all of which will succeed. By keeping our eyes open for new ventures and connections. By infusing our organization with new people. And by listening to you.