“…he has no European blood in his veins to make sense of our European repertoire…”

Los Angeles Gagaku Group

The quote in the title is from a comment made by a poster to a recent article in Slate about the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s current search for a new conductor now that maestro James Levine will be leaving.  The full quote is:

A few years ago the Boston Globe wrote an article about a whispering campaign against Ozawa, which basically said “Ozawa can’t be a good composer [sic]; being Japanese, he has nor [sic] European blood in his veins to make sense of our European repertoire.[“] Maybe they should find some black female rising star and watch them tie themselves into knots. Seriously, I would look to the future and choose Gustavo Dudamel. If some members of the orchestra “erect barriers” retire them – immediately [my emphasis].

which I find a bit baffling.  At the same time I can also understand the sentiment since at this blog I write quite a bit about various countries and their respective indigenous art musics.  It’s so difficult for folks to separate out ethnic ancestry and cultural institutions as opposed to ethnic ancestry and the musical history of the indigenous arts.  Japan, of course, has a centuries long art music tradition (e.g. Gagaku, NōgakuJōruri).

I think that it can be difficult for folks to understand what relevance that, say, Japanese Court Music like Gagaku (, literally “elegant music”) can have for society in general.  But in a sense, that is increasingly the position Western Classical Music has in relation to society especially as newer music written in the style isn’t actively being promoted within the mainstream institutions.

Continue reading