You Too Can Program Your Local Symphony!

Dan Albertson

[April 2016.]

[Though this manifesto attempts to take sarcasm to its zenith, the dedication to Romeo Talento is earnest: with my thanks for enhancing all facets of life with your presence. Only you make it all better.]


Spring is the season of eternal rebirth. In nature, at least. In the curious kingdom, the regnum orchestralis, spring is a reminder that the dead and near-dead continue to call the shots. All Souls’ Day is every day in this world.

Yes, that time of year has arrived when one orchestra after another trickles in with season brochures. Oh, the delights: Tchaikovsky festivals! Brahms symphonies! Mozart piano concertos! Beethoven cycles! Renée Fleming! Yo-Yo Ma! Whew, I have run out of exclamation marks.

Pardon me for not mustering up any enthusiasm here. As lamented before, orchestral programmers are paid not to think, not to question and, most important, not to upset the 80-and-up demographic. These attributes also characterize most of the star soloists and conductors making the rounds year after year. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

If you, dear reader, find yourself in a place with an orchestra (not many such places anymore!) and if you marvel at how this dazzling feat of human engineering called the orchestral season is compiled, wonder no further. Here goes, in easy steps, replete with royal “we”:

(1) Music died with Rachmaninoff. Accept it. Also accept that he spelled his name that way. Nope, not Rachmaninov, not Rakhmaninov. Rachmaninoff. The lady in J12 knew him personally.

(2) Music did not exist before Bach. Accept it. Also accept that he wrote for piano, longed for oversized choruses and would definitely have loved a brass section. Who’s Josquin, anyway, and how many symphonies did he write?

(3) If you rose to prominence in the 1950s and can still as much as walk, congratulations! You will be a guest conductor in town this season! The blue hairs in the audience will say, in unison, “Why, he’s one of us!” And yes, it will be a he.

(4) Goodness, we forgot where we were going with this one. Your orchestra did, too. That explains why Dame Mitsuko Uchida will be back playing (!) and conducting (?) Mozart.

(5) As an act of benevolence, your orchestra will probably program a work by someone who may or may not still have a pulse. We’re not doctors, so we can’t be sure. Keep calm: It will be over soon enough and you won’t remember a note of it. Perhaps you could even turn down your hearing aid for this one. Spare your applause for the concerto that follows; we would hate for you to chafe your hands from excessive usage.

(6) If you love Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert, but fear them becoming extinct, please consider donating! We here at the World Composers Preservation Fund will pool the money to our unionized musicians, thus ensuring that only a few works from their catalogues ever get performed. Beethoven’s 7th forever! We know best. Conformity is power.

(7) Last, but not least: Aren’t the Mahler symphonies the greatest thing ever? No? You don’t think so? Don’t worry: we’ll keep trying to convince you.

There it is. Secrets have been spilled here. If I disappear tomorrow, you know where to look.