Happy 239th Ludwig Van (STOP CELEBRATING BIRTHDAYS!)
Classical music's obsession with celebrating birthdays and death days is one of the weirdest, and most disturbing, qualities of our business. Only a completely moribund genre would identify its most important dates by the things we find in the first line of an encyclopedia entry. And so it's a given that anniversary years of births and deaths will cause the kind of performance glut that makes audiences say "Oh shit, not him again." Poor Mahler is coming up not only on his 150th birthday but also on the centenary of his death. By 2012, the world might be so sick of his music that the prestige of his work will probably fall as precipitously as it rose fifty years ago when the double anniversary made him regarded as the greatest symphonist since Beethoven. One solution, though not a great one, would be to celebrate anniversaries of the world premieres of the greatest music.
So let me propose what I think is the best solution: NO MORE ANNIVERSARIES! Let's play music we like and music we think the public ought to hear. If we want to put a large focus on a composer, let's do it because we love his music, not because it's his 250th birthday (or 100th) birthday. Eventually this anniversary obsession screws over just about everybody: here is a partial list of anniversaries just for this year.
2009: Mendelssohn (200th birthday), Handel (250th anniversary of death), Purcell (350th birthday), Elgar (75th anniversary of death), Ravel (75th anniversary of death), Delius (75th anniversary of death), Holst (75th anniversary of death), Barber (100th birthday), Harrison Birtwhistle (75th birthday), Peter Maxwell Davies (75th birthday), Alfred Schnittke (75th birthday), Louis Andriessen (70th birthday), Ernst Bloch (50th anniversary of death), Mario Davidovsky (75th birthday).