I may be the only person in the world personally affected by this who is not involved in it (and I suppose that's the reason it's happening), but this labor dispute at the BSO is a tragedy. The management is saying that there isn't enough money to keep the Baltimore Symphony a full-time orchestra. At the end of this, the BSO may be demoted from a 'major American orchestra', a term used to mean a full-time one, to a 'minor', part time one. The best musicians will start applying elsewhere where they can make more money and work more, and that will push off more potential donors.
In a few years, anybody else who cares will have died. If you explained to anybody under the age of 70 that classical music was literally the soundtrack of daily life for everybody who is now over seventy, hardly anyone would believe you. It seems so completely distant from today's life that it must have disappeared overnight. But how have all these symphony orchestras kept going for so long? When I was a kid, it was three orchestral concerts in Baltimore every week, nearly all of them sold out. 50% of the people who went back then are clearly dead now, and a good half of the ones left seem barely able to walk. Twenty years before I was born, the Philadelphia Orchestra would come to Baltimore and do an entire mini-season of concerts at the Lyric Opera House.
If the musicmaking weren't so great, the BSO would be the most depressing place in Baltimore. But the BSO is not the most depressing place in Baltimore, it is the best thing about living in Baltimore. I'm single and eccentric, so I go out of my way to go to a lot of orchestral concerts far afield. And I often wonder why I do, because on any given week, the BSO may outplay every orchestra until you get as far afield as Pittsburgh. But i's the BSO who gave me the passion for this music. Perhaps its a paradox, but the very fact of the precariousness of the arts in second-tier cities like Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Cleveland means that the practitioners have to bring their A-game every week or else there will be no audience at all. And, of course, there may be no audience even so.
I may be alone in my generation in believing that high culture is at all important. It is obviously far from what's most important in the world; and there are hundreds of issues at stake right now which are far more important than events like this. And long before the crises of the last few years emerged, there were millions of Americans who believed that high culture is just a more pompous form of what popular culture gives us much more directly. Even a lot of classical musicians believe that today, and I suppose there was a time when even I believed that myself, or at least tried to convince myself that it was true. But whatever you believe about it, classical music is an unbroken tradition which has existed for hundreds of years and it is dying out. Dying is the most inevitable part of nature, and eventually comes for everybody and everything, but the greatest reason to immerse yourself in the arts is that it's the only proof we have that anything at all defies the cycle of nature. It takes you to places and eras and worlds which you never would be able to imagine yourself without them. The loss of something like this is like a fire at the BMA or the Walters - hundreds of paintings and architectural artifacts that are completely unique and reach to us across centuries and let us commune with the ambitions and yearnings of people and places long dead. It only takes an instant to destroy all that uniqueness which has lived for centuries, and once erased, you can never get it back.
All artists have ever wanted to do is make your lives more joyful, more meaningful, more beautiful. It's almost a cliche that Americans don't like the high arts, which we perceive as something elitist, and that Americans don't like history, the lessons of which we perceive as not applying to us. But it would seem of late that we're drawing closer and closer to learning that the lessons of history still very much apply here. If America lets things this beautiful die, how much else can it allow to die?