Thursday, May 14, 2020

An Overrated Underrated Musician: Leon Botstein

Today we're going to talk about an overrated underrated musician, one that's frankly stuck in my craw for years.
Leon Botstein performs a valuable service for the music world. He is one of the few musicians with both the means and desire to think about what classical music will be after the deluge. He is furthermore one of the few musicians with the platform to help rebuild the long demolished bridge between music and intellect. Bless him for that.

But just listen to him. If there is a musician in the world so full of shit, I have yet to discover him. This is an intellectual prodigy born to privilege, whom, rather than actually learn how to conduct, spent 45 years running Bard College, a radical chic school for rich hippies that contributes as much value to the discourse of education reform as Phillips-Andover. Half a lifetime ago, he wrote an article ripping Leonard Bernstein to shreds for being such a magpie and wasting his talent. Well, unlike Botstein, Bernstein clearly had talent...
Listen to Botstein's recordings. Over and over again, he chooses exactly the kind of repertoire that should be featured on this page, and manages the distinguished feat of neutering them of their musical interest. Who could possibly understand what's compelling about this music from a Botstein performance? Perhaps if he spent less time pontificating about American education from the vantage point of being a lifetime University President and former intellectual prodigy who clearly hasn't a clue what young people go through in high school, maybe he'd find the time to do his musical causes real service rather than damage...

In the arts, there are often all sorts of figures whose individuality stand out not because of their quality, but because their approaches are so unique: Stokowski, Celibidache, Norrington, Sinopoli, Currentzis, these are conductors of varying quality, but if their musicmaking is variable, it's because they tap into certain aspects of music that are clearly lacking from the mainstream of musical discourse, and because no other musician had a similar approach, no one was able to tell them when their ideas veered off into bullshitry. Stokowski and Currentzis are extraordinarily gifted musicians, but would classical music pay more attention to showmanship, the wider world would see their worst gaucheries for what they are. Celibidache and Sinopoli were brilliant intellects, and had musicians taken any care at all to be intellectually literate, we'd probably have been spared when their findings veered them off into idiocies. The same goes for soloists like Ivo Pogorelich and Nigel Kennedy... So if anybody else were speaking up for rare repertoire in the manner which Botstein does, Botstein would be forced to either work harder to be a better conductor, or he'd have to give up and go back to pedaling bullshit educational theory.
So if you're looking for rare repertoire, go on spotify or youtube, enter a search for Leon Botstein or the American Symphony Orchestra, find the most interesting looking rare pieces, and then search for different performers.

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