Lileks: Can't they just be happy with that lobby?

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 11, 2012 - 7:24 PM

If I had looked into the matter more closely, I would have moved beyond the rhetoric that often clouds our judgment. Simple research would have shown how the lobby's ... blah blah ... has no impact, but we are devoted ... whatever ... to a world-class ensemble in the future ... yada yada.

There. Just anticipating the letter to the editor telling me I don't know what I'm talking about.

Fine. Ample precedent exists. Nevertheless, here's an unsolicited message to the Minnesota Orchestra management about the lockout:

Stand your ground. Don't give in. Sure, we have a peerless cadre of world-renowned musicians who preserve and reanimate the most sophisticated, complex cultural tradition of Western civilization. But they've forgotten what it's like to have that burning fire that drove them into music in the first place.

They're pampered. They're soft. There's too many of them, too. I'm sure you've been to the concerts: There's huuuuge stretches where some of the players are just sitting there waiting for something to do. Don't tell me that horn section can't hustle over and pick up a fiddle during a languid adagio.

I've been in the Orchestra Hall locker room. You know what they have by the sinks? An electric shoe-polishing machine. Ask yourself if anyone you know has an electric shoe-polishing machine. It even has a red brush, in case the Vienna Clown Symphony shows up.

So remind them what it was like when they got into the music racket, dreaming of chauffeurs and tuxedos, living on ramen noodles while they honed their skills. What was their burning desire? Bingo: to perform in a hall with an incredible lobby.

That's why the expenditure of $50 million on Orchestra Hall's lobby is such a marvelous thing: It's the most important part of the concert-going experience. You'll still have to sit through a bunch of notes coming at you like bees, but you know when it's done you get to stand in a lobby and slam back some wine in a world-class space.

Heck, tear down the rest of the hall and just build the new lobby. Have a DJ in the corner spinning old-school Deutsche Grammophon vinyl. You'll get a whole new audience, too.

Some say the orchestra, like any entity, should be accountable to the market. If not enough people want to pay for it, that's too bad, but we don't subsidize the buggywhip industry.

Granted. Of course, if buggywhipping were a big national sport, we would be building an enormous facility for the express purpose of holding nine televised buggywhipping matches. But I get the point.

The sports metaphor just makes you realize that the orchestra made a tactical error by not introducing full-contact symphonies into its repertoire, complete with referees and announcers. If the purpose of a concert was to have the violins wrest the baton from the conductor's hand and get it past the bassists' goal line, the Legislature would have funded an entirely new Orchestra Hall, and a third of the evening newscast would be devoted to the way the violas are shaping up this year on defense. Preposterous, you say; no one would ever talk about the violas. The woodwinds, yes, but c'mon, violas?

The state does fund the orchestra already, and some believe government should disentangle from all such enterprises. They'd say the orchestra isn't different just because it has a nobler purpose. It seems absurd to choose this finely tuned, artistic instrument as the place where we finally make a stand against subsidies, but any subsidy's supporters would say the same thing.

Granted. But here's the thing:

We already decided to write arts funding into the state Constitution. The Legacy Amendment is supposed to raise $1.2 billion for the arts over 25 years. That's about $50 million, or "One New Lobby," per year.

The orchestra already gets money from the Legacy fund, but obviously they could use more. We're spending $7,000 on an oral history of Moose Lake State Hospital. Not to say that aching gap in our historical records doesn't need plugging, but maybe everyone could just talk into a tape recorder and we'll pay for transcribing down the road?

That said, the musicians could pitch in with some ideas to make more money. Say, a few shows at Target Center with Lady Gaga, guest conductor.

Remember what they said when you were young, guys: You have to sacrifice for your art. It's hard to hold your nose and a bow at the same time, but practice, practice, practice.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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