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Letter to the young musicians of the Academy of Luzern (English version)

First and foremost, I would like to tell you the great joy I lived through in participating to this Academy. The quality and the talent of the organizers had created ideal conditions that have permitted the quality and the talent of the interpreters to be displayed. I must congratulate in particular all of you, young musicians, because in accepting to participate to this Academy, you have accepted to confront you with a repertoire which is exigent, sometimes difficult, not the one that can be heard almost everywhere. This decision of yours itself deserves to be greeted. You have proven, in your work during these 3 weeks, such a remarkable enthusiasm and seriousness that allow me today to foresee with hope and confidence what the orchestras of tomorrow might be.

I am addressing to you also because you embody the present, indeed, but especially the future of music. But not of whatever kind of music ! What matters here is not a simple entertainment or a pass-time, but a very long story I’m going to try to outline quickly today. This music, to which we have been dedicating so much time and effort, isn’t, alas, always supported or defended as it would deserve to be, in our societies. These societies undergo mutations, sometimes very hard ones, and I will not unveil a mystery, stating that to keep alive this art, this wonderful but expensive art, becomes more and more difficult to assure. This art – the musical one – requires financial supports and these, in our time of crisis, tend to disperse toward other horizons. In some of our European countries, music is still enjoying a support of public funds but this support is decreasing from year to year. Other countries, like the US, were able to maintain their orchestras thanks to the private funds provided by riche industrial families. The new big assets and the « nouveau riche », like these currently flourishing in technologies of Silicon Valley and who grew up under a massive influence of pop music, are they going to serve the same cultural and artistic causes as their predecessors did ? It is permitted to be in doubt about it. In a society that is claiming to be an egalitarian, horizontal, non-hierarchized, art is very often on the wrong footing with power and establishment. When the Bavarian king was financing the construction of a theater in Bayreuth for one single composer, it surely did not constitute – according to our current conceptions – a specifically democratic act. The ways our modern democracies are dealing with art – let’s free from illusions – appear as more than paradoxical.

Furthermore, a musical work is immaterial. Therefore it doesn’t constitute an object having in itself a value or market price. The musical creation doesn’t benefit, far from it, from the financial impact the world of visual arts does. The contemporary classical music – or, as we call it in French, la musique savante (which means literally the erudite music) – will never be cost-effective as pop music can be, this is not the point. However, its survival and its continuation cannot be assured unless people become aware of its necessity. This awakening of consciousness can emerge only if a right education exists which assigns to the art its real purpose or ambition, which is not a material, but clearly a spiritual enrichment of a human existence. This is the big challenge we are facing today. And the Lucerne Academy, for several years already, is dealing with it cleverly and with great generosity.

But let’s speak now a little about this music called « contemporary ». It is often being developed inside of the specialized networks, ensembles, festivals, whose mission is to present and also to instigate musical creation. Once premiered, these contemporary compositions, or at least some of them, should find their place in the main repertoire. But it is clearly not what’s happening. We are even witnessing today a great number of properly troubling situations : it became already a custom to put on the same concert program a XIXth century romantic music along with a Hollywood movie music, on the pretext that the latter resembles the former. This way, they want to pose as a daughter simply the pale, bloodless doppel-gänger of a virtual great-granddaughter ! But, it isn’t only a resemblance that makes a filiation. The history of music furnishes us numerous evidences of this statement : Bach doesn’t sound like Monteverdi, Mozart doesn’t sound like Bach, Wagner doesn’t sound like Beethoven, Debussy like Wagner, etc. However, if all these composers were aware of belonging to some tradition – that our time loves so much to class into separate compartments with labels like « baroque », « classical », « romantic », « post-romantic, « impressionistic » or « modern » – all these composers had been, first and chiefly, everyone at his time, contemporaries. All these great creators who perpetuated a long tradition of written music, were also and in the same time great experimentalists and great inventors. I can hardly imagine Beethoven telling himself : «  I am a classical composer », or Mozart thinking : « The great composers have been all sitting comfortably in the chairs of the tradition, this chair that remains empty isn’t waiting for anyone but for me ! » No. These composers had been creating what didn’t exist yet. If there is one specificity of this tradition, it is, for sure, the one of the permanent questioning of the rules and customs in which it is rooted. One could even suggest, exaggerating slightly, that the history of the western music could be an exemplary demonstration of the idea of permanent revolution solicited – for political purposes, of course – by Leon Trotsky. Experimentation and innovation have always been the most important challenges in the long history of music. For sure, its tradition was perpetuated by artistic legacies, by transmission of knowledge and by esthetic oppositions. However, it is much less thanks to the permanence of its rules than to a shared consciousness of its necessary regeneration, re-creation, that music survived through centuries. This consciousness – Stravinsky has summarized it in a single phrase : « We have a duty toward music, which is : to invent it » – this consciousness is what matters for all of us not to lose. And it is with this concern in mind that I am speaking now to you.

For, after all, who are we, contemporary musicians, if not the continuators of this tradition of serious or erudite music ? The new technologies and the last developments of instrumental techniques are not so surprising phenomena, once considered at a much bigger scale. They are just the perpetuation of a story knitted together by novelties, researches and experimentations, as well as by memory. This memory, however, is not a dead memory that would everlastingly revive the same models and the same codes, but indeed a living memory that is inciting us to go the ways that had not been marked out yet. This memory has to be, first, the one of our consciousness. And I don’t think I’ll be perceived as exaggeratedly pessimistic if I say that the music that is assembling us all together here today is progressively disappearing from the minds and from the ears of a big part of the audience. The causes of this process of disappearance are not mysterious ; they flow from concrete social, cultural, economical, political and technological situations which would be too long and annoying to expose here, but which are actual and real. It is important for all of us, interpreters, composers, directors and organizers of musical life to watch over it and, first of all, to try to find remedies for it.

In this respect, one of the most remarkable specificities of this Festival consists precisely in the cohabitation, under the same roof, of all these faces of music as parts of this vast history I have just evoked. This phenomenon, in our times, is rare enough to be greeted. For sure, Pierre Boulez – as personality, composer and conductor of highest importance, has made an essential contribution to its development. Thanks to him, and during his entire carrier as conductor, the musical creation has been confronted with the main repertoire. However, there are only very few artists, like Maurizio Pollini, having the courage to include in their repertoire of pieces of the past also the ones composed today.

So in congratulating Michael Haeffliger and his whole staff for the excellent quality of the organization of this Festival and this Academy, I want to tell them how precious for all the musicians of today will be that this Academy continues and persists in the same spirit. For sure, it is not an easy task. Because the public, as always, is much more comfortable with a music it already knows than with discoveries of the one it doesn’t know yet. There are a lot of things remaining to be initiated. For instance, it would be worth proposing to the audience of philharmonic concerts, in a reasonable dose, some discoveries, well chosen, of contemporary music in a program that would reveal the modernity of those who are usually qualified as classical. Maybe the audience will be surprised ! Maybe it will love the surprise !

But you, my dear friends instrumentalists, you have three assets: the youth, the talent and the enthusiasm. I have in mind a joke made recently by Mick Jagger : « We were young and stupid. We remain stupid ! ». I wish I could imagine you, saying one day : « We were young and talented. We remain talented ». Your youth will be gone, but not your talent. However, you will have to cultivate it, somehow… But what you will have to watch upon is to never lose the enthusiasm you have had all along this Academy.

So that the best phrase getting out of your mouth, when you will be old, could or should be : « We were young, talented and enthusiastic. We didn’t lose anything but the appearance of the youth ». Yet, it will be just an appearance. You will be like this – so-called – classical music, qualified by many people as old, while it can never be old. We have just to change our view of it : we will be able to hear in it the innovative intensity that was the one of its youth.

In keeping playing – as you did here – the music of your time, you will naturally find the keys for playing also the ones of the past, as if they have been just finished to be composed yesterday. Then, perhaps, a new form of the eternal youth and of the myth of Faust could appear. And should this happen, you wouldn’t even have to sell your soul to the devil.

Philippe Manoury.

Luzern, September 8th 2012.