Opening remarks at the Morningside Music Bridge Concerto Competition Finals, Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, July 13 2017

Why Classical Music?

By Gerald Chan

I am here standing in for my younger brother Andy who started the Morningside Music Bridge program twenty-one years ago. In addition to the usual acknowledgements and platitudes, I’d like to say a few words about classical music.

First, I am most pleased to see that the average age of this audience is less than seventy-five and am even more pleased that we will hear from musicians as young as eleven years old this evening. I don’t need to tell you that the paramount struggle of all the symphony orchestras around the world is to attract a younger audience. Our own venerable Boston Symphony Orchestra across the street is no exception. Failing that, symphony halls will simply become meeting places for senior citizens.

If we are to promote classical music, we must create a more compelling narrative of why we listen to classical music. Here in Boston, one of the premiere academic centers in the world, we are particularly known for our science, medicine and technology. I am pleased that some of my physician and scientist friends are here tonight. By nature, science is forward looking. Scientific research is by definition pushing the forefront of human knowledge into as yet unexplored territories. No one would read scientific papers from two hundred years ago unless one is a historian of science.

One of the most common criticisms of classic music is that it is backward looking. Why play music composed by dead white men from centuries ago? Why do we revere artistic works of old?

The passage of time alone does not, and cannot imbue a work of art with nobility if it did not possess qualities that are timeless to begin with. Let us use literature as an example. We still read Moby-Dick today and find it relevant because man is still engaged in the same struggles with Nature and even more so, with human nature. We may not be killing whales today for oil to light the lamps, but we are still pillaging Nature to fuel the economy. Like Captain Ahab, we still have our obsessions and delusions; we still struggle with our nemesis and our own demons. Like the sailors, we still suffer from the fear of the unknown and look to superstition for comfort. It is human nature that does not change. The society that we live in today bears no resemblance to the mid-nineteenth century America of Herman Melville, but we human beings today have the same human impulses encased in the same human anatomy, physiology and psychology. When we read the works of a writer who has articulated human nature in words, the meaning of those words will reverberate in our inner being.

For better or for worse, some things don’t change. It is in that which is timeless that we find meaning to the human existence. Some of that meaning makes us joyful, some of it brings us pain. Whether it is joy or pain, we want to give expression to that which constitutes our humanity and we delight in the sharing thereof. Some artists find that expression in words, others find expression in movement, sound or sight. Such expressions may take on different forms and compositions as are shaped by the contemporary culture that the artist lives in, but what is being expressed is the same essence of humanity which does not change with time.

It is in celebration of what is timeless that we come to make music this evening. I like to congratulate the young artists that the judges have selected to share their music with us. To all who participated in this concerto competition, we are no less grateful.

I also want to thank all the teachers and staff of Morningside Music Bridge. For twenty-one years, you have nurtured so many young musicians. Some of them have gone on to become star soloists on the world stage. Many have won awards in prestigious international competitions including the Tchaikovsky Competition, the Menuhin Violin Competition and the Chopin Piano Competition. I just heard today that the newly appointed concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra is an alumnus of this program and he is here tonight as one of the judges. Awards aside, the alumni of Morningside Music Bridge have all gone on to keep alive the human impulse to find expression in music. In so doing, they have enriched humanity.

Ladies and gentlemen, with you, I look forward to an evening of great music.

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