Stopgap Measure To Save Musical Past

by Barry Drogin

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Washington, D.C. - In a White House ceremony today, the President signed into law 20USC1759, the Symphonic Repertoire Preservation Act. Flanked by members of the American Symphony Orchestra League and a smattering of music publishers and record company executives, the President announced that the law "will ensure that masterpieces remain a staple of major musical institutions, and provide these works with the protection and the respect that they deserve."

As symphony orchestras face record deficits and waning attendance, the Act was hastened through Congress earlier this year. It prohibits orchestras from abandoning the standard repertoire in search of new audiences, limits the number of pops concerts and commissions, and prohibits marketing fiascos which, in the words of the ASOL Chairman, "dilute the mission and purpose of our orchestrasí role in the musical life of America."

Under the Act, eligibility for NEA funding will be tied to a codification system which ensures that symphonic war horses by Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Brahms continue to be played in concert halls in the twenty-first century. Concertos, oratorios and tone poems are also included in the list, compiled by representatives from prestigious conservatories and affirmed by extensive audience surveys.

"This Act reverses years of decline and neglect in the standard repertoire brought on by progressive conductors and new music activists. Although these European works cannot be considered a national treasure, they are an international trust that we recognize as our heritage, the pinnacle of Western civilization, a great gift that we cannot abandon," the President said to rounds of applause from an invited audience of patrons, foundational and civic leaders, and educational experts.

Recognizing the limited practical impact of the legislation, Congress built in provisions that provide funding for twenty years, or until orchestras disappear, whichever comes first. OPERA America is seeking similar legislation, but Congressional studies showed that the incursion of new work into the operatic repertoire was less pronounced.

Living composers, who have no voice in affairs of national importance, could not be reached for comment.

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007