Michael Tilson Thomas’s “American Mavericks” concerts came to New York, centered on four programs at Carnegie Hall with the superb San Francisco Symphony, surrounded by a whirl of fringe events throughout the city. This was a bold and appropriate way to show not only the versatility and virtuosity of the orchestra but also the evolution of orchestral culture in the United States: the works were played as modern classics, with the ideal combination of polish and bite that they call for. The audience has clearly evolved along with the orchestras: Carnegie Hall was close to full with a healthy mixture of grey and not-so-grey heads intently focused on the music. So accomplished and appealing were the performances that even the Feldman work, probably the most novel work on the program, held audience attention effortlessly through its 26-plus minute duration.
Revolutions, the saying goes, are frequently revisited as farce. If only one knew it at the time! In the ferment of the 1970s, a seeming battle to the death played itself out among advocates of dodecaphonic music and the apostles of deconstructed "happenings.” Both insurgencies would ultimately lose. But the arrogance of the revolutionaries was no different in music from what it would have been in politics. The average listener hoping for Brahms found himself besieged in those days—contemptuously marginalized in either camp—-and marked for replacement. That is always the frightening dimension of revolution: the smugness of the cook breaking eggs for the new omelette—-and the suspicion that you may be one of the eggs.