This week, a speaker at the Rotary Club noted that we all have to be prepared to do everything differently. The world is moving on and everything we thought right once is likely to be passed over by other advances. Long ago, there was a musical entitled “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.” The title seems apt now.
I embrace change; however, we need to protect the baby in that bath water. In the arts, virtuosity still matters. We can find new ways to present it, but when you sit with an audience watching a fine performance, it can still bring wonderment, even in the stilted world of a darkened theatre with too many mid-priced tuxedos staring back at you. Vivaldi can still entertain you, move you, and make you care a little bit more about something.
The “how” may be changing but art can still transcend, and marginalizing it misses the point. San Jose’s arts community struggles as the poor stepchild of the cultural Mecca to our north. Many here wonder why we even bother to produce art in San Jose. Even those who are charged with supporting it often ask: why? Why not regionalize it? Go north for art, come south for sports—or, at least, that may become the next stage (watch this space in months to come).
I despair at the lack of regional arts support even while I work at balancing a budget and producing concerts. The arts in San Jose are wildly undercapitalized and, as such, are constantly vulnerable. When the San Jose Symphony closed, I wrote an op-ed piece that praised the trustees who gave freely of themselves to try to keep it alive, knowing that they had spent 20 years delivering services that were not economically defendable. In witnessing the debate over the Rep and AMT this past Fall, I saw again how fragile we all are and how easy it is to cast blame on those who try to make the production of art work, rather than figure out why, as a community, virtuosity is seen as having so little value. Creativity is the calling card of Silicon Valley, except when it comes to the arts.
Virtuosity can exist when the conditions enable it. There are artists whose talents often deliver stellar works. Others work in the background and only emerge from the shadows for fleeting moments; but, if those moments are here in San Jose, then perhaps the effort is all worth it. That audience saw magic and cared. I see audiences like that often.
I have attended many great programs in San Jose in the opera, dance, theatre, at our symphony, and certainly in our museums. A few years ago, I watched a Peking Opera performer bring Macbeth to life in the California Theatre. I had no idea what he said, but I knew everything he was feeling and what he was “saying” with his performance. That artist just debuted with the Metropolitan Opera in New York and returns here this spring as King Lear. Who knows that? Why? When will our region care?
Andrew Bales is the President of Symphony Silicon Valley, now in its fifth season.