The Corner


A Question from Toscanini

Today, I complete my notes on Toscanini, spurred by Harvey Sachs’s magisterial new biography of the famed conductor. I’d like to highlight one thing here.

Toscanini conducted Italian orchestras in Italy, of course, and French orchestras in France, and German orchestras in Germany, and so on. Then he sailed to America.

The press asked him, “Maestro, what do you think of American orchestras?” He answered, “What’s an American orchestra?” In the orchestras he was facing, there were people from all over. Only a small percentage had been born in America. The players were from Italy, Russia, Hungary, Sweden — everywhere. They talked with one another in game English. Their children were brash American kids on the street. And the players themselves were forging something new: the American orchestra, comprising strains from far and wide and yet distinctive, peculiar.

Here is a metaphor, obviously — and the subject of thousands of essays, books, blogposts, tweets, each of them appealing to someone.

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