The Subversiveness of Boredom

Conductor Lorin Maazel made a point that’s occurred to me periodically in an interview with Jay Nordlinger that appears in the latest print edition of National Review:

Speaking of operas, we get on the subject of opera productions, and specifically “Euro-trash,” to use an impolite term–Maazel’s is “Euro-dreck.” He thinks that this phenomenon “will gradually peter out, because audiences will have had enough.” Let us hope–it’s been a long time already. “The faddists are clever,” says Maazel, “because they paint you into a corner.” Their trick is to say, “If you object to us, you’re a conservative, you’re a fuddy-duddy, you’re a living anachronism! What we do is new!” Maazel says, “It’s not new. It’s boring. It’s not even vulgar. It’s just … dull.” The way Maazel says “dull” would wither any of these Euro-dreck directors.

At some point during the last century, the impulse to be even more subversive than the previous generation became the habit, and arts of various kinds ceased to be compelling — becoming dull, as Maazel put it. Throughout the Classical and Romantic periods, in music, what enabled composers to be brilliantly shocking was that the culture actually valued the norm, as did (one suspects) the composers. They were trying to get tradition to do more.
When we dispense with the principle that tradition (not to mention aesthetic pleasure) continues to have relevance and uphold it merely as something to mock and pervert, subversion becomes a game of hopscotch.

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