Lots of people have asked me for the text of the speech that I gave at the Save Our Symphony rally on Peavey Plaza outside the Symphony Ball on September 20. So here it is.
Thanks to all who came and all who listened. It was a strange night, but a good night. I hope to write an entry describing the event in more detail soon.
As I’m standing next to Orchestra Hall, I have to remember the first time I came here. It was ten summers ago. I was just about to turn fourteen. My violin idol James Ehnes was playing the Beethoven violin concerto with the Orchestra. The staff at Orchestra Hall was so kind and so accommodating, and after James’s performance, they let me go backstage to get his autograph. After that experience, I went back to my room on the twelfth floor of the Hyatt over there, and I threw myself on the bed, and I sobbed like I had never sobbed before. I sobbed because I did not know that such beauty was possible.
My reason for being here tonight is simple: I want other thirteen-year-olds to be able to experience the same beauty of world-class symphonic music that I did.
The fact that I’m talking to you today is proof positive that ANY music lover can make a difference. It does not matter if you are young. It does not matter if you are poor. It does not matter if you don’t have a degree from Juilliard. ANYONE can make their voices heard in this struggle. If you can’t contribute money, you can contribute ideas. Because God only knows we need some more of those.
I hope the men and women attending the ball tonight – who have given so generously over the decades – recognize that we the broader community are willing to give generously as well, in whatever way we can. We will not be ignored. The Minnesota Orchestra will not thrive again until all voices are listened to. We are here to help. Let us help you. Talk with us.
We may have legitimate differences of opinion as to what this institution ought to be. But one thing is not up for debate: we deserve to have the debate. Honestly, respectfully, and face-to-face. You will notice there are several influential men from Orchestra leadership who are conspicuously absent here tonight. This must change. This is a public institution, and we are the public. The public is the entity the Minneapolis Symphony was founded for in 1903. In the words of historian John K. Sherman in 1957: ‘Minneapolis at last wanted something that no one man or organization could afford. It wanted something that could no more pay for itself or show a profit than could a public library or an art museum. So the device of the guaranty fund, a citizens’ subsidy, was adopted, amounting in essence to a self-imposed tax by people who were public-spirited and also wealthy enough to pay the assessment. Minneapolis would maintain its proudest cultural institution through deficit financing, but to the canny it constituted a civic advertisement well worth the cost.’
Despite this last year, I have faith in the future of orchestral music in Minneapolis. Our commitment to excellence runs deep. In fact, I believe it is our birthright. Will that commitment take hard work to sustain? Yes, it will. Are we up for it? You tell me. But as long as there is music, there is hope. I speak from experience when I say the impossible is possible. I mean, I’m on a speaker list with Tony Ross, the cello god. How much more impossible can you get?
The musicians have committed to presenting a fall season of their own, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for taking that leap of faith. I do not know where we will end up, but I do know that we will end up there together. I predict that our love of orchestral music will not die; in fact, I predict it will flourish. Love tested in battle is the strongest love of all. If we work together – all of us – we can keep the doors of some hall somewhere open, with some kind of great orchestra within. We have done so for 110 years, and with hard work, we will do so for another 110 more. Together, we will serve the next young teenager who comes to the hall to discover the beauty that only a great orchestra can provide.