Sunday, October 01, 2006

Great Weekend reading - Kamin on Classicism and the GSA, Huxtable nails the situation at WTC, and von Rhein blasts CSO on digital cluelessness

Three great pieces you should check out before they disappear into paid archive hell within just a few days:

Blair Kamin on the battle over GSA's new chief architect. On September 6th, the Wall Street Journal ran an article (no longer available online for nonsubscribers) that related how, after the recent retirement of Edward Feiner, classicist architect Thomas Gordon Smith was set to be named as the chief architect for the General Services Administration, which oversees $10 billion of federal construction. Smith is a crawl-back-into-the-womb kind of guy, addicted to buildings that look like Greek Temples and Roman palaces, seemingly right in tune with the Bush administration's mindset of empire. Despite its sure-fire nature to generative controversy, however, I saw that story covered nowhere else until this past Thursday, when the Chicago Tribune's architecture critic Blair Kamin wrote the GSA claims to be "still in the selection process." It's all a bit strange, but Kamin does his best to sort it out.

Ada Louise Huxtable nails the situation at the World Trade Center
. The ongoing, tragi-comic sequence of events over reconstructing the World Trade Center has claimed entire forests of newsprint in coverage and comment, but no one gets it as right, and with such concision and conviction, than Huxtable in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal. While most observers have been so relieved to finally have anything of quality announced for the site that they fell over themselves praising three towers just announced to be designed by Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Fumihiko Maki. Huxtable brings an unclouded eye to looking at these projects. She's heart-breakingly eloquent on the process that brought the initial high idealism over the rebuilding to its knees:
"The balance of commercial and cultural facilities meant to be the basis of the area's rebirth and regeneration is also gone, sabotaged by the supine political response to the escalating demands of those bereaved families whose inconsolable grief required the elimination of the plan's cultural components on the disturbing and specious grounds that the arts and liberties that mark a free society equaled disrespect, or less honor to the dead. They became Ground Zero's censors and de facto designers, eliminating buildings and dictating content to a commission that seemed to have no clue about appropriateness or professional expertise."
Finally, in CSO fiddling away chance to forge digital future, Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rhein exposes the management of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's complete and willful failure to come to grips with the evolving world of digital classical music. It's been years since the London Symphony created what has become its own, incredibly successful music label, to which the San Francisco Symphony has followed suit. The BBC streams its Prom concerts. The New York Philharmonic has put its concerts on ITunes, where they've become runaway bestsellers. The Metropolitan Opera is offering its productions on Sirius Satellite Radio. The Philadelphia Orchestra has begun selling downloads of concerts on its own website, both as MP3's, and, for a slight increment, in higher-quality lossless formats that we audiophiles prefer. (You can even download a recent performance of the Beethoven 5th conducted by the orchestra's music director Christoph Eschenbach for free.)

And the Chicago Symphony? Its concerts have been off the air since 2001, and it hasn't done a commercial CD since 2003. Digital downloads? It's own label? Radio broadcasts? You must be joking. "I don't want to move funding from sponsorship of our concert season to radio, because then I've got to replace the concert sponsors," is what CSO manager Deborah Card tells von Rhein. There's money for a concert whose program includes the overture to Spielberg's 1941, and "The Love Theme from Splash", but none to keep the CSO from becoming marginalized, its music making confined to an increasingly isolated and geriatric audience, even as it fades into a hidden, largely forgotten treasure for the rest of the world.


JBP said...

If by "crawl back in the womb" you mean comfortable, working, and timeless, you have accurately described TG Smith.

JBP said...

Kamin adds absolutely zero to the original story in the WSJ.

Other than Smith's office having the good sense to hang up on the man who really likes the Bandshell at Milenium Park, we learn nothing from his article in the Tribune.

I like how you and Kamin phrase, traditionalism as somehow rigid, and baseless modernism as somehow flexible. Have you never noticed that modernist GSA buildings tend to all look alike? The free-thinking tyrants have ruined architecture long enough. How about giving TG Smith a shot at restoring architecture to its proper place?