By Christopher Fulkerson


CF at the Grave of Arnold Schoenberg
"You may never get to touch the Master,
but you can tickle his creatures."
Proverbs for Paranoids, I
Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
Quoted in CF's

Yes, This Letter Was Mailed to MTT
If You'd Like to Learn More About the Issues CLICK HERE

March 13, 2011

An Open Letter to Michael Tilson Thomas
Music Director, The San Francisco Symphony
Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, California 94102


Dear Mr. Thomas,

Hello, I am one of the many Modernist composers you are ignoring.   Having heard your LULU in Santa Fe I had hoped it was true that your presence in San Francisco would mean an increase in the amount and quality of genuine contemporary music we would get here.   But over the years I have watched your programming in San Francisco with increasing dismay – indeed, with despair.

I have done the math on your programming for four of your recent seasons.   On none of those seasons have I found more than two works by living American composers – not counting yourself.    You dedicate 66% of your program to mostly dead German and Russian speaking composers.

The math for the new season is easy to do – just one living American all year, and that’s that detestable excuse for a Classical composer, John Adams, who thinks there is no “lingua franca” of contemporary music, who certainly composes as though that were true, who wrote an opera about a living American president, put larger-than-life terrorists on the stage, and serves up political propaganda… of the Japanese ultra-right.   His flash-in-the-pan selection of themes, guaranteed to get media attention, with music guaranteed not to offend, is the worst possible substitute for modernity.    You are a coward among artists.    Adams doesn’t believe modern music participates in society.   Like all minimalists, he is ignorant.   But through your programming, you are trying to make his ignorant position into a fact.

Any dedicated Modernist is off your music stand.   Where are Sessions?   Carter?   Wuorinen?   Where is Andrew Imbrie?   Where are Boulez and Xenakis?    David Schiff is right - you are an enemy of Modernism; in that respect I would say a true disciple of Leonard Bernstein.    Like him, you are in large measure a de facto enforcer of Socialist Realism.    On one of those other seasons that you did only one work by a living American, the year you did a piece by the excellent Peter Lieberson, your orchestra gave two solid weeks of Shostakovitch.    Don’t tell me “the people want it:” that would be a Socialist excuse.   You are supposed to lead the audience.   You are not teaching them the Twentieth Century as it really was.   And therefore they do not know the present time as it really should be.   Your programming is pathetic, and the catechism of your alleged pro-modern position is a disgraceful media fiction.   

You have long since sold out American Modernism, and your paucity of new American works is the statement of a music director who is in fact contemptuous of the really serious composers of our time.   You must know your “mavericks” aren’t mavericks.    Calling them that is an insult to real mavericks, and the very fact you put yours into separate ghetto programs is an insult to them as well – though there is no clue that they realize this.    Mavericks in a corral – a contradiction in terms.

Please reform your programming, and begin representing the modern world as it really is, rather than the post-Soviet and “comfort” programming you have been offering all these years.   It is shameful, a real disgrace.

I wish I were done writing this, but I still have to say your programming is a disgrace not least because of the orchestra’s 100th anniversary.   You are an American conductor, leading an American orchestra, and in its home subscription Centennial season you are doing music by only one living American composer, who is one of the poorest representatives of the century you are supposedly celebrating, who in fact openly despises actual, literate music of the century you say you celebrate.

Your programming cannot be determined to be particularly modern, still less to be American.    Again, please reform your ideas about what is appropriate to present.    You are NOT leading the audience into the modern world.    You are at best merely gratifying them.

Christopher Fulkerson, Ph.D.


Posted March 13, 2011.