The culture of Europe is culture. The culture of America is business.
This year, the Vienna Philharmonic performed in Berkeley’s Zellerbach Auditorium. Characteristic of the world’s great orchestras, the musicians and conductor were absolutely absorbed in the music—as if they, on the spot, were composing the music.
Their performance of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor was emotionally transcendent. With the last chord, the audience burst into applause.
The conductor was visibly angry. The piece wasn’t over. He, the musicians, and the audience’s knowledgeable listeners, with 70 minutes invested in the music, needed a minute to relish that emotional experience and then come down from the transcendent final moment with God.
Who were those people who applauded so quickly? Superficial listeners showing off for their friends? Not immersed in the music, they destroyed that final moment. We may be almost certain the conductor was saying to himself: “This is the last time we perform in America.”
Something similar occurred at last summer’s French Open at Roland-Garros in Paris, where fans shouted at the tennis players on center court, “Come on, buddy, hang in there!” with the same self-centered false emotion as that audience in Berkeley, as if they personally knew the players.
They didn’t. Their inappropriate and badly timed shoutouts were an audience showing off for their friends, for the crowd—themselves wanting to be a center of attention. Complete hypocrisy.
Oversimplification? America’s culture of 200 years is less developed compared to Europe’s culture of 2,500 years. The richness of European, Middle Eastern, and Asian cultures is simply a people’s response to a genuine lack of social, political, and economic freedom; the response of a people who over centuries learned to turn within, to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, yet keep for themselves what was theirs: religion, culture, aesthetics, innermost thoughts.
British and American culture is the opposite: citizens seeking individual freedom, democracy, and economic opportunity. Culture takes a backseat.
Why did Joseph Haydn and Frederic Handel, composer-conductors leading two first-rank European orchestras, flee Germany for London? They could no longer live in such an unfree world.
Some Europeans went further. America’s Founding Fathers went all the way to the New World.
However, occasionally the reverse happens. Composer-musician Jimi Hendricks fled America for London to escape racism. Living in Handel’s old house, he was an active member of the Handel society.
The less independent (and entrepreneurial) remained in Europe. They are less willing to stand up to societal wrongs and are accepting of class society (except for occasional acts of revengeful terror such as the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution, disguised as protest).
Until quite recently, no one objected to the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic orchestra’s policy of never allowing women musicians. Even today, one notices among some of the orchestra’s male members a certain proud Germanic stiffness, or remembers how quickly during World War II the Vienna Philharmonic turned over all its Jewish members and their families to the Third Reich for deportation.
A week earlier, The New York Times, reviewing the same concert at Carnegie Hall, concluded: “Beyond the standard-repertory programs, the encores, as usual, came from the nostalgic dream world of the Philharmonic’s waltz-and-polka-filled New Year’s concerts, which do their best to pretend that the past 150 years never happened.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.