Along with being the music director of Los Angeles Opera and the Ravinia Festival (through this season), maestro James Conlon is a witty, thoughtful essayist. In his latest blog post, at jamesconlon.com (for musicalamerica.com), Conlon contemplates the parallel objectives of a classical music advocate and a tonsorial expert:
I had an extraordinary experience in Rome on a recent trip. That is almost saying the same thing twice because, if there is one city in the world where the exceptional is not an exception, it is Rome.
Overdue for a haircut, in anticipation of the Roman summer heat, which had arrived early this year, I asked a friend to recommend a barber. His was the best in all of Rome he told me (they all say that). A cousin, I asked? No, he said, just the best. So I made an appointment.
His name was Piero, and he had made his way as a young man to the city to which all roads lead where he felt he could best fulfill his ambitions to be a barber.
Not just any barber, but a great one. In short order, he recounted his life and ended by pointing out that, though he was 78 years old, he was healthy and energetic because he has done what he loved.
He was talkative and further explained that his profession and its old traditions were at risk of extinction. Those who knew the art as it had developed over a millennium were disappearing. The proliferation of the larger beauty salons and increased financial pressures were slowly crushing the independent barbershops. Much like small bookstores and pharmacies, they were becoming an endangered species. He was even indignant that the word “barber” did not command the respect that it used to and, he felt, should still command today.
Our occupations are different, but the predicaments we face are not. We both want to see our professions thrive within a world in which our adherents are admittedly numerically few and our economic importance relatively small. People will always need haircuts but barbering, for him, is more than that. Audiences will always want to be entertained, but classical music is more than that. Much more. It is in that more where the difference resides. It separates the artist from the professional, and the craftsman from the functionary.
To read the full essay, click here (musicalamerica.com is a subscription-based site, but this post may be read for free).
Meanwhile, Conlon closes out his Ravinia tenure with a concert version Aug. 15 of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. For more information, click here and here.
TOP: Rodion Pogossov as Figaro and Alessandro Corbelli as Doctor Bartolo (seated) in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” presented in March 2015 at Los Angeles Opera (and conducted by James Conlon). | L.A. Opera photo