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Spano sticks up for the Atlanta School

June 01, 2008

IN reading Mark Swed's polemic, "Tough Times Call for Some Tougher Music" [May 18], I found a number of his premises quite disturbing. Perhaps the most egregious is the very notion of a dumbed-down appreciation of music. To listen is, by definition, "to pay attention" -- inherently an intelligent act. There may be easy hearing, but there is no easy listening. To pay attention to the exquisite simplicity of some of the world's greatest music is by no means less intelligent than to be attentive to complexity.

When Swed compares the aesthetic of the composers of the Atlanta School to that of fascist regimes and he writes "we want composers chomping down hard on the pinkies of Washington politicians," he implies that the composer's duty is political.

Although artists have often entered the political arena, it is not necessarily their duty. Their commitment is to beauty, whose definition eludes us but whose gifts are vital nourishment.

Swed's assumption of a "sonic hug" being available at Symphony Hall in Atlanta is unfounded. The diversity of our programming reflects the variety of the world's music, including works he might find challenging and difficult.

As for the Atlanta School of composers, their discernibly new aesthetic is tremendously satisfying. We are richly rewarded in commissioning, premiering, recording, performing and attentively experiencing their music, provided we don't choose revolution over evolution and don't confuse complexity with intelligence, simplicity with simple-mindedness, or art with politics.

Robert Spano


Spano is the music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

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