A terrific concert by the NY Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall last night opened with the piece “MÃ©taboles” by the composer Henri Dutilleux. The program notes offered up some meaningful perspectives on creativity.
“It seems to me very hubristic for an artist to want to define his aesthetic,” Dutilleux (now age 92) has said, “Building up a body of work is a long process, consisting mainly of trial and error and many years must pass before one achieves the distance, the detachment, the perspective which allows one to distinguish the broader lines of development.” [Ahem: MBA thesis show, anyone?]
Following the Dutilleux, was “Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra, H.292″ by Bohuslav MartinÅ¯. [With the "fiendishly difficult" piano parts performed by the wildly talented sisters Katia and Marielle LebÃ¨que.] Once again, in the category of creative endurance, an amazing story emerged. The composer was indigent and even frequently homeless during his life, including most of a seventeen year stay in Paris. Then, on top of that, “During his American years MartinÅ¯ managed to rebuild his reputation almost from scratch. Then a serious fall from a second-floor balcony in 1956 damaged his nervous system and his hearing. Until then, he had been amazingly prolific; even while he was living through the terror of enemy occupation and the frustration of trying to escape Europe, music seemed to fairly rush out of his pen.”
And lastly we came to Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27.” It seems Sergei Rachmaninoff, a household name to anyone who has ever tuned in to a classical station, also took an early and brutal beating on his will to create:
“Sergei Rachmaninoff was very nearly undone by the violent and mean-spirited criticism that greeted the unveiling of his First Symphony in 1897 — so much so that for the next three years he did not write a note. He worried that he might not be suited to be a composer after all.” Back then, one reviewer likened his piece to the seven plagues upon Egypt recounted in the Bible! Only years of psychotherapy and hypnosis were able to slowly get him back on track.
So the moral of the story is: Don’t let anyone pigeon-hole you, not even yourself, be strong of spine and thick of hide, and persist against all odds (easier now that critics don’t tend to plunge and twist the sword so deeply). You may just be ahead of your time, as others have been before you.