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French Music at the Kennedy Center

The performance by Les Arts Florissants (see post on January 14) is just one part of a celebration of French music at the Kennedy Center this winter: the Festival of France will present concerts of French music from local and travelling groups through April 2004. (See Tim Page's lackluster preview, A Classical January, from the Washington Post on December 30.) Sadly, the performance of Les Arts Florissants will be in the Eisenhower Theater at the same time that Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, and Steven Blier (see post on January 11) will present a program on The Art of the French Song. In an ideal world, I could bilocate (as Pythagoras of Samos was reported to have done): my soul would listen to Renée Fleming and Susan Graham, while my body listened to Charpentier with Les Arts Florissants.

In an even more ideal world, the budget required to attend more than the occasional concert at the Kennedy Center wouldn't bankrupt me (see post on October 20). Terry Teachout's excellent comments (see his post from January 7) about forcing art critics to experience a crowded exhibit the way that regular museumgoers do could also be applied to music critics and concertgoing. The minimum ticket price for Les Arts Florissants at the Kennedy Center is $60, and for Renee Fleming et al. between $30 and $75. With parking, which is outrageous at the Kennedy Center, that works out to a minimum cost of $75 to $135 for two people to attend a single concert. At a rate of one concert per week, which would be a reasonable ideal, that would total up to a substantial portion of what the normal person pays for his rent or mortgage per month. I am lucky to have a number of subsidized and therefore free concerts that I can attend to sustain me.

Now, that being said, I am a musician, and musicians deserve to make a living wage in the practice of their art. However, we need more government and corporate sponsorship of concert series (on the excellent model of the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art, for example). As a society, we need opportunities to hear beautiful music and see beautiful things without breaking the bank. The high price of admission in the commercialized system reinforces an elitist stereotype that is doing more damage than we know to the future of the arts.

Whatever. I will be shelling out the big bucks for the opportunity to see Les Arts Florissants on February 3. Oh, yeah, I somehow forgot to mention that the costumes for the two operas of Marc-Antoine Charpentier have been designed by Christian Lacroix, the fashion god of Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) in the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, among other qualifications. You can see some of Lacroix's costumes for past theater productions at his Web site (in English or in French). If you want a teaser of how Les Arts Florissants sounds, you can listen to a clip here.

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