A Composer's Adventures

We’re Spoiled!

“What a magical place — such atmosphere and beautiful architecture,” was my first reaction on a recent visit to Barcelona. We immersed ourselves in this visual feast, walking along tree-covered boulevards, sitting in the many plazas or cafes. Yes, the food was wonderful. The city has a pulse of history and tourism. We saw several museums and soon realized that Antoni Gaudi was probably the wildest, but not the only architect of ornate and unusual buildings.

After a couple of days, we started to look for music and realized that we had not heard any so far. Not on the streets and not streaming out of clubs or postered on concert halls. We avoided dinner theatres with Flamenco dancing for tourists and looked for music by locals and for locals. We even talked with students in the conservatory — if anybody would know where music was happening, they would.  But they came up with nothing classical or new, ethnic or jazz, and even seemed slightly bewildered by our questions. In the end we joined other tourists in a charming performance of opera and Flamenco in the amazing Palau de la Musica, which has every square inch decorated with stained glass, paintings or sculptures.

Spain is in terrible financial straits, but the beauty of Barcelona is a solid source of income and the city is well cared for. While we enjoyed the city, I soon realized that I missed the buzz of all the art forms that we are used to in such abundance. The Museum of Modern Art had a very skimpy collection and we never found any performing arts. We asked the music students what they planned to do after graduation, and they all said, “We’ll probably go to Germany to find work.”  I hope their education will be good enough for them to compete.

The bottom line is: it was a wonderful visit and we are certainly spoiled here in Toronto, where multiple events in all the performing arts take place daily. This week alone I went to Phil Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach,” the great Picasso exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Robert Lepage’s fantastic theatre production “Spades,” and loved Steve Koven’s Project Rex quintet at the Rex.

We are also spoiled with outstanding education in the arts. The Royal Conservatory of Music has moved up in the ranks, producing fine instrumentalists and excellent opera singers. I have been following the school career of a young violinist friend in Toronto as she goes through the undergraduate instrumental program at the University of Toronto. Aside from studies, she was kept busy with performance activities in the orchestra, the opera program and the new music ensemble, not to mention a number of ad hoc ensembles she was occasionally part of.  She worked on projects with a symphony orchestra and established artists. The school connected her to summer programs where she could improve her skills by playing with the best of her peers.

A big network of the arts is needed to nurture and attract students. It must exist from the beginning experiments in basements and clubs to major stages and galleries. If it slips away, a city as big as Barcelona with 1.6 million people can end up sending its young musicians to other countries. So I learned something there.

Michael Colgrass


  1. But isn’t it true Michael that graduate music students often migrate to other cities and countries to find work? Toronto is an example of that as well I believe. Of course, it is also true that few of us truly appreciate the cultural riches of our cities, like Boston, San Francisco, LA, Atlanta, Toronto, Montreal, and others. And you’re right that few countries can match the music schools of North America, something we should also appreciate more.

    • Helen—I certainly had an unmatchable percussion education at the University of Illinois school of music under Paul Price in the early fifties. When visiting countries in Europe and Great Britain during the mid-fifties, I found that most of their major music schools hadn’t even heard of percussion ensembles.

  2. David Saperstein July 7, 2012 at 2:45 pm Reply

    I remember meeting you back in the days when you played in contemporary music concerts. You said to me, “Scram, kid, I’ve got work to do!” —

    But to get to the point – Are we spoiled? Do we, as Americans, not appreciate how much we have here in terms of culture? But, isn’t this univesal? Go anywhere, and very often the people right there just don’t appreciate the beauty of what they have. In Rome, the Coloseum is just a pretty decoration for a traffic circle – the cars & busses just whiz by – and the people living there take their surroundings for granted just as much as we do here.

  3. Richard Bennett July 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm Reply

    I guess we need to get away once in awhile to truly appreciate the riches in our own back yard.

    Glad to have see the blog back up and running, Michael. I was beginning to suffer withdrawal!


  4. David—All too true about people not appreciating what they have. But I have no recollection of telling you to scram because “I have work to do.” That doesn’t sound like something I’d say to someone, but if I did say it I apologize now for my rudeness.

  5. Richard—Thanks for that kind comment. I was certainly getting antsy wondering if we were ever going to find the solution to the blog problem.

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