Denver’s Bondamania – Culture – Boettcher Concert Hall

Mayor Hickenlooper’s $550 million bond package has been tossed out of committee to the full city council. You will, of course, recall that there is a 2.5 mill levy property tax hike included therewith, and an additional tax hike above the 2.5 figure if all eight questions on this November’s ballot are approved. Denver’s codified bonding authority is $480 million. So, to avoid the additional tax hike (above the 2.5 mill levy increase), a total of $70 million will have to be pared from the proposals by voters. And, guess what? One of the eight bond questions is for cultural facilities (Boettcher Concert Hall–$40 million–and the Museum of Nature and Science–$30 million), which comes in at exactly $70 million.

From Councilwoman Carol Boigon: “Music is an expression of our community, and so, to me, as we look at this as a well-rounded community committed to the life of the mind and spirit as well as the life of the body, the culturals are central.”

I don’t disagree. But, if we’re talking about Boettcher Concert Hall, we’re talking primarily about symphonic music which, indeed, rounds out the community…albeit the cultured elite of the community who actually see the point of symphonic music.

Indulge me for a moment.

William F. Buckley, Jr., writing in “The Governor Listeth,” notes in an essay (written in 1969) entitled, “Middle-Class Values”:

I thought I had seen everything–I hoped I had–in the student world of unreason. But the all-time champion effrontery was as yet uncommitted. It was left to a seventeen-year-old Negro boy called Rickey Ivie whose Black Student Union has touched off disorders in a Los Angeles high school in a demonstration against “raciest training.” An example of that training is the inclusion in the curriculum of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. ” He is described by Master Ivie as “that old, dead punk.” “In the world of music,” he explains, “the schools keep imposing middle-class values in teaching us about Bach.”

I sat next to a middle-class French countess the other day who announced to me that she did not like Bach. I felt like asking her, did she like color, or fresh air, or trees–when suddenly I realized that she figured that her dislike of Bach was Bach’s fault–such is the egomania of democratism. If one really doesn’t like Bach, why I suppose one shouldn’t listen to him. But one should then be disturbed about oneself, not about Bach.

The remarkable thing about young Ivie isn’t, one supposes, that he doesn’t like Bach–probably he had never let himself listen to Bach. It is that author of such a remark as he made about Bach, he hasn’t become the laughingstock of his fellow students. Eccentricity is one thing (the late publisher of the New York Times specified that no Mozart should be played at his funeral). To call the greatest genius who ever lived an “old, dead punk,” the least of whose cantatas will do more to elevate the human spirit than all the black student unions born and unborn, is not so much contemptible as pitiable: conducive of that kind of separation one feels from animals, rather than from other human beings.

I love that phrase, “…egomania of democratism…”

I hark back to Councilwoman Carol Boigon’s surely heartfelt comments with regard to music and culture and that Denver, presumably, would be less “well-rounded” if the $40 million for Boettcher Concert Hall is not approved. But, heartfelt as her comments are, one cannot escape that, in her way, she is echoing the elitism displayed by Buckley Jr. who lightly mentioned he suffered a familiarity with a “…middle-class French countess.” Trying to remember the last time I sat next to a middle-class French countess.

I love classical music. I love symphonic music. I love opera. I love Bach cantatas. A caveat here: I love all of these things if they’re well-performed. I also love a pretty broad spectrum of country music, popular music, folk music, rock. I deplore rap, hip-hop–that booming social commentary that ain’t–sorry–music. There’s my egomania. Suspect you have your own self-centered preferences.

My partner, David, has amassed a collection of classical cds that now probably numbers, at least, five-thousand. He is an audiophile. He is a trained musician. But, like me, his passion for classical (symphonic) music is tempered by the quality of the performance.

David has, over the years, spent some little time at Boettcher experiencing the ups and downs of the Colorado (once the “Denver”) symphony orchestra. Suffice it to say, his forays to Boettcher petered-out with the emergence of Marin Alsop as Music Director. David’s conclusion with regard to Alsop’s suzerainty over the orchestra is adequately communicated with a play on her name: Marin Allsloppy. David is, however, impressed with the new Music Director’s–Jeffrey Kahane–ability to deliver quality performances.

Boettcher Concert Hall opened in 1978. The acoustics were terrible. An upgrade to the acoustical design was completed in 1993. In spite of what the city’s website notes with regard to the 1993 acoustical fixes: “These enhancements improved what was already an outstanding feature of the hall!”–the acoustics remain minimally adequate. Let me beg to differ from whoever it was that identified the Boettcher acoustics as, “…an outstanding feature of the hall.” They weren’t. They aren’t. Which, of course, begs the question: Why don’t we spend $40 million to fix Boettcher? (Actually, I believe the total requested by the Theaters and Arenas Division of the City was, at one time, $90 million.)

Can’t avoid the obvious answer. The answer brings to mind the quote probably incorrectly attributed to Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake.” The allusion to this elitist view of the world–the masses had no bread, for heaven’s sake!–is instructive.

What is it that a city is supposed to do for its citizens? Two things come to mind: Essential city services and quality of life. We all know what essential city services are. And, much of what is proposed by the bond packages, as well as the 2.5 mill property tax hike, encompass essential city services…although, a few of the proposals scrunched up in the eight bond/tax questions defy any semblance to essential city services. But, what about quality of life? When we talk about quality of life issues, one would hope that we’re talking about quality of life for all citizens, not just a few. And, for me, therein lies the rub with regard to the $40 million proposed for Boettcher. Such, as Buckley Jr. said, reflects on the egomania of democratism…something Buckley Jr. saw as a troublesome, inconvenient tendency of the masses to suggest their–the masses–interests were, if not tantamount, at least equal to the interests of the elitist few who never want for cake, much less bread.

Where, I wonder, are the fat-cat benefactors of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and their venue, Boettcher Concert Hall? Oh, I know, the CSO has its benefactors. But, apparently, no, obviously not that many to assure this so-called “first rate” orchestra has a “first rate” venue in which to comfort their sensibilities. Methinks even the most probable fat-cat benefactors have focused their philanthropy elsewhere–hunger, health care, education. A matter of priorities maybe.

And, finally, I guess that’s what it comes down to for me. Priorities. I look at the $40 million proposal for Boeottcher and balance that against the $20 million price tag placed on the Berkeley Park Master Plan, completed several years ago. I look at the $40 million proposal for Boettcher and balance that against the $39 million for a new police crime lab. I look at the $40 million proposal for Boettcher and balance that against the $18 million for a new animal shelter facility. Okay, enough. You see where I’m going with this.

The fact that Hick is asking for $550 million in bond money, and an additional $27 million a year for infrastructure maintenance through a property tax hike has got to flash that proverbial light bulb: Denver’s got a problem. Yes, maybe Jeanne Faatz is right: The city isn’t allocating its present resources adequately. I don’t doubt that is true, to a point. But, given the enormity magnitude of Denver’s needs, needs that will benefit ALL THE PEOPLE, the specter of handing over $40 million to affirm Carol Boigon’s conclusion that the “…culturals are essential,” begs the question: Essential to who and at what cost?

I would like to see Boettcher Concert Hall improved. I would like for the Colorado Symphony to have a first-rate venue. But, not this time. Not within the context of the most of the other urgent needs of this city articulated within the bond/tax questions we will see on the November ballot. And, no, I don’t want to pay more property taxes for a Boettcher conversion.

It just doesn’t make good sense.

P.S. Thanks, Jeffrey. “Enormity,” was misused.

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2 Responses to Denver’s Bondamania – Culture – Boettcher Concert Hall

  1. John says:

    Ah….goosebump time with the Buckley stuff. The masses will always have their television. Helluva coincidence that the Boettcher and Museum conveniently total 70 million. They will not be approved. Let the moneyed elites in Denver support those improvements if they care. We look forward, George, to your valuable posts on the bond and taxation election. Thanks very much for the efforts.

  2. georgeindenver says:

    Thanks, John. Still awaiting the city’s (council’s) final wording and ordering of the bond questions. Suspect they will nudge the culturals in between other questions, hoping, no doubt, that joe citizen will just merrily vote “yes,” without understanding the consequences.

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