In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, classical musicians came forward to accuse conservatory teachers and conductors, who too often modeled themselves on autocratic despots, of sexual harassment and statutory rape. The heroes of yesteryear – James Levine, Charles Dutoit, and Placido Domingo – to name just the most famous ones, became symbols of what was rotten in the heart of classical music.
As we celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, it is imperative to question the legacy of heroism that has grown around the composer. The irascible creator of the Eroica Symphony, the hearing impaired author of soul-stirring music, a champion of individuality – Beethoven exemplified what heroism meant to the Romantics. Following the evolution of hero discourses in classical music and political life from Beethoven’s time to now, I question the viability of hero worship in this musical culture moving forward. During this pause in our concert life, I invite the audience to envision a different future for classical music, one that is inclusive rather than exclusive, that embraces equality rather than hierarchy, and that props up the community rather than the solitary hero.