Between Love and Lust There Can Be Music -- And Other Arts

05/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

And we can start a revolution in the process! Last February 18, an unlikely panel convened at Carnegie Hall to discuss the value of classical music and other art forms in a world successfully tantalized or overwhelmed by entertainment, natural disasters, hunger and plagues. The occasion was the launch of an ambitious, some would say Quixotesque, arts-focused initiative by the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders (YGL) to re-shape the world into a more creative, responsive, human set of opportunities and possibilities. Ideals have a way of making a comeback when materialism and excessive leverage bring the dreams of wealth for the few or the many to a tragic halt. New Yorkers know that better than anyone.

The panel included some well known opinion makers and leaders. Clive Gillinson, the Artistic and Executive Director of Carnegie Hall, who introduced proceedings, commended the World Economic Forum for placing the Arts at the very center of its agenda, as cultural leaders can be a key constituency in global redesign efforts. Jim Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank and well-known investment banker, reflected on the need to weave East-West art forms into insightful discoveries of cultural survival, while pointing out his and Sandy Weill's roles in returning Carnegie Hall to its historic majesty as one of New York's cultural icons.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Forum founder and lead designer, found distinction between the lure of entertainers for the paparazzi, and the yawn provoked by some extraordinary artists, but identified culture as a unique glue in the pursuit of human identity. Deborah Borda, CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, recently scored a major touchdown by landing famed and prodigious conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, to lead the orchestra and El Sistema-modeled community outreach projects in LA. Borda bemoaned the narrowly restrictive education imparted by US music conservatories, more likely to produce successful musical "dentists" than transcending artists. Instead she advocates a more holistic liberal arts training.

Matthew Bishop, YGL, The Economist's New York Bureau Chief, and author of Philathrocapitalim made even more clear the difference between entertainment and art: "You pay for entertainment and art needs subsidies", he said poignantly. Hilda Ochoa, Founding Chairman of the Youth Orchestra of The Americas (YOA), the revolutionary initiative at the center of the evening performance, focused on the similarities between art and entertainment to arrive at the differences. Both are a distraction from ordinary stressors, with varying degrees of transformational impact on the human mind. Like love and lust, she said, they are not the enemy of each other, but bring desirable complementary qualities in a continuum of human emotion and creativity. When all else is lost, there is the spirit -- nurtured by music and art, as powerful a force for human survival and resurrection as food, shelter and medical help, she added. The moderator, Erwann Michel-Kerjan, YGL, Managing Director, Center for Risk Management and Decision Processes, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, could not have been more provocative leaning with and against the panelists.

During the course of the panel discussion the questions ranged from why we need arts when we are hungry or sick, to what is the difference between arts and entertainment, to how do we measure the return on investment in the arts in a world focused on measuring economic output.

Then came the evening. The Youth Orchestra of the Americas, which has initiated revolutionary community development missions in over 20 cities across the Americas, came as the clear proof of the very transformational impact that the morning panel attempted to quantify. Young orchestra musicians, flown in from across the Americas, gave it all to the music and the audience, with a fiery energy enough to power Times Square, with selfless devotion to music-making and artistic mastery -- the purest essence of the Arts. It was easy to forget their youth in their world class playing, except for their unforgettable passion.

During the ambitious artistic program Julian Rachlin gripped the audience with a breathtaking rendition of the almost-unplayable Carmen Fantasy arranged by Waxman. The orchestra, under the direction of Carlos Miguel Prieto, YGL and one of the YOA's principal conductors (along with the famed Gustavo Dudamel), performed one of the most unforgettable Shostakovich 6th Symphonies on record. We have seldom heard a better rendition of the piece. Joshua Bell delighted the hall with one of his longtime favorites, Saint-Saens' Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso. The packed Carnegie Hall was then carried into the depths of the universe by a most enthralling performance of Bach's Concerto for Two Violins performed by Bell and Rachlin with the masterful orchestra string section. Then came the finale, reminding us of entertainer extraordinaire Bo Derek's, "10" soundtrack: Ravel's Bolero conducted by Valery Gergiev, with the flutter of his fingers sending fiery jolts through the escalating energy of the piece to the very top of the dress circle! The audience roared with excitement. One could not help but recall Ochoa's earlier poignantly drawn parallels.

We heard inspiring remarks by Professor Klaus Schwab, whose creation -- the World Economic Forum -- is turning 40 in 2010. "More than ever, we need the transformative power of the arts to help us redefine our values system to master our common global challenges in a cooperative way... The passion, performance, courage, and imagination of artists are qualities of genuine leadership and teamwork needed in the world today." And John Hope Bryant Chairman and CEO of Operation Hope and Vice Chairman, President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, closed the remarks with an evangelical call to action for reshaping development agendas for growth in its more spiritual aspects.

What a magnificent day, what a magnificent evening it was. From love to lust and music in between giving us hope that there are real revolutionary forces and revolutionary leaders who are making a resounding difference in their communities. At least twenty private entrepreneurs funding major arts training programs in their countries with many more young musicians leading the charge, were on hand to testify to their successes. Two private sector leaders stood out, Fernando Cortes, of Fundacion Seguros Bolivar in Colombia, and Lorenzo Mendoza of Grupo Polar in Venezuela.

As for the hard reality of ROI, what was the return on investment: 40%, 50%,100%? A fledgling Colombian double bass player took the opportunity of being in New York to audition at Juilliard, and was accepted, subject to passing an English test. That is quite a return on investment. Sometimes the return is so large it cannot be measured in percentages, but in the numbers of lives that are truly transformed by the experience, saved by the opportunity and tempered by the search for excellence in every realm of human activity, that is triggered by exposure to transformational music in the hands of young prodigies. Yes we can. I would not have missed this rapture for all the other temptations available in New York City that Thursday night in February.