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Daniel Ginsberg’s article on the National Symphony Orchestra (“An American Tragedy,” 7/12) shows a practical misunderstanding of the conductor’s role. It could hardly be a credible goal to have the orchestra reach “ecstatic heights.” Music-making is a nuts-and-bolts affair. Even conductors whose reputations had them specializing in reaching one spiritual apotheosis or other managed it only by being well-versed in a tradition.

Could anyone have a better or more enviable musical background than Leonard Slatkin? Given that, the jejeune suggestion that somehow not having the NSO perform avant-garde music is holding it back from being great just does not jibe with the facts of what it takes for great performance. Slatkin has it all but has hardly ever given anything beyond a good performance. He does not give bad performances, either. It is not the standard repertoire that keeps conductors in the middle somewhere—it’s the Zeitgeist, which sees great music as a threatening reminder of the depths our culture had.

The nostalgic run-through is the only acceptable performance style. Ironically, avant-garde music is the coffeehouse-cool cousin of this

middling viewpoint. The great impulse of cutting-edge modernism is long gone.

Dupont Circle