Non-American readers may not realize how rare it is for Hollywood celebrities to show appreciation for classical music. If they do listen, they tend to hide it — for fear, I guess, of being labeled elitists or sissies or what have you. Alec Baldwin shows no such fear. He has assumed the role of chief celebrity spokesperson for the classical tradition, most prominently as the announcer of the New York Philharmonic broadcasts. He routinely names favorite composers, recordings, and performances on his lively Twitter feed, and often mentions the Philharmonic during talk-show appearances. At a time when celebrity has a creepy, almost dictatorial power, Baldwin has won the gratitude of a culture starved for media attention.
Above, Baldwin delivers the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center; it starts forty-five minutes in. At the beginning, he talks about the happenstance ways in which he stumbled onto classical music and other cultural pursuits while growing up on Long Island: the art design of Babes in Toyland and The Wizard of Oz, the blend of music and dance in West Side Story, the Beethoven that played at the end of the Huntley-Brinkley Report. It's telling to see one of NBC's biggest stars drawing a pointed contrast between the past and present of Studio 8H. He goes on to say that working with the Philharmonic has been "without question the greatest creative pleasure I have ever had," and declares that government support of the arts should foster "freedom from the commercial considerations that so often compromise and eventually suffocate real art." (There's a passing swipe at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has drifted far from its original mission.) In a wistful moment toward the end, he announces that if he were president he would give a billion dollars each to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Baldwin has managed to conjure up a fair amount of money on his own.
Nancy Hanks, incidentally, was the extraordinarily effective chairperson of the NEA from 1969 to 1977. During her term, the budget of the NEA grew from $11 million to $114 million. Yes, Richard Nixon appointed her.