Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Alex Ross and Politics

As many of my readers know, I have taken a solemn vow to keep this blog as free of politics as possible. What I mean by that is that I will only write about a political issue if the classical music world is being subjected to an attack from that quarter. This does happen and I see no reason to ignore it.

But let's have a look at some other blogs and see what their policy is. Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker and music blogger, seems to have no compunctions whatsoever. Let's have a look at some of his recent posts:
One mark of the dishonor that has fallen on this country in the wake of Donald Trump's morally repugnant, profoundly un-American actions as President is that the brilliant Syrian-born clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh does not know whether he will be able to return to his Brooklyn home. I wrote about him in 2013, when he appeared in conjunction with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
That seems fair enough in that it talks about the potential consequences of a political decision on a musician. The only thing I would have done differently is give some reasons for thinking that President Trump is "morally repugnant" instead of just asserting it. I don't think it is enough to simply utter a thought that is the received wisdom in your social group--that is mere virtue signaling. To be taken seriously as a thinker, I think you need to think! That means that you should especially evaluate everything that seems to be received or accepted wisdom or truth. Otherwise you are not a thinker, but only a groupthinker.

On the plus side, in an issue of the New Yorker that seems to be almost entirely devoted to articles on the theme "Donald Trump: Threat or Menace?" Ross has an interesting piece on Julius Eastman, a somewhat forgotten minimalist composer and performer.
The major revelation, though, has been the brazen and brilliant music of Julius Eastman, who was all but forgotten at century’s end. Eastman found a degree of fame in the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, mainly as a singer: he performed the uproarious role of George III in Peter Maxwell Davies’s “Eight Songs for a Mad King,” in the company of Pierre Boulez, and toured with Meredith Monk. He achieved more limited notoriety for works that defiantly affirmed his identity as an African-American and as a gay man. (One was called “Nigger Faggot.”) As the eighties went on, he slipped from view, his behavior increasingly erratic. When he died, in 1990, at the age of forty-nine, months passed before Gann broke the news, in the Village Voice.

This is a performance of Eastman's "Gay Guerilla" at Boston University in 2013:

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