Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Music, Politics and Venezuela

Most of the time it is better to avoid the intersection of music and politics, but there are exceptions. Slipped Disc has an account of some unusual events at a concert in Germany. You should read the whole thing, but here is an excerpt:
There are many ways to break the silence that has enveloped the Venezuelan tragedy for so many years. What happened at the Komische Oper on Friday, just as Mirga, the orchestra and I were about to begin Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No.1, was as shocking and desperate, as it was deeply moving.
To our surprise, a Venezuelan man and woman sitting in the front row, far left, rose to their feet and began to sing the Venezuelan National Anthem. Everyone was taken aback. I turned my body towards them, to listen, observe and admire the courage it took for these two people to break the silence, the sacred aura of this temple of classical music.
The soloist, Gabriela Montero, explains:
I want to explain to you what just happened. This couple, whom I have never met, courageously sang our National Anthem, to remind the world that beyond these walls, of this safe concert hall, there are a great many people who are suffering. Our country, Venezuela, is suffering and living its most horrific history
Igor Levit, another great pianist, was in the audience and he commented:
There are now people who believe that political speeches do not belong in a concert. Many artists also think that. It is not a question of speeches. It’s about awareness, about consciousness. Conscious of the fact that no artist, no person, should be hiding out in front of the world. So that every person, regardless of job and task, positioning, fighting, helping – must be human. Gabriela Montero is such a person. She gave all of us not only a wonderful Tchaikovsky concerto yesterday, no, she gave her music a moment that brought us closer to ourselves. I’m still overwhelmed and touched. And grateful.
I don't think we need to question the sincerity of these people, the pianists or the couple who sang the anthem. One audience member shouted out that this was not the place for these political things and for the most part I would agree with him as well.

It is complex!

There are patently contrived political protests--in fact, they often seem to be dominant these days--but there are also ones that simply come from human empathy. Honestly, who wouldn't feel empathy for the people of Venezuela, sitting on one of the largest reservoirs of oil in the world, but starving to death and dying for want of basic medicines while the political elite amass billions through corruption and oppression. Oh, and the inflation rate of the currency is around 700% so I'm sure they are tucking away US dollars and not Venezuelan bolĂ­vars.

Other political protests I have less sympathy with because they are based, not on actual facts of human suffering, but on ideologically biased contrivances.

That there should be no politics whatsoever in classical music is an extreme ideological position. That everything is political is also an extreme ideological position.

For our envoi, here is Gabriela Montero playing a Schubert Impromptu:



Anonymous said...

Venezuela is an unfolding tragedy. Maduro is a disaster but let's not forget there's a lot of blame to go around. Montero has shown an alarming fondness for oligarchs, whether Russian or Venezuelan. Meanwhile, she's fine ratting on Dudamel, who's doing his best to keep some sort of peace and reason in a messy situation. She's a fine pianist, but a callow political activist. She should stick to Rachmaninoff and her lovely improvisations while she enjoys luxury living abroad.

Marc said...

Went to SD to search for Anja Harteros-- there's an article in the Times today by Zachary Woolfe about her but I could've sworn that I've read elsewhere about her very recently-- but noticed that Venezuelan protest post... then went on my way here to see if you had written about AH (nothing shows via a search) and saw that you'd written about the Venezuelans: so read the SD post, now your post here (while I quite agree I think about 'ideologically based contrivances' am not sure which of the two terms there is most susceptible to interpretation and re-interpretation...) and am now going back to SD to read the comments. More than 50-- even discounting the dozen or so that will be about the accuracy of the translations, ha (I particularly enjoy the ones from people who are obviously regular readers, that imply that NL can't read German), that's a lot, even for over there.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think I would describe Venezuela as more an unfolding crime against humanity than a "tragedy" which conveniently leaves out the moral agency! You might be quite right about Gabriela Montero, but I really think any minor flaws she might exhibit are minuscule compared to the horrible things going on in Venezuela.

No, I haven't written about Anja Harteros. As is often the case, the comments over at Slipped Disc are well worth the price of admission!

Marc said...

Was wrong, not a single comment over there griping about translations.

I didn't mention Gabriela Montero, did I? in fact I must confess to not having known her name even before that SD post.

Oh, I agree also that what is happening in Venezuela is scarcely 'tragic' in any classical sense of the word: the foreseeable consequences of political bad actors' bad actions, rather. Do you know the work of Joel Hirst? he writes novels (which I buy but find sometimes tiresome to read) and blogs-- this post from last year is titled The Suicide of Venezuela.

Marc said...

Oh, I see I missed Anonymous's comment at 10:26, to which your 'GM's minor flaws v Venezuela's current horrors' comment responded. Mea culpa!

Bryan Townsend said...

Marc, thanks so much for that link to The Suicide of Venezuela. What a sad and dispiriting tale...

Anonymous said...

That Joel Hirst has quite a high opinion of himself... "I helped Uganda recover after a 25 year civil war – emptying out the camps and getting people back living again. I helped return democracy to Mali, and cemented a national peace process."

He cemented a national peace process. No less. Give the man a Nobel Prize.

Marc said...

Ha, ha, yes; as I wrote earlier I find the novels rather tedious after a few chapters because of what I think of as a certain portentousness of style, although I can deal with the magical realist nonsense. Hirst means in simple English that he worked for the US AID in Venezuela and in Africa etc etc-- perhaps all that was his CIA cover. But I think he is right about the Venezuelan catastrophe. From what I can tell-- did you set this joke up for me?-- he's as 'entitled' to the Nobel Prize as a certain now-retired US president is. We are rather far from Euterpe's realm, however, so I understand if Bryan elects to end the conversation where it stands.

Bryan Townsend said...

For the delightful evocation of Euterpe, let's give Marc the last word!