Tag: news

James Levine: A Reckoning

Met opera NYC

The Metropolitan Opera, New York. (Photo: mine. Please do not reproduce without permission.)

Since the news broke last Saturday, I’ve debated with myself about whether or not I should write something. The news, in case you hadn’t heard, is a big story — the story — in classical music, involving serious allegations of sexual assault against conductor James Levine, from several men who were boys when the incidents unfolded.

The main reaction I’ve noted, after the first report (in the New York Post) came out, is “everyone knew” and “about time” and “how could anyone not know?” I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t. Say I’m ignorant, or stupid, that I’m a poseur with my head in the sand — much has been said about me, and worse than that, and will continue to be said about, and directed at me, in that vein. That’s fine. I didn’t know. Remembering the things my mother would whisper under her breath about the conductor, I suspect she harboured her own suspicions, all of which she never shared in any detailed way with me. I will never know what she was thinking, but I wish she was here now to talk to.

As I wrote in a past post, one which was difficult to write in its own way and which I contemplate now for different yet oddly similar reasons, Levine was a figure I grew up watching on TV and seeing in-person at the Met, including earlier this year. He was their mainstay, their guy, the one which, if various allegations are to be believed, was shielded by powerful forces determined to keep a popular maestro. No amount of damage control or back-pedalling can erase the massive abuse of power which was allowed to occur over four decades.  Such abuse by powerful men is not, as an historian friend pointed out to me, unusual; to paraphrase what he said, “they expect there will be no consequences.” It is terrible –sickening, horrendous, past words — to consider how such men keep being enabled, however, and to reckon with the damage wrought by such heinous wielding of power. Such enabling is, alas, too often done by the self-interested, by those keen to boost careers and coffers, to maintain image and income. Those whose trust was betrayed, hope squashed, love stepped on — they go on, endure, move forwards, or, as some have stated in subsequent interviews with Michael Cooper, they don’t.

Met opera lobby

The lobby of the Metropolitan Opera. (Photo mine. Please do not reproduce without permission.)

Both arts writers and music fans have been grappling with the news and with Levine’s musical legacy, as well as on what they should do with their recordings, the possible future of the Met, and how the news reflects on the classical community overall. Earlier tonight I put the finishing touches on an interview with tenor Frédéric Antoun, about The Exterminating Angel, a production he recently appeared in at the Metropolitan Opera, and I debated with myself, even as I hit  “publish”: Should I? Is this wrong? Am I horrible? Levine did not conduct this work (which was on the stages of the Salzburg Festival and Royal Opera before it reached NYC), nor was he involved with its production — but Levine’s decades-long involvement with the Met means he has, by sheer presence alone, shaped the organization, even if he doesn’t have direct involvement now. He stepped down as Music Director in April 2016 but was given the title of Music Director Emeritus at the close of that particular season. How much should I feature anything associated with the Met on my website? Should I wipe everything out? Edit things a bit? Make a point never to cover their work again?

There are no quick answers to these questions for me. There is also, to my mind, no need to punish artists like Antoun, or others who perform at the NYC institution. One can accept they perform there, even as one may choose to see them in other venues, if one so chooses. What to do with my memories of seeing Levine in Berlin recently are more problematic. I’m not sure what to do with the transcendent impression which fell over me like a starry blanket at the close of Mahler’s immense Third Symphony that cold final night in October — I don’t know what to say about the feeling of having experienced something deeply, utterly beautiful. There is no other word for it. Levine got a standing ovation (a true rarity in Berlin) and several curtain calls. Were we sick? Are we disgusting? Am I wrong to have been so moved? Should I throw my memory of beauty in the toilet? Is it now invalid?

met opera chandeliers

The chandeliers at the Metropolitan Opera. (Photo: mine. Please do not reproduce without permission.)

Again, there are no easy answers (at least none I trust), and there is no smoothing over with any number of reductive “music is the answer” memes. Some will and indeed, have, said that the artist and their personal life must be separated; I think that is an entirely personal decision. I have trouble watching Woody Allen movies without the benefit of context; the same goes for the work of Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock, and Leni Riefenstahl, to name a few I view their work through the lens of their lives; it is my choice, my privilege, and my coping mechanism. Context is everything. To separate one completely from the other, or to imply I would only consume their work solely because of their lives, simply isn’t my style. Experiencing beauty sometimes has a truly frightful price, and I’m not sure it’s worth it, as a music lover, writer, and assault survivor.

Maybe context has become my new blanket. Though it’s far less fancy, it’s warmer through storms, and soaks up, at least a bit, the puddles of sadness that sit around everything right now. It beats wrapping myself in the transparent sheets of deceit. Call me dim as you will, but at least I am no Emperor.

 

“The world is getting smaller, each passing day…”

On this, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, this track, by the incredible Solomon Burke (who would’ve been 71 today), feels particularly apropos.

I listened to this track even as news of Libya, Japan, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Yemen, Bahrain, New Zealand, and so many more, ran (on mute) across my television, a whirlwind of flag-waving and fires, broken homes and watermarked family photos. As I watched those indescribable images, and guiltily bounced between them, email, status updates and moving arrangements, a series of thoughts presented themselves, especially one: I hate change. I mean, it’s good, but… it’s frightening. This thought coincided with another coughing jag, tied to a violent re-appearance of asthma, a condition I thought I was rid of long ago. My worries and resistance to change have taken on a suffocatingly physical form. I’m moving to a strange (if deeply beloved) city in a week’s time, and already I’m feeling pressed -for time, resource, air itself. The deep-seated worry has started about not having enough. But… enough for who? Within what context? Why am I worrying?

Grappling with freedom within the context of something new is exhilarating, if scary, both in a personal and political sense. Change isn’t comfortable, but it is a stepping stone. I had to consciously step away from the computer more than once today, turn off the telly and the radio, put the phone down and just remind myself to breathe, deeply, and frequently. And I slowly dissected what my lack of breathing-freedom really means. It’s true, we make mistakes. We’re guided by ego. We frequently accept the visible over the visionary. But the possibility for regeneration and renewal spring eternal, as befits this day, and, like the astrological sign it corresponds to, I keep ramming home the idea that change is possible, in our hearts, our heads, our homes, whether it’s the front door or the farthest corners of the globe. Or in our lungs.

The Greek historian Thucydides wrote, “The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.And it takes courage to choose freedom for one’s self in both physical and figurative senses, to not look back in anger, to be the change, to use the force. Martin Luther King understood this deeply. It’s what inspired him to lead over three thousand marchers from Selma, Montgomery, on a trek that was nearly 60 miles and took five days. That courage was contagious; by the time he reached Montgomery, marchers numbered 25,0000. Staring fear in the face, making space mentally and emotionally for your enemies, staring change in its giant question-mark-shaped face because it’s far, far better than the slit-eyed, greying alternative… this is courage, fueled on a steady diet of faith.

And it’s this faith that I see celebrated in art, in the graffiti on a Libyan city wall, in the pencil line of a sketch shared round the world, in the rhythm and melody of music – the breaths, the wavering, wailing voices, the pressed keys and reverberation of strings and amps and snares, reaching for something higher, where not just a few of the well-read, well-connected, well-fed and well-meaning are free but… everyone, everywhere, spreading a hope-full, joy-full melody of liberation, a Song of Solomon in motion, a confirmation of collaboration with not just ourselves and our little clubs, but even (or especially) those we disagree with, write off, roll our eyes at, avoid, don’t call back, backstab, ignore, or, of course, feel suffocated by. I’m staring my own fears in the face right now, figuring out how much freedom is worth, what I’ll sacrifice, and how much a reset on my perceptions is possible. It’s easy -maybe even trite -to believe faith might overcome doubt in the face of fear.

But, we are -all of us, whatever our circumstances -free to choose something else, something broader, something bigger and bolder. Something that doesn’t just smell, taste, feel or look like freedom, but actually is that very idea in and of itself, embodied within the walking, breathing, spitting, bleeding masses of flesh we are. We have a deal with the universe, a deal that clearly tells us, in every shape and form: love thine enemy. Judge not lest ye be judged. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. To deny any of these an acknowledgment and indeed, a manifestation in our busy, over-stimulated lives, where we preach to the converted and sing loudly in our online choirs, builds a lonely prison of our own devising, brick by brick. It’s easy to judge others; it’s even easier to judge ourselves. None of us is free indeed.

But perhaps George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic said it best, at least for those of us who see a very thin line between the sacred and the profane. Within the confident crooning of Solomon Burke and the incredible Blind Boys Of Alabama, there thrives the encouraging spirit of survival, awareness, and even growth. “None of us are free”, it’s true, but we’re working on it. Change comes slow… but it comes -if we choose it. I am, and I’m terrified, and I’m thrilled. And I’m walking on, and taking very deep, slow breaths.

Good Enough For Me

I love news. I’m that woman who watches the BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, CNBC et al for fun. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love a bit of the absurd. In fact, I find, as I get older, my appetite for it is increasing.

All forms of absurdity work – old-school, new-school, tragically chic, mainstream-esque -but sometimes, it’s the simple stuff I like most. I’m especially entranced by children’s programming; it feels like producers working in that realm are given free reign with their imaginations, drawing in elements from the real world and transforming them into things little minds will enjoy without questioning or rationale… or the need for sensationalist press.

And so, outside of violent revolutions, political manoeuvrings, cuts to public broadcasting, and an earthquake, I present… Cookie Monster.

Recommended to be viewed on a day off, in early evening, sipping a glass of shiraz. With the news on mute.

Alice Speaks

If you’re interested, I shared my personal thoughts on the election over at my Myspace blog. Allons-y.

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