FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The New Mahler, Seattle Style

by Ian Daoust

Three weeks ago I attended a surprisingly wretched performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, at Benaroya Hall, in Seattle, Washington. Conducting–to call it by that otherwise noble word–was Seattle’s own version of Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, and Leonard Bernstein all rolled into one, a man of such consummate talent that his deep wisdom cannot be bound by his music, and who must express with prefatory words what the more prosaic maestros of the world express through mere trumpets and catgut: Seattle’s very own Gerard Schwarz.

My grievance? That before the performance, Maestro Schwarz explained that Mahler wrote his second symphony to commemorate the fate which befalls us all, death, and that we too, as Americans, had now a special opportunity all our own to ponder this mysterious phenomenon. Schwarz told us that Mahler had written a five minute silence into the score, and that the Seattle Symphony would, in a stunning interpretive flourish, honor this silence. Schwarz then invited the audience to stand during that pause, and to consider the “tragedy” of 9/11 while the orchestra waited.

After the first movement, Schwarz turned to the audience, and like our third-grade elementary-school teachers, gestured to us to stand while he led us in his own version of the flag salute. His mostly white, mostly bourgeois, mostly obedient and mostly middle-brow Seattle audience dutifully obliged. I did not.

I secretly hoped that one of the other parishioners might shoot me a nasty look, or in some way prod me into creating an incident, perhaps offering me a chance to express my hope that one of their sons might sacrifice his blood and conscience to make some barren piece of Iraqi soil forever America, (or at least to make Iraqi oil forever America’s), but alas, they were all polite, like me. My protest was most genteel.

I thought about many things during that silence, while I sat. I thought about the 3,700 or so Afghan civilian deaths that have resulted from American bombing in that country, as reported in the European press and mostly ignored in the U.S., and about the effects on Iraqi civilians of the American bombing of water-treatment plants after the Gulf War (i.e. widespread civilian disease and deaths), and of the long-ago and long-forgotten CIA bribing of military officers in the countries of the middle east, in an attempt to get them to turn against their governments, which they overwhelmingly refused to do, and thereby sealed their fate as enemies of the U.S., which resulted in widespread…you get the idea. That’s what I thought about.

I also, during that silence, wondered but was unable to determine whether Schwarz referred to Shakespearean tragedy, Wagnerian tragedy, or perhaps Hegelian tragedy, all of which imply an inevitable conflict born of noble will, as tragedy (in the proper sense of the word) arises less from choice than from necessity, a confrontation born of principles intrinsic to our humanity, and which form the stuff of life. I wondered exactly what Schwarz intended by this stunt, and I speculated that his complete ignorance of what tragedy means might provide one explanation. (I can theorize only: Schwarz has refused to answer my query, as has Larry Tucker, SSO’s director of what they call “Artistic Planning”). But my first theory was unsatisfactory. Too simple, too dismissive.

I therefore suggest the following: that Schwarz’s jingoistic mischief that afternoon represents the scope of his interpretative genius. More precisely: that Schwarz’s inability to place into his conducting any semblance of learning, knowledge, vision, imagination or taste, that his conspicuous failure to evoke through music any hint of word-transcending humanity, any distinct stamp of his own, resulted in a desperate attempt to sentimentalize his audience, that we might in the depths of our patriotism overlook his own aesthetic mediocrity. Schwarz appropriated Mahler’s humanitarian symphony to the causes of the most shallow variety, and thereby helped to strengthen that irrational American self-righteousness that may yet rip this country, along with a few others, to pieces. That is the extent of Schwarz’s artistry.

Perhaps for his next trick, Schwarz will encourage us to think about neck injuries and quadriplegia among American soldiers returning from a land invasion of Iraq, before conducting Ravel’s “The Gallows.” But I doubt it. He hasn’t the knack.

Ian Daoust can be reached at: iandaoust@yahoo.com

More articles by:
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John Campbell McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
Roberto J. González
Starting Them Young: Is Facebook Hooking Children on Social Media?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Between the Null and the Void
Andrew Levine
Trump After Bannon: What Next?
John Davis
Mud-Slide
Ajamu Baraka
The Responsibility to Protect the World … from the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Stirs the Methane Monster
Paul Street
Lazy Liberals and “the Trump Effect”
Carmen Rodriguez
Trump’s Attack on Salvadoran Migrants
Mike Whitney
Oprah for President, Really?
Francisco Cabanillas
The Hurricane After Maria
Luciana Bohne
World War I: Crime and Punishment
Steve Martinot
The Ideology of Pepper Spray: Force and Violence in a Can
Martin Billheimer
Beyond the 120 Days of the Silicon Valley Dolls
Patrick T. Hiller
An Olympic Glimmer on the Horizon – North Korea and South Korea Stepping Down the Escalation Ladder
Ron Jacobs
The Vietnamese War: a Different Take
Binoy Kampmark
Fuming in the White House: the Bannon-Trump Implosion
Joseph Natoli
What to Worry About and What Not to Worry About
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto, Bayer and Neoliberalism: A Case of Hobson’s Choice
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Bullying of Cuba
Kenneth Surin
Bigger in Texas
Arturo Desimone
The Untouchable Leader Who Stood Up to Gandhi
Peter Crowley
To Cheerleaders of Iran Protests: Iran is Not Our Enemy, a Sponsor of Terror or a Tyranny
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail