When good artists happen to bad people

When should an artist dissent? The answer, for Arts and Ammo, is when the Right tells him to:

Scott Spiegelberg at Musical Perceptions points approvingly to pianist Leon Fleisher’s aversion to going to a White House occupied by George Bush and to conductor Lorin Maazel’s eagerness to perform for Kim Jong-il in North Korea.

It’s easy to find approval these days shunning the supposed dictator Bush while cozying up to real dictators elsewhere.

The writer (whose name I can’t find on his/her blog) goes to to excoriate my brother-in-bratsche-blogging Charles Noble for having defended the decision of the New York Philharmonic to go to North Korea (with the approval, I would add, of President Bush’s State Department).

We had some of this same reaction when we went to Cuba in 1999 at
the height of the Elian Gonzalez controversy. I’ve never understood the
idea that the way to deal with one’s adversaries is… not to deal with
them. Are they supposed to go away? In the case of Cuba, it seemed
blindingly obvious after having spent a day there that the only thing
keeping Castro in power was the American boycott; it was impossible to
imagine such a regime surviving the tsunami of American tourism that
would follow the lifting of the travel ban.

I see no contradiction in approving of the NY Phil going to North
Korea and also approving of what Fleischer did. Surely holding our own
President to a higher standard than we expect of a loony-tunes dictator
is the obligation of any citizen, artist or otherwise.

I just found out that we’re going to be doing the Strauss Metamorphosen
in our first concert with our music director designate in April; a
piece written in mourning for the destruction of the Munich Opera
House. Strauss, of course, is the prime example of a great artist
accommodating himself to an evil government, even while it was trying
to murder his Jewish daughter-in-law (although David Coy thinks his accommodation was in part intended to protect her). Of course no sane person would
compare the actions of Bush to the actions of Hitler (apparently  comparing Barack Obama to Hitler is just fine; silly me for expecting the Right to be intellectually honest) – but it is quite possible to believe that the shredding of constitutional protections, the torture of prisoners, and the waging of aggressive war call for more than just silent disapproval.

It’s impossible to listen to Strauss and completely forget that he
had no moral problem working for unspeakably wicked people – or that he
wasn’t impelled to write anything about the destruction by German
bombers of Coventry Cathedral. It’s hard to blame Fleischer for not
wanting to be remembered in the same way.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “When good artists happen to bad people”

  1. Michael Monroe Says:

    You say “no sane person would compare the actions of Bush to the actions of Hitler,” and yet your final sentence comes pretty close; it suggests that a silent Fleisher might be remembered “in the same way” as Strauss, presumably because association with Bush is comparable to association with Hitler. Also, I agree that the comparison of Obama to Hitler is offensive, but I think the radical Left, whether you think them sane or not, has played the Hitler/Bush card more than a couple of times. You might need to check sources other than Media Matters to find criticism of such bias, though. Perhaps your “intellectual honesty” could use a tune-up as well, if you think the Obama thing is offensive, but find no problem suggesting Fleisher was facing a Strauss-like dilemma.

    I found my way here via Spiegelberg/Noble, by the way. I don’t identify myself with “the Right,” but I find the classical music blogosphere pretty lax about intellectual honesty in matters political, probably because it’s assumed most of the readership is left-wing and won’t challenge lazy thinking. The funniest thing about the Fleisher situation is how many have wanted to call him courageous for speaking out – I bet you’d agree that someone in Fleisher’s position would have much more to lose reputation-wise by saying something positive about Bush. I’m not saying he’d be morally correct to support Bush, but that associating himself with Bush would be much riskier, and thus require more courage, at least on a peer-pressure level.

  2. Robert Levine Says:

    “it suggests that a silent Fleisher might be remembered “in the same way” as Strauss, presumably because association with Bush is comparable to association with Hitler.”

    I think Fleischer faced the same quality of moral problem as did Strauss. I did not mean to claim that what he meant to protest was comparable to what Strauss should have protested, and tried to make that clear earlier in the post.

    “Also, I agree that the comparison of Obama to Hitler is offensive, but I think the radical Left, whether you think them sane or not, has played the Hitler/Bush card more than a couple of times.”

    Some have. There is inflammatory rhetoric on both extremes.

    “I find the classical music blogosphere pretty lax about intellectual honesty in matters political, probably because it’s assumed most of the readership is left-wing and won’t challenge lazy thinking.”

    More likely is that most musicians, like most normal people, don’t think much about politics. In general I find intellectual honesty a pretty rare quality. And most musicians, while pretty bright people, are not intellectuals or trained thinkers.

    “The funniest thing about the Fleisher situation is how many have wanted to call him courageous for speaking out – I bet you’d agree that someone in Fleisher’s position would have much more to lose reputation-wise by saying something positive about Bush.”

    There is something to that. But I’m sure there would have been upsides for him in doing so as well. Had it been me in that situation I know I would have angered friends with either course of action. That’s why I don’t talk politics at work.

    Clearly the safest course for Fleischer would have been to say nothing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: