November 2012 Archives

Eduardo Leandro leading members of Ensemble Pi in Kristin Nordeval's "Three Character Studies"

On Saturday Ensemble Pi [Ensemble Π] presented "What Must be Said", its 7th annual Concert for Peace at The Cell, a jewelbox non-profit theater space carved out of the bottom floors of a handsome, early-19th-century Chelsea townhouse. I was delighted to be able to record some images from the concert. By the way, I've decided that the hardest part about photographing performances may be the thing about trying hard not to annoy the rest of the audience.

The evening was one of the most extraordinary and profoundly-moving musical performance events I have ever experienced. The concert was conceived and presented with an intelligence and compassion which intensified the independent merits and beauties of the (seven?) works scheduled. The pieces included were by one writer and three composers all of whose work performed that night, as described by The Cell in its press release, "addresses some of the 'silences' enforced or suggested by governments or the media". All of the works were compelling for their historical and contemporary relevance, brilliant in their composition, and interpreted with consummate elegance by an ensemble which has adopted the most generous of missions.

The collective describes itself as "a socially conscious new music group dedicated to performing the music of living and undiscovered composers", but that description doesn't do justice to the sincerity and bravery of what the group, under its artistic director Idith Meshulam, has been doing for eleven years.

One constant in its programming, perhaps unique among both musical groups and performance venues, is its addressing of serious ideas about which there is not universal consensus even among progressives, and, just as important, the discussion of those ideas. Designed at least partly towards that end are the ensemble's regular collaborations with visual artists, writers, actors, and journalists.

Airi Yoshioka and Idith Meshulam playing Susan Botti's "Fallen City"

On Saturday and Sunday the program began with Susan Botti's "Lament: The Fallen City", for violin and piano, which, the program describes, "reflects upon the fall of Troy as a metaphor for modern cities that have experienced natural or human-made disaster (i.e. Baghdad; New Orleans; Pisco, Peru; or Greensburg, Kansas)". I've never heard some of the kinds of sounds Airi Yoshioka (violin) and Idith Meshulam (piano) were able to produce in this affecting piece, but they were always as eloquent as they were anomalous.

Kai Moser reading Günter Grass' "What Must be Said"

Günter Grass' controversial poem on Israel, Iran and war, "Was gesagt werden muss" [What Must Be Said], from which the evening took its title, was read in German (with an English translation projection) by Kai Moser. Grass has gotten hell for what he wrote, not least because of his earlier, late-life confession that he had been part of an SS tank division (drafted at 17) near the end of the war.

Kristin Nordeval singing "Ask Me", from her "Three Character Studies"

The concert began a transformation into intimate musical theater with the performance of "Three Character Studies", excerpts from composer/soprano Kristin Norderval's opera in progress, "The Trials of Patricia Isasa". Both Emily Donato and Daniel Pincus sang beautifully, Donato in the role of the teenage Isasa, and Daniel Pincus as the federal judge convicted for his role in the torture and kidnapping of many Argentinians, including Isasa. Norderval herself was the superb soloist in the the third section (as the adult Patricia, now a media figure), accompanying herself with some sound processing on her laptop near the end.

This beautiful and very moving piece could be staged as a mini opera on its own right now, and I very much look forward to hearing the completed opera, which will boast a powerful libretto by playwright Naomi Wallace.

a scene from An den kleinen Radioapparat [to the little radio]

from Und es sind die finstern Zeiten in der fremden Stadt [the times are dark and fearful]

the concluding, concentration camp scene, Harte Menschheit, unbewegt, lang erfror'nem Fischvolk gleich [people hard and impassive, like fishermen long at sea]

The evening continued with the premiere of "Eisler on the Go", a beautiful, animated puppet show by the New York collaborative, Great Small Works, on the life of Hanns Eisler. The composer's studiedly-accessible music, his personality and his loyalties, his proletarian activism, and his sad fate (beginning long before he was expelled from the U.S. as a communist), has been something of an obsession for me ever since I first came across his music and his story a number of years ago; I'm very happy to find lately that his fans are now becoming legion.

The tiny-theater show animated three of the most familiar of Eisler's many songs, each sung by Nordeval. They were: "Song von Angebot und Nachfrage", "An den kleinen Radioapparat", and "Und es sind die finstern Zeiten in der fremden Stadt" [the links are to three awesome videos, with three very different performers; enjoy].

After the Puppenspiel Meshulam played the first movement of the composer's "Piano Sonata No. 3" and his "Klavierstück Op. 32 no V and VI", gently bringing the chamber back from the darkness, the anger and the funk - brilliantly.

The program was repeated the following night.

Elihu Vedder Corrupt Legislation 1896 oil on canvas [installation view]

despite the "hot hand" he was dealt, [Obama] represents one of the greatest failures in the history of postwar political leadership - Robert E. Prasch

To the critics of my own recent verbal and written rants, which were nothing when compared to the extended broadsides of a number of much more public and articulate voices which included Glenn Greenwald, Matt Stoller, the Black Agenda Report, and Robert E. Prasch (all of whom have also been badly bruised by angry Obama sectaries):

I won't say that I won't say I told you so.

In fact I started four years ago, repeatedly speaking and writing about the failures of the Obama administration as they unfolded, and what appeared to be the reinstallation of the disastrous regime which had preceded it. Apparently we were considered inconsequential, certainly ineffectual. Many members of what passes today for a Left didn't scream in high dudgeon at me or Obama's many other critics until it was time to decide whether to award our current president four more years in order to finish a nasty job.

If the presidential compaign wasn't just a ruse arranged by a corporate class, the most amazing aspect of the fearmongering we witnessed, and certainly the most telling, is the fact that only four years after Bush Junior there could possibly be any danger from another totally absurd Republican candidate, and from the party which had itself dealt the "hot hand" Obama had inherited. But we've all watched as the ground was prepared over those four years, some of us to great dismay.

Some of my own blog history on the subject of this president:

  • February 4, 2008 (primary time) Should I be embarrassed, reading it now, that this post shows I had clearly been suckered in a bit?: "a vote for Obama is not really a rational choice; it's a vote for a dream"

  • October 28, 2008 (just days before the election) I wrote of my doubts that Obama would do the right thing: "we have nothing but our fragile hopes"

  • November 7, 2008 (3 days after the election) My blog was showing that I was concerned, and the fundamental questions had already begun: "Freedom ain't a tower."

  • November 25, 2008 (3 weeks after the election) I asked whether Obama's talk about hope and change was all fake: "a seemingly inexorable reintroduction of the polices and personnel which created the colossal messes both inside and outside our borders"

  • September 7, 2009 (seven and a half months into Obama's term) I listed 29 (and still counting) separate indictments against the Obama administration: "Obama is a disaster."

  • October 7, 2009 (eight and a half months into Obama's term) I had come to realize our wars were intended as endless wars to prolong war endlessly, and they had now become Obama's wars: "[they] have been programmed from the very beginning to go on forever."

The conclusion is self-evident, so the only question remaining is whether we're talking about incompetence or evil. I can't imagine it isn't both.

Of course critics of our corrupted system, which has tamed and suppressed a genuine Left in the U.S. for at least a century, are nothing new and their voices have not always been uncelebrated. The legendary W.E.B. Dubois became increasingly radical as he aged; late in his life (he was born, remarkably, just after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction Era) he wrote in The Nation about his choice not to vote in a presidential election:

No 'two evils' exist. There is but one evil party with two names.

Introducing its September 4, 2012 post on his "Why I Won't Vote" essay, Black Agenda Report explains: "Dubois condemns both Democrats and Republicans for their indifferent positions on the influence of corporate wealth, racial inequality, arms proliferation and unaffordable health care.explained persuasively why he was not voting in the upcoming 1956 presidential election."

We can hardly do less today.

Dubois himself concluded:

Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No, it is dogged hope. It is hope that if twenty-five million voters refrain from voting in 1956 because of their own accord . . . this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest.

. . . .

I will be no party to it and that will make little difference. You will take large part and bravely march to the polls, and that also will make no difference. Stop running Russia and giving Chinese advice when we cannot rule ourselves decently. Stop yelling about a democracy we do not have. Democracy is dead in the United States. Yet there is still nothing to replace real democracy. Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the money-changers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let's vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.

[image from Wikipedia entry, "political corruption"]

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