A remarkable performance from August 2006 showed up on Youtube late last month. It is a rendition of Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony, by the Maryinsky Theater Orchestra and Chorus, with bass Mikhail Petrenko, conducted by the great Valery Gergiev. The presentation was on August 19, 2006, at Royal Albert Hall, as part of the BBC Proms series. The recording, in high definition video, and with superb sound, has subtitles. It is a stunning document.
I’ve written a little about the Occupy Wall Street movement and the fine arts here, covering, for instance, the Occupy Lincoln Center protests after the final performance by the Metropolitan opera of Philip Glass’ opera about pacifism and civil disobedience, Satyagraha. I wrote then:
I would like to see more artists involved in OWS in 2012 than has been the case this year. It is certainly true that a lot of artists are involved, but they are mostly popular artists, with only a sprinkling of personalities or top names from the fine arts.
The reality that among the first victims of funding cuts in education and government agencies are fine arts programs and classes, and that this has been going on for decades, hasn’t been covered as much as it should have been. Arts programs all over the country were the prototypes for moves designed to lower taxes on the 1%.
I’ve written a fair number of works that protest injustice, violence and environmental degradation. In America, protest music is generally associated with the realms of the blues, jazz, rock, rhythm-and-blues and hip-hop. Classical composers who have joined in social protests through their works have been few and far between. The modern American composer who suffered most for his political activities was the iconic populist artist, Aaron Copland. He had the audacity to stiff Sen. Joe McCarthy’s juggernaut. When called to testify in front of McCarthy, here was part of the exchange:
[A]fter composer Aaron Copland denied ever having been a communist, McCarthy hectored the composer, “You have what appears to be one of the longest communist-front records of anyone we have had here.”
Copland replied, “I spend my days writing symphonies, concertos, ballads, and I am not a political thinker.”
Copland was never called to appear at a public hearing.
He was blacklisted from the film industry and other important venues. A performance of his Lincoln Portrait for President Eisenhower’s inaugural events was cancelled.
My own work, The Skies Are Weeping, got me denounced by Alaska Rep. Bob Lynn in front of a joint session of the Alaska Legislature. Unlike Copland, I’ve still got my job.
But compared to the ordeals of Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich and thousands of Soviet artists from 1935 well into the 1960s, we were lucky, to say the least. Read the rest of this entry →