Pardons for some classical turkeys
Perhaps you heard on Wednesday's Morning Edition that Barack Obama has continued the tradition of presidential pardons for a pair of turkeys on Thanksgiving Eve, sparing them their usual fate, and sending them off to a lovely retirement at Mount Vernon. In that forgiving spirit, I hereby provide pardons for some classical musicians and other artists who misstepped in the past year or so, yet deserve our forgiveness. Such as...
- Director Diane Paulus, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and star Audra McDonald, for their clueless and presumptuous comments about their forthcoming production called The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. It was these ladies who were skewered unforgettably by Stephen Sondheim in a letter to the New York Times, then sensibly softened their stance as the show proceeded through its previews in Cambridge, Mass. I promise to have an open mind when I attend the show after it opens on Broadway in January.
- Speaking of Porgy, next is Bryn Terfel (and his producers), for his cringe-inducing rendition of "It Ain't Necessarily So" on his Bad Boys album. You can practically smell the burnt cork of blackface as the Welsh bass-baritone sings "De t'ings that you're li'ble to read in de Bible...". (At least he spares us "yo" for a clearly articulated "you're".) I know that's how the lyrics really go; they just sound awful coming from him. But Terfel's a great artist, as proved again in his portrayal of Wotan in the new Met production of Wagner's Ring. Now there's a character who doesn't get off with just a presidential pardon!
- Violinist Hilary Hahn, for her pseudo-interview with a fish, asking the same kind of questions she no doubt has had to answer hundreds of times. OK, she was probably just blowing off steam during a long, tiring tour. But this little gag could be seen as coming at the expense of the media and fans she has to endure (the poor thing) along the way. It's not nice to bite the fish...er, hands that feed you. Maybe I'm being the turkey for coming down on Hahn for such a trifling offense, in which case I beg your forgiveness. Anyhow, Hahn more than redeemed herself with her excellent new album (along with pianist Valentina Lisitsa) of Charles Ives's Violin Sonatas.
- Composer Steve Reich and Nonesuch Records for their original plan to use a photo of one the airplanes about to explode into one of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, for the CD cover of Reich's WTC 9/11. While I consider Reich to be America's most important living composer, I was among those who found it to be in bad taste to use an image of real people being incinerated by real terrorists as a promotional tool for a commercial product. So, good for all concerned when, in response to the widespread negative reaction, Reich (in contrast to the way fellow composer John Adams reacts to similar criticisms) didn't lash out or act offended. Instead, he changed it. Score one for the grownups.
Any additions? Bring 'em on!