Posted inInterview

Not Only Art, But a Human Right

Under Taliban rule (1996-2001), instrumental music and public performance in Afghanistan were almost totally banned. Instruments that were discovered by the Taliban’s morality police were destroyed; sometimes publicly burned or “hanged” along with confiscated audio and video cassettes, televisions, and camcorders. Only the singing of certain religious songs and unaccompanied hymns of praise to the […]

Posted inReview

Communist Dissonance

At the beginning of the Chinese Communist Party propaganda movie-musical “The Wings of Songs,” a tune is playing, and there are attractive people frolicking. But, unlike “The Sound of Music,” the frolicking and the music never match. We have just been introduced to three boyish members of a band, the film’s protagonists, who are performing […]

Posted inInterview

Objective and Inner Realities

Last August, conductor Vitali Alekseenok flew from his home in Germany (where he divides his time between Weimar and Munich) to his native Belarus. There, he took part in both the national elections and the subsequent protests against the government of Alexander G. Lukashenko.  Despite the brutal police violence he witnessed, Alekseenok wrote in an […]

Posted inOpinion

The Offensively Inoffensive

At a tandoori restaurant in Tel Aviv, an Israeli politician chastises a quixotic Norwegian diplomat: “When people talk to you, Terje, you should pay attention to what they actually say, and not just listen for what you want to hear.”  The scene is from “Oslo,” which began as a 2016 play and last weekend resurfaced […]

Posted inReport

The Elephant in the Room

On January 17, 2021, Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny boarded a flight from Berlin to Moscow, where he was arrested immediately upon landing. The previous evening, in Munich, Valery Gergiev conducted a performance of Brahms’s Double Concerto and Symphony No. 3 in Munich. The following Saturday—while the concert streamed online—hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in […]

Posted inInterview

The Right Questions

A recurring dream that I’ve had for the last several years: My grandmother, a Syrian refugee who spent the last 15 years of her life in the grips of progressive dementia, shows me an attic accessible through a crawlspace in her bedroom closet. It contains a trove of books, journals, letters, and photographs from our […]

Posted inOpinion

Classical Complacency

The time is in the street you know, Us living as we do upside down. And the new word to have is “revolution.” People don’t even want to hear the preacher spill or spiel Because God’s hole card has been thoroughly piqued And America is now blood and tears instead of milk and honey  —Gil […]

Posted inHistory

The Pianist who Killed Stalin

In his 2017 film “The Death of Stalin,” Armando Iannucci links the titular event to a letter penned by pianist Maria Yudina: “Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, you have betrayed our nation and destroyed its people. I pray for your end and ask the Lord to forgive you. Tyrant.” In Iannucci’s history-as-farce, the dictator reads this note […]

Posted inReport

Long Time Passing

An old Pete Seeger song that ran through my head in the autumn of 2016 ends with the lines: “And by union what we will can be accomplished still. / Drops of water turn a mill; singly none.” In 2020, I’m listening to folk singer Lee Knight sing that same song (“Step by Step”) on […]