Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mariinsky, Card, and art despite politics

Last week I joined my concert buddy Mark and some of his friends for the Mariinsky Ballet's performance of Prokofiev's Cinderella at BAM. Outside the venue was a group of people protesting the group's artistic director, Valery Gergiev, a supporter of Putin's annexation of Crimea and anti-LGBT legistation. I thought nothing of entering the concert hall and enjoying the performance, which was possibly the first live ballet I've seen as an adult. The last time I saw a staged Prokofiev production, it was his opera The Gambler at the Met, which I didn't care for, and it being the last of three operas I saw that year, I finally had to admit I simply don't care for opera. Dance seems to be a difficult medium by which to tell a story (it felt a little like a game of charades), but I enjoyed the music more.  There's much more that can be said about how Prokofiev's style changed in the thirty years between composing The Gambler and Cinderella, but this is neither a concert review nor a scholarly paper.

Victor Melamed's illustration from this New Yorker article about Gergiev
The program booklet showed the other performances in the Mariinsky's US tour, and I noticed that the orchestra would be performing Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 at Carnegie Hall. I love that piece, so I gathered Mark and Álvaro, another percussion friend, and bought tickets. Snow caused Carnegie Hall to close on Monday night (sadly postponing our friend Ian Shafer's Carnegie debut), but it reopened Tuesday for the Mariinsky concert, and I subwayed into Manhattan after two days of hunkering down in Brooklyn. I was remembering parts of the piece in my head on the way there, but there's a truly beautiful, climbing-out-of-the-darkness theme in the third movement that I'd forgotten about until a minute before it happened in the music. When it occurred to me, I gasped a little, and it was a wonderful way to experience the music, sort of like a surprise. After the third iteration of the theme, the music rushes to an end, which is appropriate.

The second half of the concert was Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4, which the program notes told me Shostakovich was forced by Stalin's government to withdraw (this is a supposition), and thus was not premiered until 25 years later, long after Stalin's death. Its compositional style was controversial and not in line with Russian standards of the time, which made it an interesting choice considering Gergiev's staunch support of the current Russian government. The protesters were outside Carnegie Hall just as they were outside BAM the week before, and on our way out, one of them screamed, "I hope you had a bloody good time!" implying that our attendance at the concert contributed to the deaths of thousands in Ukraine. Unexpectedly, seconds later, I was within earshot of another protester who said to us quietly and amicably, "Have a good night."

At both concerts I felt conflicted, the same way I felt reading Ender's Game on the subway ride there. Every liberally minded person must set aside at least a little trepidation before picking up a book by Orson Scott Card, the outspokenly anti-LGBT author of the Ender Quartet. When I posted on Facebook that I was considering reading Ender's Game, the overwhelming response was to read it despite Card's views, which manage not to make it into the novel in any noticeable way. In fact, the message of the book is largely positive and progressive.

It seems silly, and missing the point, to make decisions about which art to consume based on the political views of the artist, especially when the art is not in furtherance of said views. Yet, on the contrary, to call anti-LGBT sentiment a "political view" is also missing the point. Conservatives minimize the issue when they call LGBT rights political, which for LGBT people are deeply personal. I'm glad the protesters were there in front of the concert hall both nights. I went in anyway, and I don't think their goal was to keep me from doing so. They raised my awareness of the issue and I educated myself further, and I may decide to stay home and listen to a CD (or patronize a pro-LGBT ensemble, like, say, QUO) next time they're in town.

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