Violin music in Keukenhof flower park

This 7 April 2020 video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Violinist Rosanne Philippens embraces the sunrise in Keukenhof – Keukenhof Virtually Open

Because you cannot visit Keukenhof right now, we decided to bring Keukenhof to you! The first hour of sunlight of the day is also known as the magic hour or the golden hour. Violinist Rosanne Philippens embraces sunrise with sonate No.5 by the Belgian violinist composer Eugene Ysaÿe.

Violin: Rosanne Philippens
Drone: Wiebe de Jager
Camera: Jorrit Pit
Audio: Chris Everts
Location: Keukenhof

This 10 May 2020 video from the Netherlands says about itself:

This is the last video of our Keukenhof Virtually Open series. Together with all employees, we tried to bring Keukenhof to your home this year. Thank you for all the nice comments and we hope to see you next year at Keukenhof!🌷

Shell oil, bad classical music sponsors

This classical music video from the Netherlands says about itself:

Shell Symphony by Kate Honey (excerpts)

Shell Symphony was composed by Kate Honey in 2017 to call on Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw to end its partnership with the oil giant Shell. This is the film of the premiere on October 5th 2017, in a protest concert outside the Concertgebouw.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

A group of activists threw ten thousand music sheets from the balcony in the Concertgebouw last night. The group, Fossil Free Culture NL, protests against the collaboration between the Concertgebouw and Shell.

The group protested at the Concertgebouw because the cultural institution receives sponsor money from Shell. “We cannot believe that they are sponsored as a public institution by Shell,” campaigner Maria Rietberg told NH Nieuws regional broadcasting organisation. “The Concertgebouw plays an important role in the world that we want to create together, free from fossil fuels.”


The action group previously handed out black champagne to visitors to the Concertgebouw. They also demonstrated against the Van Gogh Museum. That museum also had links with Shell, but they have since been broken.

The campaign #FossilFreeMuseumplein is not nearly finished when it is up to the activists. Ultimately, they want to ensure that no one public institution on the square has links with Shell.

African American singer Jessye Norman, RIP

This 1 October 2019 video says about itself:

In Memoriam: Jessye Norman. Morgen (Score Animation)

Jessye Norman
Gerhard Bosse, violin
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Kurt Masur, cond.

From Wikipedia:

Jessye Mae Norman (September 15, 1945 – September 30, 2019) was an American opera singer and recitalist. A dramatic soprano, Norman was associated in with roles such as Wagner’s Sieglinde, Ariadne by Richard Strauss, Gluck’s Alceste and Beethoven‘s Leonore, and Cassandre. Norman was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1999, and became a Spingarn Medalist in 2013. Apart from receiving several honorary doctorates and other awards, she also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts, and was a member of the British Royal Academy of Music. …

In 2015, Norman suffered a spinal cord injury. She died at Mount Sinai–St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan on September 30, 2019, aged 74, from multiple organ failure and septic shock, secondary to complications from the injury.

United States musicians, teachers on strike

This 17 June 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Musicians picket after Baltimore Symphony Orchestra locks them out

The management of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra locked out its musicians at midnight Sunday. The BSO Board of Directors approved the lockout Sunday. The lockout comes after months of stalled negotiations between the musicians’ union and management. With no agreement between musicians and management reached, the lockout took effect at midnight.

By Dmitri Church and Harvey Simpkins in the USA:

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians reject contract proposals, launch strike

17 September 2019

On September 10, the musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra voted down two contract proposals from the symphony’s Board of Directors. The workers, who have been locked out since June 16, are now on strike, refusing to return to work on September 9 when the Board reopened the symphony for the fall concert season.

The conflict between the musicians and management continues to center on the Board’s unilateral cancellation of the 2019 summer season, with management insisting on a permanent end to all future summer sessions. Most of the musicians have not been paid since June 14, after the BSO’s Board unilaterally eliminated the summer season and then locked out the musicians. The musicians have each lost about $20,000 in pay due to the lockout. …

Many fans and community members expressed support for the musicians and denounced management in the comments. One wrote, “I am outraged and heartbroken that the world-class musicians of this great orchestra are being treated so badly, as well as their precious audience members and supporters. I will continue to believe in the long-term flourishing of the orchestra, but I am so sorry for this painful period of uncertainty and injustice. Sending support. Will return to stand on the picket line with you. Honored to do so.” Many others expressed that the current management should be replaced.

The situation for symphony workers at the BSO and the attack on the right to culture is part of a national trend. While unlimited funds are provided for the military and local police departments, the already meager funding for the arts is routinely slashed.

In the BSO’s case, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation providing an additional $1.6 million for it in the 2020 fiscal year budget and another $1.6 million for the following year. However, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan refused to release the funds, which represent more than half the wages and benefits lost by the musicians during the lockout. [BSO percusionist] Prechtl told the Baltimore Sun that if the additional state funding was made available, “We would be at work this week. I can guarantee it.” …

During their strike, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra sent a powerful message by playing free concerts, engaging many members of the community who would not otherwise have the opportunity to hear orchestral music live. BSO musicians are doing the same. On Saturday, they performed a concert before a packed audience at New Shiloh Baptist Church in impoverished west Baltimore. This refutes claims by some that classical music is the province only of the rich, and that the working class is not interested in such performances.

The majority of people in Baltimore and around the world do not want to see classical music confined to recordings and academic study. It is up to musicians to connect their struggle with the struggle of workers globally for better wages. As capital abandons any cultivation of the arts in a blind pursuit of profit, only the working class can ensure that human culture continues to develop.

This 3 May 2018 video says about itself:

Puerto Rico Teachers Rally to Save Schools

Teachers and community members surrounded the Capitol Building in San Juan to symbolize a “Shield To Protect Public Education in Puerto Rico.” The latest round of proposed school closures would bring the total to 450 in one year, with a devastating impact on families, as the island works to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

By Dan Conway in the USA:

Teachers set to strike in southern Alaska

17 September 2019

Teachers in southern Alaska will begin striking on Tuesday, joining the continuing movement of teachers in the US and around the globe who have, over the past two years, come out in force to fight for decent wages and benefits and better conditions for students. Educators in the 42 schools of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District (KPBSD) in southern Alaska had already voted by 75 percent in favor of strike again in the district that serves 9,000 students. The Kenai teachers have been working without a contract for more than 441 days and took the strike vote more than four months ago.

Bargaining between the two sides has continued for almost two years. The Kenai school district is located in the South Central region of Alaska, the state’s most populous area, which includes the city of Anchorage.

Irish fish shoal swims to Beethoven music

This 2017 video from Ireland says about itself:

The music of Beethoven, and fish swimming in a shoal formation.The music is Symphony no.9 by Ludwig Van Beethoven, the finale with Ode to Joy is also known as ‘the Choral’.

Twenty years of the Young Euro Classic festival: Beethoven caught between rebellion and EU propaganda: here.

Babi Yar, Shostakovich’s anti-fascist symphony, performed

This video from the USA says about itself:

Preview for Shostakovich‘s Babi Yar Remembering the Holocaust | April 27 & 28, 2019

In a powerful performance not to be missed, MSU [Michigan State University] Symphony Orchestra, Choirs, soloist Mark Rucker, baritone, and a trio of expert scholars present Shostakovich 13, Babi Yar, with selections from Davidson’s I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

By Nancy Hanover in the USA:

Michigan State University performs stirring rendition of Babi Yar, Dmitri Shostakovich’s anti-fascist symphony

1 May 2019

I am
each old man
here shot dead.

I am
every child
here shot dead.

Nothing in me
shall ever forget!

The ‘Internationale’,
let it thunder
when the last anti-Semite on earth
is buried forever.

In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage,
all anti-Semites
must hate me now as a Jew.

For that reason
I am a true Russian!
[From “Babi Yar” by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translation: George Reavey]

After nearly two years of preparation, the Michigan State University (MSU) Orchestra and Choral Ensembles performed Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 in B-flat minor, based on Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar” (1961), last Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan, and Sunday at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. It featured well-known baritone Mark Rucker, who also serves as professor of voice in the MSU College of Music.

Yevtushenko’s “Babi Yar” is a poem that memorializes the Nazi massacre of 34,000 Jews at Babi Yar, just outside Kiev, Ukraine, on September 29-30, 1941, one of the single largest instances of mass murder carried out during the Holocaust. It took place soon after the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The rapidly intensifying political atmosphere today—including the rise of anti-Semitism and authoritarianism nationally and internationally—heightened the emotional and artistic significance for musicians and listeners alike. One of the most enduring and powerful musical protests against fascism and anti-Semitism, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 was performed in Detroit one day after another brutal anti-Semitic murder at Chabad of Poway, just north of San Diego, on the final day of Passover. The killer issued a statement that denounced Jews “for their role in Marxism and communism.”

The contemporary resonance of MSU’s production “Babi Yar, Remembering the Holocaust” was noted by several speakers who introduced Shostakovich’s work. They referenced the fascist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, the terror bombing in Sri Lanka and the slaughter of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October. Concert-goers included more than a dozen Holocaust survivors and a busload of older members of the Jewish Community Center, as well as many young musicians.

Socialist Equality Party campaigners distributed materials on the rise of the fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the fight against the extreme right and were warmly received by many. “It’s not just in Germany, it’s here—it’s here”, one older concert-goer repeated, with unmistakable alarm.

The concert began with Charles Davidson’s “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” (1968), in slightly abbreviated form. The piece is written for orchestra and treble choir and based on poems by Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust. The children were among the 150,000 Jews imprisoned in the Terezin concentration camp (also known as Theresienstadt). After the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the Nazis converted the Czech town of Terezin into a Jewish prison. It was not an extermination camp, but about 33,000 would die of hunger and disease there. The Soviet army liberated the camp in 1945.

The evocative poetic lines of the children were displayed above the orchestra and chorus. “The heaviest wheel rolls across our foreheads, To bury itself deep somewhere in our memories. We’ve suffered here more than enough, Here in this clot of grief and shame” begins the poem “Terezin.”

The piece is alternatively haunting and mournful and lively and hopeful, as the powerful choirs give voice to the children’s contradictory feelings. Davidson, trained as a cantor and with a doctorate in sacred music, has created an ethereal and entrancing melodic sound in this now widely performed piece.

Sophia Franklin

Sophia Franklin, a Music Education and Physics major at MSU, who sang alto in the 100-plus member chorus, later told a reporter from the World Socialist Web Site, “Our piece was about Terezin. It was a concentration camp, but designed by the Nazis to be the public ‘face’ of the camps for visits by the Red Cross. It looked like a nice camp, but really it was just as bad. People were disappearing. They [the Jews] knew there was something very wrong even though the murders weren’t happening there. They were living in constant fear.”

Echoing the thoughts of many of those in the hall, Sophia said, “I have learned about the history of the Holocaust in middle and high school. This has happened before. Can’t we learn from that?”

In one of the concert’s introductory lectures, MSU Assistant Professor Dr. Amy Simon explained that the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, in Operation Barbarossa, beginning a war of annihilation. Recognizing the genocidal implications, Simon said, approximately 100,000 Jews fled Kiev before the fascist occupation. Those who remained were the sick, the elderly and many children. These Jews were forced to walk to a ravine on the outskirts, now called Babi Yar, lined up in groups and systematically machine-gunned to death.

After the wholesale slaughter of the Jews, who constituted the largest proportion of the dead, the killing would continue for months abetted by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Tens of thousands of Communist Party members, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma and other anti-Nazis also perished there. It is estimated that the total number of dead thrown into the pit at Babi Yar would grow to more than 100,000 during the years of German occupation. Of the 6 million Jews who were exterminated by the Nazis, more than 2 million died in the Soviet Union as a result of mass executions similar to that at Babi Yar.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s famous poem “Babi Yar” was written in protest. It begins, “No monument stands over Babi Yar. A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone. I am afraid. Today, I am as old, As the entire Jewish race itself.”

The poem is a brilliant and defiant attack on both anti-Semitism and the Stalinist bureaucracy. The nationalist bureaucracy pandered to anti-Semitism and was hostile to its exposure; it opposed any remembrance of the genocidal treatment of the Jews, insisting there be no special mention of the Nazis’ determination to eradicate Jewry. Yevtushenko’s poem laments, “O, Russia of my heart, I know that you, Are international, by inner nature. But often those whose hands are steeped in filth, Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.” Unsurprisingly, the poem was officially denounced by Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Kevin Bartig, MSU associate professor of music, who also spoke before the production, related the extraordinary first exchange between the poet and composer. Shostakovich, he explained, approached Yevtushenko for permission to set “Babi Yar” to music. The poet immediately agreed, and Shostakovich, relieved, then told him the piece was already composed.

Bartig recounted Yevtushenko’s words when he first heard the composition, “Some of my poems were set before, but the music hardly ever coincided with the melody I heard in my inner ear when writing my poem. I hope it doesn’t sound like conceit, but if I were able to write music, I would have written exactly the way Shostakovich did. By some magic, telepathic insight he seems to have pulled the melody out of me and recorded it in musical notation.”

Wonderful and apt words! Sitting in the audience of this concert, one felt an emotional and seamless unity between the music and words—each heightening the power of the other.

Bartig noted that there were attempts to prevent the premiere of the 13th Symphony in 1962, but “it was a sign of the times, that the idea of censoring a performance—as would certainly have been the case a decade earlier [prior to Stalin’s death]—would have been more of a provocation or scandal than allowing it to go on.” This was during the period of the so-called Thaw in the USSR.

The music scholar noted, “The work is a meditation on repression, from anti-Semitism to the take-down of self-interested bureaucrats in the final movement. It was a risky project in the USSR. Even a few years earlier, Shostakovich might not have risked it. …

“Stylistically, Shostakovich is himself as ever here using a tonal idiom, dressed up with the things that make his voice so distinctive: creating dissonances, exaggerated contrasts, and sarcasm.” He concluded by noting, “The themes we confront in the 13th, which sadly remain relevant in 2019, make the work one of the most unsettling and powerful in the symphonic repertoire.”

Explaining his decision to create the work, Shostakovich said, “I was overjoyed when I read Yevtushenko’s ‘Babi Yar’; the poem astounded me. It astounded thousands of people. Many had heard about Babi Yar, but it took Yevtushenko’s poem to make them aware of it. They tried to destroy the memory of Babi Yar, first the Germans and then the Ukrainian government. But after Yevtushenko’s poem, it became clear that it would never be forgotten. That is the power of art.”

The piece is not easily classified. Requiring a bass soloist, men’s chorus and large orchestra, it has five movements. Babi Yar has been variously described as a choral symphony, a song cycle or a giant cantata. The first section, “Babi Yar”, the Adagio, is a funereal elegy, opening with a solemn chime, dramatically invoking the Dreyfus affair in France (1894-1906), the savage Bialystok pogrom of 1906 and the story of Anne Frank. The emotional music moves from the spiritual to the literal, in the breaking down of Anne Frank’s door. The use of the bass soloist, the impressive Mark Rucker in this case, a male chorus and the frequent effective use of chimes and bells is widely attributed to the influence of 19th century Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky.

The second movement, “Humour”, is a livelier piece, but its message is just as pointed: oppression cannot silence the masses and their mocking of authority. It ends, “three cheers for humour—he’s a brave fellow.” The third (“In the Store”) is an ode to Soviet women, endlessly forced to line up to secure provisions for their families, ending with a quasi-religious motif. The fourth movement (“Fears”) evokes the menacing atmosphere under Stalinism, opening with a highly chromatic tuba solo that anticipates the composer’s later experiments with twelve-tone dissonance. “Career”, the final movement, condemns censorship and the ever-present Stalinist toadies with a lopsided opening waltz and beautiful woodwind solos, ending with a chilling final strike of the chime. It makes a bitter analogy to the Catholic Church’s trial and imprisonment of Galileo.

Attending the Orchestra Hall event, Joseph Jankowski, a student at the Detroit Institute for Musical Education, told us, “I knew this would be powerful. But when the conductor lowered the baton, no one clapped. Then everyone started clapping and didn’t want to stop—that was amazing.

“It was a beautiful portrayal and 100 percent relevant. Humanity-wise we face a serious issue today in this country and around the world. Events like this are extremely important because they should serve as a reminder that not all is as it should be. Large events like the Holocaust—even smaller events like Sandy Hook—we’ve allowed them to happen. We forget.”

“It was amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Edie, another audience member, “A person just feels more emotional about it all [in the setting of] such impressive music.”

International Youth and Students for Socialist Equality (IYSSE) member James said he was deeply moved by both the music and poems: “In Charles Davidson’s piece, the first poem, ‘I’d Like to Go Away Alone’, began with heavenly violin strings that captured the feeling of hope. But when the alto choir sang ‘Somewhere into the far unknown there, where no one kills another’, the vocals were a musical suggestion of such an un-worldly place.”

He continued, “The lyrics captured the feelings of children who had to watch this tragedy as it happened. … The gong and flute were used a lot to symbolize the blows that Nazi soldiers used against the Jewish prisoners of war. The orchestra members walked off in a single file line to symbolize what the Jewish people experienced at that time in these concentration camps.”

James also noted, “The [Shostakovich] music really felt uneasy, as the poem portrays things. The baritone singing, ‘Let the Internationale thunder as the last anti-Semites on earth are buried’ had me in tears. I hope the working class has more access to cultural events like this one in the future. This was a great experience for me.”

“The greatness of Shostakovich,” Fred Mazelis notes in his WSWS article on the composer’s legacy, was “to reflect the great struggles of his time, to find the musical language, in abstract, personal and emotional terms, through which to express not only his personal travail, but that of many millions of others.”

Many of those of us who attended the soul-stirring MSU performance would strongly concur. Indeed, the struggles of his time remain the struggles of our own.

The author also recommends:

The Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933-2017) and the fate of the ‘60s generation
[3 May 2017]

Berlin exhibition—“Mass Shootings: The Holocaust from the Baltic to the Black Sea 1941-1944”
[28 October 2016]

The legacy of Dmitri Shostakovich
[7 April 2000]

Chicago classical musicians keep fighting for their rights

This 12 February 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

As part of their free concert series “From the Heart of the Orchestra,” Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians on strike performed three well-attended concerts last week in the Chicago area to appeal to the public in their struggle.

On Monday, the musicians performed at the Benito Juarez Performing Arts Center with a full orchestra and a rapt audience that warmly received them. On Wednesday and Friday, they held two more successful chamber concerts at Lutkin Hall in Northwestern University and at the Chicago Temple. On April 3, Yuan-Qing Yu, Blair Milton (violins), Wei-Ting Kuo (viola), Ken Olsen (cello) and J. Lawrie Bloom (clarinet) presented a smaller chamber concert at Lutkin Hall on the campus of Northwestern University.

The musicians carried themselves with levity at times, laughing at each other and with the audience, and yet with an appropriate degree of seriousness and gravity with regards to the situation they confront. They performed Jean-Marie Leclair’s Sonata No. 3 for Two Violins, Op. 6, in C Major, Beethoven’s String Trio, Op. 9, No. 1 in G Major and Carl Maria von Weber’s Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet in B Flat Major, Op. 34.

The sold-out crowd stood at its feet at the end of the stirring performance. Musicians, students and workers spoke to the WSWS about the strike of CSO musicians and their reasons for attending after the concert. You can read the full report here.

Clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom said, “One of the things you can’t help feeling during a strike is that your abilities are being questioned, your value is being rated. You are being told you’re not worth what you’ve been promised. This to a group of musicians who have dedicated themselves for a lifetime to attaining the level of artistry that makes it possible for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to be generally recognized as one of the greatest orchestras on the face of the earth, and a cultural jewel in the city of Chicago.”

Bloom added, “We may be often filled with sadness at this impasse, we may feel like we are being undervalued, but we can still play, and bring joy to an audience.” Violinist Blair Milton, who performed the lively Leclair Sonata and the Weber Quintet on Wednesday, said, “The stress of the CSO strike is being felt by every musician, but we feel the same unity that bonds us onstage as musicians. We are a team and always seek to blend with our fellow musicians, naturally in our art, but also as colleagues in life. Walking the picket line together, we have time to connect in a personal way that isn’t available during the concentration of rehearsals and performances.”\

“All the orchestra members,” Milton added, “share a passion for music and a calling to share this gift with our audience. But we also share a commitment to protect this great treasure for future generations. The amount of lifelong sacrifice, blended with the joy we feel filling the world with music, is something all true music lovers appreciate. “In giving these concerts,” Milton added, “we are connecting with our dedicated supporters and spreading our wings after hours of pounding the pavement in the brutal cold. Music is too powerful to be silenced by tyranny, greed, or indifference.”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra clarinetist John Bruce Yeh speaks on musicians strike: here.

This 5 February 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Almost a month into their longest-ever strike, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians continue to host successful free public concerts to sold-out crowds as their struggle reaches a turning point. Performances at the symphony hall have been canceled through April 9 as negotiations resumed on Friday.

The striking musicians at the world-class orchestra have received widespread support from around the world in their fight to defend their pensions, salaries and other benefits. The resistance of the musicians comes amid a mass resurgence of strikes by workers globally to fight against poverty wages and concessions, including by teachers and autoworkers. At stake is nothing less than the right to art and culture more broadly.

As part of their free concert series “From the Heart of the Orchestra,” CSO musicians on strike performed three well-attended concerts this week in the Chicago area to appeal to the public in their struggle. On Monday, the musicians performed at the Benito Juarez Performing Arts Center with a full orchestra and a rapt audience that warmly received them. On Wednesday and Friday, they held two more successful chamber concerts at Lutkin Hall in Northwestern University and at the Chicago Temple.

Classical music, robbery, child’s tears

This 2015 classical music video shows soprano vocalist Simone Nestler and piano player Helene Jedig in “Lass mich mit Tränen mein Los beklagen” by German English 18th century composer Georg Friedrich Händel.

When I was a small child, my mother used to play this on the piano, also singing the German language lyrics:

Lass mich mit Tränen mein Los beklagen,
Ketten zu tragen, welch hartes Geschick!

Let me mourn my fate with tears,
Having to wear chains, what a cruel fate!

Who has to wear these cruel chains? I asked. Rinaldo, my mother replied. Rinaldo Rinaldini.

And here, my mother made a mistake. This aria is from Händel’s opera Rinaldo. A work loosely based on a 16th century Italian poem on the medieval crusades. Not the title character, the crusader Rinaldo, sings this aria; but Almirena, a Christian woman who has become a prisoner of Muslim soldiers.

My mother confused the fictional medieval crusader character Rinaldo with another fictional Rinaldo: Rinaldo Rinaldini. An eighteenth century Italian robber captain from a 1798 German novel.

Rinaldo Rinaldini was not really the most criminal kind of highwayman; more somewhere halfway between robber and freedom fighter against tyranny. So, I cried about these cruel chains the authorities had put around, supposedly, Rinaldo Rinaldini’s body.

As my mother felt that the aria made her child sad, she made up ‘happier’, humouristic spoof lyrics to the same tune, about animals:

Just give the bananas to the roosters,
Just give the cake to the northern pike

Rinaldo Rinaldini, the title character of an eighteenth century book, a twentieth century film, etc.should not be confused with Rinaldo Rinaldi, a nineteenth century sculptor.

There are also, in twentieth century film history, at least one designer, and (different one again) actor, called Rinaldo Rinaldi.

Chicago, USA classical musicians on strike

This music video from the USA says about itself:

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, 1st mvmt (1st half)

Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a stellar performance of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony in F minor for the opening concert of Carnegie Hall’s 1997 season. Yes, that is the legendary Bud Herseth marshalling the CSO’s incredible brass.

By Kristina Betinis in the USA:

“This is not just about Tchaikovsky, it’s about culture as a whole”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians strike to defend pensions

12 March 2019

Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians went on strike Monday morning for the second time since 2012. The contract agreed between CSO and the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208 in 2015 expired on Sunday. Negotiations had been going for more than 11 months.

Historically, CSO labor agreements have established the wage and benefit standard for top-tier orchestras, so CSO negotiations are closely watched.

A section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strike picket

In 2018, CSO management reported their best year ever in ticket sales, but have complained that the orchestra’s budget is straining under pension costs. However, ticket sales only support a small portion of the orchestra’s costs. To a large extent, the symphony is beholden to the whims of wealthy corporate and private benefactors for its financing.

Among those declaring their support for the musicians has been CSO Director Riccardo Muti, who wrote, “As music director and a musician of this orchestra, I am with the musicians.”

Under the current offer, musician base pay will rise five percent over the three-year term of the contract, which breaks out as a one percent increase in the first year to be followed by two percent increases the following two years, well below the rate of inflation.

Striking Chicago musician

But the main issue in the strike is CSO management’s proposed move from a defined pension benefit plan—or traditional guaranteed pension—to a direct contribution plan, an investment fund that is up to each individual member to manage.

Helen Zell, wife of billionaire Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell, was chosen to chair the CSO Board in 2015. Zell and CSO Board President Jeff Alexander are insisting on the pension cuts to maintain the organization’s solvency.

CSO management stated that the orchestra contributed $3.8 million into the musicians’ pension fund this year—up from $803,000 two years ago because of new federal requirements—and that those annual contributions were projected to continue to rise.

The New York Times reported that the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund, a large, multi-employer plan covering thousands of musicians, including the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208, is itself currently “in critical status.” According to that report, if the pension fund’s condition worsens, it could trigger pension benefit payment cuts for retirees.

In 2016, the $2 billion pension fund declared a $122 million shortfall, and was hit the following year with a class-action lawsuit claiming fund trustees made risky investments, placing the pensions of thousands of musicians in jeopardy.

Last October Chicago Lyric Opera orchestra musicians walked out, ultimately agreeing to a concessions contract that reduced the number of guaranteed weeks of work for the musicians in and reduced the number of full-time orchestra members through attrition to 70.

Some Lyric Opera musicians were picketing with the Chicago Symphony members on Monday.

Michal, who has been a violinist 22 years, joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra three years ago. He told the WSWS, “We’re striking because management is cutting our pension and has also been stalling wages since the 2012 strike. Management wants to cut the pension because they claim the pension has been underfunded—but it has been done by them. They claim that for people like me, who’ve been here three years, it will be a way better benefit—which I can’t dispute, I mean who knows? But it will mean everything is on me to manage that and everything depends on how I do it.

“The bigger problem is the people who have been here for somewhere between 15 and 25 years. For them it just doesn’t make any sense because the benefit they would get, what they have worked for, would be small because they would basically have no time to build up their 401Ks.

“The pension is one of the things that makes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra a place musicians want to work. I auditioned here against 300 other people. I didn’t spend 20 years practicing five hours a day to get here and then have to go get a desk job.

“I’ve had to do this for 20 years to get here. I could go get a different job at any time, but this is what I should be doing.”

Gina, a filmmaker, was on Michigan Avenue supporting the striking orchestra members. She told the WSWS, “I think fully funding the arts is incredibly important. I just graduated from Columbia College right down the street here. It’s an issue in the film industry too, because lots of times people are on contract work.

“You’ll be working months and months on a project, and you might not necessarily, depending on what the budget is, have benefits. Certainly not pensions. It’s incredibly important because people are putting their life and their soul into these works, for the entertainment and appreciation of people.

“For something as iconic as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra or the Lyric Opera, people travel from all around the world for this, and it’s really upsetting to hear that you guys aren’t being supported the way you should be. It’s the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—you would think you’d be getting proper benefits and compensation. It’s kind of ridiculous considering how much money the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brings in!”

Michal broke in to say, “This is not just about Tchaikovsky, it’s about culture as a whole. This country spends trillions of dollars on the weapons industry, wars that we have been losing. And how much money goes to culture? Think of what the word itself means, to cultivate.”

Gina said, “This reminds of the quote from the film Dead Poets Society: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

“The irony is that people agree but these things are not supported in the society.”

Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians are continuing their strike, which began Monday morning. The contract agreed between CSO and the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10-208 in 2015 expired on Sunday. Negotiations had been going for more than 11 months and no new negotiations have been scheduled. CSO Director Riccardo Muti spoke at a lunch hour press conference on Tuesday, surrounded by the horn section of the CSO. “I am here with my musicians,” Muti said, who is known worldwide for his public defenses of funding for the arts and opposition against budget cuts in his home country of Italy: here.

The strike by Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians is now in its second week with management cancelling performances through March 25. Little progress in negotiations has been reported and musicians conjecture online that the strike may go on for weeks or months. In 1982 the Chicago musicians conducted a 21-day strike and a 15-day strike in 1991: here.

New York classical music commemorates 1911 factory fire

Julia Wolfe, photo Peter Serling

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

Fire in my mouth: New York Philharmonic premieres oratorio on the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

6 February 2019

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra presented an intriguing evening of music in late January. The main work on the program was Fire in my mouth, the highly anticipated oratorio by composer Julia Wolfe on the subject of the March 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Lower Manhattan. The performance marked the world premiere of this work.

Julia Wolfe is one of the founders of Bang on a Can, the contemporary classical music organization begun about 30 years ago and based in New York.

The composer, who has worked with such groups as the Kronos Quartet and the American Composers Orchestra, conductor Marin Alsop and many others, received the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2015 for her earlier oratorio, Anthracite Fields, which dealt with the history and struggles of coal miners in northeastern Pennsylvania. Fire in my mouth—following Anthracite Fields and Steel Hammer, on the legend of John Henry, the African-American “steel-driving man” immortalized in song and literature—is the third large-scale work by Wolfe dealing with the history of the American working class.

The Triangle fire, a horrific and entirely preventable tragedy, looms large in the history of New York City and US labor history. It claimed the lives of 146 workers, mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women, although 23 men were also among the victims. They were among hundreds of poorly paid workers at the factory, on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of what is now known as the Brown Building, part of New York University. The fire spread quickly. Nearly all the fatalities were among those working on the ninth floor, who were prevented from escaping by a door that had been locked by the factory owners to discourage theft of merchandise.

Triangle Shirtwaist fire

There have been numerous books and film accounts of the Triangle Fire, but Fire in my mouth is the first musical treatment it has received. The oratorio is a multimedia work, using archival photographic footage and other video, projected titles and ambitious choral elements in each of its sections.

Joining the Philharmonic under its new music director Jaap van Zweden were two vocal ensembles: The Crossing, a chamber choir of 36 women’s voices, and The Young People’s Chorus of New York, which was represented by a girls’ chorus. The total chorus of women and girls numbered 146, a poignant reference to the number of victims of the Triangle Fire.

Fire in my mouth is composed of four movements, titled “Immigration”, “Factory”, “Protest” and “Fire”. The conception of the work embodied in these names is a powerful one. It traces the tragic odyssey, from the arrival of the young immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe; to the factories where they quickly found work; to the low wages and mistreatment that led to protest (a major strike of garment workers had taken place less than 18 months before the fire); and finally, to the conflagration in which the young workers memorialized in this piece lost their lives on March 25, 1911.

“Immigration” makes effective use of a short excerpt from an oral history provided later by one of the survivors of the fire, Mollie Wexler. With video images of a turbulent ocean conveying a transatlantic voyage, the chorus explains, “Without passports or anything we took a boat, a big beautiful boat and off we went, five of us girls…we went third class with the poverty stricken and off we went…looking to God knows what kind of future it was going to be.”

“Factory” juxtaposes an excerpt from a Yiddish song with an Italian tarantella-type folk song to depict the main immigrant groups at the Triangle factory. “Mit a nodl, on a nodl” (With a needle, without a needle) is a simple and somber work song of the young garment worker. The Italian song, perhaps suggesting thoughts of the home they have left, begins, “What I can do to give you a kiss?” This movement begins with percussion, followed by winds imitating the factory whistle. The strings are also used to percussive effect, expressing the driving rhythm and regimentation of factory life for these workers, many of whom were still in their teens. Video provides archival footage of garment factories of the period.

Clara Lemlich

The third movement, “Protest”, has a longer libretto, focusing on the aims of the young women themselves beyond their factory lives, and on their growing militancy. The women’s choir leads off with a strongly rhythmic and repetitive passage, “I want to talk like an American, I want to look like an American. …” and on in the same vein for another 20 lines. This is followed by an excerpt from a speech by garment worker Clara Lemlich: “I want to say a few words. I am a working girl. One who is striking against intolerable conditions.” This is for the girls’ choir, which makes an entrance from the rear of the hall and marches down the aisles.

Lemlich was not one of the Triangle workers, but she played a major role among the young garment workers in New York City at the time. Having arrived as a teenager with her Ukrainian Jewish family in 1903, she was 23 when she took the floor at a mass meeting of striking workers at New York’s Cooper Union in November 1909, exposing the stalling of the union leaders and making an appeal for a general strike. The strike became known as the Uprising of the 20,000, and lasted until February 10, 1910. Lemlich, influenced by the Russian Revolution, ultimately joined the young American Communist Party. The title of the oratorio is taken from a later interview with Lemlich, who lived to the age of 96. Asked about her earlier history, she replied, “Ah, then I had fire in my mouth.”

1911 protest after the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire killed 146 young immigrant workers

“Fire”, the final movement, uses excerpts adapted from testimony of a surviving worker, and also from the heartbreaking eyewitness account of a reporter: “Those of us who were looking, saw her put her arms about him and kiss him. And then he dropped her into space, then quick as a flash, he jumped.”

The oratorio closes with the somber recitation of the names of all 146 victims, which are projected on screen in alphabetical order, from Lizzie Adler to Sonia Wisotsky.

Most of the elements in Fire in my mouth are integrated successfully. The video and projected text do not, as might be feared, distract attention from other elements of the work. The choral parts, based largely on the testimony of the workers themselves, are especially evocative and effective.

Although there is much to appreciate, the weakest element, in the opinion of this listener, is the musical approach itself. Wolfe has been termed a post-minimalist, by which is meant that she does not rigidly follow the minimalist pattern that characterizes the music of composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, with its repetitive and drone-like quality, sometimes hypnotic in its effects and tonal, but rarely deeply expressive or emotional.

Wolfe and other post-minimalists open their work up to other influences and a greater variety of styles. This finds expression most clearly in the Triangle oratorio in the folk material of the “Factory” movement. Elsewhere there is less musical variety. There are moments of cacophony evoking the factory conditions; the third movement’s mood, briefly, of optimism among the young immigrants; and the final section depicting the fiery tragedy. Underlying most of this, however, are the minimalist techniques that have always influenced the composer, and which make for a less interesting listening experience. The relative sameness of much of the music does not communicate the varied life experiences of the immigrants—the hopes for the future, the conditions they faced and the tragedy of the fire—as effectively and vividly as it might.

Fire in my mouth raises crucial social and historical questions. As far as the city’s cultural establishment and wealthy patrons of the Philharmonic are concerned, the Triangle Fire awakened the conscience of ruling class liberalism, and most problems have been solved. A small exhibition of photos and other memorabilia outside the Philharmonic auditorium at Lincoln Center gives this impression. Immigration is recognized as a contemporary issue, but is portrayed in a way that covers up the role of the Democratic Party and seeks to obscure the fact that immigrant rights are inseparable from the unity of the working class.

The Democrats have also presided, however, along with the Republicans, over attacks on immigrants seeking asylum, and over the miserable wages and working and living conditions that persist amidst record inequality. It is significant that, just over the border from Brownsville, Texas, tens of thousands of Mexican maquiladora workers have been on strike for weeks, many of them in small garment factories, in a struggle that has been completely blacked out of the US media.

While these issues should be kept firmly in view, Fire in my mouth is evidence that major social and historical questions are coming to the fore and attracting the interest of serious artists. Composer Julia Wolfe clearly put much effort into conveying the historical significance of the struggles and sacrifices of the Triangle workers. The attempt to find musical expression for broad social themes must be welcomed, as a sign of still greater developments in the future. The premiere of this work was a significant musical event. Brief excerpts are available on YouTube [see below].

The author also recommends:

The dawn of reformism in the US
[27 January 2005]

HBO’s Triangle: Remember the Fire
[25 March 2011]

This 24 January 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

On January 24–26 Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic will premiere Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Julia Wolfe’s “Fire in my mouth,” part of “New York Stories: Threads of Our City.” Here is a glimpse of the theatrical and multimedia elements of “Fire in my mouth,” with visual and scenic design by Jeff Sugg, costume design by Márion Talán, sound design by Mark Grey, and directed by Anne Kauffman.

For more information visit here.