If you’re still one of the wilfully-oblivious few who thinks there’s anything at all the sick bastards won’t try to ruin and destroy, kindly allow me to recommend that you reconsider. Fast.
What’s the most important thing about opera singer Luciano Pavarotti?
(A) He used his vocal gifts to bring joy to millions;
(B) He was white, and not black or Latino.
If you’re a normal person, you’d choose option A. But if you’re the New York Times chief classical music critic, Tony Tommasini (or some other equally lousy person), you choose B.
Tommasini last week published what might be the single worst arts piece ever published by the formerly revered, now auto-cannibalizing Gray Lady. And since I have no word limit on this column, I might as well add that in my imagination, the backstory to Tommasini’s piece (about which more below) goes something like this.
Only a few more steps of Manhattan sidewalk, a quick right turn, and the weekly ritual would begin. Again.
“Is my tie okay?”, asked Tony.
“Stop”, said Benjamin.
Squaring himself to his partner, Benjamin directed an urgent OCD gaze toward Tony’s silk accoutrement (knotted as always with a modded half-Windsor, which Tony proudly believed he had invented all by himself, and that he alone on earth used).
Reaching out, Benjamin shifted Tony’s custom-knotted tie precisely .87 millimeters to the left, patted his partner’s lapels, stepped back, and smiled. “There. C’est magnifique!”.
“God…I love it when you speak French”, Tony cooed. Moistly.
Rounding the corner, Tony and Benjamin – one of New York’s (that is, the world’s) top power couples, with bonus-point gay cachet to boot – merged with streams of other self-important people draped in mink and gold heading toward the front doors of the Lincoln Center. It would be yet another evening of seeing and being seen, aristocratic chit-chat right out of a Tolstoy novel, and eventually, watching the world famous New York Philharmonic perform. What Tony didn’t know as he strolled into the building was that everything was about to change.
The program began typically enough: a Ravel piece; a Copland piece; a screeching atonal piece of avant garde garbage written only the month before by an Albanian communist no one had ever heard of, etc.
But when the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, Anthony McGill, rose to perform…Tony felt something snap inside.
It wasn’t McGill’s felicity of phrasing, his emotive dynamics, or the transcendent beauty of the melody which so affected him.
No. For Tony – a wealthy, highly-educated man born into privilege – it was McGill’s skin color. It was chocolate…but all the other players’ skin was…well, it was wrong. Even the tapioca-to-teak skin tones of the Asian musicians now seemed to blend into the now-intolerable Dairy Queen whiteness of the rest of the orchestra.
Only one of them…but four dozen whites, thought Tony. No. No no no no.
Tears of indignant rage welled in his eyes – sharp, stinging, Tabasco tears.
What…the actual f***…have I been part of?!
Tony was shouting silently to himself now, his thoughts racing.
How did I not see this before? NO. This is WRONG. F*** this music! F*** everything about this whole f***ing thing! There’s only ONE, um, African black American, um, of colour! That poor, poor man!
He looked around at the audience. Almost all white. That was the last straw. This is like a **** KLAN RALLY! THIS MUST END!
For the first time in Tony’s 72-year long life, a geyser of bitter gall, guilt, shame, and fury exploded within him, consuming him…And in that moment, the music stopped mattering to Tony. The only thing that mattered anymore was devoting his life to a cheap, destructive, ultimately meaningless, colour-by-numbers social justice game which required “correct” distribution of skin tones, in every time and place and situation – including orchestras.
And that, my friends, is how it came to pass, that Tony Tommasini just wrote the worst arts piece in the history of the New York Times.
After confessing that the above was his own instant-classic spoof of the twee douchebag Tommasini, Tal Bachman goes on to beat both the dweeb and the NYT soundly about the head, neck, and shoulders for stupidly demanding that racial quotas and political correctness must now trump ability even in classical music, concluding thusly:
I’m no virtuoso, but I did grow up playing and singing in classical ensembles at university, in high school, in the community, in church. So I admit I might be unusually sensitive to the displacement of musical merit and the diminution of musical experience by race obsessions and political ideology. That displacement and diminution feels like something out of communist China (which banned Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms), the Soviet Empire (which banned Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and the overtly Christian composer, Arvo Pärt), or Nazi Germany (which banned Jewish composers like Mendelssohn, Mahler, and even Debussy, on grounds he had married a Jewish woman).
Actually, no, strike that. This doesn’t “feel” like that. It is that. It’s the same old rotten, thuggish, conscription of everything – film, sport, love, family, history, literature, science, everything – into the service of some hideous, ultimately inhuman, ideology.
At some point, someone, something has to stop The Destroyers. But who, or what, and how?
Easy: sane people, that’s who or what. The how is a little more problematic, maybe. But in the end there really ain’t but just the one way, and we all know what it involves. Because Bachman is perfectly correct: it IS “the same old rotten, thuggish, conscription of everything” into a hideous ideology we all ought to be familiar enough with by now. When it comes to that one way of dealing with it, the song remains the same, and it always will.