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I suppose memetic bureaucracy is the worst blindness of all, or the most
pernicious embodiment of cancerous propagandas, with its sole purpose to
cause sightlessness. I've emailed the BSO with my own dissatisfaction
BSO bows out of 'Klinghoffer'
By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff, 11/1/2001
The Boston Symphony Orchestra has canceled its scheduled performances of
John Adams's controversial ''Choruses from `The Death of Klinghoffer'''
later this month, citing ''the proximity of the events of Sept. 11.''
Both the composer and the librettist, Alice Goodman, have voiced their
disappointment, and Adams has requested that the BSO not substitute
another work of his.
The choruses are drawn from the 1990 opera that meditates on the 1984
hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian commandos and
the murder of an American Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, whose body
was pushed in his wheelchair into the sea.
The opera does not demonize the terrorists but, instead, gives them inner
lives as complex as those of the American characters. This is one of the
reasons why the premiere of the opera in Brussels was surrounded by
protest; two of the companies that co-commissioned the opera declined to
The choruses provide commentary and context. The sensitive pair is a
chorus of exiled Palestinians balanced by a chorus of exiled Jews.
''We programmed this piece because we believe in it as a work of art, and
we still hold that conviction'' BSO managing director Mark Volpe said
yesterday. ''However, given the proximity of the events of Sept. 11, we
have decided in consultation with music director Seiji Ozawa, and with
Robert Spano, who was scheduled to conduct it, to err on the side of
being sensitive. We will therefore substitute ''Copland's First
Adams, responding by e-mail wrote: ''[The BSO felt] they had to do this
out of sensitivity to the current mood of their audiences, who at the
present moment need music of comfort and solace - these were their words
- something they felt the Klinghoffer Choruses would not provide.
''I disagree with the decision, not only because it presumes the BSO's
audiences only want comfort and familiarity during these difficult times,
but also because it sets a precedent that there is poetry and music that
should not be performed at a given moment because of its content.''
The BSO had offered to substitute another work by Adams on the program,
but the composer declined. ''While I appreciate the gesture, I feel that
going along with it would be tacitly to agree to their reasons for this
Spano, reached in Atlanta last night, said, ''We did make this decision
together, and we didn't make it lightly. This opera is not about what
happened in New York, but it could be interpreted from that perspective,
which is unfair.
''This is no judgment on the quality of the work. But it seems
inappropriate to perform excerpts from an opera about a terrorist act
right now. I fear that extra-musical considerations would prevent a real
John Oliver, director of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, said that
rehearsals had not yet begun, and that he was personally unaware of any
opposition from his singers. ''But we are all sensitive to the situation
of one of the most beloved members of the chorus, who lost her husband on
Flight 11. We sang at the memorial service, and the situation is more
painful to us than I can begin to explain. For us to perform this work
now would be very painful, and the issue has nothing to do with art.''
Librettist Goodman, reached in England, took strong issue with the BSO's
''I don't think there is anything harsh or insensitive in those choruses,
anything that isn't true,'' she said. ''The time for escapism is past; I
feel strongly the worst thing we can be offered now is some placebo. I
don't hear the BSO saying that what we have done is false. What they are
saying is that it is too hard for us to hear, and instead we need
''If they were saying this is an evil and degenerate work and what it
says is a lie, then there would be an argument for not putting it on,''
Goodman added. ''To perform the choruses now would say something about
the kind of society we are, what we are capable of saying, and what we
are capable of hearing.''
There has been a recent revival of interest in ''The Death of
Klinghoffer.'' There was a production in Finland, and even after Sept.
11, there was a concert performance in Amsterdam. The choruses have been
performed in Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, and England; in America,
they have been performed by the Cleveland Orchestra (1991) and the St.
Paul Chamber Orchestra (1992).
This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 11/1/2001. © Copyright
2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
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