Humor: Don’t judge these controversial figures for their politics — judge them for being bad at music

Humor: Don’t judge these controversial figures for their politics — judge them for being bad at music

Photo Credits: CREATIVE COMMONS / GAGE SKIDMORE

By knowing nothing about classical music, Millennials deny themselves a valuable political attack strategy

Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bartók, Haydn, Mozart, Mahler, Strauss, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Richard Nixon. Walter, Toscanini, Karajan, Abbado, Bernstein, Barenboim, Solti, Rattle, Dudamel, Dennis Prager. Paganini, Joachim, Kreisler, Heifetz, Milstein, Menuhin, Kogan, Oistrach, Richter, du Pré, Wang, Kern, Vengerov, Hahn, Fischer, Kavakos, Stern, Ma, Perlman, Zukerman, Ben Shapiro, Condoleezza Rice and Vladimir Putin.

You may not be used to hearing the names of some of these amateur weekend musicians spoken in the same breath as many of the greatest composers, conductors and soloists in the history of classical music, but despite not being professionals, they belong in this pantheon of greats nonetheless.

I’m just kidding. Of course they don’t. But most young people today (even if they did recognize a name or two on the list) wouldn’t know that because they don’t know jack shit about classical music. This is quite regretful because if Millennials were more musically cultured, then they would be able to masterfully wield their knowledge of classical music as a useful weapon against political figures with whom they disagree, supplementing their already-employed, highly successful and brilliant tactic of simply saying that people they disagree with shouldn’t be allowed to speak.

Just imagine…imagine how shocked and flustered Ben Shapiro would be if, while in the middle of totally owning the libtards in an epic speech, an audience member confronted him about his poor violin skills. He’d crumble! Young liberals would have far more success debating Shapiro if they could occasionally throw in a sick burn about his inability to keep his bow straight or about his horrible technique and posture in his Game of Thrones cover. Or, they could destroy him over his total disregard for rhythm, tempo, intonation and phrasing in a video of him playing Haydn’s Violin Concerto in G Major. And following-up from that, Shapiro definitely deserves to get roasted for choosing such a basic piece to show off his “skills” and still botching it anyway! Lame! Or how about ridiculing him over how plebeian his list of top 15 classical works is? Or, better yet, why not read Shapiro the riot act for his unmusical, uninspired and emotionless performance of the theme from “Schindler’s List” when he was only 12!

And what about influential conservative radio host and founder of “PragerU,” Dennis Prager? As classical music lover and amateur conductor, Prager was invited in 2017 to guest-conduct the Santa Monica Symphony at a fundraising gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Citing Prager’s divisive politics, many community members protested and some orchestra members boycotted the performance. Since this was a classical music event, it wasn’t even on the radar of millennials in the first place, but if the salty musicians had just waited until after the concert to attack Prager, they would have been able to avoid politics altogether and simply attack him for his poor conducting, as a brilliant internet commenter who attended the concert did: “Tonight’s guest conductor flailed about like an inflatable used-car lot dancing man, indifferent to Haydn’s music emanating in front of him.” Ouch. Burn!

This proves that the there is far more success to be had from taking cheap shots than from actually engaging in civil political discourse or worse, agreeing to disagree. Too bad that most of Prager’s ideological rivals would prefer to handicap themselves in debate against Prager rather than gain the classical music knowledge required to really make fun of him. What a shame!

Let’s turn our attention to an even more powerful and influential wannabe musician: Russian president Vladimir Putin. While waiting to meet with Xi Jinping in 2017, Putin hunted and pecked on an out-of tune piano in the hallway with the graceful confidence of a 9-year-old learning to type. It’s a wonder that he hasn’t purged the video from the internet, as it certainly doesn’t make him look good. Perhaps the video is only available outside of Russia, as I’m sure that if the Russian people (far more cultured than their American counterparts) saw it, they would oust him from power immediately.

Speaking of presidents, it would be criminal to ignore the criminal compositional skills of the crook-in-chief himself, Richard Nixon. While making a television appearance on “The Jack Paar Program” in 1961, Nixon was surprised when the show hired some “15 Democratic violinists” to accompany him in a performance of his Piano Concerto No. 1, certainly a flattering and misleading name for what is in reality no more than a trivial tune with fluffy ornamentations and harmonies in the strings. Props to Nixon for having his part memorized, but of course, anyone could memorize a few elementary chord arpeggiations and melodic gestures. This should have been bigger than the Watergate Scandal!

A discussion of prominent Republican politi-musicians would not be complete without mentioning former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Now this one is a bit tricky because Secretary Rice is actually pretty good at piano (not that millennials would be able to tell). However, her undeniable talent at the piano should not prevent millennials from using classical music to attack her. For example, the same millennials who protested Rice for being a “war criminal” would be far more convincing if they also condemned her for using her beautiful piano playing as a cheap PR strategy. Or, the millennial left could stay more on brand and accuse Rice of being a bad black female minority by promoting and elevating the music of oppressive patriarchal dead white male composers!

So while the Millennial left’s lack of classical music knowledge blinds them to opportunities for eviscerating their political rivals, we can also observe the inverse of this to be true: Despite being passionate advocates of social justice issues, the fact that millennials couldn’t care less about classical music means that they are oblivious to these social justice issues as they relate to the world of classical music, even when they occur right in front of them. In other words, the millennials’ noble and spirited commitment to social justice is overpowered by the sheer strength of their utter disinterest in classical music. Nothing will break that wall!

For example, college students have gotten into the habit of protesting conservative  speakers they don’t like, such as Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos and our favorite virtuoso violinist Ben Shapiro. UC Davis students infamously protested Yiannopoulos and Martin Shkreli in 2017, causing the event to be cancelled. Through the lens of college students, many prominent classical music figures could easily be viewed as representing an assault on social justice values, in similar ways to the right-wing personalities against whom they fervently protest. While it’s certainly an open question whether or not divisive figures of this ilk should be given a platform, it’s ironic and highly amusing that UC Davis’ “college left” has taken no notice whatsoever when their own school has hosted, celebrated and given a platform to such figures of the classical music world.

Just last March, the Mondavi Center hosted a concert featuring the Russian National Orchestra under the direction of renowned Russian conductor and pianist Mikhail Pletnev. However, Pletnev found himself in a sticky situation in 2010 when he was arrested in Thailand for possession of child pornography, allegedly raping a minor and allegedly being involved with a child prostitution ring. Although the investigation was later dropped, it’s somewhat surprising that UC Davis students didn’t dig this up before his performance at the Mondavi Center, where he was welcomed and applauded by a sold-out crowd.

In November 2017, the Mondavi Center hosted the Mariinsky Orchestra with conductor Valery Gergiev, who is BFFs with Vladimir Putin. His close relationship with Putin has often come under scrutiny in the West. It’s difficult to fathom how young socially-conscious liberals on a college campus could be completely oblivious when such a divisive figure with Putin’s ear is celebrated on their campus, especially given Putin’s hostility toward journalists, free speech and LGBTQ people and his role in manipulating American democracy during the 2016 election. Even if college students didn’t know all of this — perhaps if they weren’t uncultured swine and knew a thing or two about classical music — they at least could have made fun of Gergiev for his bizarre conducting style, which often involves using a toothpick as a baton!

Yuri Temirkanov is another revered Russian conductor who is chummy with Putin and went entirely unnoticed by socially conscious college students when he led the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in a Mondavi Center performance in March 2017. While Gergiev could be considered a passive bigot for his support of Putin and his policies, Temirkanov goes the extra mile for making on-the-record bigoted comments of his own!

Temirkanov does not think women can or should be conductors, saying, “The essence of the conductor’s profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness.” He justifies this by, of course, citing, God, nature and Marx: “I don’t know if it’s God’s will, or nature’s, that women give birth and men do not. That’s something that no one takes offense at. But if you say that a women can’t conduct, then everyone’s offended. As Marx said, in response to the question ‘What’s your favorite virtue in a woman?’ — ’Weakness.’ And this is correct. The important thing is, a woman should be beautiful, likable, attractive. Musicians will look at her and be distracted from the music!”

I attended this 2017 Mondavi Center performance because they were playing Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, one of my absolute favorites. Shostakovich, who lived under the nearly constant threat of getting purged by Stalin, wrote this violent and paranoia-filled symphony during a time when he was not in Stalin’s good graces. The work is often viewed today as a musical representation of torture. Ironically, Stalin interpreted it as a glorious display of nationalism. I found it quite difficult to comprehend the absurdity and hypocrisy of watching a bigoted supporter of a modern-day dictator conduct a piece that was inspired by the anguish and fear of living under an oppressive dictator.

I’m not saying whether it would be right or wrong for college students to band together to cancel events featuring controversial classical musicians. I just find this to be a particularly intriguing example of selective hearing when it comes to social justice. At the end of the day, there is one important silver lining for classical music-loving Americans to keep in mind: Through his shitty piano playing and controversial connections to famous musicians, America’s de facto president Vladimir Putin is still actually supporting and promoting the fine arts; meanwhile, President Trump is inviting the likes of Kid Rock and Ted Nugent to the Oval Office.

Written by: Benjamin Porter — bbporter@ucdavis.edu

(This article is humor and/or satire, and its content is purely fictional. The story and the names of “sources” are fictionalized.)

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