The new New Criterion arrived in the mail yesterday. I turned first, as I often do to Jay Nordlinger’s “New York Chronicle”, a recounting of the musical goings-on for in the capital of the world since the last issue. I especially enjoy reading his New Criterion column since the passing of the late and lamented New York Sun, where he was a regular music critic.
I was merrily reading along and came to this:
Over the two nights, we learned once more that [the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam] is an ensemble of great value, an adornment to Holland itself. I had a jarring thought: How will the RCO fare under sharia?
Now, I admit that my first reaction was to laugh out loud. I expect this is the reaction the author expected from New Criterion readers and for which he hoped.
But, (you knew there was a but coming right?) Nordlinger is also the music critic I respect because he’s written, “Music dwells in its own realm, unless it is freighted with words that constitute political baggage.” And even closer to the bone, he said this an interview:
Sometimes performers inflict politics on the audience, and I of course take that into account when I write – but that happens seldom. I sort of pride myself on not letting political views color any of my music criticism – even in blatantly political works, like, oh, “The Death of Klinghoffer” (the opera by John Adams). There are certain musicians whose politics I despise, but I would never hold that against them, musically. (You would probably want an example – I’ll give you Daniel Barenboim, whose views on the Middle East are roughly Arafat’s.)
A group like the Kronos Quartet does frankly political things – commissions political works and so on. That you have to deal with.
But, in the main, I’m an art-for-art’s-sake guy. (Which is a “conservative” position, incidentally.)
While Nordlinger’s aside here isn’t really about the music itself, it diverted me from the music which is really the topic of the article. Indeed, I turned back to the front and read this month’s “Notes & Comments” column “Islam vs. Islamism” before turning back to Nordlinger.
This isn’t, of course, the same as a musician commissioning a “political” work. More like a comment from the podium about how great Obama is while the stagehands reset for the next piece. And that wasn’t quite what I was looking for in the “New York Chronicle” on the Ides of April.