On Censorship and Program Notes

OK, regarding the recent hoopla around the NYYS censoring their latest commission; I’ve been talking with a few people about this and I’ve heard a variety of interesting perspectives. So… here’s my un-solicited view:

First off, NYYS made a terrible and frankly, cowardly choice to pull the piece just because of one anonymous letter. The MET was very gracious in providing a whole page in the program notes for those who objected to Adam’s opera. Klingoffer has some very sensitive subject matter that no doubt would rub some very raw wounds for those involved. It’s completely understandable to object to an artistic depiction of a death of a loved one that you disagree with. That’s the nature of art: there is no one singular ‘meaning’ behind the work. I feel that if NYYS offered a similar gesture, then perhaps we’d get a better discussion surrounding the work rather than flat-out pulling the piece after spending so much time commissioning the work, rehearsing it, and eventually programming it.

Secondly, the composer did absolutely NOTHING to help his case. I completely respect the artist’s choice not to talk about his/her work. Often music is the vehicle for us to express the inexpressible; indeed he was alluding to this when he decided to include that Mahler quote. HOWEVER, I feel that If you decide to quote a Nazi propaganda tune without providing context for it’s usage under the guise of “I’m an ARTIST and I don’t have to explain myself!”, then you’re liable to have people make some judgments against you and your work that you might not like (whether or not what they say is actually true!). Of course we’re always told not to care what people think, and I agree with that to an extent, but you’re taking a calculated risk by deciding to remain silent when dealing with controversial material. I feel that if he simply gave us (especially non-musicians!) the opportunity to be welcomed into his sound world by talking about his work and the ideas behind it, then perhaps his piece would still be programmed. I hear time and time again that people love to hear composers talk about their work; it humanizes this abstract idea people have about us and creates a very real and meaningful connection. If the composer in question offered the same kind of olive branch, then maybe we’d understand him and his work better.

tl:dr – Both sides are wrong in this case. That said, I still want to hear it.

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