In all the years I've been a musician, I haven't been very vocal when it came to controversial issues in the Arts or otherwise. I'm not a politician and I usually try to speak through the music I write or perform. But sometimes, one must speak for real when one is concerned for musicians who have been smeared with lousy rhetoric based on rumor and imperfect knowledge. This came to play with the hoopla surrounding John Adams' "The Death of Klinghoffer" and its performance at the Metropolitan Opera last Monday. Yes, it has been noticed by a wider public, but only because of the assumed controversy of anti-semitism behind it. Not for its more relevant and important feature: THE SCORE. And every time I think about that, it just makes me a little bit mad.
Nonetheless, on Monday, October 20, 2014, the conductor, David Robertson walked into the orchestra pit of the Metropolitan Opera to conduct this masterpiece which tells the true and horrific story of an innocent wheelchair bound man, Leon Klinghoffer, who was killed and thrown overboard from an Italian cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists. As Maestro Robertson walked to the podium, the audience reacted with a thunderous applause that I haven't heard in a long time. The audience, responded with the utmost pride and appreciation for these brave and wonderful musicians who were willing to perform this seemingly controversial opera, despite the very vocal crowd protesting outside Lincoln Center. If he wanted to, Maestro Robertson could have just stood on the podium for a full minute or two and absorbed our tremendous and enthusiastic applause, but instead, the Maestro simply took his appreciative bow and turned around to conduct. A true professional.
We, the audience, were also very proud of ourselves. We were not swayed by the loud group of rhetorical protesters that we dealt with outside as we went through the barricade into Lincoln Center with our tickets in hand. We knew that most of that angry crowd had neither seen or heard "Klinghoffer" and they had only read portions of the libretto out of context without hearing any of the music associated with it. Therefore, this crowd had no cause for complaint in our eyes. A lot of us audience members knew this opera very well since its premiere in 1991. And those who didn't know it simply wanted to see a great performance. Nothing more natural. The combination of all of these situations was what resulted into the elevated enthusiasm that we, the audience greeted our performers with. Again, we were very proud of performers as well as ourselves.
I wish I can say that the performance went off unscathed, but sure enough, in the middle of Act 1, a protester who sneaked in with his ticket chanted repeatedly: "The Murder of Leon Klinghoffer will never be forgiven!". Fortunately, security got to him quickly and removed him. Even if this man had chanted: "The square root of 9 is 3!", it wouldn't matter that he was right. There is never a good reason to interrupt hard working performers while they're in performance. When you do things like that, it is only a detriment to your cause and the people you represent. Not only was it mean, but down right stupid and self damaging. For better or for worse, often, our tactics speak far more volumes than the causes behind them. All this man did was reinforce our love for this opera.
Fortunately, the rest of the performance of "Klinghoffer" went more smoothly. And at the end, we applauded even more enthusiastically than before. Bows for the chorus, dancers, soloists, Maestro Robertson and the orchestra were greeted with our enthusiastic and huge appreciation. But the best and biggest reaction from us was reserved for the composer. When John Adams walked onto the stage to take his bow, we couldn't resist letting it all out. It was deafening! It was footstomping! It was beautiful. Both the audience and the people on stage went through an experience that was akin to riding a canoe down a rapid and uneasy stream. And not only did we make it to the end, but we were touched by the journey along the way. It was a true vindication for artists and lovers of the Arts!
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