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The New World Symphony (NWS), “America’s Youth Orchestra,” over the weekend performed a pre-season concert that was inspired. The program, highlighted by Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, was immensely popular and played to a full house, inside Frank Gehry’s curvaceous New World Center (2011) on South Beach.
The NWS is youthful aspiration and dedication personified. It always encourages to see hard-working youth playing their hearts out. The new season is welcoming 36 new fellows. The Center suffered greatly over the plandemic, part of it self-inflected with onerous restrictions for last year’s season including vaccine passports and full masking. (I declined to participate in the charade.)
The program was designed to be a crowd pleaser – as it will be a struggle to fill subscriptions after such a damaging several years. First up was Dvorak’s tone poem The Noonday Witch – not a bad morality tale for new fellows. It begins with “happy, carefree music” (per the program notes) – that of a young, disobedient boy, warned by his mother of the consequences of misbehavior – and descends into a “fiendish conclusion” that reveals “the child’s ultimate fate.” Fellows, you’ve been warned! South Beach does the same to many a youngster.
The rising star violinist Karen Gomyo (Japan-born, Canada-raised) sparkled while leading Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra. Her playing was virtuosic, yet measured, with a pleasing tonality largely free of melodramatic flourishes. The work was Mendelssohn’s last prior to his death at age 38, a fully mature and engaging concerto. Unlike Dvorak’s darker work, the concerto opens with a “brooding first theme” which, refashioned, ends joyously as “a communal affirmation.” (Such was the audience’s enthusiasm, they burst into applause after the 2nd movement, drowning out the 3rd’s start.) After the finale Ms. Gomyo deservedly received a standing ovation. Instead of flowers, a gentleman tossed a pink handkerchief at her feet during bows.
The program’s second half began with Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, another tone poem, this one on the fate of a sick artist approaching death. (Has anyone noticed a cultural obsession with death during the plandemic? My book club, for instance, spent a year immersed in death-wallowing tales before resuscitating.) I noticed a few hiccups in following the score (new fellows with stage fright?), which builds nicely to the “transfiguration.” (A slightly odd religious term synonymous with “glorification,” perhaps not the most apt for any artist, before or just after death.) Despite it being the most conventional, and conventionally rendered, piece of the evening, it was the only one to cause body chills.
In case no one has noticed, all three works are by dead white European males – das ist verboten! – and from the 19th century. Such bad form can only be explained by the need to lure paying subscribers back into the fold, no matter how politically incorrect the lure. (I won’t complain: I always prefer edifying rather than didactic entertainment.) But don’t be misled that popular tastes will long be pandered to: the bios for both conductor and guest violinist emphasized “strongly committed to contemporary works.” It almost sounds as if we’re being groomed to like “music of our time.” No thanks.
Inevitably, the last piece was both contemporary and woke, composed by the Mexican Gabriela Ortiz and called Kauyumari after the “blue deer” held sacred by the Huichol. (The program notes boast that Ortiz “is renowned for connecting arts with social justice,” a true death knell if there ever was one.) Unlike much of modern classical music, largely atonal and displeasing, this was a rollicking seven minutes of exuberant processional music, whose pronouncements recall those of Aaron Copland. Characterized by engaging and unidentifiable percussion accents, the work builds almost as relentlessly as Ravel’s Bolero. It was perhaps the most listenable hyper-contemporary (2021) classical music I’ve heard, surprising given such inauspicious program prattle as “the blue deer is a spiritual guide that heals the soul’s wounds and facilitates communication with ancestors.” Ouija board, anyone? No thanks.
Our woke cultural institutions are in a bind. During the plandemic, state propaganda scared the pants off their most loyal customer base. How to make patrons feel safe when nothing they come up with actually protects? While performing adults can go maskless (as did Gomyo and the guest conductor Christopher James Lees), the fellows are forced wear the sign of slave of the state. My heart goes out to them! Fortunately there were two rebels, young men playing percussion and bass, who refused to suffocate their noses. (Luckily for the winds section, they have yet to develop an N95 mask with a hole for the mouth.)
Yes, many patrons are older, but why stifle America’s Youth Orchestra? One in twenty in the audience were fully masked up, bully for them. When I went by one Monday morning to pick up tickets, the fellows (poor things) were going through their obligatory weekly Covid testing. Even when the CDC no longer recommends Covid testing among the asymptomatic; this is the Free State of Florida after all!
(To the NWS’s credit, their screenings are apparently blind and they don’t yet discriminate against Asian Americans, who represent nearly 20% of the fellows – unlike the openly racist Ivy League universities which ruthlessly tamp down “undesirable” admissions in the name of "diversity.")
I am heartbroken when I see pictures and videos of people naively, mindlessly taking Covid injections. (None of them, I fear, have been informed well enough to reach the level of informed consent.) Similarly, it is so disheartening to see adults forcing healthy young men and women to mask up. For all I know, they were also obliged to take the experimental gene therapies, and one of these evenings – as a young, smothered violinist struggles for air, their heart failing from myocarditis – we will witness someone collapse, as though on a soccer field.
What our woke betters have done to the nation’s youth is truly tragic. I applaud the rebels!
N.B.: I am not a musician and dropped out of the only serious music course I started, so I can only bring a layman’s appreciation of classical music.
Ben Batchelder is the author of four extended travel yarns and recently became the Faith Division Leader, Miami-Dade, for County Citizens Defending Freedom. To contact him, visit his author site benbatchelder.com
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