Retrieved after dipping into Greil Marcus’s forthcoming book Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs (Yale UP).
Previously: Lubitsch, Korngold, Salieri, Bruckner, Liszt, Georg Trakl, Willa Cather and Edith Lewis, Thomas Mann, Bach, Nietzsche, Monteverdi, Koussevitzky, Michael Furey, Luranah Aldridge, Ligeti, Frescobaldi, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Baudelaire and Beckett, Nadia and Lili Boulanger, Stravinsky and Nono, Zemlinsky, Schnittke, Fibich, Xavier Scharwenka, Elliott Carter, Enescu, Rachmaninov, Mahler and many others, Russ.
Street Symphony is a remarkable Los Angeles-based organization that stages performances and workshops in homeless shelters, jails, and other places where classical musicians seldom appear. Previously, I’ve seen them at the Midnight Mission, a shelter and recovery center on L.A.’s Skid Row. On Saturday night, I attended a different kind of Street Symphony event at Inner City Arts, a specialized arts school. This was oriented more to the general public, although many associates and allies of the group were in the audience. The program consisted of Bach’s Cantata No. 82, “Ich habe genug,” interspersed with monologues by Linda Leigh, a longtime Skid Row resident who has established herself as a poet, teacher, and activist. The performance was a singularly intense and moving occasion; the only point of comparison that came to mind was Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s legendary account of “Ich habe genug,” in Peter Sellars’s staging. The soloist was the excellent bass-baritone Scott Graff, who sings with the L.A. Master Chorale; I had met Scott while writing my 2017 column about Street Symphony, at which time he was giving vocal lessons to a recovering addict named Brian Palmer. Three years ago came the tragic news that Brian had died at the age of forty-four. He was present in the performers’ thoughts last weekend. The beauty of the event resided in the organic way Leigh’s stories — about an educational trip to South Korea; about her experiences of birth, abortion, and miscarriage; about her conversations with rideshare drivers who pick her up on Skid Row — intersected with the raw, roiling emotion inherent in Bach’s cantata. No attempt to explicate or justify the connection was made, and none was needed; it simply happened. In purely musical terms, this was a superb account of the work, with precisely articulated and lyrically flowing work by Graff and with fluid accompaniments by Aaron Hill, Jin-Shan Dai, Alex Granger, Eva Lymenstull, Adan Fernandez, and Vijay Gupta, Street Symphony’s brilliant, charismatic leader. But in conjunction with Leigh it became a great deal more. Afterward, Gupta mentioned that Bach’s music would originally have been heard in conjunction with a sermon in church. Leigh’s monologues were a sermon of a kind, though they were free of dogma. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s catastrophic assault on the rights of women, the evening offered a kind of refuge, one free of easy consolation.
From Andrew Marantz’s article “The Illiberal Order,” in this week’s New Yorker:
There was no single moment when the democratic backsliding began in Hungary. There were no shots fired, no tanks in the streets. “Orbán doesn’t need to kill us, he doesn’t need to jail us,” Tibor Dessewffy, a sociology professor at Eötvös Loránd University, told me. “He just keeps narrowing the space of public life. It’s what’s happening in your country, too—the frog isn’t boiling yet, but the water is getting hotter.” He acknowledged that the U.S. has safeguards that Hungary does not: the two-party system, which might forestall a slide into perennial single-party rule; the American Constitution, which is far more difficult to amend. Still, it wasn’t hard for him to imagine Americans a decade hence being, in some respects, roughly where the Hungarians are today. “I’m sorry to tell you, I’m your worst nightmare,” Dessewffy said, with a wry smile. As worst nightmares went, I had to admit, it didn’t seem so bad at first glance. He was sitting in a placid garden, enjoying a lemonade, wearing cargo shorts. “This is maybe the strangest part,” he said. “Even my parents, who lived under Stalin, still drank lemonade, still went swimming in the lake on a hot day, still fell in love. In the nightmare scenario, you still have a life, even if you feel somewhat guilty about it.”
Martin J. Baron, for many decades the imperturbable admiral of fact-checking at The New Yorker, has died at the age of eighty-five. Mr. Baron, as he was invariably addressed, worked on most of my articles from the mid-1990s until his retirement, and I owe infinitely much to his knowledge, his meticulousness, his gentleness, and his sympathy. As I wrote in the acknowledgments to The Rest Is Noise: “Martin Baron is the greatest fact-checker that ever was and ever will be. (Leave on author.)” The last phrase is a long-standing New Yorker locution, connoting something that cannot be checked by normal channels and is left to the writer’s discretion. The son of a St. Louis Symphony violinist, if I recall correctly, Martin had a profound love for classical music, Schubert above all. I offer the above in his memory.
The Italian translation of Wagnerism, by Lorenzo Parmiggiani and Andrea Silvestri, is now available from Bompiani. It joins the Spanish version, by Luis Gago (Seix Barral), and the German version, by Gloria Buschor and Günter Kotzor (Rowohlt). Sadly, there was no interest in a French translation.