Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter 2009

Today is the High Holiday for Christians, the most important day of the year, Easter. Even to those who don't agree with Jesus having been the promised Messiah, the day should be a reminder that there is life after death. It should also remind us that those who were killed unnecessarily, for their good deeds rather than sins, but who did not agree with whims of the ruling class, did not die in vain. There have been so many martyrs, some who are remembered but most forgotten. Even if we don't know about them, collectively they have helped mankind and humanity to make progress. This has been slow, for sure, but at least the direction is correct.

In addition to individual human beings, Easter should bring hope to organizations that have died or are about to. Perhaps the important humanitarian non-profit group that has had to fold due to lack of funding will one day be reborn and continue its mission. Businesses we shouldn't worry about, as they exist only for a demand that is there. Who cares if a bank goes under as there are healthier ones ready to take over. Yes, investors may lose money, sometimes a lot, but one shouldn't forget that they initially bought stock out of hope of making a handsome profit. Many would call it greed or gambling. There is nothing noble about the latter as people either win or lose.

If an arts organization suffers and dies or is forced to shrink its operations, again one should not grieve. It is a supply and demand situation, too. There is nothing sacred about an orchestra or a theater. Yes, art in all forms should be valued and treasured, but when people in such an organization have become so greedy that their demands cannot be supported by the society, it is time to wipe the slate clean and start again, more modestly this time.

We fear the word "socialism" in our system, although some 70-80 years ago the tone was very different. Across the Atlantic, countries have generally taken a different direction. Often their most conservative parties seem far more left-wing than our extreme liberals. Nobody over there would question a citizen's right to health care or education, for instance. We should be lucky enough to enjoy such different values instead of fearing them. Yes, they do appreciate the arts, too, but also educate their young people in them. Support comes almost entirely from the system. Opera houses and concert halls don't carry names of the very wealthy and usually the boards which are responsible for running these organizations consist of knowledgeable people, not totally ignorant but rich people.

Florida with its Madoff-type and also more honest super-wealthy class is an excellent example of what is wrong with our system. That state has no shortage of philanthropists. It has probably more fancy auditoriums than other places, yet it has no orchestras or other such groups for the performing arts to speak of. A training orchestra hardly counts. Instead of paying for musicians and other artists, it is more important that the donors have their names engraved in the marble of large dominating buildings. It is easy to fly in groups from the outside. Yes, the Cleveland orchestra probably sounds better than a local orchestra would, but for an audience with hearing aids and very limited knowledge of music to start with, I don't think it would matter. But the well-to-do are aware that Cleveland and other such groups are world famous and therefore they are getting "the best" for their money. Following that thought process the entire country could get rid of its provincial arts groups and the very best could serve us all, traveling from one city to another. We don't need twenty subscription concerts a year plus a number of others. Why not make every performance special, worth fighting for a ticket? Or should we follow in the footsteps of the Metropolitan Opera and Berlin Philharmonic and attend high definition format concerts and other performances either in movie theaters or at home? We could see and hear a lot better for one things and, in case of opera, the subtitles would be easier to read that the supertitles high above the stage. One would also have the option of turning them off. For a person like me this choice would be a no-brainer.

But let's go back to this holy week of Easter and Pesach. More and more Christian congregations are celebrating Passover as we all share the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. My wife and I played two performances of the Fauré Requiem on Good Friday in a church. Between the beautiful services there was dinner served for the choir and the orchestra, mainly leftovers from their Seder. One had to be a bit careful with what to put on the plate (even shrimp was present) but we managed fine. We had fifteen people at our own Seder, but Anna, our oldest, had a third Seder for her friends in Bellingham and had eighteen participants at her house there. The second one was at her Hillel with a larger crowd. Marjorie is probably dreaming about bread by now but I could probably go on indefinitely as long as my wife's absolutely delicious matzo ball soup was available. I never get tired of macaroons, either.

It has been a long time since the Exodus. With all recent news I sometimes wonder if the Hebrews are attempting a reversal and want to return to the Pharaoh. Why wait for the Red Sea to part when one can conveniently wipe out the Gaza Strip? There must be enough snobs in Cairo to fill a concert hall. We could help with building the orchestra by sending a few string players and a couple of tooters, in addition to a conductor. Some of the Madoff fortune must be still there hidden somewhere and since he is behind bars (reportedly unhappily so), he would probably be delighted to lend his name and give some financial assistance to the group. Move over West-Eastern Divan, this is the Bernard Madoff North-Southern Diva World Class Band.

Easter Lily