Logical Phallusies

Last week, Indiana University was thrown into a minor turmoil by this whole Cleveland Orchestra scandal.  Essentially what happened is that the Cleveland Orchestra (which is apparently available for your next residency, wedding or bar mitzvah) was scheduled to come to the Jacobs School of Music to perform a series of workshops and side-by-side rehearsals and to give a concert, along with their dreamy Austrian music director, Franz Welser-Möst

The problem was that the Cleveland players had been playing without a contract for several months and they had set a strike date at 12 midnight last Sunday, leaving us trying to guess whether or not they would in fact go on strike, and whether or not they would travel to our campus.

Well, if you read the NYT article at the top, you know that they did in fact go on strike, and that they did NOT come to IU.  BUT, the strike only lasted for only ~12 hours — just enough time for them not to come to Bloomington, but safely in time to make it  to their highly lucrative residency in Miami, FL.

A little suspicious, wouldn’t you agree?  I say it smells – rotten.

Well OK, I wouldn’t actively accuse the entire orchestra of welching on their promise to the poor students of this fair institution just for kicks, or laziness or whatever.  The strike date was set months ago, but in all fairness to us (Bloomingtonians), isn’t it possible that the orchestra’s union could have handled this matter in a slightly classier fashion, so that the only ones who got screwed weren’t the aspiring young music students?

Some other people here in Bloomington had the same question.  Enter the fabulous, Inaesque personality of a certain former concertmistress of the Minnesota Orchestra, one Jorja Fleezanis, currently a faculty member at IU, who decided to organize a little forum to talk about this very question and others.

The thing I liked most about Ms. Fleezanis’ little powow was that she wasn’t afraid to expose the faulty logic of Cleveland’s Musicians’ Union for what it was, though she did it with real panache.  If I had been running it, I probably would have pointed out that these musicians come off as rather naïve in their understanding of the current economy.  OK, let’s just say downright stupid.  People are losing their jobs left and right, the classical music industry is nothing more than a glowing ember (outside of China, that is), and they are seriously going to argue over a few thousand dollars a year when the current minimum salary is already $115K??  [Median is $140K and the top players make over $500K, btw... not to mention the fact that many if not most of these musicians pad their incomes with highly lucrative professorships at CIM and Case Western.]

The Cleveland musicians claim that if they aren’t paid at parity with the other “Big Five” American Orchestras, their quality will go down.  I was very glad to hear Ms. Fleezanis agree with me that this perspective simply doesn’t jive with the reality of supply and demand in the classical music business.  Our conservatories churn out highly, highly qualified candidates on an annual basis, such that even tiny regional orchestras have huge turnouts for their auditions.  Add to these freshly minted young people the denizens of older musicians who have way more experience but are out of jobs right now, and it should be obvious that there are far too many people chasing way too few jobs in the “industry”.  It’s a buyers’ market.  I would argue that Cleveland could get itself at least as good an orchestra for about half the price.

[Oh, and about that "Big Five" thing... isn't it a shame that they're always the last to know?  Yikes.  It's no wonder that anyone who's still latching onto that old trope would find themselves following the above "logic".]

Herr Welser-Möst (which is not his real name, according to this gossipy little article from a certain “Wikipedia”) did end up coming to Bloomington nonetheless, and I did get the chance to work with him.  He’s an absolute gentleman and had some really lovely and helpful things to say about music.  If only he could have convinced his colleagues in Cleveland that it was worth their while to quit squabbling for a few hours and come share a bit of that beauty with us.


And I’m still pissed that I didn’t get to hear the goddamn Adès Violin Concerto!!!!

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The connective tissue is Penelope Cruz

Some thoughts on Los Abrazos Rotos (“Broken Embraces”) and Nine, two movies that I happen to have seen recently:

I had been wanting to see Los Abrazos since like 2008, or whenever it was listed on Wikipedia as Pedro Almodòvar‘s new project. That little wikiblurb was so enticing, because it promised both an homage to American noir and another start turn for Penelope Cruz.  I followed the progressive openings of the film as it made waves in Spain, France, across Europe and seemingly everywhere else except the US, my anticipation mounting and my expectations reaching monumental proportions.  By the time I finally got to see it, the movie actual move itself could only be a disappointment because it could never live up to the masterpiece that I had created in my mind.

And yet, it did.  This might be my favorite Almodòvar film, but I think I say that after every one that I watch.  But seriously, this one has everything you want from the man, from the luscious color palette to the engrossing plot twists and characterization to the near constant dialogue with cinematic history (including the history of Almodòvar’s own films!).

Plus it’s a killer score, which I already mentioned in an earlier post.  But now, just for the sake of comparison let’s look at Abrazos v. Inglorious Basterds, the two most recent offerings by two of the cinema world’s supposedly great auteurs.  Juxtaposed thus, it just becomes so obvious that Pedro is the way more serious filmmaker than Quentin Tarantino.  And I don’t just mean that his films are “serious” and Quentin’s are not – certainly both have aspects of humor and gravitas.  What I mean is that for two writer/directors who load their works with cinematic references, Pedro is the one able to seamlessly interweave his commentaries into the structure of the film, whereas Quentin handles the whole meta level with total heavy-handedness.

As for Nine, let’s just say thanks to Maury Yeston and Rob Marshall for making something not only palatable but actually ENTERTAINING out of Fellini’s 8 1/2.  Only the most extremely loyal of readers will know that I do not much go in for that particular film.  But when you mix in some peppy songs and a little pornographic choreography (,and of course stir,) the whole thing really comes to life!  Who knew?  Anyway, Penelope Cruz continues to amaze:

PLUS, the editing of Nine by Marshall & co. was featured on a very special episode of Barefoot Contessa.  Who wouldn’t like that?


In other news, relating more to me than to Penelope Cruz, rumors are flying that the Cleveland Orchestra, which is (was?) scheduled to come to my school is going on strike.  For us students down in Bloomington, this comes as a rather perplexing turn of events, since the general student attitude is that any musician who has a “real job” ought to hold onto it for dear life.

This is just a guess, but I suspect that it’s probably the old-timers in the orchestra who oppose the contract that’s on the table right now (5% salary reduction this year, restored next year, 2.5% increase in two years).  Back in the Szell days, Cleveland took an immense civic pride in its orchestra and treated the musicians as minor celebrities, certainly a rare thing for orchestra players.  It’s conceivable that anyone who lived through that period might be unwilling to face up to current social and economic realities.  But what a shame that they would have to deprive a hard-working bunch of student musicians of their expertise and inspiration.

Supposedly, we’ll find out late tonight or early tomorrow whether or not they actually plan to come (the rumor mill has it that they won’t), but either way, the whole affair leaves me with a sour taste.

PLUS, they’d also be depriving us of a chance to hear Thomas Adès’ Violin Concerto, which is I think one of the greatest pieces of the past decade.

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