The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

NEWS FROM BOSTON: I do not, as a rule, spend much time thinking about what goes on in Boston. I suppose I should, just as a matter of personal curiosity, but I don’t. I have better things to do with my time than ponder the Byzantine mental contortions necessary to keep voting for Mr. Kennedy every six years or to contemplate the widespread public breakdown in law and order that permits the satanic cult headquartered in Fenway Park to perform their diabolical rituals in full view of an uncomprehending populace. So it came as quite a surprise to me when I heard some news from Boston that I actually found interesting. It seems that last week, after many a long year of suffering in silence, long simmering resentments finally turned violent in the Boston Symphony’s string section when the viola players finally went after the violinists with hammer and tongs, or, in this particular case, with a tuba and a glockenspiel, during a performance of Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto No. 6 in A Minor. Apparently, the violists had had enough of the violinists’ snotty and altogether snooty attitude towards them and their instrument, and were out for some musical payback. Neither the Boston Police Department, who had to call out its SWAT team and use generous amounts of teargas to break up the onstage riot, nor the Boston Symphony will say what finally set the violists off; no one, as far as I can tell, is saying anything about anything up there, but the buzz on the Internet says that the occasion for the melee was the symphony’s second violinist making a crude joke about the first violist’s sister, who plays flute for the symphony and does card tricks on the side. I should say, though, that at this point this is just a rumor, although the first violist’s screaming threats to take out the second violinist’s punk ass if he ever showed his face in the orchestra pit again got major play in the Boston newspapers and on CNN as well.

The violence quickly spread from one end of the orchestra to the other, as tuba players went after trumpeters, bassoonists and oboists had at each other, and the French and English horns decided to have another go at the Battle of Waterloo. The symphony, caught off-guard by this turn of events, as most authorities usually are, it seems, sent its musical director down to the rehearsal hall to calm the situation down, only to see this gentleman wind up face down in a kettledrum. Institutional dithering being what it is, the symphony tried to keep the police out of the matter, which only led to a rapid increase in the violence. Finally, faced with the attempted lynching of one of the symphony’s more prominent guest conductors, whose advocacy of such modern composers as Ives, Varese, and Bartok angered the more traditional supporters of the classical repertory no end, the symphony’s leadership called in the police. The Boston police deployed several hundred officers in full riot gear, a SWAT team, and a hostage negotiator in case things turned truly ugly. Despite the massive show of force, however, it still took the police several hours and the liberal use of tear gas to quell the rioting and get the situation under control. The police arrested over a dozen rioters and several more members of the symphony had to be hospitalized, including the second violin, who had multiple contusions, a fairly massive concussion, and a piccolo wedged halfway up his backside.

No sooner had the riot ended than critics began attacking the police department’s tactics in suppressing it. Almost all the critics pointed out that police clumsiness led to the destruction of at least one Stradivarius cello and an Amati violin, which were both almost literally priceless, and more than one critic said that the police presence was altogether too Wagnerian and out of place in the middle of a Vivaldi concerto. Friends of the violinists told reporters afterwards that the police deliberately targeted them for abuse and arrest, even though the violinists were the victims of the initial attack, proving, they said, that the police shared the same long-term prejudice against violinists that caused the riot in the first place. Many of these same friends demanded an immediate investigation of the police department’s handling of the situation, calling the department heavy-handed and inept.

Defenders of public order swiftly came to the defense of the police, pointing out that the police clearly gave the rioting musicians more than enough time to stop fighting and leave the hall; videotapes from the symphony’s own surveillance system also show the police warning the rioters to stop fighting or face the consequences, albeit on bullhorns that were obviously out of tune and therefore had no business in a concert hall. The liberal use of tear gas also had a detrimental effect on the overall quality of the cellos, making their sound weak and tremulous when it should have been strong and passionate. And, as everyone pointed out, the sirens, bullhorns, and other police instruments were all out of tune. Perhaps there is a future for them in playing the moderns, but on the whole, this sort of thing can be forgiven once, I think, given the exigencies of the situation, but the Boston Police Department will have to spend more time, a lot more time, working on their sound in the rehearsal hall if they ever wish to return to the concert stage again.

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