Madness in Odessa

May 5, 2014 at 05:04 AM · Do you follow the news and talk about it with your friends? Why are famous Ukrainian and Russian musicians silent on this issue? What are musicians declared as the UN ambassadors of peace doing right now?

What is the role of a musician in political crisis?

Do, for example, Yuri Bashmet and Tatiana Samouil, by playing at the closing ceremony of the winter Olympic games in Sochi, endorse or even support Putin? Does, Itzak Perlman, by entertaining the US president of the day, bear any responsibility for his government's actions?

Are we just entertainers or there are times when we have a moral obligation to stop playing and start talking?

Remember Shostakovich? What would he do now? What will you?

Replies (21)

May 5, 2014 at 08:58 AM · I hope that everyone will understand, that there are two forces in the conflict and none of them is "good", but both have their interests. Taking position for only one of them will not help the conflict. There are many small interest aswell inside of the Ukraine. For me personally I hope the best for the people there and may peace be reached. As a musician I would not care too much about that business, since if you do, you will be exploited. Both sides are corrupt and violent. I really don't know why we need a war there now.

May 6, 2014 at 10:46 PM · Yes, there is a time to stop playing and start talking. Since you asked how we feel, I'll offer some random thoughts on the matter:

Putin is, indeed, as a previous poster said, a KGB man. And if Ukraine falls, I doubt Putin would stop there. Whether reassembling the Soviet Union is one of his dreams, I don't know. But I wouldn't put it past him.

I definitely hope there won't be a war. As an American, I can tell you that the American people as a whole are in no mood for it, either.

Furthermore, America is in no position to deal with another war -- even if there were the popular will for it. Regrettably, in this country, "peace through strength" has given way to "drift, decline, and defeatism." Barack Obama, the current US president, has a history of apologizing for America. Thus, in dealing with bullies like Putin, who see him as weak, he has little credibility or leverage. Had he been president in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I highly doubt that the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union would have come down as soon as they did.

So what will I do? Continue to pray that reason might prevail and that, if we must increase sanctions, they will have the intended deterrent effect.

May 7, 2014 at 05:30 AM · WARNING: Before you read my comments on the situation, consult your doctor, because this post really hit home with me. Ergo, this is gonna be passionate.

Um, this post doesn't seem to consider the possibility that the artists agree with Putin. After all his ratings (according to polls taken by independent, international institutes) are pretty high. And being Russian myself, I have to say, his international policy has been incredible - in the 23 years since the fall of the USSR, the Russian Federation, the Russian military has only once conducted operations on the territory of another state, Georgia, in 2008. The US, meanwhile, has conducted operations in Panama, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Colombia, the Philipines, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and several others that aren't on the top of my head. Why didn't US musicians speaking out against that? Where was the outrage from the NYPhil when the atrocities at Abu Ghraib surfaced? And finally, why is the world ever perpetuating the myth of Russian aggression?

I just love when I hear people talk about(and they often do talk about this, on MSNBC, CNN, FOXnews, ABCnews, and the like) how Putin just wants a WWIII. Can you imagine that; the guy's father was almost killed in WWII, the USSR lost almost 30 million in WWII (and they hold a parade every year to remember them), and they are accused of wanting war. Riiiiiight.

People talk about the American public not wanting war - which is kind of a no-brainer, since no country really wants war - Russians are even more opposed to war. Please, remember that these guys were supposed to be welcomed with open arms into the West after the fall of the USSR; instead, NATO is still in existence, and the number of countries Russian citizens cannot visit without a visa has climbed.

So why are those musicians silent? Maybe it's because they agree with Putin. And that surprises a lot of people, who seem to think that musicians should all agree on politics and society; in reality, the only thing we truly and surely have in common is our love for music.

After all, musicians are just human. Violinists come of all beliefs, ideologies, orientations, and socioeconomic classes. We, musicians, are not some high-up moral standards for the world (geez, ever been to a musician after-party?), and why someone would ever trust us to know what is right is beyond me. All we know how to do is play music.

Heck, if one of those musicians does speak out, you may be surprised at what comes out of their mouth. They in fact shouldn't speak up. It's not like they are demi-gods that humanity can ask for advice from.

Ok, rant over.

May 7, 2014 at 09:00 AM · Thank you very much for this statement! But sometimes musicians SHOULD speak up, like you do.

The problem with the war-discussion is, that it assumes, that the ukrainian people see the russians as an invasion. That is as far as my information goes not only the case, because many russians living in the ukraine aswell. And many are pro russia due to relationships and so on.

The people, who are provided by the west and accepted as interim government are also highly questionable in terms of political or sometimes even criminal background.

As for me I feel, that I have too little objective information to say, who is in the right. But that is for me even more a reason, that we should talk about the situation, not a possible war. War is the end of talking and bad and stupid. Period.

About Putin and Obama: They are as much as many of us victims of their postition. Sure they can decide this and that, but after all the collective mood decides, what they are going to do.

I find it interesting, that western countries and media doesn't even think about the possibility, that putin and the russian government knows better than we do, what to do in the ukraine. In the end Russia just tries to secure an area, where many russians live and protect them from the chaos wich is happening right now.

May 9, 2014 at 08:40 PM · "… no country really wants war …."

Generally true. Yet overall, we, the American people, showed strong support for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It wasn't that we wanted to go to war, but that we recognized war as sometimes being, regrettably, the lesser of evils. Even in Boston, a city with a good share of anti-war folk, the January-March 1991 support rallies far outdrew the protest rallies. I know. I lived there at the time and photographed both.

Then there is what former US president Dwight Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech -- "the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex." As we say, "Follow the money." War is profitable for some industries -- and some politicians. Why else would American involvement in the Vietnam War have gone on as long as it did? Even that war, in its early stages, had fairly strong popular support here at home.

May 12, 2014 at 02:06 AM · American foreign policy is about arrogance, self righteousness, and control. American leaders don't have tolerance for other cultures or ways of life. They pontificate to the rest of the world how exceptional America is, and by doing so disparage others. The American government comes off as hypocritical. American meddling since world war 11, in countries like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Libya, etc. have destabilized the world and caused immense suffering and countless deaths. Russia has established interests in Crimea and after the illegal Ukrainian coup and the destabilization it caused the majority of the Crimean population (ethnic Russians) sought to bond with Russia. Things are complex in Ukraine and America could work with all parties involved in a supportive, understanding way to find an equitable solution. Instead America chooses to bully, threaten, and intimidate Russia into doing America's bidding because America knows best. Just like we knew best in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Iran, Egypt, etc, etc, etc.

May 12, 2014 at 03:35 AM · Rocky's - the OP - original question was "do you follow the news and discuss it with your friends?" Like most people, up to a point I do. Like most people I have my opinions - but like many people I'm circumspect most of the time about getting into political discussions with friends. Unless we're preaching to the choir, the only thing we're likely to succeed at is pissing one another off.

We've had heated enough debates here on about so many things related to the violin and violin playing - the obvious subjects that this website is about. All of that can quickly pale in the heat of political debate. Let's not do this here. Let's really think about this. How many violin websites are there - maybe a few? How many websites are there where people can get into a political discussion if they want? About a 'gigillion'. I just Googled political discussion websites and forums and tired after the list seemed endless by page 14 - which included this:

May 12, 2014 at 12:39 PM · Raphael,

My main concern was not who is right or wrong in this conflict (this time it is not so black and white), but why favourite musicians are quiet. I think that now I have better understanding why.

This discussion is under "Life in general". We do not make music in the outer universe, but here on planet Earth.

The very fact that violinist can beat "the dead horse" over a shoulder rest and are almost ignorant to political events is speaking volumes.

So, lets just keep quiet here, just like people in Germany did before the WWII.

I will choose another venue to discuss this.

May 12, 2014 at 08:49 PM · Rocky - I do hear you. And I know that this is under "life in general". But the fact that someone can beat a dead horse over the issue of the a shoulder rest doesn't necessarily mean that they are ignorant of world events. Maybe some are and some are not. And it doesn't mean that they aren't discussing world events elsewhere. Some famous musicians - and actors and sports figures - keep their political opinions fairly to themselves and some use their fame as a bully-pulpit, which I don't like. To compare my suggestion of the right time and right place to keeping silent in Germany in the 30's is way over the top. See? I'm already getting drawn into this potential Pandora's Box - for the moment. Today it's this part of the world; tomorrow it's that. And pretty soon its verbally a war of all against all.

I'm not squelching anyone, if for no other reason than I can't. This is not my e-salon; it's Laurie's and thus up to her. If you saw my library, you'd know that it is not only about music, but includes history, politics and many other subjects. But if I were hosting a party, I would not want to get into politics. So this will be my last entry in this thread. I'm just urging people to consider this.

February 22, 2015 at 05:26 PM · I'll bite;

Why do you find that a strange comment?

February 22, 2015 at 06:08 PM · I can see it being strange to someone who expects common knowledge of 20th century history to have somehow improved human nature. And maybe it has, but not for everyone. What was the world's population 100 years ago?

You could say the same about distribution of wealth.

I personally dont think its the obligation of a violinist to stick his or her neck out politically. What about us? Are we meeting our obligations as ordinary citizens? Lets start there.

February 22, 2015 at 09:51 PM · Paul,

yes, most of us are law-abiding citizens.... and this typically means that, once election is over and one pays his/her tax, there is a limited number of venues to express dissatisfaction with one's country's foreign politics. One could join a political party, which is yet another corporation with hierarchical structure and will take forever and a day to change something, or anything.

One the other hand, there are some violinists (composers, directors) out there who have reached the peak of their career and have nothing to loose, and those who are actively pursuing a busy schedule of performing and recording and can loose a lot. Those individuals are visible and their voice is heard. Some of them are UN's ambassadors for peace and they can even speak louder.

The same question could be asked for just any celebrity, be it an actor, writer, movie director, rock star..... but it appears that personal status and professional success come before integrity and humanism.

None, as far as I am aware, has spoken about the war in Ukraine: Ukrainian, Russian or other.

February 23, 2015 at 12:49 AM · 100 years ago it was 1915. Start of WW1.

The Ukraine (and part of what is now Poland?) was known as Galicia (Galitzia) and 1915 was the start? of the battle between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russians.

The Ukrainian War of Independence started in 1917.

So essentially...the Ukraine has always been in the middle of a battle between larger powers. Now it's really becoming a battle of the EU (and allies) vs Russia - and again, the Ukraine has to struggle for autonomy and they aren't strong enough (politically)to do that by themselves.

It's a very complicated history and that's about all I know about it...but light of the little I know, I don't find the comment odd...history is repeating itself. :D

February 23, 2015 at 12:53 AM · Vladimir Putin is not the first "bad man" to inhabit the earth since the days of Hitler, and he won't be the last either. Quite a number of such "bad men" were in some way our allies. The only constant in history is that it's very messy.

I don't agree that a violinist who is at the peak of his or her career, and who takes a strident or outspoken political position, has nothing to lose. I think that's a very naive claim. (Notice how I keep returning to the original topic of this thread?)

Partly the reason I don't fault Lisitsa (and others like her) for keeping their foci on playing the violin is because I am not doing all I can either. There's lots more that individuals can do than join political parties. Please, show some creativity.

February 23, 2015 at 09:15 AM · I think the answer to Rocky's question about Shostakovich is: Given a Russian language poet who has stuck his neck out a bit (like Yevtushenko), Shostakovich would probably set something he wrote to music. In the absence of that, he might compose something based on an apposite popular tune (like, in the present context, what? "Tea For Two" wouldn't do - Wow, that rhymes! I'm a poet already!). In the absence of both, mightn't he be stymied? He probably wouldn't "defect" - You remember what he said to Rosty (You're going to defect? Who's going to look after me in my old age?)?

Actually the Ukraine isn't a simple issue. Supporters of the current Ukrainian government living in some of Eastern Ukraine (e.g., Lugansk) have a very hard time from their fellow compatriots. Putin does have considerable grass roots support in Eastern Ukraine. Also some Eastern Europeans find the direction our Western Political Correctness has gone something of a turn off, and this has been a gift to Putin's propaganda machine.

February 25, 2015 at 05:33 PM · Maybe this is what you were looking for:

April 7, 2015 at 11:29 AM · Thus spoke great Valentina....

a musician and a human being

...and here is the backlash

She has not be silent at all !

April 7, 2015 at 06:58 PM · I have got family in Eastern Ukraine. Most fled to Russia, some stayed in Donbass. It's their home.

Neither side is perfect, and she shouldn't be muzzled for voicing her opinions, though she should have expected backlash.

Neither side is perfect. But music is not a bullet or a bomb; it is a healing balsam, an olive branch. Screw advertisers.

Play the music.

April 7, 2015 at 08:36 PM · Surprised Rocky? Why? You live in Harperland so you should know about it. Times when people headed for Canada for freedom have been gone long ago. How could she dare to criticize Washington installed junta? Shut up and play music that is your freedom of speech or good old McCarthy will show you where your job is.

April 7, 2015 at 11:43 PM · Pavel,

no, outraged is a closer description. I suppose that you are familiar with "The Joke" by Milan Kundera; a book about the times in Czechoslovakia when one ambiguous sentence on a postcard sent to a lover could lead to many years of harsh imprisonment. Well, we are heading right there, if we have not already arrived.

I adored Valentina as a musician and she has got my respect as a person now. I only wish there are more musicians like her.

The dust has not settled yet in Toronto and I am curious to find out what will the members of the orchestra do. Will they refuse to play? Walk out? Call sick? Play out of tune?

Even more so, what will the audience do? Ask for reimbursement? Talk during performance or turn their back to the stage?

Last, but not the least, what is in mind of Mr. Goodyear, who embraced the opportunity to replace a goddess of piano for cheap (political) score?

The TSO board may have been persuaded by a mighty sponsor to cancel the arrangement, but other people can still act upon their moral values, or not. Only time will tell.

April 8, 2015 at 09:00 PM · Very many Ukrainians don't speak Ukrainian. Both my parents know it, but they are Russian.

I am Russian-American, but I don't speak Russian-American.

I prefer music. So much easier to understand than spoken languages. So much more nuance, too.

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