Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

1.9.03

Tonal music as the New Avant-Garde

Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, made an interesting statement about the development of musical language in his review (Deep Song, September 1) of Osvaldo Golijov's new opera Ainadamar, premiered at Tanglewood this summer. In the last paragraph of the article, he wrote about the contrasting receptions the audience gave to Golijov's work and to Robert Zuidam's Rage d'Amours, which relied on "hoary devices of twentieth-century technique":

The trouble with having two premieres side by side is that the evening inevitably became something of a popularity contest. Zuidam received respectful applause; Golijov won a shouting, stomping ovation. No doubt a few old-school Tanglewood cerebralists went away complaining that Golijov had pandered to the audience. If so, they were pandering to their teaching assistants. The composer is triumphing not because he uses an accessible language—anyone can string together superficially pleasing chords—but because he speaks it with dire conviction. His sincerity is avant-garde.
This is nothing new, of course. Charges of pandering to the audience have been directed against many composers who returned to some form of more traditional musical language, often coupled with accusations of commercialism. As if how much money Philip Glass makes has anything to do with whether his music is interesting. However, to say that Golijov's "accessible language" has nothing to do with his success is also not sincere. I have been teaching atonal music to students for several years, and no matter how much I force them to learn about how and why some composers created the sounds they did, some students (and their parents) are just never going to like them. This also has something to do with the number of performances received by works of John Corigliano versus those of Andrew Lloyd Webber. If music history (and Nicolas Slonimsky, in particular) has taught us anything it is that popular acclaim and historical relevance certainly do not always coincide.

31.8.03

Free Concerts in Washington

Juilliard Quartet in 1997The Library of Congress, one of my favorite places in the world and a true national treasure, hosts a series of free concerts each year. They have just announced the schedule of performers for the 2003-2004 season, which features as expected well-known classical performers and some unusual choices that keep things varied. The concert series Web site has also been updated for the upcoming year, and it includes information on the jazz and outdoor (mostly band) concerts they host. I will be posting reviews here of as many of the LOC concerts as I can attend. Some of the events I thought notable: Dave Brubeck and company (October 1), French Baroque period instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyriques (April 21), and a number of string quartet performances including the Chilingirian Quartet, the Kodály Quartet, the Brodsky Quartet, and of course, in its 41st year of residence at the Library of Congress and performing on the Library's matched set of Stradivari instruments (donated by Mrs. Whittall in 1934), the Juilliard Quartet. Most of the concerts take place in the Coolidge Auditorium, renovated in 1997. It is named for one of the greatest patrons of the arts in the United States, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, and it has superb acoustics for chamber music. The space has hosted numerous premieres, the most famous surely being Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, choreographed (and danced) by Martha Graham and performed in 1944 by a 13-piece orchestra. You can find out more about Mrs. Coolidge in the excellent biography published by my former professor at Catholic University, Cyrilla Barr: Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge: American Patron of Music.

30.8.03

Adam Gopnik on France

Bush Wanted Poster from Protests in France, 2002Adam Gopnik, for five lucky years, wrote the "Paris Journal" feature for The New Yorker, which seems to me like the dream job. (If you missed the work in the magazine, you can read much of it in his book Paris to the Moon.) He lived off the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and he wrote about the city of Paris: why did he ever decide to come back home? Maybe he is regretting his decision, as he revisits the "Paris Journal" in the most recent edition of the magazine (The Anti-Anti-Americans, September 1 issue). He spent some time in Paris this summer and writes about the disruptive striking of the intermittents du spectacle (see my posts on August 13 and July 30) and other summer news, with a lot of commentary on attitudes toward the United States in France. He is right, I think, to say that President Bush has been "a gift to anti-Americanism in Europe." (This is not to say that anti-Americanism needs any help, with politicians like Arlette Laguiller of Lutte Ouvrière, who on September 11, 2001, itself and in the days afterward blamed American politics for the attacks in New York and Washington.) The story that Gopnik cites, however, is one I don't remember hearing about before: "What the French, from left to right, see as Bush’s shallow belligerence, his incuriosity, his contempt for culture or even the idea of difference—no one in France can forget his ridiculing an American reporter, on his one visit to Paris, for daring to speak to the French President in French—make him a heavy burden even for the most wholeheartedly pro-American thinker." After a little research, the reporter in question is David Gregory from NBC and the event (here is the coverage in The Telegraph) occurred during the President's visit to Paris in May 2002, made quite tumultuous by protests against him (see one of the protest posters above). As an American, I find the President's reaction decidedly rude and tactless, so who can blame the French for theirs?

As Gopnik makes clearer in the online-only Q & A: Summer in Paris, an interview with Daniel Cappello, however, the anti-Americanism even of someone like l'Arlette (whose political ideals, though extreme, I admire normally) is never directed against Americans but against what we do throughout the world. This is not to say that the U.S. government should base its actions solely on the opinions of Europeans or anyone else, but we should at least be able to listen without getting our feathers ruffled. (Gopnik is right to say that the anti-French feelings of many Americans, only made worse recently, are more vicious and ad hominem than most of what has been said in France about us. An exception may be the desecration of WWII cemeteries, which was atrocious, although it was directed more against British graves than American.) The final part of the interview is the reason why I'm posting about this subject, and that is a new book that Gopnik has just finished editing: "an anthology of Americans in Paris for the Library of America, a collection of writing by us over there from Franklin on. The list of contributors, all in one way or another in love with French civilization, includes Jefferson, Cooper, Hawthorne, James, Wharton, Hemingway, Anita Loos, Hart Crane, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Liebling, Flanner, Buchwald, Shaw—the list goes on. That list of Americans who loved Paris, and through it France, is perhaps the most distinguished group one could find gathered together in homage to a single foreign subject in American letters." The book will be published as Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, and I'm adding it to my list.

28.8.03

Gregorian Chant Paleography

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud. Misc. 385Starting today, I am guest lecturing for a couple weeks on the subject of Gregorian chant notation to a seminar on music paleography at Catholic University. This is one of those subjects that is so specialized that it's quite rare outside the context of graduate school and conferences of medievalists, so it's a treat to be invited to speak about it. What is so exciting about working with Gregorian chant is that it is a broad body of music that has yet to have a true critical edition. Scholars of literature and art might find this incredible, that there is endless work to be done in studying Gregorian chant. You really don't have to tread over the same works that have been edited before; there are still real discoveries to be made. This became clear to me as a graduate student in the 1990s, when I worked as a research assistant for Project CANTUS, going through a single chant manuscript folio by folio and making an indexed record for every piece of music in it. You just never know what is in each of those thousands of manuscripts, and it's likely that no one else knows either.

27.8.03

Centenary of the Prix Goncourt

Edmond and Jules Goncourt in the 1850sOne unmistakable sign of la rentrée, the return for the beginning of the academic year in France, is the speculation about France's most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. Starting in August and September and leading up to the awarding of the prize in December, a huge number of new novels are released to the French public. (The figures this year: 691 novels, 455 of them French, will appear in the month of September, a 4% increase over last year.) In a six-part series called "Cent ans de Goncourt," Raphaëlle Rérolle in Le Monde has been looking back at the history of the Goncourt prize. The first installment (Le rêve d'Edmond, August 24) concerns the life of the prize's namesakes, Edmond and Jules Goncourt (see photo), the brothers best known for their collaboration on a monthly literary journal, whose tone sounds remarkably like a cowritten weblog. Edmond established his underground literary academy, "primarily out of horror for the other academy, the one with a capital 'A'," as a small group of judges. After his death, they met around a restaurant table to award the first prize in 1903. As happens inevitably with artistic rebellion, the anti-institution almost immediately became an institution. You can even examine the venerated tableware used by the ten judges at their annual prize-awarding dinner, which are passed from judge to judge like holy relics. (Since 1983, Daniel Boulanger has been using the fifth place-setting, which passed briefly through the hands of Louis Aragon.)

The other articles in the series include so far L'affaire Proust, August 25 (Proust received the prize in 1919 for the exquisite L'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs [plus Volume 2], with the disapproval of those who thought it indecent for a man with a large personal fortune to receive such an award); Le "non" de Gracq, August 26; and Ajar alias Gary, August 27.

UPDATE:
The last two installments of this series are Le cauchemar de Jean Carrière (August 28) and Une vie de juré (August 29). The stories of how the members of the jury cope with reading hundreds of novel are amusing (one complains of back problems from carrying boxes of books everywhere), and the attitudes toward the alleged corruption of the prize by publishing interests are interesting, too.

26.8.03

Un impeccable français

You don't see this every day in the mainstream American media: a tribute to an intellectual, a reader, an editor, and all of this in a language other than that of the newspaper itself. This is exactly how to describe Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine, writing in Le Monde (Robert Silvers. lecteur permanent, August 26), and her lionization of Robert Silvers, inexhaustible editor and "man in the shadows" behind the New York Review of Books. This may not be news to some readers, but Silvers finished his undergraduate work, begun at the University of Chicago, at the Sorbonne and the Institut d'études politiques. He stayed in Paris from 1952 to 1958, getting his start in the literary world with the Paris Review. In his interview, Silvers "prefers to define himself as 'a critical admirer' and does so in impeccable French." (Anyone who has ever spent a lot of time trying to speak French knows that this is not a compliment handed out easily by a French person.) The account of how the New York Review of Books was started and the concise history of its success make interesting reading.

25.8.03

Albéniz the Opera Composer

Isaac Albéniz at the pianoFor composers throughout history, there have been a few large-scale genres of music seen as the pinnacle of compositional achievement, the place to make one's mark. At different times and for different musicians, that genre may have been the symphony, the Mass ordinary, and certainly since the 17th century, the opera. (Parallels for writers might be the novel, the epic poem, the tragedy; for painters, the fresco cycle; and so on.) I have noted with interest the composers who, every once in a while, suddenly are recognized as opera composers (Antonio Vivaldi and Sergei Prokofiev, who composed an opera when he was nine years old, are good examples). Now I learn that Isaac Albéniz, whom I knew only as a composer of little Spanish color pieces (as Tomas Marco put it in his article on Albéniz in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "as a composer of theatre music, Albéniz did not achieve the same heights as in his piano music"), wanted to compose operas in the Wagnerian style, and in fact he did actually complete a few. Renaud Machart's article (Le pacte faustien d'Isaac Albeniz, August 25) in Le Monde was how I learned of efforts to make his operas known again. In other words, it's not that we musicologists didn't know that he had written some operas (the same with Vivaldi and Prokofiev), it's just that no one had tried to make a readable score and then actually have professional musicians perform it.

Albéniz lived a cosmopolitan life, residing for much of his life outside his native land. As Machart puts it humorously, this lifestyle created "one of the most striking musical curiosities in Europe: a Spanish composer, the future quintessence of Spanishness in music, composes in Paris operas primarily inspired by the Wagnerian model but on librettos in English." The Faustian bargain of the article's title refers to the contract Albéniz signed with a London banker whose name, Francis Burdett Money-Coutts (Lord Latymer), is improbably appropriate for a musical Maecenas. Money-Coutts had cash and wanted his writings to be known, while Albéniz needed financial support to compose operas. Perhaps not one of the great librettist-composer pairings of all time (Da Ponte-Mozart, Quinault-Lully, Boito-Verdi, Von Hoffmansthal-Strauss), but they were working on a Ringish trilogy of King Arthur operas, only the first of which, Merlin, Albéniz was able to complete before his death. I also learned from the excellent classical music site Red Ludwig (featuring Grace Notes, writing by former Washington Post critic Joseph McLellan) that the work was staged at the Teatro Real in Madrid on May 28 of this year and was recorded in 1999. Only Machart, however, notes that the first performance of Merlin was in 1950, when excerpts were presented by a group not really known for operatic productions, the junior soccer club of FC Barcelona.

24.8.03

I Sing Because I'm Happy, I Sing Because I'm Free

Between Assumption and the Sunday after Labor Day, the Choir of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has its annual hiatus. For me, one of the joys of not having to be at the Shrine is being able to go to Mass as a member of a congregation, at my home parish on East Capitol Hill, Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian. If you are in Washington and you want to hear a first-rate Gospel choir sing a Catholic Mass, go to the 11 am Sunday Mass. Kenneth Louis is the Minister of Music, and the choir sings his music and arrangements of Gospel standards every Sunday. Be warned, however, if you are used to a staid, quiet, 1-hour Mass: you are going to hear some real preaching, people are going to be moved by the Spirit, and you will be in Church for two hours. The past two Sundays have been the perfect antidote for my jaded attitute toward the Church because of the abuse scandal.

One of the things the choir sang this morning was Kirk Franklin's Why We Sing, and it's difficult to put into words the effect it had on me. The lyrics are so simple, but it made me remember why I like to sing and why good liturgical music, from chant to Palestrina to Kirk Franklin, is so effective. It is the power of music like this that made Saint Augustine so uneasy, as he described in the tenth book of his Confessions. Although he was afraid that sometimes music itself can become more moving than the sacred words that are sung, Augustine finally admits that "by the delight of the ears the weaker minds may rise to the feeling of devotion." Even when one's heart is cold with bitterness.

23.8.03

One Month of Ionarts

That's right, today is the one-month anniversary of this weblog. Thanks to everyone who has been reading.

Today's post ties in with a number of subjects discussed over the past month, and it concerns an article by Yves Stavridès (Les mystères de la Laiterie de la Reine, August 21) in L'Express. Daniel Wildenstein, one of the most influential art dealers in Europe, died in October 2001. (Part of the family's company, since the 1960s based mostly in New York, merged with the Pace Gallery to form PaceWildenstein. They also formed the Wildenstein Institute, still responsible for authenticating the work of many historical artists.) This summer in June, his sons decided to donate to the Louvre one part of their father's estate, nine tons of marble friezes and medallions sculpted by Pierre Julien in the late 18th century. Thus was solved an art-historical mystery in France, what had happened to the decoration of the Laiterie de la Reine (Queen's Dairy, shown below) at the Château of Rambouillet outside Paris.

Laiterie de la Reine, RambouilletQueen Marie Antoinette liked to imagine that she was a simple peasant girl, so she had a hamlet and farm built on the grounds of Versailles. The queen had a little mill, and peasants kept animals and ran their own dairy, a short walk from the Petit Trianon. When the king went to Rambouillet to hunt, Marie Antoinette was reportedly bored, so he built the little dairy there for her and commissioned Pierre Julien to make the marble reliefs with dairy themes from classical mythology. (One of the medallions, The Milk Churning, is shown below.) Rambouillet was seized by the revolutionaries in 1791, and about 10 years later the marble pieces were taken from Rambouillet by order of Josephine, Napoleon's wife and the future empress, to decorate her new home, the Château de Malmaison. When she died, after being divorced from Napoleon, her children sold off most of her estate to pay her many debts.

Pierre Julien, The Milk ChurningThe marble reliefs were purchased in 1819 by Alexander Baring, of the same Baring Bank ruined by Nick Leeson in 1995, and brought to England to decorate his family's home. In 1947, Baring's descendant sold the marbles to Georges Wildenstein, Daniel's father, who displayed them in his home in Paris and never noted them in his business records. By this point, these reliefs had completely disappeared from the public art radar, until they were returned to the Louvre. The question that makes all of this worth reading is the crisis created by this situation: should the marbles be displayed in the Louvre, or should they be returned to the Rambouillet dairy? In fact, a statue from the Rambouillet dairy, depicting a nymph and the goat that nursed the baby Jupiter, was placed in the Palais du Luxembourg, home of the French Senate, in 1803, then transferred to the Louvre in 1829, and ultimately returned to Rambouillet in the 1850s. Stavridès argues that Pierre Julien lived and worked in the Louvre and the museum could surely create a display space like the dairy, but let's not forget that it was part of an artistic whole with the statue now returned to Rambouillet. "So, Rambouillet or the Louvre? Generally, this sort of case ends up on the desk of the Minister of Culture. Tough job."

22.8.03

Gabrielle de Montmollin

Gabrielle de Montmollin, from The Meticulous Construction of the Tranquil Life of Amazons, 1994I like to vary the focus of my postings, but I will spend a second day on photography, after going on about Atget yesterday, to mention the surrealistic black-and-white photographs of Gabrielle de Montmollin. She is, I think, Swiss by birth and is now based in Toronto, and she creates stories by posing children's dolls and other toys in her photographs. The disturbing photograph to the right is an untitled part of the series The Meticulous Construction of the Tranquil Life of Amazons, from the early 1990s, and made me think about a lot of things. In her most recent work, de Montmollin has experimented with making masks for the dolls in her photographs. There is also an interesting piece of Web-based art (Xylophone #3) that invites the user of her site to compose the photograph by clicking on a sort of map.

She doesn't list Atget among the artists she admires on her links page, but there are some similarities, although her work is much farther from the concept of documentation so important in Atget's career. She was also kind enough to link to Ionarts, which I appreciate very much.

21.8.03

Eugène Atget Photographs for Sale

Eugène Atget, Store Window, avenue des Gobelins, 1925Michel Guerrin has published an interview with the director of the photography department at MoMA, Peter Galassi (La rupture esthétique d'Eugène Atget, August 21, in Le Monde), about the progress of the museum's sale of 1,000 photographs (doubles from their collection of 6,000) by Eugène Atget (1857-1927). (See also Lindsay Pollock's presale report The Atget Opportunity, in Artnet on April 12, 2002, and the deaccessioned photographs themselves, being sold by dealer David Tunick.) Most of these photographs, at an estimated value of $20 million, are being purchased by American collectors and museums (only one European buyer so far, an unnamed German museum). Atget's fascination with the city of Paris and tendency to capture unusual or even surreal views of that familiar city have made me a big fan. If I had a luxury purchase to make or a dream gift to receive, a real Atget photograph (going for between $3,000 and $150,000, according to the interview) would be at the top of my list. I had better act quickly, however, since half of them have already been sold. One of the almost Pop Art views of store windows, perhaps (see photo at left).

Eugène Atget, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1902Most likely, I would try to acquire the 1902 view of the windows of the Bibliothèque nationale (see photo at right), an image steeped in memory for me. This was taken in what is now the courtyard of the readers' entrance to the old library, off the Rue de Richelieu and across from the Square Louvois (see this picture of the entrance from across the park). I have passed through there hundreds of times, on the way to look at medieval manuscripts in the Salle des Manuscrits, the windows of which you can see at the very top of the image on the second floor. (Maybe if I finally win the Powerball this Saturday...)

You can see quite a few of Atget's photographs online, especially in the Collection Eugène Atget (at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France), at the George Eastman House, at the International Center of Photography, in Atget in Paris (at the Getty), and Masters of Photography (ludicrously choked with pop-up ads). Right now, there is an exhibit (La photographie au tournant du siècle du Pictorialisme à Eugène Atget) at the Musée d'Orsay, also reviewed by Michel Guerrin in Le Monde (Au Musée d'Orsay, parmi les amateurs de paysages et de portraits, August 21) and which I will go see when I am in Paris in October. Finally, check out more recent photographs by Gerald Panter (Atget's Paris) paired with Atget's views of the same sites.

20.8.03

Estorick Collection in London

Gallery in the Estorick Collection, LondonThe last time I visited London was in 1997, to read a paper at a conference of the International Musicological Society. (This was a paper on Breton notation of Gregorian chant, read before the members of the Cantus Planus Chant Study Group as part of a session on Chant and Paleography: Methoden und Probleme der Neumenkunde. The Proceedings of the conference were edited by David Greer.) Anyway, that means that it was before the opening of the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in 1998. The art editor of the International Herald Tribune, Souren Melikian, finally acquainted me with the place in a review (Off the Beaten Path, Roads to Italian Modernity, August 16) of their exhibit Painting Light: Italian Divisionism 1885-1910. The development that Melikian traces, from imitation of Seurat or Van Gogh into futurism, is thought-provoking. The way he describes the Estorick ("this artistic lark in a Georgian house tucked away in North London;" see the picture of one of their galleries to the right) reminds me of the Phillips, the Barnes, and the trend that Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes (see post on August 19) has identified of collections being shown more and more "outside of institution-driven buildings" by "collector-focused institutions." (This was a response to the planned opening of a new museum in the Washington area, in the home of Robert and Jane Meyerhoff at Fitzhugh Farm in Phoenix, Md. Tyler had linked to an article by Carol Vogel in the New York Times, which has more recently been published in the Herald Trib: A Horse Farm's Thoroughbred Art Collection, August 20.)

Someone Else's Paris Reading

Janet Flanner and Ernest Hemingway at Les Deux MagotsThanks to blogger The Lusty Musketeer, whose post Reading about Paris (August 20) linked me to a book review in the New York Times that I probably would have missed otherwise (Frank J. Prial, With Writers to Thank, We'll Always Have Paris, August 16). The book is Paris in Mind, an anthology of 29 excerpts of novels, memoirs, and so on relating to American experiences in Paris, edited by Jennifer Lee. Most of these selections are on the list I have been compiling (see the not-yet-complete list at the bottom of the links bar to the right), and I have gotten around to reading several of them, but there are a few that I need to add. (If you don't recognize his name, the reviewer is the Times wine critic, and he has spent a lot of time in Paris over the last 20 years, so his comments about the limited experience most American visitors have of Paris are written with deadly accuracy.) What makes me laugh about this sort of book is how it reproduces the blindered approach to understanding France and its culture that even some of the great expatriate writers have, Hemingway (shown here with Janet Flanner, thanks to the America's Story project at the Library of Congress) being the classic example. To counter this tendency, I have been trying to read as many French books about Paris as I can. It's remarkable to compare American and French books written around the same time. After I spend several years at this project, I will start searching around for writers from other foreign countries with work centered in Paris. That's another can of worms.

19.8.03

Wagner Festival in Washington?

Renoir, Portrait of Richard WagnerAn article (Wagner-Wahn im Internet by Jochen Breiholz, August 19) in Die Welt was the first press reference I have seen to the formation of a festival dedicated to the operas of Richard Wagner to be based here in Washington, D.C. The founder, Carol Berger, claims that the festival will be the American answer to the Bayreuth Festival, although she admits that she has not raised as much money for the festival as she had hoped. Indeed, Breiholz seems to think that even the proposed budgets of the productions are laughably small for the forecast performance of Parsifal here in Washington, D.C., in March 2004. According to their Web site, the group in question, the Millennium Wagner Opera Company, is planning four "touring performance cycles of Parsifal, Die Meistersinger and Bach. A production of Tannhauser is also in rehearsal. The company will appear in Opera recital of highlights from operas." I have heard of at least one of these people before: Carol Berger has given some lectures with the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C., and she is a true believer.

To make a strange parallel, in many ways Wagner reminds me of former President Bill Clinton: he was a brilliant person, larger than life and with larger-than-life personal faults. Also, just as with President Clinton, there are people who hate Wagner, who see nothing but his ego, racism, and negative influence on the operatic world like the association of the Nazi party with his family and ignore the genius of what he created; and there are just as many people who love Wagner, who see nothing but his radical vision of a new art form and ignore his faults. Carol Berger and members of Wagner Societies around the world like her are in the latter group. The mission of the Millenium Wagner Project, in their own words, is spiritual, to "search out the sidelined in our midst, to bring healing thru music's unconditional love, or as Wagner would put it, 'redemption through love'." They also claim that "the Millennium Wagner Project and the Millennium Wagner Opera are Wagner-Bashing Free Entities. That means you will not find artistis, scholars or men of the cloth running around here using derogatory names in regard to Wagner. We suggest those who feel impelled to experience negativity to aim their guns at the political activities of icons Chopin or Brahms. 'He who is free from sin, may he cast the first stone'." (I think that "men of the cloth" may be a reference to Fr. M. Owen Lee, who has written about Wagner and has provided commentary on the ChevronTexaco Met broadcasts for years. Fr. Lee has been very frank about the truth of what people don't like about Wagner's life but has ultimately been, I think, an apologist for Wagner's music. If you want to learn about Wagner's ideas as he expressed them, check out The Wagner Library run by Patrick Swinkels.)

While I would love to see the Millenium Wagner Company succeed and create a festival here, I have my doubts. There are no published dates for the performances supposedly being planned. On their Web site, you may write to ask to be notified when those dates and locations become known. I will follow this story and write again if I learn anything.

18.8.03

Accident at Chambord

Floor Collapse at ChambordAfter having posted about the changes in the works at the Château of Chambord (see post on August 11), I was shocked to see a report on France 2 evening news of the collapse of a floor beam there on Sunday (see this English-language report from Australia). The commissioner claims publicly not to be worried about safety: 20 rooms, a small fraction of the total, will be closed to the public while inspection of the floors is carried out. From everything that I have read, this is the first time that a beam at Chambord has collapsed, producing this sort of accident. France 2 showed a picture of the room above, while the pictures on the Internet show the room below with the ceiling broken through. The room in question is in the Roger-de-Parme tower and is shown only to tour groups. A crowd of about forty people was reportedly in the room when the beam broke. A hole about ten square meters opened up, and six people were hurt badly enough to be taken to the hospital, one by helicopter.

Also, thanks to mostly English-language Parisian blog Parisiana for a link to Ionarts and an encouraging message today.

The Popularity of Impressionism

Vincent Van Gogh, L'église d'Auvers-sur-Oise, vue du chevet, 1890, Musée d'OrsayEglise d'Auvers-sur-Oise, Romanesque

Just when I thought there couldn't be another show on the Impressionists, a little article (Voyage au temps des impressionnistes by Claire Haentjens, August 15) in Le Point sent me looking for more information about the Château of Auvers-sur-Oise. Since 1994, the château has been hosting a show called Voyage au temps des Impressionistes (the site has also been clumsily translated into English) that features evocations of some of the Impressionists' favorite themes: Haussmann's Paris seen as a typical bourgeois apartment, a bistro inspired by the café-concert Les Ambassadeurs, and the Gare Saint-Lazare. This all sounds corny to me, even though there are projections or reproductions of 500 paintings. Anyway, I think it would be much more interesting just to walk around the village, where you can see the house of Dr. Gachet painted by Cézanne, the little Romanesque church painted by Van Gogh (see photograph and painting), and the graves of Van Gogh and his brother Theo. The Web site of Auvers-sur-Oise has pages of paintings of the town by Cézanne and Van Gogh, the scenes of all of which you could probably still find in Auvers-sur-Oise.

17.8.03

Merci aux lecteurs français

Thanks to French blog mediaTIC for a mention of Ionarts (see post on August 14): "an interesting English-language blog dedicated to art in general (music, art, literature), which focuses more specifically on artistic news in France . . . and which seems written from France besides." Although I did not intend to focus on France when I started this blog, France is just naturally something toward which I gravitate. That I might be writing it from France instead of Washington, D.C., is a long-held dream.

New Books for Paris Reading Project

An article (Daniel Pennac: Five Sleazy Pieces of Paris, by Matthew J. Reisz, August 16) in The Independent drew my attention to Daniel Pennac's Paris stories, which I will be acquiring. They are five novels, set in the Belleville area, from the 1980s and 90s, translated into English by Ian Monk and now rereleased in Great Britain: The Scapegoat, Monsieur Malaussène, Passion Fruit, The Fairy Gunmother, and Write to Kill. Reisz also describes another novel, Comme un roman, "his wonderful hymn to the joys of reading." My only problem with the article is that it mentions Pennac's "description of the Vercors (the remote Provençal plateau where he spends part of the year)," which is Le Vercors d'en haut: la réserve naturelle des hauts plateaux (not available, I think, in the U.S.). However, the Vercors is not really in Provence. Where it begins, outside Grenoble, is exceedingly beautiful, I can tell you.

Pennac is a teacher of literature in the French school system, and he sees his role as author of fiction and children's books to be at least partially to bring people to reading and keep them reading. In an interview from April 2000, he was asked to list the ten books he thought worth saving from the 20th century and I think the choices are interesting. The top choices were Proust's A la Recherche du temps perdu, which he calls "The Book" and like Joyce's Ulysses, and Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit.

15.8.03

Bonne fête!

France is a Catholic nation, so just about everybody was on vacation today for le quinze août, the feast of the Assumption. You have to love a country where an organist gets written up (Vincent Warnier, les délices de l'orgue, by Renaud Machart, August 14) in a major newspaper like Le Monde because people might want to go hear him play on Assumption. He played the 5:15 pm Mass today at the grand orgue of the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, at the Place Sainte-Geneviève in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. (If anyone has heard him play before, please send me a message.) His program today was to include works of J. S. Bach, Marcel Dupré, Louis Vierne, and Camille Saint-Saëns, as well as an improvisation. This last talent is an art still highly cultivated by organists in France. I sent a link to this article to the director of music at the National Shrine, in the hope that he might try to invite him sometime for the Octave of Easter, when the Shrine annually hosts a guest organist. (The last organists to visit from France were Philippe Lefebvre, from the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, whose improvisation blew my mind, and Sophie-Veronique Cauchefer-Choplin, one of the associate organists at Saint-Sulpice.) If Vincent Warnier ever plays at the Shrine, I'll let you know.

A graduate of the Strasbourg conservatory, Warnier acknowledges Daniel Roth as his teacher of improvisation. Roth is now the main organist at Saint-Sulpice (in the 6th arrondissement), where I heard him improvise brilliantly last summer. If you want to have a great musical experience in Paris, you can attend the auditions d'orgue (usually Sundays at 11:30 am) at Saint-Sulpice and after the noon Mass climb up to the organ loft to talk with the organist and see the instrument and the best view of the church. (There is a chapel at Saint-Sulpice featuring a wall painting by Eugène Delacroix, Jacob and the Angel.) When I spoke to M. Roth last summer, I learned that he had lived in Washington from 1974 to 1976, when he was guest organist at the National Shrine and organ professor at Catholic University.

UPDATE:
Don't miss Charles Baudelaire's critical review of Delacroix's paintings in Saint-Sulpice, which I have just discovered on the remarkable Gallica Classique Web site.

14.8.03

Assumption at the National Shrine

If you're in Washington tomorrow (August 15) and you want to hear some Renaissance music, the Choir of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will be performing for the Feast of the Assumption at the High Mass at noon. The music will feature the 8-part Missa Salve regina (Gloria and Agnus movements) by Tomás Luis Victoria (1548-1611), the 8-part Magnificat setting by Luca Marenzio (1553/54-1599), and the 6-part motet Assumpta est Maria by Giovanni da Palestrina (1525-1594). We will also be singing the Hymn to the Mother of God (1985) for two choirs by John Tavener. The National Shrine is at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Fourth Street NE in the District of Columbia. The choir will perform in the Great Upper Church.

What Would Mozart Think?

As a tiny article (Le retour de la castration by Lucien Lambert, August 15) in Le Point relates, different artistic interests can not only compete but also destroy one another. The Rupertinum, the modern art museum of Salzburg, Austria, commissioned a temporary sculpture from the Viennese art collective Gelatin to be displayed publicly in the Max-Reinhardt-Platz during the prestigious Salzburg Music Festival (July 26 to August 31). The sculpture, titled Arc de Triomphe, was displayed to considerable uproar for two weeks (as Lambert put it punningly, the work "a semé la zizanie"). As you can see in these photos, the arc is formed by the plasticine body of a man wearing only a tank top and sweat socks and who appears to be micturating (or ejaculating?) into his own mouth. Apparently not buying the intellectualized contextualization of the museum's leadership ("It formally and optimistically presents itself in the tradition of the triumphal arch; at the same time, however, it makes the differences between winners and losers appear to be obsolete"), officials from the Salzburger Festspiele, which is much more profitable to the city than the modern art museum, won the battle. They first had the sculpture covered over during the visit of Prince Charles and have now obtained its permanent removal from the Max-Reinhardt-Platz.

However, knowing how much Mozart wanted to leave Salzburg, which he saw as a provincial backwater where he felt he had no future, to go to Vienna, I cannot help but think that he would have laughed at the gesture the sculpture made. The Viennese artists have certainly succeeded in what I assume was their ultimate goal: "épater la bourgeoisie." And that's something Mozart probably would have enjoyed.

13.8.03

Link from Artblog

Thanks to Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof at Philadelphia's Artblog for making Ionarts their "Link of the Week." I like reading their site, so I am grateful for the mention. Also, thanks to fellow Washingtonian Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes for another nice comment about and link to Ionarts.

More Artistic Strikes Planned in France

The head of the union representing the intermittents du spectacle (part-time workers in performing arts) officially says he regrets the cancellation of the Avignon festival caused by his group's strikes. However, the union has made calls for another set of general strikes centered around the street theater festival (18e Festival International de Théâtre de Rue) in the little town of Aurillac (August 20 to 23), which will probably cause it to be canceled or significantly disrupted as well. The festival itself appears to embrace the union taking it over as a platform for its concerns. The union will hold a meeting in Aurillac over the Assumption holiday to decide what to do. On the one hand, I know that people who work in the arts should fight as hard as anyone else to earn a decent wage and be assured a living. However, I question the strategy of life-disrupting strikes so popular in France. How does costing the people of Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, La Rochelle, or Aurillac a lot of money really help the cause of the intermittents? By increasing the possibility that those festivals will not be able to hire part-time workers in performing arts next summer because they lost too much money?

In perhaps not unrelated news, Blogorrhée posted bitterly yesterday on the rate of business bankruptcies in France, which has hit an all-time high at 8%. Wow.

12.8.03

Bayreuth, anyone?

View over the orchestra pit, Bayreuther FestspielhausHold the phone. If anyone else out there is dying to go to hear an opera at the Bayreuth Festival this year (see post on August 5), it is still possible. I had been reading that it could take more than five years to be able to get a ticket directly from the box office. Little did I know that I can still buy them for this year through Sports-Road ticket resales. Although I knew they would have all my NFL, NBA, and NHL needs covered, their site also claims that they have "been buying and selling Bayreuth Festival Ring Cycle Tickets for over 15 years." (I wonder if Festival officials know how much people are overcharging by reselling tickets; the highest price you might pay at the box office is around 200 euros. I find this scandalous.)

Last-minute round-trip plane ticket to Bavaria: $900.
Hotel room in Bayreuth for two nights: $200.
Admission to see Wagner's home, the Haus Wahnfried: $6.
Rental tuxedo: $90.
Ticket to Der fliegende Holländer for this Saturday night: $1,600.
The chance to see the place where Richard Wagner made his fantasies real: Priceless.

11.8.03

Changes Planned for the Château de Chambord?

Château de ChambordChambord, the product of the patronage of François I and at least partially the design of Leonardo, is probably the most extravagant of the châteaux of the Loire Valley. The effect of seeing the impossible number of spires atop this building as one approaches it is remarkable. However, according to this recent article (Chambardement à Chambord, Michèle Leloup, August 7, 2003) in L'Express, Chambord has fallen second to Chenonceau in terms of visits by tourists to the Loire Valley, leading to the government's plans to shake things up at Chambord. The downside to having a strong concept of a national patrimony (see the post on Prosper Mérimée on August 6) is that cultural sites can get mixed up in politics, but at least the French government will never sell Chambord off as blocks of stone as private owners have done with old buildings before. (Among countless examples, the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire was almost totally destroyed by its first private owner, Thomas Manners, first Earl of Rutland, who obtained the property after it was seized by Henry VIII.)

A map in the article shows the parts of the Chambord site that are controlled by five different ministries of the French government, and the author does a good job of explaining how this happened (my translation): "This kafkaesque situation goes back to World War I. At the time, the château was sequestered because of the Austrian nationality of the owners, the Bourbon-Parme family. After a trial and conflicts within the family, the state ended up buying the property in 1930 and placing it under the Historical Monuments Fund [now the Centre des Monuments Nationaux]. Then, in 1965, the National Forest Service [Office National des Forêts] took over the château's lands, except the village." Georges Pompidou, an avid hunter, reinstated the tradition of the presidential hunt, meaning that control of the game on the lands was given to the Office National de la chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (part of the Ministère de l'Ecologie et du Développement durable). Other sections were put under the Ministère des Finances and the Ministère de l'Equipement. (Even though we got the word bureaucracy from the French, they have always been able to appreciate its negative qualities, as you can see hilariously demonstrated in the story Bureaucracy, by Honoré de Balzac.) The present Commissioner of the site, Xavier Patier, is quoted thus: "This château has exceptional qualifications: 440 rooms and hundreds of roaming animals only two hours away from the capital. It is the anti-Disney par excellence" (the emphasis on this last turn of phrase is mine). The problem is "a laughable system that only the French government could invent," with five different ministries, as many budgets, 110 government employees, and little transparency even for the Commissioner himself. In the present political climate, the government is moving to make Chambord more independent. Hopefully, this will allow the Commissioner to lead Chambord back to the place of premier château de la vallée de la Loire.

Sinus advice

Thanks to artist Mark Barry, who has put a link to Ionarts on his site and who advises me to use a Neti pot to rinse out my sinuses. (I'm too much of a chicken or I would try this.) Mark has a Web site showing some of his colorful oils, watercolors, and painted ceramics. For anyone who is interested, Mark's next show will be at the Steven Scott Gallery in Owings Mills, Md., from October 1 to November 29.

10.8.03

More Paris Reading

Summer flus are the worst. Heat and humidity only seem to aggravate the symptoms of stuffy sinuses and runny nose. One small consolation is that I have found an online excerpt of a book for my Paris reading project: Mavis Gallant's Paris Diary (1992). I am enjoying working my way through the various materials that The New Yorker is putting on its Web site (free, so far). If you liked the piece on Noam Chomsky ("The Devil's Accountant," by Larissa MacFarquhar, March 31 issue), check out the online resources compiled on Chomsky by Matt Dellinger, available only on the Web site.

Vita Nova

Many thanks to Vita Nova, a blog based in Italy but published in French, and Ken Saxon, a blog based in southern France but published in English, for including links to Ionarts. As for the heat, which is the subject of the most recent post on Vita Nova and most other European blogs, perhaps it will assist trans-Atlantic understanding. I think Europeans suffering through extreme heat, which is much more common in the United States, may now understand why Americans prefer icecubes in their beverages and air-conditioning.

9.8.03

Last Post on Cardinal Law

This takes the cake. According to the Boston Globe (Cardinal Law Plans to Be Chaplain at Md. Convent, February 8), Cardinal Law is more or less being sheltered by Cardinal McCarrick here in the Archdiocese of Washington. He currently serves as chaplain of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma convent in Clinton, Md. The sisters have given him a small house to live in, and I have heard that he has also found a driver for his car. With the assistance of his episcopal brethren, Cardinal Law seems bent on having some sort of public role in the church (Resignation Has Not Ended Law's Role in Church, Michael Paulson, June 21). Cardinal McCarrick is on record making the following critique of Cardinal Law: "He's a good bishop, a good man, who maybe made mistakes." Indeed. Perhaps Cardinal McCarrick will appoint Law to be rector of Theological College, so that he can supervise priests in training.

As the Shrine Choir sang a series of motets in meditation before the Blessed Sacrament on Friday, Cardinal Law was about ten feet away and he fixed his eye on us. When he seemed to be looking directly at me, it truly made me ill. Please go away, Cardinal Law, I don't want to see you. This is the conclusion of this decidedly non-arts-related thread.

8.8.03

More Renoirs Than You Can Shake a Stick at

Yesterday, I heeded Artblog's advice (see post from July 30) and finally went for a visit to The Barnes Foundation outside Philadelphia. (There has been a dispute between the people who run the foundation and its board, dominated by people nominated by Lincoln University, over whether to move the art collection to a more central location in Philadelphia. Furthermore, the present director says flatly that the foundation is nearly bankrupt, and the people who live around the museum have brought legal action to limit the number of visitors, meaning that the possible income cannot meet operating expenses.) How this place could be in financial trouble is beyond me, however: they have an eclectic but highly valuable collection (estimated value of $6 billion) and a good if peculiar facility, and Barnes left a generous, but not extravagant, endowment. Some blame the former chairman of the board in the mid-1990s, Richard Glanton. He is the one who led the foundation into a legal battle known as the Ku Klux Klan suit, because he accused the neighborhood of opposing a new parking lot for the museum because of racial bias against him. (Lincoln University in Delaware is the oldest black college in the United States.) The settlement against the foundation cost them $6 million. The folks at the BarnesWatch! group are not all that happy with present director Kimberly Camp either.

All I can say about this from my visit is that it would be a shame to show the collection anywhere but in the space that Barnes designed. However, it would be a greater shame for the museum to close altogether: 400 visitors a day is better than zero. I agree with Modern Art Notes (see post on August 6) that the three most important collectors of modern art in America were Duncan Phillips, Alfred Barr, and Albert Barnes. Barnes was probably the strangest of the three, and what you really see playing out at the Barnes Foundation is the man's eccentricity. The collection is stunning if narrow, limited by Barnes's tastes. I stood for a long time looking at Matisse's Le Bonheur de Vivre. At one point this painting was owned by Gertrude Stein, whom we may credit with getting Barnes interested in collecting art when she met him in 1906. For some reason, Barnes had it hung in the stairwell, making for uncomfortable viewing. It's a big, bright, beautiful painting, the famous foil to Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon. As brash and worthy of the name fauve as it is, I also spent a long time sitting in front of the even larger, cool, loving and decidedly un-fauve portrait The Music Lesson. I never tired of the succession of Cézannes, although I do admit that I stopped paying careful attention to the Renoirs after seeing about 75 of them. There are also beautiful examples of African masks, Greek marbles and vessels, and a splendid Benin warrior.

One thing is clear about Barnes: he liked representational art. The examples of purely abstract works in the collection are few and far between, and to judge only by the way Barnes collected art Cubism had very little influence on the history of art. The arrangement of works on the walls was intended by Barnes to reinforce his theories about art education: Picasso's Head of a Man hanging right above a case filled with African masks. You can almost hear Barnes giving his talk to his factory workers (apparently he actually hung some of the things he collected in his factories for his workers to enjoy). All in all, I think it would be a tragedy to separate the Barnes Foundation from Barnes.

7.8.03

Mel Gibson

So the Shrine Choir has been exceptionally busy this week, providing music for Masses at the convention of the Knights of Columbus. This morning we were at the Washington Hilton for a Mass remembering deceased members of that order. I now realize why Cardinal Law was present at the Bob Hope Memorial (see post from August 3): he is in town for the Knights of Columbus, and he has concelebrated with Cardinal McCarrick at every Mass where we have sung. This really burns me, because the Knights claim to stand for family values and Catholic principles. Am I the only one to be bothered by this? I am not ready to forgive Cardinal Law for what he did. (Of course, the problem is way beyond Cardinal Law.)

Anyway, one of the pieces we sang was Gaudent in caelis by Renaissance composer Luca Marenzio (1553/54-1599). He is the brilliant madrigalist who is the secular counterpoint to Palestrina's career in the churches of Rome. However, I have learned over the past year or so that he did write some sacred works. His style is less restrained and more given to expressionism than Palestrina's, and I have enjoyed getting to sing some of his music. The surprise at the end of this service was an impromptu appearance by actor Mel Gibson, whose movie The Passion the Knights are supporting. (Some Christian groups, including the American Catholic bishops' conference, and Jewish groups have criticized the script and tried to have the movie banned from theaters.) We saw a few clips from the movie, and nothing seemed offensive to me.

6.8.03

The Idea of a National Patrimony

Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870) is the author of, among other things, a little story published in 1845 (text in French or in English) about a cigarette girl and a soldier, set to music by Georges Bizet in his last opera, Carmen (1875). However, a series of articles (Sur les pas de Mérimée, or In the footsteps of Mérimée) in Le Figaro traces what is probably his most significant contribution to French cultural history, the creation of the concept of a national patrimony. (The specific sites that have been covered so far include Vézelay [Hervé de Saint-Hilaire, July 15], Conques [Marie-Guy Baron, July 22], Monuments of Corsica [Dominique Costa, July 29], as well as several other accompanying articles.) In the first article of the series (L'inventeur du patrimoine, July 8, 2003), Anne-Marie Romero puts it this way: "Before Mérimée there was a Romantic, whimsical, mixed-up aspiration to attempt to save the architectural treasures left in ruins in postrevolutionary France. After Mérimée, there is a structured national policy of protection for the patrimony."

As Inspector-General of Historic Monuments under the July Monarchy from 1834 to 1859, he was the first to draw up a list of protected monuments and the first in the world to draft legislation of this kind. His Jacobin sympathies led him to reject the concept of private ownership and conservation of historical monuments, in favor of a general ownership on the part of all the citizens of France, and he spent a lot of the government's money on acquiring and repairing important sites (see how this idea has progressed at the Centre des Monuments Nationaux). The idea that these things belong to all French people and are a source of pride is something that is now expressed annually in the Journées du Patrimoine (Patrimony Days), which will be September 20 and 21 this year, days on which all sorts of sites normally closed to visitors are open and free. Mérimée commissioned the first national monument photography project, too, and the photographs of sites that he helped save are a fascinating part of these articles. (In his honor, the catalogue of national monuments now used in France is called Mérimée.) He read Greek, English, Spanish, and Russian, and he was friendly with Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Alfred de Musset, Victor Hugo, and Stendhal. Although he learned Russian late in life, he became one of the first to translate Russian literature into French, including the works of Pushkin. He was later offered a ministerial post in the government but refused, deciding to live in southern France because of his respiratory problems. Sadly, his mother's apartment, where he had left many of his papers and manuscripts, was burned in 1871 during the turbulent Commune of Paris. Ironically, the Communards wanted to destroy many of the monuments that Mérimée sought to preserve and actually did raze the Tuileries Palace.

5.8.03

Der Ring at Bayreuth Festival

Well, it's August and you know what that means: the Bayreuther Festspiele, or all the Wagner you could ever possibly want to hear. (At the time of this writing, the English versions of the Festival's Web pages were not functioning, but you can still use the site in German.) The first Bayreuth Festival began with the world premiere of the entire four-opera saga The Ring of the Nibelungs on August 13, 1876, with Hans Richter conducting. One of the great artistic events of all time, the first festival received a surprising number of prominent visitors from the international arts community, including composers Edvard Grieg, Anton Bruckner, Franz Liszt, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Camille Saint-Saëns. (Do the Ring cycle and the Star Wars movies have something in common? Kristian Evensen thinks so.) This year's first performance of the Ring cycle was July 27 to August 1, and the second will begin tomorrow, August 6. None of these performances present all four operas on four consecutive nights, which I guess means that you can hear too much Wagner, even in Bayreuth. Parsifal, the only opera actually composed specifically for the Bayreuth theater, the opera that Wagner wanted performed only in Bayreuth, and the only opera Wagner himself actually conducted at Bayreuth, is not on the program this year. (Parsifal is also the opera that Adolf Hitler requested not be performed at Bayreuth for the 1940 festival. Because of his close ties to Winifred Wagner, his request was honored.)

Wagner's 84-year-old grandson Wolfgang is still the Festival's director, although gossip about who will replace him continues to flourish (see this article in Business Times Asia). It will almost certainly be a member of the Wagner family, although the festival's by-laws do not require that to be so. The common criticism of Wolfgang Wagner is that he is too conservative, but he plans to shake things up by bringing in some guest directors, including Christoph Schlingensief for the 2004 Parsifal and Lars von Trier for the 2006 Ring. The latter I would love to see, and I have always wanted to make the "pilgrimage" to Bayreuth. However, demand for this summer's tickets exceeded supply by 10 to 1, and realistically you should make your plans as much as 7 years in advance, to make sure you can obtain tickets.

4.8.03

Rock Sculptures

The evening news on France 2 usually features one or two cultural items, which I often find interesting. This evening there was a little piece on some rock sculptures on the Breton coast at Rothéneuf, not far from Saint-Malo. These sculptures were the work of a strange little priest named Adolphe Fouéré. As they explained the story on France 2, he lost his grip on reality after he failed to save his monastery's main area of production. He left his monastic community and lived near the village of Rothéneuf as a hermit, during which time he carved more than 300 granite rocks on the coast into a complicated scene. You can see pictures of the rochers sculptés at this site run by Big-Bang-Art (click on the picture of Abbé Fouéré to go a page of thumbnail images).

We've Been Googled

Not sure how this happened, but you can now find ionarts with a Google Search. Yippie!

If We Only Had Love

Well, the Musical Theatre Institute for Teens production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is in the books (see post on July 30). The students did a great job, and the siblings Pesci can go to a well-deserved vacation. The show featured, on guitar and bass, Frank Pesci, a multitalented musician who sings with us at the National Shrine in the summers and who plays with a funk and jazz band in Mississippi called Astrolab. You can hear a couple of the band's tunes on their Web site.

3.8.03

Glaring at Cardinal Law

There was a memorial Mass for Bob Hope at the National Shrine this afternoon, so I was there singing with the choir. (See coverage by Fox News and BBC News.) Bob Hope's wife, Dolores, is a devout Catholic and had been involved with the Shrine for many years. The Hope's were here at the Shrine in 1994 for the dedication of the Chapel to Our Lady of Hope, which they donated, and so it seemed quite fitting to honor his memory today. Much to my chagrin, one of the guest prelates at the Mass was the former archbishop of Boston, Bernard Cardinal Law (not mentioned in either news article), who has been making regular appearances at the Shrine since I started singing there. I am ashamed to admit how I once admired Cardinal Law, now that so much damning information about him has come to light. I think Catholics everywhere should thank the Boston Globe for the work their reporters have done to uncover and publish the truth about what was going in Boston. (For all the documents relating to the investigation of the scandal, see the Globe's feature Abuse in the Catholic Church.) I wish the Washington Post and other newspapers would do the same thing in other dioceses. I am afraid that the scandal so far represents only the tip of the iceberg. Still, the truth, no matter how sickening, is better than the darkness. Sadly, the only way that the leadership of the church will change their ways is if they feel threatened.

When Cardinal Law finally resigned his post last December, a move that was several months too late in my opinion, I was relieved. From what he said and what was reported, I thought he would go to Rome or to some monastery somewhere and ponder his immense failure as a shepherd, and I would never have to see him again. So when I saw him at the Shrine today, happily yucking it up with other priests and being welcomed by my own archbishop, I was upset. This creates for me a sort of artistic crisis: do I perform with the choir when someone like Cardinal Law, whom I despise, is there? Or do I sacrifice my own livelihood to withdraw? I faced this problem last November at the annual Mass for the Bishops' Conference meeting in Washington, when Cardinal Law was still in office and his cronies did not censure him or even criticize him. I decided then, as I decided this afternoon, only to glare at Cardinal Law and loudly announce in the sacristy to the other choir members, "That's the former archbishop of Boston, the one who repeatedly protected pedophiles." The fact is that it would really not make sense not to sing for Bob Hope because of Cardinal Law. The person to whom I need to address a letter is Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, who welcomed Cardinal Law to concelebrate.