Sunday, March 20, 2016

Musical Explanation 3/20: Shostakovich 13th

June 2000. I am 18 years old, much of it is still too painful to write about and probably will always be, but I am emerging from the most bizarre six months of my life. Trapped 300 miles from home in the kind of place that that kids like me should never be trapped, and driven nothing short of delusionally mad - the walls of reality totally shattered, the pieces of which I will never entirely be able to reassemble.

In a way we were all assured we'd never be from the safety of upper-middle-class Jewish Baltimore, I was a first hand witness to the one thing, the single thing, which Pikesville Md. was built to prevent - how ideology, yet again, could drive our worlds mad. It was the very end of the twentieth century, and in our infinitesimal way, we in Woodstock, Connecticut were first-hand witnesses to a G-rated version of the century in which literally billions of men, women, and children experienced far more than nearly anyone reading this ever will - numbering among them my Bubbie and Zaydie, and even they far less than hundreds of their relatives, including their three-year-old daughter, who experienced the ultimate twentieth century fate.

Try as I might, these little scribblings of mine could never do justice to the admittedly small ways I saw ideology corrupt the souls and sanity of hundreds - showing a hundred kids whose anger that could never be quenched a way in which their bullying could be completely respectable, and turning another hundred kids into guinea pigs, turning kids who simply needed a little extra care and love into tortured animals.

Even with the provisos I put in place, this will no doubt seem like an absurd hyperbole of what those years were like. Particularly if you were one of the bullies, you'll think this nonsense. Perhaps if you were one of the bullied, this description will seem all too familiar and perhaps not go far enough. If you spent some time as both, and I at least spent a bit on the other side of that ledger, you will forever be haunted by the ways you were turned into the very thing that so recently caused you agony. I spent my final year at Hyde doing my best to convince myself that their lies were true, all the while doing my best to privately conceal the encyclopedia of psychotic delusion that grew in my head like a cancer after January 2000, and has not completely let me alone now for more than fifteen years afterward. I wish there was a way, any way at all, to make Hyde answer for this. I have no doubt that many people who came through its doors experienced much worse effects of their time even than I  Of course, I know as well as anyone, to compare Hyde to the Soviet Union or a fascist state is absurd in just about every conceivable way. Hyde tortured its students - and yes, it was most definitely torture by any humane legal definition. But Hyde never killed any of its students. Nevertheless, had the law sanctioned it, to this day I have little doubt that many there could convince themselves such an act was for the greater good.

I am not a good enough writer, nor will I ever be, to explain how ideology corrupts people into believing the most insane things, so for a moment, I will turn this post over to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn:

To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek justification for his actions.
Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb too. The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.
Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and other’s eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations.
Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed. How, then, do we dare insist that evildoers do not exist? And who was it that destroyed these millions? Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

It was in June 2000 that I could return home and get to the Meyerhoff, in so many ways my spiritual home from the time I was four years old, to hear Yevgeny Yevtushenko read his poetry, and to hear 13th Symphony of Shostakovich which set his poems to music. Music, art, as always in my life, saved me. Sanity stared me in the face, and over time, I was ready to look back.

Our orchestra's new music director, the Russian alchemist Yuri Temirkanov, was on the podium, and the message he transmitted to us that night screamed to us and scorched the ears. In the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of Soviet Jews came to Baltimore, replacing the dying-off Holocaust survivors with a whole new generation of foreign-seeming Jews whose haunted looks darkened the streets. How many hundreds of those Soviet Jews were in the audience that night? How many of them saw the ghosts of the dead and broken they left behind? How many of them remembered the terror they lived with every day?

It was so much more than a concert. It was communion. It was clarity. The century of death was over. The century of terror was about to begin, but at least this century's giving us a fighting chance. The scars will always be there, but whether we are Holocaust Survivors or Soviets whose brothers and sisters were sent to the Gulags, or their spoiled grandson who experienced far less than a percentage point of their horror, we are still here. We can still bear witness, and the bastards cannot stop our protests.

This post was supposed to be about this weekend's BSO concerts...

(Yuri conducting it, starting 22 1/2 minutes in. But too low a level and without English subtitles...)

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