The New York F***ing Philharmonic

When the Naked Gun series of movies wanted to get a laugh, they really knew how to do it. In one movie there is a gangster whose speech patterns include the frequent (as in, every other word) use of a certain Anglo Saxon bilabial fricative denoting sexual intercourse, who learns to play the guitar and becomes an extremely sensitive ex-gangster. At the end of the movie there is a voice over describing what happened later to the various characters from the movie, and we are told that the gangster had gotten a job with "the New York fucking Philharmonic Orchestra." It's a cultural reference that helps the joke, because the New York Philharmonic is not just any orchestra, it is arguably one of the very best orchestras in the world.

Which just goes to show you that musical expertise and moral expertise are two very different things, because no morally sensitive person would have agreed to do what they have done: to be wined and dined by the power elite in North Korea while millions of the citizens of North Korea are starving and oppressed at the hands of those very same elite is nothing short of obscene. During the letter-reading part of NPR's Morning Edition the other day a letter was read complaining that the Philharmonic had let us all down by performing a schedule that was "timid and tepid", by which the writer apparently meant that they had played music that even people living in North Korea had a decent chance of having heard of, works by Beethoven and Mozart, for example, and not so much Eric Ewazen.

While I agree that they let us all down, the choice of program clearly had nothing to do with it. Someone might suggest that an institution such as the Philharmonic can help people like the poor of North Korea through a kind of "cultural diplomacy", and that the "good will mission" is something that is always worth doing. Forget about the fact that few, if any, of the actually poor people in North Korea got to hear the concert--we are told that this contact between the U.S. and Korea is for the good, and that it will somehow soften the heart of the Dear Little Asshole who runs the country. We are told that Eric Clapton is next on the docket. Maybe he'll play some J. J. Cale.

The reason why this way of thinking is bullshit is that it is never a good idea to cooperate with evil in any way, even in the hope that some good will come of it. To play these concerts in North Korea--at the invitation of the power elite in that country--is to cooperate with that power elite. It would have been preferable to play the concert on an aircraft carrier off the coast and broadcast the music into the country (but of course any such jam session would have been jammed). Even more importantly than this, though, is the mere fact that these musicians have been fiddling while Korea burns: their music will feed no one, liberate no one. They have been used, along with us and the poor and starving of North Korea.


Anonymous said…
I agree, Scott, that they should not have gone. It is shameful. But I do think that their choice of program was not entirely irrelevant. They could have chosen to play a piece known to have anti-Communist associations -- Shostakovich's Symphony No.10, for instance -- and, had they done so, their concert would have been mildly redeemed. As it was, they played it safe, and I hope they hang their heads.

David Hurwitz at has written a long and thoughtful criticism of the event.

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