Friday, April 13, 2018

South Euclid’s anti-discrimination ordinance – a long time coming

Monday night, South Euclid’s city council unanimously passed Ordinance 12-17, outlawing discrimination in a broad sector of categories including sexual orientation and gender identity.  The law replaces South Euclid’s previous anti-discrimination ordinances, which were scattered, piecemeal, and inconsistent.  As indicated by the last two digits of the ordinance, it had been under consideration since 2017 – June to be precise.  Passage of this ordinance makes South Euclid the 20th of Ohio’s 938 municipalities to have a law that specifically protects our city’s LGBT persons.  I have never been prouder to be a South Euclid resident than I was when this ordinance was passed.  For a city council and mayor who have taken brick-bats from the extreme right and extreme left, I can only say: Bravo and well done.

The ordinance has been described in the media as controversial.  It was only controversial based on the shouting of a few people, many of whom are not residents of South Euclid, and nearly every one of whom is a member of South Euclid’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic church or the Lyceum school – which is located on church grounds.  At four separate council meetings, I saw the same people rise in opposition to the bill, often raising arbitrary points about bathroom usage by transgender people and the hypothetical bakery.   I saw these opponents for what they were: a well-organized flash mob orchestrated by Sacred Heart, Lyceum, and Cleveland Right to Life (which separated from National Right to Life due to the Cleveland group’s extremism).    

Addressing the December 11, 2017 council meeting.

By January, Sacred Heart and Lyceum saw the handwriting on the wall and appeared to assent to passage if a religious exemption was added.  (The Lyceum school did not help their case when it became known in December that an email was sent to a city council person threatening to sue the city if the ordinance was passed.  Even some of those who had reservations about the ordinance thought it was heavy handed for a tax-exempt organization to threaten to sue over legislation put into place by a council elected by South Euclid taxpayers.)  The language in the proposed exemption was so broad that one could stretch the ordinance from South Euclid to the Vatican without technically breaking it.  Councilpersons Ruth Gray and Jason Russell were the first to point this out in January.  The exemption was discussed for almost the entirely of Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting before council decided to remove it from the legislation by a vote of 5-2.   

Following that vote, the ordinance’s opponents went ballistic.  Father Dave Ireland of Sacred Heart (the same Father Ireland who tried to smooth talk his way past the incidents at the Sacred Heart of Jesus festival in 2014) intoned that he’d been “a proud member of the community for the past 13 years, up until now".  The terms “pontificating” and “pompous” were created for men just like him.  The director of the Lyceum School, Luke Macik, who’d previously tried to couch his opposition in pseudo-intellectual claptrap (e.g., being LGBT is entirely subjective, as if belief in a religious doctrine and a supernatural creator who cannot be seen is anything other than subjective), stated that “marriage is sacred” and pronounced the proceedings “shameful” – forgetting that marriage, which the Supreme Court has already stated is a Constitutional right, had nothing to do with the ordinance.

As I pointed out in my remarks to the Council, Ordinance 12-17 already has a reasonable exemption for religious institutions and adheres to the exemptions provided for in the Ohio Revised Code.  I reminded Council and the audience that without compromise, Social Security would not have been signed into law.  Compromise helped our country to endure the Great Depression, obliterate Fascism, defeat Communism, and land a man on the Moon.  Many people of faith, including two members of Clergy who spoke, were in favor of the ordinance.  Indeed, numerous Catholics I spoke to were also in favor – indicating that the Catholic Church is not entirely undivided in this matter.  These people recognize that America was intended to be neutral in terms of religion, neither endorsing nor rejecting any particular religion, as evidenced in the First Amendment – and that our country does not need to be run by Taliban, either Christian or otherwise.  And we would be well to remember that religion, including Christianity, has been been used to justify some of the most egregious monstrosities in human history.  In many nations, religion is still a call to violence, not love.

I have no desire to prevent Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, or members of any other faith from practicing their religion.  Passage of Ordinance 12-17 does not mean religions are required to “approve” of LGBT people.  It merely means that prejudicial treatment against LGBT people in terms of housing, public accommodations, and employment, is against the law.

I don’t particularly care whether a religious representative approves of me.  What I demand as a taxpaying American is equality before the law, and Ordinance 12-17 moves our region closer to that ideal. 

Recently a film was released which dealt with a young man’s coming out: Love, Simon.  Even for contemporary teens with supportive families and communities, coming out can be traumatic.  The film brought back unpleasant memories of the isolation I felt as I began to realize that I was gay, and the lies I told as I tried to conceal it. The worry about being discovered as gay was much worse than coming out – which was relatively liberating.  As I heard the comments from those in opposition to the ordinance, including one comment from a Lyceum student, I thought “Thank God I went to Brush.”  Even though the Brush High School of 1985 didn’t have the Gay-Straight Alliance it has today, it was a relatively accepting place.  I can only imagine what a student attending the Lyceum school or a similar institution would encounter, even in today’s “woke” era.   

I am 51 years old.  Statistically, my life is more than half over.   My husband and I were together for over four years before we decided to travel to Vermont to get married – because we couldn’t marry in Ohio.  And it was another five years before that marriage was nationally recognized.  We both have good jobs at great companies that are both LGBT friendly.  Although Ordinance 12-17 applies to us, I don’t think of it as being for us.  It’s for the young person who knows he or she is “different” and is considering coming out – or for the person who has come out, and is looking for an apartment, a job, or shopping for a service from a local company.  Passing Ordinance 12-17 has been a long and emotionally difficult slog, but if this law helps one person, it has been worth it.  

Friday, April 6, 2018

On the Death of my Father

April 6, 2016; 5:38 pm, Pacific Time; Sequoia hospital; Redwood City, California.  That is the date, time, and place of my father’s death.  Two years ago.  I've already written about his life.  Now, I will share my experience of his death.  Humans have drawn a veil around death, masking it with platitudes like "so and so is in a better place now", or avoiding discussion of it altogether.  It has been depicted in fiction, seldom realistically.  I hope that by posting this, I can bring comfort, or at least knowledge, to those who are facing the death of a loved one, or even their own mortality.  

I first learned that my father had been taken ill around 9:00 am Eastern Time the previous day.  In a cruel stroke of irony, April 5 was my father’s and step-mother’s 36th wedding anniversary.  He’d collapsed late in the evening of April 4th.   When I arrived at the hospital from the airport, it was around 2:00 am local time on the 6th.  My oldest sister had been there for several hours.  In reality, everything that defined our father, all but the basest autonomic reflexes, were gone, was essentially gone.  His eyes were closed, the pupils unresponsive to light.  He needed a ventilator to help him breathe, obscuring his face, and there were tubes everywhere.  What was left of my father’s once magnificent body, now shriveled from 18 months of declining health, was kept going at my step-mother's  request so as many family members as possible could gather and gain closure by being with him in his final moments.

The attending staff at Sequoia checked regularly on my father’s status – making him as comfortable as possible.  He was shifted and his limbs moved on a regular basis.  When he began reflexively chewing on the respirator tube, cutting off his air flow, they inserted a hard plastic brace to keep his mouth open.  I noticed his thinning hair was askew, so I asked for a comb and fixed his hair – attending to it from time to time.

By mid-afternoon, all family members who were able to be there were gathered: my step-mother and her brother, my oldest sister, my brother and his girlfriend, myself.  Shortly after 4:00 pm we jointly gave our consent for Dad to be removed from the ventilator. We left the room while the nursing staff prepared my father for his last moments.  Then we returned to the room around 4:20, expecting Dad to last about 15 minutes - he hung on for over an hour.  With the breathing apparatus removed from my father’s face, he looked like himself again – even with the effects of age and ill-health, he retained his essential handsomeness.  My father looked like he was sleeping, breathing slower with each passing minute, slightly snoring when he  inhaled, sometimes exhaling with a soft sigh – as he did when sleeping.  My step-mother sat on my father’s right side, stroking his hair and holding his hand; my brother was opposite, caressing my father’s left bicep – once proudly muscular, now shrunken – with his left hand, while cradling his head in the other; my sister was at his left foot; I was at his right – my hand on his ankle where I could feel his fading pulse.  As my father’s breathing became shallower, my step-mother moved her right hand and began stroking his right cheek, while murmuring into his ear; I took my father’s right hand in my left hand.  As the end drew near, I was flooded with memories that seemed to go backward in time, until I reached one of my earliest memories which was vivid, tangible, undimmed by time:  my father would lay on the family room floor in front of the TV, and I would lay cuddled with him, my head on his chest, and listen to his powerful heartbeat.  Remembering that perfect moment, I placed my right hand gently on his chest.  A few seconds later, my father drew his last breath. 

Almost exactly 49 years prior to that day, my father observed my birth – the first time he’d seen one of his children being born – and saw me take my first breath.  It was a privilege to stand by my father’s side during his final moments – albeit a sad one.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky at Severance

An all-Russian program featuring conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and pianist Daniil Trifonov lured Daniel and I to Severance Hall Saturday night, and we were richly rewarded both in terms of the compositions and the performances.  At a time when Russia’s government is rightly distrusted, it’s worth remembering President Kennedy’s admonition that “no government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue”, and that Russia’s musical exports have richly benefited music lovers the world over.

The program began with Stravinsky’s Scenes de Ballet – a most unusual work that was commissioned for a mixed program at Ziegfeld Theater in 1944.  As with Beethoven, Stravinsky’s work was influenced by goings on in the world – not just musical happenings but world events as well.  The optimism of the piece, more harmonically friendly than most others from this composer, reflects the optimism that existed in the United States during that era.  While hardly Coplandesque, there is a distinctly American flavor to the suite of dance movements.  I doubt Stravinsky would be composing in the same manner if he saw the world as it is today.   Thomas brought clarity and an appropriate sense of dance to the performance. 

Of Prokofiev’s five Piano Concertos, the Second is both the longest and the most demanding: Four sprawling movements, harmonically pungent, truly knuckle-busting in terms of dexterity and stamina required.  The work has grown in popularity over the last few decades, although the contrarian composer seems to have had mixed feelings about it (he advised Horowitz to not bother learning the piece, saying “it has too many notes and I don’t like it myself”).  Like Prokofiev, Daniil Trifonov has gained a reputation as a musician who marches to the beat of his own drummer, and so it was with Saturday’s performance.  Trifonov’s conception of the Concerto was obviously deeply thought-out, and, while not lacking in virtuosity, put musical values first – nothing about this performance was ordinary.  The opening movement, an Andantino-Allegretto was taken at an unusually slow, brooding pace.  Yet I never had the impression that Trifonov was dragging the tempo, and the buildup of tension in the explosive cadenza was thrilling.  The Scherzo was especially Vivace with the parallel figurations executed perfectly.  While the Intermezzo was full of snarling menace, the Finale lunged along at a breakneck tempo.  Despite the speed, Trifonov was able to maintain clarity during the work’s many rapid-fire repeated notes, carefully weight chords, and inventively mixed inner-voices.  Thomas matched the soloist beat for beat, and the orchestra responded with playing that was not merely brilliant, but brilliantly pointed and balanced.  The audience was rewarded with an encore from Trifonov: a movement from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet.

“Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Tchaikovsky.” – Vladimir Horowitz

Only the most pedantic and provincial will consider Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony to be anything other than what it is: a bona-fide masterpiece.  Despite the tragic nature of the Pathétique (a mistranslation of Tchaikovsky’s intended “passionate”), there’s no evidence it was reflective of the state of Tchaikovsky’s life at the time of its composition.  He had just returned from a successful tour of the United States, and after years of sniggering from Russia’s intelligentisia about the quality of his compositions (not to mention his personal life), his works were becoming increasingly accepted.  Further, Tchaikovsky was assured that the Russian tradition of composing Romantic music within traditional Classical forms would continue via a young composer who’d greatly impressed him: Sergei Rachmaninoff.  So, while it was once widely believed that Tchaikovsky committed suicide (and one crackpot theory claimed that his suicide was “ordered” by a “court of honor”), the bulk of evidence now indicates that his death, by cholera, was a the result of a tragically reckless moment where the composer disregarded warnings to boil water as a precaution before drinking it.  But the power of the Pathétique Symphony is such that a good performance will leave one thinking that perhaps Tchaikovsky did intend to put himself through days of cholera induced agony before dying.  Thomas’ rendition certainly fit that bill, and I observed several in the audience openly weeping at the work’s conclusion.  In the preceding three movements, Thomas brought an expert sense of pace, phrasing, and balance to each moment and movement.  And, yes, there was a brief burst of applause after the third movement.  (I also noticed that Thomas took a sip of water before the final movement – was it intended as symbolism?)  As I perused the program book before the concert, I was pleased to see that Eric Sellen’s program notes rightly spanked the Putin regime’s oppressive anti-LGBT laws, noting that since they were enacted, new cases of HIV have skyrocketed. 

But for those who’ve read this blog and noted some of my political statements, please remember that I take President Kennedy’s words to heart, and that my criticism is levelled at the Putin regime and his puppets in the United States and elsewhere, not at the people of Russia.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ravel at Severance with Pintscher and Thibaudet

Last night’s all-Ravel program at Severance Hall was further proof to me that not even the finest recordings reproduced on the most expensive sound systems can duplicate the experience of live music in concert.  Daniel and I entered Severance and found the stage was crammed with every instrument the orchestra had to offer, along with seating for the chorus – featured in the evening’s final work.

Ravel wrote a number of works for solo or duo piano, which he later orchestrated.  One such work is the Mother Goose ballet, which began as a suite of five works for piano duet.  (There are two orchestral versions: the complete ballet, and a suite of excerpts.)  Last night, the Cleveland Orchestra presented the 15-minute Suite, under the direction of guest conductor Matthias Pintscher.  (Pintscher also appeared with the orchestra last year, both as guest conductor and composer.)  The Suite was given a mostly tranquil performance, with the delicate harmonies insinuating themselves into the melody and the textures discreetly handled.  But I found myself longing for several sections from the complete ballet, particularly the Dance of the Spinning Wheel.

After the opening work, the Hamburg Steinway was rolled onto the stage for what turned out to be the night’s main event.  Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was written in 1930 on a commission from Paul Wittgenstein, a German pianist who lost an arm in World War I about a hundred years ago.  (In one of history’s bizarre twists, Wittgenstein’s younger brother, Ludwig, was schoolmates with a young boy named Adolf Hitler.)  Of the various concertos Wittgenstein was able to commission from the composers of the era, including Prokofiev, Britten, and Richard Strauss, Wittgenstein seems to have liked the Ravel the least – and his recording of the work is rather weak.  As for the Concerto itself, it stands as proof of the adage “Art thrives on Limitations.”  The work ranges from a rather sinister opening featuring the contrabassoon, to the majestic fanfare, an almost orgiastic march, and a denouement which mixes elements of all of these.  In terms of structure, orchestration, and exploitation of the piano’s capabilities, the work is a masterpiece – even though certain types may sniff that it’s lacking the “profundity” of Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms.  Last night’s soloist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, has recorded this concerto with the Montreal Symphony under Charles Dutoit (who was originally scheduled as guest conductor but withdrew in the wake of accusations of sexual impropriety).  Truth be told, Thibaudet's is my favorite recording of this work.  This is the third time I’ve heard Thibaudet live – the previous two times were at Blossom in Liszt’s Totentanz and Grieg’s Piano Concerto.  As with his previous appearances here, there was a concentration in his demeanor, along with a whiplash quality he brought to the performance, which brought a clarity and focus to the performance which is rarely heard in this piece.  It wasn’t merely the technique that dazzled, but the way in which Thibaudet integrated pianistic effects - including glissandi, rapid staccato passage-work, leaps and arpeggios - which in the wrong hands can sound like extraneous note-spinning, into a convincing musical argument.  It was a performance to remember (hampered only by a very rude audience member using her smart-phone to video the first minute of the performance, until an usher scolded her).  Responding to rapturous applause, Thibaudet treated the audience to an encore, a two-handed piano piece which was unfamiliar to me, but sounded like a melding of Liszt’s Liebesträume No. 3 and Brahms’ Lullaby.

Following intermission, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus joined Pintscher and the orchestra for the complete Daphnis & Chloé ballet score.  As with some other ballet scores, including Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Firebird, Daphnis & Chloé loses little with the absence of actual dancers.  Ravel’s gorgeous and inventive orchestration, which includes celeste, glockenspiel, and even a wind machine, was shown to full advantage here.   There is a mythic quality to this score which was brought to the fore, yet Pintscher never let the dance element of the work fall from his grasp.  The complicated wind playing of the Lever du jour was executed flawlessly and with aplomb, yet it was the careful balancing of the various orchestra sections along with the chorus that remains in the mind.  Ravel was a meticulous man, and I left the hall with the sense that he would have approved of the evening’s concert – which combined precision, sensuality, and passion.  

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Andre Tchaikowsky, the complete RCA collection

Sony has issued a small box set dedicated to pianist Andre Tchaikowsky.  Click here for my review.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Murray Perahia's Hammerklavier and Moonlight Sonatas

Deutsche Grammophon has just issued Murray Perahia's new recordings of Beethoven's Hammerklavier and Moonlight Sonatas.  Click here to read my review.

Saturday, February 3, 2018