The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music enters controversial politics in some unexpected ways through Republican blowhard Newt Gingrich, leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

February 25, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it is just a few weeks or more before a lot of some major political events, all of them quite polarizing, contentious and controversial, get decided.

And curiously enough, classical music – which is normally left out of such major social events and political discussions – seems to be playing an important role right now.

In the US, for example, the Republican presidential primary (see the candidates, below, in a CNN South Carolina debate) turns this week to Arizona and Michigan, then moves on to Super Tuesday.

Then of course there is the reelection campaign of populist but controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (below).

And then there is the upcoming election in Russia where Vladimir Putin (below, riding brazenly beefcake and defiantly  bare-chested) – often accused making his opponents “disappear” — hopes to return as President.

Of course music creeps into politics now and then. Recently, President Obama made headlines and videos that went viral when he crooned a few bars of Al Green and then later some blues with B.B. King and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.

But classical music and opera?

How do they figure all of a sudden in politics?

Could it be because so many of these extremist-type candidates turn to something more artistically traditional for validation and mainstream cultural acceptance?

Here are some stories to consider:

Mr. Blowhard Speaker Newt Gingrich isn’t doing very well in the polls and primaries. But his former aide, mistress and now third wife, Callista (below), is using music education as the theme she says she would champion as First Lady the same way that Michelle Obama is promoting healthy food and fighting childhood obesity:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/callista-gingrich-promotes-youth-music-programs/2011/12/29/gIQAgVBPOP_video.html

Hugo Chavez is so anxious to have good press to retain almost dictatorial power that he is willing to co-opt the superb music education program in Venezuela – the same “el sistema” that brought us superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel (seen below with Chavez) and the system’s famous founder Juan Antonio Abreu – and thereby to neutralize opposition from all the grateful young performers and audiences who benefit from the system he didn’t even start.

Here is a great New York Times story about him and them:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/arts/music/venezuelans-criticize-hugo-chavezs-support-of-el-sistema.html

And here is a backgrounder about the success of El Sistema and the loyalty it inspire among its participants:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/arts/music/el-sistema-venezuelas-plan-to-help-children-through-music.html?pagewanted=all

And then there are the mass demonstrations against former Russian president and KGB secret police agent Vladimir Putin, who seems about to pull off a shady return to power. But that doesn’t seem to prevent him from getting endorsements from some pretty big classical music stars including conductor Valery Gergiev (below top, shaking Putin hand at the recent Tchaikovsky competition) and sexy opera diva soprano Anna Netrebko (below bottom with Putin), who denies rumors that she had an affair with Putin (how operatic that would be!):

http://anna-netrebko.blogspot.com/2012/02/anna-netrebko-and-valery-gergiev.html

For background, try this:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/09/25/anna-netrebko-opera-diva-to-die-for.html

I’ll bet there is more as elections draw closer and the American Presidential Election draws closer.

Do you have any more tips or ideas, suggestions or comments about music and current politics here or elsewhere?

The Ear wants to hear.


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