Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Solo Violinist Julia Fischer
The program was Sibelius's Violin Concerto and Shostakovich's monumental 8th Symphony. Sibelius is a favorite of mine but an especial favorite of Fritz's. He became enamored of the composer's music during a year he spent in Finland as a young man. Soloist in the concerto was German/Czech violinist Julia Fischer. Still in her mid-20s, Ms Fischer was a petite, slender dynamo, chic in an off the shoulder red sheath gown with her blond hair up in a simple, elegant swirl to the back of her head. She plays a mid-18th century Guadagnini violin, producing from it a big, gorgeous tone with an inner strength like a burgundy velvet sheath over a carbon steel sword. And she plays with immense authority, assurance and virtuosity. She and veteran Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund worked superbly together; overheard intermission conversation was full of astonished comments on the quality of Ms Fischer's playing and the impact of the performance.
I recently heard on Boston's WBZ radio a commercial ostensibly from a gay organization, and I'm pretty certain it's a deceptive fake. The ad requests that gay men and lesbians write to Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall and the three other Justices who voted with her in favor of gay marriage, requesting that they resign. The rationale is that since the issue of gay marriage in Massachusetts cost John Kerry the presidential election, that gay marriage has engendered a huge backlash against gay civil rights, and that "everyone is dreading" the coming vote on the anti-gay amendment before the Massachusetts legislature, the four Justices can defuse all these problems by stepping down. It sounds to me like a trick, and I think the infamous Ed and Sally Pawlick, about whom I've written several times, are behind this pernicious ad.
Fritz and I left the house this morning at 6:00am, he to return to New Hampshire and I to head down to New York for my day at my old high school. I'll say going into this story that it turned out to be an enjoyable and positive experience. I quickly discovered that everythin--everything--at Archbishop Molloy High School is different than it was when I was last there as a student.
The trip down through Connecticut was pretty good with only a couple of traffic snarls. On New York radio I heard a campaign ad by two Republican New Jersey candidates during which they aggressively distanced themselves from George W. Bush's policies.
Civic Virtue keeps Vice safely underfoot
When I got to Queens Boulevard, right where I remembered it was the "notorious" statue that had been sculpted to adorn City Hall in Manhattan, "Civic Virtue." It portrays a stunning young naked warrior (symbolizing virtue), all rippling muscle and wearing only a nicely-packed fig leaf, standing triumphantly on the bodies of two writhing, slutty-looking naked women (symbolizing vice and corruption). Women protested the symbolism vigorously, and former New York City Mayor Fiorello la Guardia got tired of looking at the young man's ass every time he walked down the steps of City Hall. So the statue was exiled to Queens and set up very close to where the school now stands, perhaps inspiring some young male students to purity and virtue. Personally, I was always partial to the naked warrior.
Inside the school building, the changes were obvious. First off, the school is now co-ed. None of the adults was walking around in floor-length black cassocks; and women are among the teachers. At one end of the building is an Arts and Sciences wing that includes a 200 seat theater. There is now a music teacher and a theater teacher who directs small plays and also does a film course. The receptionist who checked in the guest presenters was an extremely pleasant Jewish woman. As I pieced the story together from several people, the religious teaching order of Marist Brothers was dying out as very few if any young men were joining up and the surviving older Brothers kept getting older and retiring. Faced with no way to staff the school, a movement started to recruit administrators and teachers from among alumni in various professions. The school isn't run by religious people any more and has diversified and opened up to an amazing degree. The career day to which I had been invited was the first of its kind there and they're exploring other kinds of outreach.
There were something like 80 alumni who had come to share information on their professions with the students. I was the only one presenting on the performing arts. However I quickly found a lawyer who spends his nights as music director for Off-Broadway musicals, and a dealer in antique Native American art from the southwest who has an gallery in Santa Fe and is just opening one in Manhattan. The school used to brag only about its athletes, but now prominently honors an astronaut who was on a recent Space Shuttle flight and actor David Caruso. I did a quick video interview and then we all headed to our assigned rooms.
I wound up in a classroom with E, a young alumnus who had been working as a researcher and now teaches chemistry. I was to have three sessions with students, the first with about ten kids, the next two with fifteen or sixteen each. Their interests ranged from acting, dancing and technical work to directing film, media production and playwrighting. When I mentioned to the first group a life decision I had made because I was a gay man, E flashed me a big smile and the students took it as the most normal thing in the world. During the second session I told the same story, this time with the theater teacher sitting in, and got the same reaction from her.
For the third session, a short, heavy-set man sat in and later introduced himself as one of the Brothers, now retired and living at the school to assist with maintenance--he had been my freshman English teacher. When I said I hadn't thought I would encounter any of my old teachers, he laughed and shot back "We're not ALL dead yet, you know!" And when I said I was surprised to have been invited as an openly gay man, he squeezed my arm and said, "Oh, that's not a problem here." E said good-bye, thanking me for stressing how adaptable thinking and accepting people of all different kinds are essential when working in the arts. After lunch and a more talk, during which the fact that I had driven from out of state was noted and appreciated, I headed back to Boston. It's encouraging to see that things can change--and in positive directions into the bargain.
Why they didn't use oak leaves, acanthus leaves or other previously favorite sculptural subjects I don't know, but nudity in the Renaissance was the fig leaf's big chance. For a long while, they even painted cloth strips over the penises of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescos, but restorers have removed those.
That's a sexy statue. I like your taste in men, I mean statues. Where's the rear shot, huh?
Always glad to hear positive stories about acceptance and understanding of us. Thanks for sharing it.