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December 15, 2008


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Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

If we have as in Kant an ethical duty towards the work of art, then yes, it would be best if orchestras closed down IF they allow Kaplan to conduct.

The Israeli attack this morning on Gaza, in a decent world, would be enough to cancelling a concert: 1 Israeli versus 200 Gazans including children is something that should stop the music.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

I think I could detect a Kaplanesque playing. But note that in order to put one over the audience, the Philharmonic has to create, as a collective work group, a distinct interpretation that follows the notes "correctly", in the sense that it stays within a fuzzily-defined range of that correctness.

[And note that because of the corruption, part of which is the fantasy of musical "precision", the above thought takes what it takes in terms of word count.]

That collective work of art might have its own coherence and charm: but the problem is that Kaplan, like Jimmy "Wikipedia" Wales, steals, not that vulgarly-named graven idol, intellectual "property", but intellectual *production*, where the intellectual *production* of the learned slave class is of course fair game: to the extent that its theft is unremarked.

Furthermore, the instinct to "settle" arguments amongst the downsized, brutalized and doomed by making everything gladiatorial (constantly harassing me about word count and proposing I pass a test) is what vicious siblings do (cf. Robert Bly).

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

Actually, Lenin did say something rather famous about listening to classical music: that it made him want to be nice to people and drained him of revolutionary energy.

BB George

Kate- my mistake. 1,215 words.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

The Kaplan phenomenon can be criticised from the standpoint of a musicologist or working musician, and Finlayson has done so as both. I'm doing so from the level of philosophy, since I left art skewl for philosophy and was hired to teach philosophy, without an advanced degree, after getting a BA in same.

The Kaplan case raises very significant questions that my fat pal Adorno would find fascinating, assuming that he could get over his horror at "the horror", the fart of darkness that is Kaplan.

Youse guys should actually READ Adorno's Unfinished Symphony on music. It's available in English from Polity internationally and Stanford in the USA, I believe. Its editor, Henri Lonitz and its translator Wieland Hoban, render Adorno's German into contemporary English, not making the mistake of earlier translators of Adorno.

In it, Adorno historicises our belief that the musical interpreter's job is to get back to the "original intent" of the musician by means of modern philological research. It arose in the Romantic musical era of the 1840s.

He doesn't say it's a bad idea, or that it cannot illuminate our understanding of the piece.

But it does generate unnecessary quarrels, not about the independent artistic worth of a performance, but as to the scientific, the engineering question as to whether the technician-conductor has invented time travel, and given the audience a sound-image of the way the music sounded before Tom Edison.

Of course, intelligent musicologists know that the first performances of works often sucked. Even after Edison, the first performance of Le Sacre du Printemps was a riot and Beethoven's troubles with performers are well-documented.

We're then directed to the intentions of the composer but these are seldom known to the composer in proportion to his creativity, part of being a creative person is being AMAZED at effects and results you didn't intend (cf Jackson Pollock).

This makes Kaplan an art criminal since he has confessed that he's not making a new work of art, merely in touch, in a way he cannot explain, with Mahler's intents. Nice work if you can get it, a form of necrophilia, since Mahler's gibbering ghost can be trusted not to appear at a Kaplan concert.

BB George

Fine, fine...Uncalled for. I apologize.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

Wow, BB George, you counted them. Amazing.

There's something post-human in this dull resentment and this clinical counting of words. What's next? Are you gonna tattoo the numbers on my arm?

It's linked to the satisfaction taken in that smart guy Kaplan who's a real pistol having made lotsa bucks and now can show all those airy-fairy musicians who's boss.

"The dead father was killing the musicians" - Donald Barthelme

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

Oops, I didn't see your apology before I responded. I accept it. I cannot delete the post, so unless Finlayson does so, let it stand as a reflection of how people feel when they are judged by a snappy, time-saving procedure thought adequate to their station in life, like children of a lesser god.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

I posted the above before I saw your gracious apology, BB George: my apologies for that response.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

The Adorno book I've referenced is not titled Unfinished Symphony, the metaphor got away from me. It is "Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction".


Sadly, the media campaign promoting Kaplan as a conductor has reached Scandinavia too. The largest Swedish morning paper, "Dagens Nyheter", had December 7, 2008 a four full-page article with large behind-the-scenes snapshots of this self-made conductor.

It was mentioned that he would conduct the New York Philhamonic on December 8 and that his public conducting had started back in 1982 when he rented the American Symphony Orchestra and the Lincoln Center in New York, and, invited 2,500 business partners for dinner and to listen to Mahler's Symphony No. 2, the Resurrection, conducted by himself.

It makes you wonder why on Earth the editors chose to devote so many pages to an amateur. Not until December 18 was there a follow-up detailing the subsequent debacles in NY Times; of course not as lavishly illustrated.

The damage is there, as he will hit Scandinavia in 2010.

Ted Lazarus

I had a similar experience as a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Some years ago the CEO of Sony, Norio Ohga, was invited by the MSO to conduct his favorite piece, Mozart's Requiem. It was evident after the first 30 seconds or so that Ohga was way out of his league, no matter how well he "knew" the piece or loved it, which I have no reason to doubt. It was the professionalism of the MSO and its chorus that carried the evening, knowing what it takes to lift the notes off the page. Unfortunately, the music critic was fooled enough by the quality of the performance to give Ohga some credit, which was followed up by letters and a post-review piece regarding the matter.

p.s. Have had the privilege of singing the Resurrection with Inbal, Nagano, Dutoit and Mehta (best one), but would forfeit any opportunity to sing under Kaplan's "direction."

Ted Lazarus

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

Caroline Kennedy is a wonderful person, I suppose. Nonetheless, she assumes that "entry level" means "Senate" even as Kaplan had to start at the top.

Ms Kennedy was probably horrified and amused by Sarah Palin, but Palin had genuine political experience (sort of) without Kennedy's fashion sense.

In both cases, the very notion of "recognition of members of a learned or prestigious profession by previously recognized members of that profession" (something which I need to phrase precisely) has been lost, in part because of a fashionable cynicism which amongst the subalterns becomes a justification for failure, or not even trying.

Modernism's legacy has been to provide intellectually flaccid gatekeepers with a readymade excuse to call the PhD dissertation unacceptable because over-learned, over-precise, and even "over" literate as if one could get to that state.

We've all learned too well to become like the Emperor in that movie (and play) Amadeus: "too many notes" becomes our excuse for incomprehension.

"Culture" becomes "hot chocolate and hugs".

And fund-raising.

In the case of Kennedy, a political clan, the actual abilities of whose members varies widely, replaced Adlai Stevenson who was in the context of McCarthyism a man of too many notes and too much proven competence and forever after the name, and chiseled good looks, have opened doors.

Is it any wonder that the backlash slouches towards Bethlehem in the form of Sarah Palin?

The resentment of classical music by members of the Moe, Larry, Curley and Shemp class is based on the first Great Depression in which its message of *alles schone undt gute* was seen to be a lie. Kaplan is an attempt to defuse this resentment by showing the stooge class that they too coulda been the champ: that, after all, you didn't even need to go to Juillard, you simply needed to start a newslettah.

The plot line is out of de Maupassant's The Necklace, in which the petite bourgeois woman labors for years as a charwoman to pay her *haute* bourgeois friend whose lost diamond necklace was "paste".

The punch line is the cartoon character slapping his forehead and realizing the meaninglessness of it all.

The punch line is Orwell's "boot stamping on a human face", and Kaplan's concerts are part of that boot.

Brian Hathaway

I recently purchased a recording of the Mahler #2 with Kaplan conducting the Vienna Phiharmonic. This Symphony is one of my favorites and I frequently listen to my other recording with Claudio Abbado also conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. I will admit that I was fascinated by the Kaplan recording. The sound quality was superb and his version of Mahler's 2nd definitely had some differences compared to Abbado's interpretation that I found pleasing. Not having had the benefit of watching his conducting style, I could only listen to the music, and I was impressed.

Certainly, you have the right to voice your opinion regarding the skills Mr. Kaplan has (or doesn't have) as a conductor. While I don't play an instrument, I sing in a symphonic choir and recongnize that all musicians share their opinions over the strengths and weaknesses of various conductors. I am sure that there is a continuum here and that you may have had other music directors where you may have differences of opinion over interpretation, style, ability and so on, but I imagine that it is just part of the business.

I was wondering if there is any reason why you didn't devote much comment to his perfromance in the rehearsal hall. IMO, great conductors prove themselves behind closed doors where they share their vision for the music and communicate it through direction and feedback. Was there any of that with Kaplan, compared to others? Did any of the passion he demonstrated by devoting a generation to immersing himself in this work show through in his rehearsal conduct, or was it just a glorified sight-read?

I also recognize that we are dealing with an ameteur here,. I don't think anyone who has followed this story would put Kaplan on an even footing with any professional conductors. Just by virtue of the fact that he has only directed a single symphonic work over the space of 25 years should tell us all something, and anyone serious about music would put him as the equivalent of a singer who can only sing one song.

Even after all this is considered, I still have to ask what permanent harm has been done? Not much I gather. There is little evidence that millions of conducting Walter Mitty's will come out of the woodwork demanding a place on the podium. On the other had, his fascinating story has put classical music on the front page to be read by many who may not even know who Gustav Mahler was. Perhaps news items like this (and also the fascinating story of the NYPO performing in North Korea) bring a few more people, hopefully young people, into the concert hall to hear something wonderful happen. For that, we should all be grateful. Some of them might even study music.

Just a footnote, our Chorale will be performing this wonderful work in May, and I can't wait.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

No, hundreds of would be Walter Mitties won't be conducting: in fact, homeless and harmless mad women who stand up to conduct, in transports because of the music, will be Tazed with all the more vigor because Kaplan has put a price on this stunt.

As to increasing interest in classical music, give me a break. David Sarnoff, the creator of RCA, was himself a genuine follower of classical music and wanted to improve his mass audience's taste so that his radio stations weren't condemned to playing nothing but Especially for You.

Sarnoff therefore funded "The Princeton Radio Research Project" in the 1930s and staffed it with Bright Young Things and our gloomy friend Adorno. The Bright Young Things thought any sort of interest in classical music was as good as any other: but Adorno was horrified by people who think that if they can hum da da da dum they "know" Beethoven.

I'm somehow certain that "knowing" that a rich bastard can "conduct" a symphony can only lead to the sort of appreciation which FAILS to note differences.

As to the fascinating "story" of the NYPO performing in front of the brutalized in North Korea, words fail. It's like the fascinating "story" of the accomplished pianist giving a private concert for concentration camp guards.

The only fascinating story is that music is simultaneously the expression of otherwise unavowable emotions and their taming so we don't blow our brains out.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

I like Wolfgang Rubsam's Kunst der Fuge on Naxos: he was the organist at our church and my homey plays it less skillfully than others, but with dedication, as a musician. He doesn't wave his arms and he doesn't equate "buying the original" with understanding. There's your story.

Similarly, a nonmusically educated friend at work listened to Jessye Norman's Four Last Songs because she's African American. There's your story.

Both stories are about people doing their best, in Rubsam's case overcoming his failure to be Glenn Gould, and in Norman's case the genteel racism of the classical music establishment which Marian Anderson confronted.

Neither is about making a killing as an investment adviser and then buying a pseudo-career.


You would FAIL to note the difference between the recordings either and that's what makes everything you said pointless.

And of course, amateurs like Kaplan should not be conducting professional orchestras. And amateurs like Penderecki. Or Oundjian. Or.....(insert hundreds of names of people who call themselves professionals, yet they are almost as inept as Kaplan).

One thing is certain - NYPO, whatever objections there are against them, would not let even audition a player who would be professionally on the same level as many conductors, who conduct around - and even them.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

As I've said, I'm not so sure I would fail the "Pepsi Challenge": but as I've said, it is a test for professionals, and I am not a professional musician.

Furthermore, what you mean by "making everything I said pointless" is that you believe that the Pepsi Challenge's mere existence makes it pointless to even discuss Kaplan: that we should all just shut up, and let a man's money decide.

This is how "domination of the dominated by the dominated" works. The sweetness of life becomes the sordid gauntlet of entrance tests, internalized in the lower-middle class psyche so that the way the tests are suspended, and Bush goes to Yale, and Kaplan conducts Mahler, is unremarked at a minimum and at a maximum becomes a sort of celebration and a song of the doomed.

I certainly prefer Bernstein's Fifth or Karajan's fifth, because Karajan plays the notes so perfectly as to eliminate the micro-expression of struggle which is part of the Fifth, and I could probably tell them apart.

But that's simply not the point. Water shouldn't cost money, Israel should not kill children, and people have a right to listen to music directed by a qualified conductor even if...indeed especially if... they are unmusical, since PART of the desire to attend a classical concert is the desire for self-improvement, and a clown like Kaplan has nothing to teach about listening to Mahler.

This right comes from the same place where Barry Bonds is no Babe Ruth, because the Babe got his hits using nothing stronger than booze and hot dogs, whereas Bonds cheated.

Even if some bum could not tellya the difference between a proper boxer and a palooka, but still has da right to watch genuine boxers try to beat each other senseless and not t'row da game, the audience is cheated at a Kaplan concert.

In the old "noir" classic, Night and the City, Richard Widmark is a smalltime punk who nonetheless, like a Trogdolyte with a dream, wants to bring "genuine Graeco-Roman wrestling" to London as opposed to mere shows that were rigged.

This film was made in London because its director was a "Communist" on the blacklist, and the director had seen how dishonest people were, signing loyalty oaths and turning in their friends.

Kaplan's stunt makes Widmark a fool, and if Widmark is a fool, there's rilly no point in listening to music, including Mahler.

The crooks including Meyer Lansky who organized the 1919 World Series said, the audience still hadda show. The crooks who gave the answers to Charles van Doren in the 1950s "Quiz Show" said, dey still hadda show.

But I say, if I just wanna go to da show, I will go to da burlesk and watch some dame take off her underwear.

The Kaplan phenomenon EQUATES art with entertainment and thence transitively to pornography in that pornography is what you call for (if yer a bum, that is) when yer too drunk to even be entertained.

It sez, what the hell, you hadda show and furthermore, CHUMP, you can't tell da difference and ya ain't likely evah to be able to tell da difference. For if youse was so smaht how come you ain't rich. Now buzz off before I calls da cops.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

For "I certainly prefer Bernstein's Fifth or Karajan's fifth" read "I certainly prefer Bernstein's Fifth *to* Karajan's fifth".

My argument is essentially this. If there is no difference between Kaplan and Bernstein, there's no such thing as classical music.

But a world without people straining to apprehend sonata form after a hard day at the office is Idiocracy as seen in Mike Judge's film of that name...even if they fail.

Bush's major character flaw seems to have been incuriosity. Until Laura and Condoleeza got on Bush's ass after the 2004 election and made him crack a book, he didn't read books. He was consistently manipulated throughout his term by criminals because he refused to dig underneath the surface briefings: there's evidence that he actually believed things known to be false.

To say "what the hell, Kaplan is just as good and sounds da same as Boinstein" is to make a gesture only thought grown-up in *arondissements* where the male construction of reality insists at all costs that dominant males know everything and must at all costs never confess weakness, even in the form of curiosity.

There's a phenomenon known to some sociologists as "the ruralization of the cities", where subaltern boroughs and the surrounding countryside influence the metropolis, a phenomenon that caused Serbians to support Milosevic in the breakup of Yugoslavia. It has actually become somewhat hip in Manhattan to share the dull incuriosity of the outer boroughs, and not to insist, after a concert high-jacked by Kaplan, on being at all disappointed.

Lest one be accounted a wet blanket, especially if one won't take a Pepsi Challenge.

People need in other words to watch their mouth, as Bush's first press secretary Ari Fleischer said, even in, perhaps especially in, the fashionable *arondissements*.

Leonard Bernstein was deliberately humiliated, after all, by that thug Tom Wolfe in the fashionable *arondissement* of Manhattan, in part because Wolfe decided, early in his career, to make his fortune by appealing to the ape in all of us that's tired of being human, and views dat guy as a baton, and sez, who does he think he is.

After all, most of us wouldn't have the courage to actually try to make an interpretation of a symphony up there in front of God and everybody: Bernstein in particular exposed himself. It's much easier to play the ironic fool like Kaplan, confessing whenever necessary that he's "just" a sort of Forrest Gump, who's funding pension benefits, but not in any way interpreting the music, just kinda sorta keeping time.

Or the bully, like Wolfe.

Next stop, Idiocracy. Well, I shall listen to Bob Marley instead: stop that train.


Czech writer Ivan Vyskocil wrote a short story about a man with a special talent - he could talk about anything for such a long time and with so many words, that the described thing desintegrated and disappeared. This brought some interesting results until the moment the man was asked to talk about himself.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

Very interesting, Symphonic, but also very irritating in that it shows how a hole was torn in European culture east of the Elbe by Communism.

This is because this insistence on being "authentic", and "revealing yourself", while it contains a request for a genuine truth, is silly insofar as it rejects the mirroring parts of the Self as Other to the Self, and inauthentic.

There's literally no such thing as a pure (Reine) self apart from the tastes and experiences of said sod. If I was who am I would be G-d and I'm not G-d.

You get to Heidegger very quickly, and his to me rather unpleasant Bauern and other garden gnomes, with their dour insistence on the rugged pleasures of the Volksiche as necessarily opposed to the cosmopolite of the city, with his polymathematical interests in which he is said to conceal his Self, perhaps also his dark designs on our pocketbook.

Certainly, this is no MySpace, where it would be more appropriate for me to tell you Who I Really Am, and in the request for such Authenticity there is always the hint of the grand inquisitor, for whom the answer would self-incriminate the inmate of whatever Gitmo you might have in mind for any malcontents at the (Heideggerian) Gathering where we Listen to Kaplan with shining, respectful faces, and thereafter file out silently.

As to the disappearance of the thing, I hope it does. There's literally no such thing as a "performance" by Kaplan: he has not earned the right, in the tribunal of art, to label his Deutsche Grammophon CDs as such and if he had any shame or was a gentleman he would have not released them.

He's nothing more than the rich slob girl I saw with my own eyes in the Louvre put her fat head atop a kneeling Aphrodite, to be rebuked by the guard and my cry of l'hont!

Your post has that stolen Heideggerian gravitas in which a failure to address content becomes a virtue to the falsely pure of heart. Once again, the Emperor speaks: "too many notes".

Apart from reading interesting stories by Czech writers who I've never heard of but may read based on your post, do you have anything interesting to say on Mahler?

Anyway, based on this interesting exchange, I've started to read Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy by my homey T. W. Adorno, and in it I find this:

"If the true composer is concealed, the manifest one is the conductor, who upholds the objectivity of the work against the fallible author. After that of Wagner, Mahler's music is conductor's music of the highest rank, one that performs itself."

Unfortunately, the translator made an English grammatical error in the last phrase: "one" fails to agree in number with the uncountable use of "music".

But this may be why Kaplan can get away with his stupid stunts.

The Nazis rejected Mahler as "inauthentic" because Mahler doesn't allow the listener to fall into what Shakespeare's Polonius calls "a watch", a haze, a daze, dreaming Laudanum dreams: instead, Mahler tends to change direction sharply. Kaplan collapses, in his Charlie Rose interview, the multiple levels of Mahler into a simple "affirmation" as if music were an isomorph of a drug, a simple cure for what ails ya, like laudanum, or hot chocolate and a hug.

I prefer the solemn state of awareness in which you acknowledge that life sucks...not any sort of reassurance.

Adorno compared Mahler to the Mother who reassures without herself knowing that things will in fact come out right ("Mutter ach Mutter es Hungert mich"). Like the mother in the movie Titanic who reassures her child that it shall soon be over.

I'll be damned if this music be conducted by a Yuppie thug whose investment schemes may well have destroyed lives, do I make myself clear?

David Rudge

The above posting by Roberta Piket could actually be the last word on this subject. It gets right to the heart of the issue. Well said!!

David Rudge

Kate Smith

Let it never be said that all these postings are futile. The opinions expressed have prompted me to listen to different recordings of the second symphony. I now know it far better than a month ago.

My opinion is that Mr Kaplan's recording is superior. More depth I think.

That's all that I can contribute. Just personal experience as someone who really enjoys classical music.

Than you everyone, whether pro- or anti-Kaplan. Without you I would never have had to decide which camp I was in. You have all helped raise my level of understanding.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

I'm not saying one's not entitled to prefer the version that is labeled by Deutsche Grammophon as "conducted by" Kaplan to one conducted by Bernstein.

Nor am I saying that the Kaplan version might not be BETTER than any other version.

However, Kaplan did not make the version. It was the collective work product of the musicians working, for all intents and purposes, without a conductor as some orchestras are able to work.

He takes credit for the work in the same way a CEO takes credit for the success of his people (and gets a fat bonus) or blames them if things don't work out (and gets a fat bonus).

This means that the CDs as sold are mislabeled and a very serious case of commercial fraud actionable under US and EU law.

Modern commercial law is not, contrary to the indoctrinated perceptions of the doomed, "caveat emptor": it is based on the vending of an honest good-faith product. If a person buys a CD he has the right to expect the symphony be conducted in good faith by the person named as conductor, otherwise you have fraud.

As it is, Deutsche Grammophon has defrauded its customers, especially those who don't know the Kaplan story.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

Kaplan's version constitutes in fact theft of intellectual production as opposed to intellectual property, where the distinction between the production and the property is that the former cannot be bought and sold.

Positivism equates the two: but note that the credit crisis was the result of the (non Islamic, if you’re Islamic) idea that a debt between men is “the same as” a pot in the market place and for that reason can be bought and sold: this came to grief when the complexity and dishonesty of credit markets overwhelmed the former Masters of the Universe, because a man’s bond is not a thing. Mohammed was certainly a very intelligent man to see a distinction between an idea and a thing.

Likewise, we hear ringing defence of laws that “protect” “intellectual property” in the name of the proverbial starving artist or street musician, whose avatar and savior megacorporations now propose to be: but in most if not all cases, there’s a distinction between intellectual production and intellectual property which the law and rhetoric conceal.

Most real artists are so brutalized by the cash economy as to sign away most of their property rights in their own production, so much if not most intellectual property doesn’t even belong to “artists””: it belongs to investors.

Furthermore, sidemen and boys in the band who help to swell a scene or two never have even a fractional ownership right.

Now, Kaplan, I really hope, hasn’t copyrighted his performances. I shall assume for the sake of argument that the performances are owned by the orchestra as a nonprofit corporation, and insofar as the musicians in this corporation have ownership stakes (which in many cases they do not) well and good.

Nonetheless, Kaplan has stolen the collective self-direction of the orchestra, a species of what I’ve called intellectual production, and nobody says a goddamn thing, or they praise him for being so slick. The orchestra should have been paid the conductor salary to divvy up amongst themselves.

Just as capitalism has come a cropper by saying that a bond is a thing, it fails to acknowledge moral rights to production. But self-“discipline” of the working class is so far advanced that people, in open source and open content, eagerly volunteer on wikipedia and elsewhere to work and produce for free.

This is an American reversion to the default American employment relation of the 17th century, master and indentured servant, or master and slave.

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