EUROPEAN VACATION, but instead of Clark, I give you Ahab

Today the fine cheese comes from that mysterious locale, “abroad.” Proudly, the NY Times has graced us with the work of Michael Kimmelman, who is, like his opinion of the American musical landscape, culturally challenged.

This column,

When Fame Can’t Cross the Atlantic

tells the sad tale of Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov.

On Tuesday evening the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov played, as he does dozens of times a year throughout Europe, to an ecstatic, sold-out house. It filled the Kammermusiksaal here.

After a little research, I found that the Kammermusikhaal is located in Berlin. I’m glad neither the Times nor Herr Kimmelman bothered to tell us. Still, I can’t help but wonder if this is a common practice or whether this is a calculated omission. At least now we know where this junk is coming from. Right?

Okay (OK), back to the Sokolov!

An unsmiling bear of a man onstage with a babyish face and a white, monkish fringe of hair, Mr. Sokolov emerged looking shy and downcast, as if he hoped no one would notice him. He scuttled to the instrument, head bowed, then plunged in, pawing the keys.

Odd. He’s painted to sound reticent or misanthropic. But, this is neither here nor there (yet). This is just the lead in for the next set of statements, and, presumably, Herr’s thesis.

Also, Russians and bears? Why? Must every Russian be compared to a bear?

He’s a star on this side of the Atlantic. In America his name will draw blank stares. In this day and age, how can that be?

Hmm. A reticent, misanthropic classical pianist from Russia. How can that be? Not to worry Detritusites, Herr Kimmelman to the rescue (insert Air Bud joke here)!

Even a century ago, news about musical heavyweights traveled constantly between the continents, along with the musicians themselves. When the cold war heated up during the postwar era, Soviet stars were, for a while, prohibited from traveling, but the aura of many of these players blossomed as a consequence of their seclusion and they benefited, sometimes disproportionately to their actual talent, when they finally made it to the West. This wasn’t the case with Mr. Sokolov.

It’s just stupid to respond to this kind of evidence—the over-generalization of socio-economic phenomena.

Now here come the real problems.

Classical music is supposedly universal.

The saying goes, as quipped by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “music is the universal language of mankind.” You just can’t paraphrase a thing like this, then twist it around to support (or negate) your own ends. ...what’s that?...he just did?...he’s going to continue with this?...even though he’s probably read things like this before?...

Unfortunately, Herr Kimmelman continues to follow this erroneous thread.

Language may still be a cultural barrier for writers and actors. Even visual artists, depending on the subjects they choose, won’t necessarily translate abroad.

Um. He’s right...I guess...if you want take a well-known saying out of context and support it with generalizations. I think he’s taking the language part too literally, you know, syntax and grammar...they don’t often translate well.

Oh well. Read and listen to this. Not sure if this would translate well into Arabic.

That Mr. Sokolov, whose talent is beyond dispute, disproves this notion should remind us not only of our persistent parochialism but also of our delusions about technology.

In other words, Sokolov is not a star in America because of our narrow, little pointy-heads and because of our delusions about... technology?

Surely you jest.

The Web,


The Web, on which he can be found on YouTube, giving astonishing performances, clearly doesn’t substitute for hearing him live.

So your assertion is this: we are deluded in as much as we regard YouTube as good as a live performance.

Weird thing to say, let alone print in the leading daily in the country.

Neither do discs, which, as a perfectionist, he stopped issuing in 1995 (this partly explains his American situation), although years ago Mr. Sokolov’s recordings sent me hunting for a chance to hear him in person.

This is one of the funniest constructions I’ve come across in a long while.

Is Herr Kimmelman actually trying support his thesis (how can Sokolov be underappreciated in America?) by painting him as reticent, misanthropic and, now, eccentric (stopping issuing discs), which even Kimmelman acknowledges might be a reason why he’s not particularly famous in these very United States? One step backward, one step ^%@$&^. Stupid Americans.

He played them again the other night. It was, like all concerts likely to stay in the mind forever, nothing that could ever be captured digitally.

Technically, all concerts can be captured digitally. The quality is what should be in dispute.

Clearly he has his pride. The other day he withdrew from two sold-out recitals that were to take place in May in Glasgow and London because of new visa requirements imposed by Britain on Russian visitors, which after many years of playing there he found too onerous and insulting.

He’s now proud to a fault. Running tally: reticent, misanthropic, eccentric and, now, proud. Continuing to make the good argument, eh, Herr?

So, temperament (Mr. Sokolov has plenty), poor luck, myopic concert agents and — who is to say? — perhaps contentment with life as it is for him in Europe seem to have conspired to prevent stardom in America; not any lack of musical genius, that’s for sure.

Holy Jay Walking! He also has a temper! This guy sounds like a terrible person to work with, or book, or promote, or record, or etc.

He is a fantastic pianist, in all seriousness.

But, has it ever occurred to Herr Kimmelman that Sokolov doesn’t want to become a “star?” In America? Because of Americans? Not the other way around?

It’s America’s loss.

Is it? Or is it Sokolov's?

But still, it doesn’t change the picture that’s been painted, Herr. And it’s not pretty.

Humorous he is certainly not.

I hope Herr Kimmelman starts to support his thesis soon. No?

If his case proves anything, it’s that Europe and America remain separated by more than an ocean.

Technologies? YouTubes?

After he had been called back for encore after encore — a half-dozen by the end — the crowd still stood and roared. Mr. Sokolov finally retreated, as he had arrived, expressionless, with a brusque nod, bent slightly at the waist, one hand fastened behind his back like a captain on the deck of his ship, facing into a nasty head wind.

Reticent, misanthropic, proud to a fault, temperamental, humorless, ship captain: Ahab.

Kimmelman: Ahab ≠ American Idol => Holy German Pope at Yankee Stadium! Music is not a universal language after all! Stupid Americans with their technologies and YouTubes.

And this ends our little European Vacation. Well, actually, this does.



Anonymous said...

"Holiday Road" has one of the worst guitar solos ever (about 1:15 into the YT vid).

OK/okay... thanks for that, Emp!

Empiricus said...

Your welcome. I pander, when I can.

Sator Arepo said...

1) You must be sleepy, E. "Your welcome"?

2) I found this odd:

"The Web, on which he can be found on YouTube, giving astonishing performances, clearly doesn’t substitute for hearing him live."

Live is better than YouTube. Okay. So: he can't get...famous from YouTube? Um...

"Neither do discs, which, as a perfectionist, he stopped issuing in 1995 (this partly explains his American situation), although years ago Mr. Sokolov’s recordings sent me hunting for a chance to hear him in person."

Live is better than CDs, which he does not any longer produce. You cannot...get famous through recordings. ?

Herr K just said it was a recording that motivated him to seek out Sokolov's live performances!


Empiricus said...

Hey. Welcome is a noun, too. It can be possessed.

Murderface said...

"The Web, on which he can be found on YouTube, giving astonishing performances, clearly doesn’t substitute for hearing him live."

This "sentence" drew my notice as well. The content of it is minimal, but the construction is an "astonishing performance," indeed. It's fucking atrocious.

1. Subject: The Web.
Fucking no one calls it that anymore. It's "teh intart00bz" now, moran.

2. Predicate: Doesn't substitute.
Any A can substitute for any B. It doesn't have to be a good substitute, but a substitute it is. This is a common, lazy trope, and deserves scorn heaped upon derision. FSM help you Detritians should I catch you using it.

3. The appositive: On, on, giving, astonishing.
Jesus titty-fucking Christ!! If all that crap is not another sentence waiting to happen, it's at least enough for a clause that lies outside of your subject and predicate boundaries.

Hell no I'm not going to read the entire article. New York Times, my ass.