elainefineelainefine Elaine Fine
Constantly making assumptions about music
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Weighing in on ViolaGate

An anonymous commenter put a comment on this post last night in order to draw attention to Brian Rosen's article about a concert Bernard Zaslav attended in San Francisco. Rosen is responsible for the term ViolaGate (whatever that means), and I imagine that he posted his second-hand report of the concert in order to get some chuckles from people who enjoy telling viola jokes, and still consider violists buffoons. Bernie is a very close friend of mine, and I feel a need to add my voice to his defense.

The story, in a nutshell, is that a few friends of Bernie's were playing a concert in San Francisco. They got him tickets in the front row, knowing that the extreme vertigo he was experiencing as a result of a fall he had almost two weeks ago made it difficult for him to move around steadily. This was probably his first time out since his fall, and certainly his first concert. He came with a cane, which he stashed under his seat.

The first part of the concert was interesting for him (and probably for the rest of the audience as well), and the idea of electronics presented in the advertisement for the concert did not present any high decibel worries. There were no warnings that people seated in the front rows might want to wear earplugs. Bernie probably expected electronics in the manner of Babbitt, a composer he knew very well and respects a great deal.

When the piece for viola and electronics began, the decibel level was extremely high, and Bernie and his wife, who were sitting directly in front of the speakers (who knew?) were directly in the line of fire. (Kenneth Woods describes the difference between acoustic directional sound and electronic directional sound here.)

Bernie wanted to leave, but he was unable to find his cane in the totally darkened room. He was in extreme pain from what was coming out of the speakers. Do you think, with his vertigo, he should have tried to escape caneless and risk fall again? At 85, falling is never a good thing. I suppose people who target their music to a "rock" audience don't consider that their audience might happen to have people who have a completely different experience of "new music" in the house.

The person performing seemed to hear Bernie loud and clear (I guess it's because the speakers were not pointed at him). He had no reason to smash his viola (how much damage was done anyway?). Why, in this case, is an 85-year-old musical icon with mobility issues considered to be the person at fault, while a young "nomadic musician, recording artist, and music technologist" making his debut in San Francisco is gaining sympathy from the twitteringsof the internet audience.
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