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Rightwing radio jock lashes back at orchestra musicians

August 11, 2017 by norman lebrecht

54 comments.


The untrained musician Dennis Prager, who is due to conduct the Santa Monica Symphony in Haydn’s 51st symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall next week, has accused his critics of distorting the case.

‘I think there are 70 musicians (in the orchestra) and seven object to me conducting,’ Prager told The Hollywood Reporter. ‘The media has reported only the one-tenth of the orchestra that objects, while the other 90 percent is quite excited to play for me in Walt Disney Hall. But they’re never quoted. The New York Times didn’t quote one of the 90 percent. It’s a phenomenon. The entire focus is on the disgruntled and the angry, and it’s typical of the Times. There are people from the L.A. Philharmonic who have volunteered to play. Is that reported anywhere?’

(The NY Times and the LA Times picked up the story from Slipped Disc.)

Prager, however, deliberately misses the point: he’s a non-musician standing before an orchestra of professionals. Does he expect to be showered in love?


Comments (54)

  1. Sue says:

    If it was good enough for Danny Kaye to conduct the NYPO…..

    1. NYMike says:

      Danny Kaye was a supremely talented person who knew the music he conducted thoroughly even though he couldn’t read a score. His appearance at pension fund concerts raised a lot of funding for musicians over the years. Comparing Prager to him is patently ridiculous.

      1. Peter Belanger says:

        @NYMIKE; Danny Kaye was a genius but I’d put Prager’s musical knowledge up against Kaye’s any day. Prager has studied orchestral scores since high school, has conducted orchestras many times, has a particular passion for Haydn and knows the 51st symphony backwards and forwards.

      2. Sue says:

        …”couldn’t read a score”. End of story.

        1. John Porter says:

          Danny Kaye didn’t conduct subscription series but fundraisers and besides having perfect pitch, every member of the NY Philharmonic knew Kaye’s musical skills, because they heard him sing on radio and recordings, played on his record dates, and saw his movies.

  2. Michael Smith says:

    Sir Martin Smith is fond of conducting some of the orchestras to which he donates, though I have yet to attend one of his Messiahs . . .

  3. Misha says:

    PM Edward Heath also fancied his chances with the baton and no one objected.

    1. Nemesis says:

      Not quite true I think: it might be more accurate to say that his position meant that no one prevented it but in view of the level of his conducting they should have done, regardless of whether this meant being banished to the tower for all eternity.

  4. Frederick West says:

    ‘He’s a non musician standing before an orchestra of professionals’ – reminds me of someone else…..ah yes, Gilbert Kaplan.

  5. Robert Roy says:

    Look, like it or not, occasionally artist organisations have to ‘bend the knee’ to wealthy donors and if that entails allowing someone to conduct the orchestra for a short spell then so be it. Everybody in life has to do things they don’t want to do and that’s just part of life.

    Who knows, perhaps the musicians will learn something about the piece or the way they play together under a less than competent musician. Just suck it up!

  6. herrera says:

    Don’t want him to conduct?
    Don’t take his money.

    1. herrera says:

      A courtesan should not be heard complaining about her benefactor’s love-making skills.

      1. Larry W says:

        Aside from whatever else you may have heard, Prager is not getting paid.

  7. Steve P says:

    Biggest lie you’ve ever tried to push, NL. Absolutely 0% true that the musicians didn’t want to play for Prager because he is “untrained.” Politics is ruining art music.
    It is the height of snobbery to continuously sneer at a musician who didn’t attend a college or conservatory. The musical skills of some musicians that can only “play by ear” are beyond amazing. Just the arrogance and conceitedness behind this entire post…

  8. Liberalfascists says:

    Should there be a litmus test for everyone who stands in front of or sit in an orchestra? This is real point. Liberals are liberal with themselves and don’t see they are actually the real fascists.

    1. Tom Gossard says:

      Spoken like a real fascist!

      1. Sue says:

        Stop with the projections, already!!

    2. Dale Day says:

      I know you are, but what am I?

  9. Larry W says:

    As reported by DailyMail.com on July 21-
    “The Duchess of Cambridge tried her hand at conducting a prestigious symphony orchestra today when she and Prince William visited Hamburg’s new concert hall.

    On the last day of their royal tour of Germany, Kate, who comes from a musical family and played flute throughout her school days, took a conductor’s baton and directed the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra for a few brief seconds as they played the first four notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony – ‘da, da, da, daaa’.”

    Videos of the event showed plenty of smiles from the professional musicians.
    Could it be love?

    1. Baton Rouge says:

      Twas a joke indeed. But unfortunately people don’t regard professional musicians as having a “proper job”. As if it’s anything anyone can do i.e. conduct! The way the world works now, is if a major sponsor fancies a chance at conducting their pet project, their wish shall be granted. Survival indeed. (It happens with most of the major British orchestras btw, much to the chagrin of the players.)

    2. V. Lind says:

      It was a few seconds, of a rehearsal, and a photo opp (good for the Orchestra too) and a bit of fun. For God’s sake, if classical music doesn’t learn to lighten up it will deserve to be relegated to the ashcan of obscurity to which it is hurtling.

      Prager, I gather, intends to inflict himself and the musicians upon a paying public. For the duration. Let’s just hope he is good, despite non-gilt-edge credentials.

      I gather he is a donor.Not keen on kow-towing to donors in this way.

      1. Larry W says:

        What part of “plenty of smiles” and “twas a joke indeed” didn’t you understand? Perhaps you should lighten up. And, you might wish to enlighten yourself. Prager is not a donor except for his time. Unfortunately, you are not keen on being accurate, either.

  10. Cubs Fan says:

    I’ve played with trained conductors who were God awful. Lousy stick technique, inferior ear, no control over tempo or balance…and yet are heralded as a “great rising conductor, one to watch out for”. I’ll bet Prager is better than some of these pros.

  11. Minacciosa says:

    That’s what you call “lashes back”? Prager’s seems a civilized response to me. Besides, there is nothing unusual about an amateur conducting an orchestra for a fundraiser; it is commonplace. The ugly truth is that there are many active conductors calling themselves professionals who are in fact amateurs, and some of them have big jobs.

    There was a time when musicians (probably a minority) expressed similar objections about performing for a female conductor.

    1. John says:

      Prager is, if nothing else, civilized. It’s his ‘schtick’. He’s Rush Limbaugh but with shoes on.

  12. Malcolm Kottler says:

    The website of the Santa Monica Symphony describes itself in these words:

    “Founded by a group of Los Angeles studio musicians, the orchestra has evolved over the decades into its present form, a mixture of the best Los Angeles area professionals, emerging pre-professionals and volunteer musicians of exceptional quality.”

    Norman’s words: “he’s a non-musician standing before an orchestra of professionals.”

    I don’t know how many professionals are in the Santa Monica Symphony, and the number of professionals does not necessarily indicate the quality of the orchestra.

    But I think the discussion benefits from an accurate description of who is who.

  13. MARC FELDMAN says:

    I wish people would inform themselves as to the real issues. This is a good article from the LA Times. As musicians, boards and administrators we definitely have the right to refuse to play for those who espouse hate, it is the antithesis of what we do.

    http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-prager-santa-monica-20170808-story.html

    1. Sue says:

      Stop with the projections! What is it that you accuse others of exactly what you do yourself?

      1. minacciosa says:

        It’s that sticky problem of what defines “hate”; lately the term has become a catchall and semantic receptacle for whatever one dislikes.

    2. Steve P says:

      Any musician has (and should have) the right to not play for whomever they want; I just detest the characterization of this by some such as NL and the musicians themselves as apolitical. Hate speech? Dear Lord, grow up and agree to disagree – but stop calling it what it ain’t and be honest about the reasons: hurty words are more important than making music.

      1. William Safford says:

        Rejecting bigotry is imperative, as the neo-Nazis, KKK members, and other white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA demonstrate: three dead (one anti-fascist demonstrator murdered by a white supremacist, plus the two police in the crashed helicopter), more injured.

  14. John says:

    I must say, old Dennis is getting tons of mileage out of this. He’s written column after column, and I have to think he’s crowing about it on his radio show. As I had to say in another comment on another of Norman’s posts, the right is quite adept at playing the victim card while at the same time serving their own ends.

    1. Steve P says:

      Compared to the left, the right are rank amateurs at claiming victimhood.

        1. Steve P says:

          No, the retort was acknowledging the skills of libs at claiming agrieved status. Don’t know your old lady well enough to comment.
          And you are certainly welcome to go f*ck yourself if you think I agree in any way with the violence in Charlottesburg. Alt right and antifa are same coin to me: both groups evil and likely leading idiots into the fire.

          1. William Safford says:

            Your support for a bigot is itself a performative act of bigotry, irrespective of anything else you have written.

            If you do not like the association, then publicly reject it and the people who support these bigots, including the current occupant of the Oval Office and much of his administration.

            Fish or cut bait. It’s your choice.

      1. William Safford says:

        The far-right are better at murder, whether in the Oklahoma City bombing, the North Charleston slaughter, or the Charlottesville murder, to cite just three examples.

        Our country is at more danger from its right-wing domestic terrorists than from foreign ones.

  15. Greg says:

    Why does the article have to deliberately bring up politics in the title as if being “rightwing” has anything to do with the argument of whether or not he is trained sufficiently to stand in front of these musicians? There is all this blather about how we should “include everyone” and be “more tolerant” and not “discriminate” and yet here, plain and simple, is a title that is meant to discredit not only this man for his lack of musical training but also his political views. It’s really quite disappointing to see this sort of intolerance of someone’s political persuasion being masked in an article about musical qualifications.

    1. Sue says:

      My own thoughts, exactly. And from what I’ve seen of Prager’s work he’s urging people to think for themselves and take personal responsibility. Novel ideas, I know, but some of us get it.

    2. John says:

      It has all to do with politics and not his ability to conduct. If Jack Nicholson showed up to conduct, he might sell a lot of tickets and the players would follow the concertmaster and all would be well.

      What confuses me is “Why Prager?” He is, by definition, polarizing. If I still had my orchestra and wanted a celebrity with wide appeal, I wouldn’t invite either Prager or Barbara Boxer. From my perspective, inviting this guy was just a stupid idea that really backfired.

      And the musicians are only making things worse by going into high dudgeon over this, and management erred by not doing their homework before inviting Prager. (Disclosure: Politically, I’m a far left liberal).

  16. David Osborne says:

    Seriously Norman get a grip. I know nothing about this guy and am no fan of the far right, but: “untrained musician?” Here are some others: Thomas Beecham. Edward Elgar. Albert Sammons. William Walton.

    1. herrera says:

      Charles Ives, Phillip Glass

      1. David Osborne says:

        Excellent work Herrera. Let’s grow the list!

      2. Scotty says:

        Glass studied piano and composition at Juilliard, studied composition with Nadia Boulanger on a Fulbright fellowship, not to mention studying flute at Peabody as a child. How is this “untrained”?

      3. William Safford says:

        False. Both Ives and Glass received rigorous musical training.

    2. Larry W says:

      Paul Creston, Thelonious Monk.

    3. Herbert Pauls says:

      Godowsky was mostly self-taught as a pianist.

      1. John says:

        So we should be looking for Dennis Prager’s complete set of the Mahler Symphonies pretty soon, huh?

    4. John says:

      I didn’t think it would need to be pointed out, but there’s a difference between ‘untrained’ and ‘amateur’. Prager — by his own admission — is an amateur. I would think ‘self taught’ would be a better word than ‘untrained’. Godowsky, before he taught himself, was untrained. So he did have a teacher.

  17. Orlondow says:

    Perhaps it’s worth noting that Dennis Prager once wrote a 2-part advice column that is, essentially, a defense of marital rape.

    See: http://www.dennisprager.com/when-a-woman-isnt-in-the-mood-part-i/ and http://www.dennisprager.com/when-a-woman-isnt-in-the-mood-part-ii/

    Includes paragraphs such as:

    “It is an axiom of contemporary marital life that if a wife is not in the mood, she need not have sex with her husband. Here are some arguments why a woman who loves her husband might want to rethink this axiom.”

    “Compared to most women’s sexual nature, men’s sexual nature is far closer to that of animals. So what? That is the way he is made. Blame God and nature. Telling your husband to control it is a fine idea. But he already does. Every man who is sexually faithful to his wife already engages in daily heroic self-control. He has married knowing he will have to deny his sexual nature’s desire for variety for the rest of his life. To ask that he also regularly deny himself sex with the one woman in the world with whom he is permitted sex is asking far too much.”

    “Many contemporary women have an almost exclusively romantic notion of sex: It should always be mutually desired and equally satisfying or one should not engage in it. Therefore, if a couple engages in sexual relations when he wants it and she does not, the act is “dehumanizing” and “mechanical.” Now, ideally, every time a husband and wife have sex, they would equally desire it and equally enjoy it. But, given the different sexual natures of men and women, this cannot always be the case.”

    “Thus, in the past generation we have witnessed the demise of the concept of obligation in personal relations. We have been nurtured in a culture of rights, not a culture of obligations. To many women, especially among the best educated, the notion that a woman owes her husband sex seems absurd, if not actually immoral. They have been taught that such a sense of obligation renders her “property.””

    To the commenters talking about “liberal intolerance towards right-wingers”: remember that the current POTUS is very likely a rapist. The values Prager embraces and promotes don’t constitute a simple different worldview; they are hideously authoritarian and mysogynistic. The orchestra members have every right (and I would say, a duty towards their audience) to take such things into account, quite apart from the adequacy of Prager’s stick technique.

    1. M2N2K says:

      There is no “defense of marital rape” in any of the quotes you have provided here. He is correct about us having “been nurtured in a culture of rights, not a culture of obligations”. In my mind, rights and obligations should be equal in our moral universe, but they are unfortunately becoming much too unequal during the last half-century, rights having been sanctified while obligations are neglected and ignored. That does not mean that I agree with every single word he says. Like many other pundits on both sides, DP is amplifying his positions to absurd extremes and that is where I often disagree with him. However, the notion that we the musicians should not be making music with anyone whose views are not identical with ours is shortsighted and very foolish.

  18. Malcolm Kottler says:

    The conductor of the Santa Monica Symphony, Guido Lamell, speakers here on an NPR program at greater length than anywhere else I have seen about his invitation to Dennis Prager:

    http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/08/13/542836118/santa-monica-symphony-orchestra-confronts-controversy-over-right-wing-guest-cond

    Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra Confronts Controversy Over Right-Wing Guest Conductor

  19. M2N2K says:

    So far, it seems that decision to include Dennis Prager is working extremely well for Santa Monica Symphony: tonight’s concert is completely sold out. Evidently, Prager’s participation is a significant attraction for many supporters of classical music. Selling out the entire Walt Disney Concert Hall is a highly impressive achievement for a semi-amateur orchestra.


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