Mariss goes back to Hell's Kitchen

I once accompanied Mariss Jansons into the boondocks of Pittsburgh, a deprived area where the police only went in armoured personnel carriers.

We entered a public school where a bunch of kids were scratching and puffing on instruments. In two words and a gesture, he changed the sound of the band and the atmosphere in the classroom.

Now, he’s doing it again in what’s described as a ‘problem quarter’ of Munich. His playground companion is Anne-Sophie Mutter.  Next February they are giving a benefit concert for a children’s care centre. Read on here.

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  • “I once accompanied Mariss Jansons into the boondocks of Pittsburgh, a deprived area where the police only went in armoured personnel carriers.”

    This is an astonishing sentence. Dramatic nonsense. Such a remarkable claim about Pittsburgh (a remarkably well-run city) and its police needs more detail, some sort of documentation that this secret neighborhood exists, or a retraction.

  • at first glance I concluded the author accompagnying Mariss Jansons must have meant the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra… on strike.

  • In 1990 there were 2,605 murders in New York. That’s almost three times the highest number of deaths for American soldiers in any year of the Iraq War. (The highest death rate for Americans in the war was 2004 when 906 were killed.)

    In 1992, there were 943 murders in Chicago, which also exceeds the highest yearly death rate for Americans in the Iraq War.

    In 1990, there were 801 murders in Pennsylvania, which is close to the highest yearly death rate of the Iraq War.

    Pittsburgh fares a bit better. Statistics from 2003 indicate that the murder rate was 2.61 times the national average. Overall, the “violent crime” rate for the city was about twice the national average. By American standards, that makes it a “safe” city.

    So Norman’s hyperbole makes an inportant point. When I lived in NYC form 1977 to 1979, the phone and utility companies usually only sent service personnel into certain areas between 8 and 12 in the morning, because all other times were too dangerous. I won’t even go into the American stats for forcible rape.

    What is called a “problem community” in Munich or any other German city, has virtually no relation to the urban problems that exist in the USA.

    • william – normally i agree with you and like your comments, but you’re cherry picking statistics. NYC, while bad off, was and is not a war zone. Comparing NYC at any time to Iraq in the middle of a war just doesn’t work. Take the total amount of deaths in iraq, or compare soldier’s deaths to police shootings to have a more accurate statement.

      On top of that, there seems to exist a huge discrepancy in the European vs. American definitions of rape and it’s reportage.

      Having been to Pittsburgh a number of times, there exists NO such neighborhood as NL describes. It isn’t hyperbole, it can’t be backed by stats, and it’s a lie that should be retracted. NL is a self-serving gossip, but that’s another story.

      I get that you like Germany better. Great. But every country has it’s problems, and Germany is not a paradise compared to America, or NYC, by any means.

      • Comparing the higher rate of murders in our states and cities than American deaths in a war zone is a way of illustrating the absurdity of the social conditions in our country. These conditions persist exactly because the large majority of Americans refuse to confront the reality of them. These conditions also affect classical music, because it is one of the most urban of art forms. I agree though, that Norman’s hyperbole was not clear as such and thus inappropriate. And by the way, I don’t think Germany is better. I dislike living here because I do not share their cultural values. I wish I were in a position to leave, even if there would be a few things I would miss.

        • The condition of American cities is such an important topic, and so deeply affects classical music, I wish there could be a serious and sustained discussion about it. People talk about the death of orchestras in the USA, but do not understand that the underlying problem is actually the death of our cities. Sick cities create sick orchestras.

          Detroit is a prime example. The orchestra is about 98% white in a city 82% black. How can this racial divide not spell trouble? 32.3% of Detroit families had income at or below the federally defined poverty level.

          Already in 1993, the National Institute for Literacy (NIL) estimated that 47% of Detroit’s residents were functionally illiterate (approx. Level 1 Literacy), meaning they had difficulty reading well enough to manage daily living and employment tasks.

          A report by the Mayor’s office in 2001 reported that Philadelphia had 14,000 abandoned buildings in a dangerous state of collapse, 31,000 trash-strewn vacant lots, 60,000 abandoned autos, and has lost 75,000 citizens in recent years.

          A then people wonder why the orchestras in these cities are having problems. How can the denial around these problems be stopped?

          • William, you make many interesting points, but I also see some cherry picking of statistics.

            For example: you start your arguments with New York’s murder rates in 1990. Shouldn’t readers know that you picked the peak? In 2009 NYPD reported 466 murders. Although there are some reports about the NYPD fudging the numbers, nobody seriously questions the big picture: crime rates in the US appear now to be at an all time low.

  • I’ve noticed that the social activism of established classical musicians often has a somewhat self-serving PR character. They avoid topics that challenged the status quo. Ms. Mutter, for example, is a well-known woman musician, so why hasn’t she spoken out against the egregious gender discrimination in orchestras like the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics?

    Another example of an important but taboo topic would be a benefit concert to help Iraqi refugees. Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies reports that “three and a half million Iraqis have fled their homes and have not returned” since the American invasion of their country in 2003. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees puts the number at 4.7 million. The large majority of these people are suffering deeply. They live in desperation and vulnerability.

    In Syria, an estimated 50,000 Iraqi girls and women, many of them widows, are forced into prostitution to survive and feed their children. UNICEF reports that 25% of Iraqi children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished.

    These are examples of vitally important topics we won’t see many famous classical musicians fiddling about. They know who butters their bread.

  • Peter, even the stats from 2010 still show that the USA has one of the highest murder rates in the developed world. Here are some stats for murders/100,000 residents along with the year the data was collected:

    4.8 USA (2010)
    0.9 Ireland (2000)
    0.9 Germany (2007)
    1.0 Netherlands (2007)
    0.5 Norway (2006)
    1.4 UK (2000)
    1.6 France (2004)
    1.9 Canada (2004)

    Peter, even the stats from 2010 still show that the USA has one of the highest murder rates in the developed world. Here are some stats for murders/100,000 residents along with the year the data was collected:

    4.8 USA (2010)
    0.9 Ireland (2000)
    0.9 Germany (2007)
    1.0 Netherlands (2007)
    0.5 Norway (2006)
    1.4 UK (2000)
    1.6 France (2004)
    1.9 Canada (2004)

    Europeans view the city itself as the greatest and most complete expression of the human mind and spirit. Venice, Florence, Rome, Prague, Amsterdam, Dresden, Barcelona and Paris, just to name a few, are all embued with this ideal. Americans, by contrast, behave almost as if they have lost hope in their cities, as if they were dangerous and inhuman urban wastelands to be abandoned for the suburbs. This tacit assumption has had a profound but largely unrecognized effect on American political and cultural discourse. Classical music is one of the most urban of art forms. Its status will always be measured by the health and vibrancy of our cities. Ultimately, questions of arts funding will only be fully resolved when we recognize that the well-being of our cultural and urban environments are deeply interdependent.

    • The three US cities with the worst homocide/100k residents in 2004 have also been among those with some of the most severe problems in cultural funding. Here are the stats:

      Baltimore: 43.5
      Detroit: 42.1
      Washington DC: 35.8

      • Are you talking gay-bashing or do you refer to homicide? Glad you hold up Amsterdam as an example of “…. most complete expression of the human mind and spirit. “. True the centre is a vibrant cosmopolitan cultural crucible; but the ghettos predate the savage cuts in cultural funding we are now facing…

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