As promised, Philip Glass spoke at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration at Lincoln Center tonight, after a performance of Satyagraha at the Met. The protest, which was directed not at the opera itself but at a certain disparity between its lofty moral message and the machinery of corporate arts funding, got under way during the third act; police cleared everyone from the plaza, loitering music critics included (I had gone to the Mahler Tenth at the New York Philharmonic), and so the crowd assembled on the sidewalk at the foot of the steps.
When the Satyagraha listeners emerged from the Met, police directed them to leave via side exits, but protesters began encouraging them to disregard the police, walk down the steps, and listen to Glass speak. Hesitantly at first, then in a wave, they did so.
The composer proceeded to recite the closing lines of Satyagraha, which come from the Bhagavad Gita (after 3:00 in the video above): “When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.”
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In accustomed style, he said it several times, with the “human microphone” repeating after him. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson were in attendance, and at one point Reed helped someone crawl over the barricade that had been set up along the sidewalk (see photo below). The police didn’t seem to know quite how to react. In all, it was a remarkable scene.
Update: Seth Colter Walls, who fortuitously showed up in the picture above (he’s partly blocked by Lou Reed’s head), has an excellent commentary in The Awl. What I liked about the Lincoln Center protest is that it generally didn’t take an antagonistic stance toward those attending Satyagraha — and with good reason, because the great majority of them weren’t members of the “one percent.” (Met tickets are expensive, yes, but no more so than Yankees tickets or Jay-Z tickets. And you can see the HD Live encore of Satyagraha on Dec. 7 for much, much less.)
That said, there were some ill-informed comments afterward about opera being available only to the wealthy. Seth takes these apart, writing, “This persistent fiction of ‘elitism’ . . . is one of the strongest propagandistic tools ever devised by the titans of corporate pop culture.” (For more on the affordable end of classical music, see my cheap seats page.) Maury D’Annato makes similar points on Parterre.
By the way, Seth is amusingly right about the power of wearing a suit, “even a cheap one.” My attempt to explain to the police that I was a New Yorker writer was undoubtedly undermined by the fact that I was wearing a knit Red Sox cap.
December 02, 2011 | Permalink Alex Ross is the music critic of The New Yorker.