Commentary Magazine


Topic: Toronto

The German Example

Chris Caldwell provides one of the most important pieces of economic analysis since the financial meltdown more than two years ago. The focus is on Germany, but it tells us much about Obama and his mindset.

As for Germany, Caldwell explains they told the Obami and the Keynesians to buzz off:

“You won’t find a lot of Keynesians here,” explained one German economic policymaker in Berlin in September. That will not be news to anyone who has spoken to his counterparts in Washington. In their view, Germany is a skulker, a rotten citizen of the global economy, the macroeconomic equivalent of a juvenile delinquent, or worse. It is a smart aleck in the emergency ward that is the global economy. It is a flouter of the prescriptions of the new Doctor New Deal who sits in the White House.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Germany was right:

Germany’s growth in this year’s second quarter was 2.2 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis. That means it is growing at almost 9 percent a year. Its unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent, below what it was at the start of the global financial crisis—indeed, the lowest in 18 years. The second-biggest Western economy appears to be handling this deep recession much more effectively than the biggest—and emerging from it much earlier.

It seems the Germans’ skepticism of Keynesian alchemy — technically the “multiplier effect” (a dollar spent by the government magically transforms to more than a dollar in economic activity) — was correct. According to the Germans, the famed multiplier is actually a divider:

“Our research says the multiplier is more like .60,” says the German official. If he is correct, then a stimulus plan can actually deaden an economy rather than stimulate it. If he is correct, you might have been as well off to have taken the stimulus money and thrown it away.

Caldwell is straightforward — Germany already does a lot of “stimulating” and embodies many aspects of the social-welfare state. But his argument — and Germany’s — is compelling: anti-Obamanomics is superior to Obamanomics.

So what does this tell us about Obama? For starters, he operates in an intellectual cocoon. Remember, he told us that “all” economists believed in his Keynesian stimulus plan. Well, as he was spinning us, a body of research was building that Keynesianism is, to put it mildly, bunk:

The Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and his colleague Silvia Ardagna published an influential paper last fall in which they surveyed all the major fiscal adjustments in OECD countries between 1970 and 2007 and showed that tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than spending hikes. One of their most controversial findings—which comes from the work of two other Italian economists—is that cutting deficits can be expansionary, particularly if it is done through “large, decisive” government spending cuts, as it was in Ireland and Denmark in the 1980s. More generally, Alesina has argued that “monomaniacal” Keynesians have focused unduly on aggregate demand.

So much for the pose that Obama is a sophisticated intellectual. He is, rather, monomaniacally wedded to liberal dogma.

The German experience also tells us much about the bullying behavior of the Obama team. Domestic critics are brushed off, Israel is browbeaten, and Germany is harangued because they don’t roll over and comply with the misguided vision of the president. Caldwell explains:

Germany has been scolded, even browbeaten, by Obama administration officials, from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on down, for saving too much and spending too little. It has refused to stimulate its economy as the United States has done, on the grounds that the resulting budget deficits would not be sustainable and the policies themselves would not work. Administration officials have not been the only ones to warn the Germans about the path they’re on. On the eve of last summer’s G‑20 summit in Toronto, the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman gave an interview to the German business paper Handelsblatt in which he said that, while Germany might think its deficits are big, they are peanuts “from an American viewpoint.” Germany cannot say it wasn’t warned.

There is a dreary predictability about Obama. Take outmoded liberal dogma. Double down on it. Ignore empirical evidence. Deride and bully opponents. And when the dogma fails, blame those who resisted. Whether we are talking about health care, economic policy, or the Middle East, the pattern is the same. It is not simply that Obama is wrong on the merits on these issues (although surely he is). It is that Obama’s self-image as the “smartest man in the room” prevents him from learning from errors, absorbing the experience of alternative policy choices, and showing grace and magnanimity toward friends and foes. No wonder Obama has become a sour figure, and the public has soured on him.

Chris Caldwell provides one of the most important pieces of economic analysis since the financial meltdown more than two years ago. The focus is on Germany, but it tells us much about Obama and his mindset.

As for Germany, Caldwell explains they told the Obami and the Keynesians to buzz off:

“You won’t find a lot of Keynesians here,” explained one German economic policymaker in Berlin in September. That will not be news to anyone who has spoken to his counterparts in Washington. In their view, Germany is a skulker, a rotten citizen of the global economy, the macroeconomic equivalent of a juvenile delinquent, or worse. It is a smart aleck in the emergency ward that is the global economy. It is a flouter of the prescriptions of the new Doctor New Deal who sits in the White House.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Germany was right:

Germany’s growth in this year’s second quarter was 2.2 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis. That means it is growing at almost 9 percent a year. Its unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent, below what it was at the start of the global financial crisis—indeed, the lowest in 18 years. The second-biggest Western economy appears to be handling this deep recession much more effectively than the biggest—and emerging from it much earlier.

It seems the Germans’ skepticism of Keynesian alchemy — technically the “multiplier effect” (a dollar spent by the government magically transforms to more than a dollar in economic activity) — was correct. According to the Germans, the famed multiplier is actually a divider:

“Our research says the multiplier is more like .60,” says the German official. If he is correct, then a stimulus plan can actually deaden an economy rather than stimulate it. If he is correct, you might have been as well off to have taken the stimulus money and thrown it away.

Caldwell is straightforward — Germany already does a lot of “stimulating” and embodies many aspects of the social-welfare state. But his argument — and Germany’s — is compelling: anti-Obamanomics is superior to Obamanomics.

So what does this tell us about Obama? For starters, he operates in an intellectual cocoon. Remember, he told us that “all” economists believed in his Keynesian stimulus plan. Well, as he was spinning us, a body of research was building that Keynesianism is, to put it mildly, bunk:

The Harvard economist Alberto Alesina and his colleague Silvia Ardagna published an influential paper last fall in which they surveyed all the major fiscal adjustments in OECD countries between 1970 and 2007 and showed that tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than spending hikes. One of their most controversial findings—which comes from the work of two other Italian economists—is that cutting deficits can be expansionary, particularly if it is done through “large, decisive” government spending cuts, as it was in Ireland and Denmark in the 1980s. More generally, Alesina has argued that “monomaniacal” Keynesians have focused unduly on aggregate demand.

So much for the pose that Obama is a sophisticated intellectual. He is, rather, monomaniacally wedded to liberal dogma.

The German experience also tells us much about the bullying behavior of the Obama team. Domestic critics are brushed off, Israel is browbeaten, and Germany is harangued because they don’t roll over and comply with the misguided vision of the president. Caldwell explains:

Germany has been scolded, even browbeaten, by Obama administration officials, from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on down, for saving too much and spending too little. It has refused to stimulate its economy as the United States has done, on the grounds that the resulting budget deficits would not be sustainable and the policies themselves would not work. Administration officials have not been the only ones to warn the Germans about the path they’re on. On the eve of last summer’s G‑20 summit in Toronto, the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman gave an interview to the German business paper Handelsblatt in which he said that, while Germany might think its deficits are big, they are peanuts “from an American viewpoint.” Germany cannot say it wasn’t warned.

There is a dreary predictability about Obama. Take outmoded liberal dogma. Double down on it. Ignore empirical evidence. Deride and bully opponents. And when the dogma fails, blame those who resisted. Whether we are talking about health care, economic policy, or the Middle East, the pattern is the same. It is not simply that Obama is wrong on the merits on these issues (although surely he is). It is that Obama’s self-image as the “smartest man in the room” prevents him from learning from errors, absorbing the experience of alternative policy choices, and showing grace and magnanimity toward friends and foes. No wonder Obama has become a sour figure, and the public has soured on him.

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Hey Ayatollah, Leave Those Kids Alone

A few days ago, I interviewed the brilliant Israeli writer Benjamin Kerstein — who also happens to be my friend — at a café in central Tel Aviv. We talked about, among other things, what outsiders often don’t understand about Israel. The list of things is a long one. We also discussed, as people in Israel so often do, the danger posed by Iran’s Islamic Republic regime.

“Iran used to be secular, open, and friendly to Israel,” Kerstein said. “It once was pro-Western. Jews were at least nominally tolerated. It was seen as a place where there was a certain degree of cultural development. Persian culture used to be recognizable to us like Lebanese culture is. The Iran that is currently ruled by the theocracy is alien and threatening to us. We see it as a cold and hateful place. It’s a place that hates us.”

I know what he means about a culture being “recognizable.” Lebanese culture is indeed recognizable from an American and even an Israeli perspective. Beirut has more in common with Tel Aviv than with any Arabic city in the world. That recognition, so to speak, is sometimes reciprocated. Some of my Beiruti friends are fascinated by Tel Aviv and how it is, in many ways, a Hebrew-speaking sister city of theirs.

Iran’s Khomeinist government — and, by extension, its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon — really does, by comparison, seem as though it’s from another planet. Everyone I know who has been to Iran lately, however, says the country is totally different at street level — where real life is lived and culture is shaped. I believe them, and I believed them before millions of Iranians screamed “death to the dictator” from the rooftops last year.

Take a look at the music video by Blurred Vision, an Iranian exile band based in Toronto. The song is a remake of “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd, updated and changed ever so slightly to apply to Iran in 2010 rather than to Britain in the 1970s. A culture that produces this is perfectly recognizable. And it’s hard to imagine anything like it emerging from any other country in the region aside from Lebanon.

It’s an electrifying piece of music video art, especially the scene at the end where a Persian woman steps into the light and removes her state-mandated head covering. And the scenes where Iranians battle it out in the street with state-security thugs weren’t shot on a film set in Canada. They’re real and were shot in Tehran.

Perhaps the Middle East hasn’t yet made me sufficiently pessimistic, but I strongly doubt that a radical Islamist regime can rule indefinitely over the kinds of people who produce this sort of thing. When, for example, Palestinians flee Gaza and make these kinds of videos, I think it will signal that something important has changed.

A few days ago, I interviewed the brilliant Israeli writer Benjamin Kerstein — who also happens to be my friend — at a café in central Tel Aviv. We talked about, among other things, what outsiders often don’t understand about Israel. The list of things is a long one. We also discussed, as people in Israel so often do, the danger posed by Iran’s Islamic Republic regime.

“Iran used to be secular, open, and friendly to Israel,” Kerstein said. “It once was pro-Western. Jews were at least nominally tolerated. It was seen as a place where there was a certain degree of cultural development. Persian culture used to be recognizable to us like Lebanese culture is. The Iran that is currently ruled by the theocracy is alien and threatening to us. We see it as a cold and hateful place. It’s a place that hates us.”

I know what he means about a culture being “recognizable.” Lebanese culture is indeed recognizable from an American and even an Israeli perspective. Beirut has more in common with Tel Aviv than with any Arabic city in the world. That recognition, so to speak, is sometimes reciprocated. Some of my Beiruti friends are fascinated by Tel Aviv and how it is, in many ways, a Hebrew-speaking sister city of theirs.

Iran’s Khomeinist government — and, by extension, its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon — really does, by comparison, seem as though it’s from another planet. Everyone I know who has been to Iran lately, however, says the country is totally different at street level — where real life is lived and culture is shaped. I believe them, and I believed them before millions of Iranians screamed “death to the dictator” from the rooftops last year.

Take a look at the music video by Blurred Vision, an Iranian exile band based in Toronto. The song is a remake of “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd, updated and changed ever so slightly to apply to Iran in 2010 rather than to Britain in the 1970s. A culture that produces this is perfectly recognizable. And it’s hard to imagine anything like it emerging from any other country in the region aside from Lebanon.

It’s an electrifying piece of music video art, especially the scene at the end where a Persian woman steps into the light and removes her state-mandated head covering. And the scenes where Iranians battle it out in the street with state-security thugs weren’t shot on a film set in Canada. They’re real and were shot in Tehran.

Perhaps the Middle East hasn’t yet made me sufficiently pessimistic, but I strongly doubt that a radical Islamist regime can rule indefinitely over the kinds of people who produce this sort of thing. When, for example, Palestinians flee Gaza and make these kinds of videos, I think it will signal that something important has changed.

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And When Is the Pivot to Jobs Coming?

As we are looking for the hidden deals and minefields left in the wake of ObamaCare, it is worth remembering that unemployment — the issue voters care most about — remains at record levels. This report explains:

Unemployment increased in 27 U.S. states in February and dropped in seven, a sign the labor market needs to pick up across more regions to spur consumer spending and sustain the economic recovery.

Mississippi showed the biggest jump in joblessness with a 0.4 percentage point rise to 11.4 percent, according to figures issued today by the Labor Department in Washington. Nationally, unemployment held at 9.7 percent in February for a second month and employers cut fewer jobs than anticipated, figures from the Labor Department showed on March 5.

Today’s report indicates broad-based hiring is yet to develop following the loss of 8.4 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Florida, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina set record levels of joblessness last month.

“Until we see improvement in employment in a fair number of U.S. states, it’s not going to do a heck of a lot for the recovery,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “The worst seems to be over, but there’s a huge amount of work to be done to create jobs. It’s going to be a long, winding road.”

This, after all, was to be the focus of Obama’s term. After the Scott Brown upset, Obama again promised a pivot to jobs. But he’s never delivered. Instead, he has championed a stimulus plan that didn’t save or create millions of jobs and a health-care plan that is already sucking billions of dollars out of employers’ coffers. Will employers — with health-care costs now to swell up and tax hikes due in 2011 — really be expanding payrolls? Unlikely.

It’s not hard to see the campaigns this fall, asking why it was that Obama and the Democratic Congress were busy placing new mandates, taxes, and fines on business while the job picture was still bleak. It will be hard for incumbents to convince voters who have yet to see any benefit from Obama’s big-government liberal agenda and a good deal of pain (e.g., seniors facing Medicare cuts, small businesses looking at tax bites, unemployed workers) that what we need is more of the same.

As we are looking for the hidden deals and minefields left in the wake of ObamaCare, it is worth remembering that unemployment — the issue voters care most about — remains at record levels. This report explains:

Unemployment increased in 27 U.S. states in February and dropped in seven, a sign the labor market needs to pick up across more regions to spur consumer spending and sustain the economic recovery.

Mississippi showed the biggest jump in joblessness with a 0.4 percentage point rise to 11.4 percent, according to figures issued today by the Labor Department in Washington. Nationally, unemployment held at 9.7 percent in February for a second month and employers cut fewer jobs than anticipated, figures from the Labor Department showed on March 5.

Today’s report indicates broad-based hiring is yet to develop following the loss of 8.4 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Florida, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina set record levels of joblessness last month.

“Until we see improvement in employment in a fair number of U.S. states, it’s not going to do a heck of a lot for the recovery,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “The worst seems to be over, but there’s a huge amount of work to be done to create jobs. It’s going to be a long, winding road.”

This, after all, was to be the focus of Obama’s term. After the Scott Brown upset, Obama again promised a pivot to jobs. But he’s never delivered. Instead, he has championed a stimulus plan that didn’t save or create millions of jobs and a health-care plan that is already sucking billions of dollars out of employers’ coffers. Will employers — with health-care costs now to swell up and tax hikes due in 2011 — really be expanding payrolls? Unlikely.

It’s not hard to see the campaigns this fall, asking why it was that Obama and the Democratic Congress were busy placing new mandates, taxes, and fines on business while the job picture was still bleak. It will be hard for incumbents to convince voters who have yet to see any benefit from Obama’s big-government liberal agenda and a good deal of pain (e.g., seniors facing Medicare cuts, small businesses looking at tax bites, unemployed workers) that what we need is more of the same.

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Re: Iran Strike, Out

Yesterday, I pointed out that the Obama administration seems to have taken the military option off the table regarding Iran. Hillary Clinton’s recent comments in Qatar leave little room for any other interpretation. How striking, then, to see the comparative hawkishness of our neighbor to the north:

An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada, junior foreign minister Peter Kent says, suggesting that pre-emptive action may be needed against Iran.

“Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” said Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs (Americas).

Kent made the comments in an interview with the news site Shalom Life, based in Greater Toronto.

Discussing the nuclear ambitions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kent said Ottawa favours further sanctions against Iran but only in “concert with other countries.

“It may soon be time to intensify the sanctions and to broaden those sanctions into other areas … which we hope would discourage Iran from its current course.

“I think the realization that it’s a dangerous situation that has been there for some time. It’s a matter of timing and it’s a matter of how long we can wait without taking more serious pre-emptive action.”

He said military action, while a long shot, is still on the table.

What a strange time indeed that finds the U.S. trailing Canada (and France) in its boldness toward a near-nuclear Iran.

Yesterday, I pointed out that the Obama administration seems to have taken the military option off the table regarding Iran. Hillary Clinton’s recent comments in Qatar leave little room for any other interpretation. How striking, then, to see the comparative hawkishness of our neighbor to the north:

An attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada, junior foreign minister Peter Kent says, suggesting that pre-emptive action may be needed against Iran.

“Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper has made it quite clear for some time now and has regularly stated that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” said Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs (Americas).

Kent made the comments in an interview with the news site Shalom Life, based in Greater Toronto.

Discussing the nuclear ambitions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kent said Ottawa favours further sanctions against Iran but only in “concert with other countries.

“It may soon be time to intensify the sanctions and to broaden those sanctions into other areas … which we hope would discourage Iran from its current course.

“I think the realization that it’s a dangerous situation that has been there for some time. It’s a matter of timing and it’s a matter of how long we can wait without taking more serious pre-emptive action.”

He said military action, while a long shot, is still on the table.

What a strange time indeed that finds the U.S. trailing Canada (and France) in its boldness toward a near-nuclear Iran.

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Honor Killing in The U.S.?

This sounds eerily familiar. Dallas police are looking for Yaser Abdel Said, a Muslim, in connection with the murder of his two teenage daughters. Amina Yaser Said and Sarah Yaser Said were shot to death. Police found their bodies in a taxi parked at a local hotel. Their father was a taxi driver. From the Dallas Morning News:

Officer Tull said there have been some “domestic issues” with the family, but he did not elaborate.

Police did say they are looking into the possibility that the father was upset with his daughters’ dating activities.

In December, Toronto cab driver Muhammad Parvez strangled his 16-year-old daughter Aqsa Parvez for refusing to wear a hijab, the traditional Islamic headscarf. Keep that in mind while reading about the two dead Texas teens: “[A friend of the girls] said the sisters, who wore typical American clothes, didn’t talk much about their family. ‘I didn’t know they were Muslims until she told me they were Egyptian and Muslim,’ Liz said.”

In the Parvez case, the Canadian media twisted themselves into pretzels as they strove not to call the girl’s murder an honor killing; in fact, it seemed newspapers only wrote of it in order to attack those who did name it as such. If this double-murder turns out to be an honor killing as well, don’t expect to see anything different. The press cares so much about fundamentalist Muslims’ feelings there’s simply no room left in their hearts for victims of ritualistic murder.

This sounds eerily familiar. Dallas police are looking for Yaser Abdel Said, a Muslim, in connection with the murder of his two teenage daughters. Amina Yaser Said and Sarah Yaser Said were shot to death. Police found their bodies in a taxi parked at a local hotel. Their father was a taxi driver. From the Dallas Morning News:

Officer Tull said there have been some “domestic issues” with the family, but he did not elaborate.

Police did say they are looking into the possibility that the father was upset with his daughters’ dating activities.

In December, Toronto cab driver Muhammad Parvez strangled his 16-year-old daughter Aqsa Parvez for refusing to wear a hijab, the traditional Islamic headscarf. Keep that in mind while reading about the two dead Texas teens: “[A friend of the girls] said the sisters, who wore typical American clothes, didn’t talk much about their family. ‘I didn’t know they were Muslims until she told me they were Egyptian and Muslim,’ Liz said.”

In the Parvez case, the Canadian media twisted themselves into pretzels as they strove not to call the girl’s murder an honor killing; in fact, it seemed newspapers only wrote of it in order to attack those who did name it as such. If this double-murder turns out to be an honor killing as well, don’t expect to see anything different. The press cares so much about fundamentalist Muslims’ feelings there’s simply no room left in their hearts for victims of ritualistic murder.

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Piano Teachers

The Piano Teacher, by Julia Cho, which opened recently at the Vineyard Theater off-Broadway to mixed reviews, features a haunted keyboard pedagogue with nasty secrets to hide. The Vineyard Theater production benefits from the presence of the veteran actress Elizabeth Franz in the title role of an isolated, shunned teacher who is only marginally more sane than the sado-masochistic piano teacher incarnated by Isabelle Huppert in the 2001 French film of the same title, based on a perverse novel by the Austrian Nobel-Prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek.

The reiterated imagery of peccant piano instructors is so ingrained in our culture that a Google Search of “piano teacher” by anyone actually trying to learn to play the instrument will bring up references to Jelinek’s book and film, first and foremost. The world of music education as represented by such writers belongs to an earlier, less psychologically acute era. It is a relief to escape such querulous and indeed unmusical paradigms and look at today’s real world of superb piano teachers, who represent a vastly more intriguing, mysterious, and gratifying accomplishment.

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The Piano Teacher, by Julia Cho, which opened recently at the Vineyard Theater off-Broadway to mixed reviews, features a haunted keyboard pedagogue with nasty secrets to hide. The Vineyard Theater production benefits from the presence of the veteran actress Elizabeth Franz in the title role of an isolated, shunned teacher who is only marginally more sane than the sado-masochistic piano teacher incarnated by Isabelle Huppert in the 2001 French film of the same title, based on a perverse novel by the Austrian Nobel-Prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek.

The reiterated imagery of peccant piano instructors is so ingrained in our culture that a Google Search of “piano teacher” by anyone actually trying to learn to play the instrument will bring up references to Jelinek’s book and film, first and foremost. The world of music education as represented by such writers belongs to an earlier, less psychologically acute era. It is a relief to escape such querulous and indeed unmusical paradigms and look at today’s real world of superb piano teachers, who represent a vastly more intriguing, mysterious, and gratifying accomplishment.

Juilliard’s Yoheved “Veda” Kaplinsky, the Tel Aviv-born chair of the school’s piano department, also teaches in the Pre-College division, where some of America’s most astonishing prodigies are currently thriving. One such is Conrad Tao, a pianist and composer born in Illinois in 1994, whose live recordings on CD and video convey a sense of musical line (with the entire score evoked in every measure of a given work) as found only in the greatest musicians. Tao is also a characterful, accomplished composer of charm and nuance; his early compositions on CD sound more adult, individualistic, and masterful than those by any preteen composer I have heard, including Mozart.

One of the most admirable aspects of Tao’s musicality is his collaborative acumen, and another outstanding Kaplinsky pupil, the Chinese pianist Peng-Peng Gong, born in 1992, often plays with Tao, in addition to his solo performances. Such brilliant students are allowed to flower into musical maturity in a healthy, non-neurotic way. Encouraging, rather than stifling, prodigies allows them to develop as artists and human beings, instead of condemning them to becoming the stunted, frustrated, unhappy leftovers, some of whom are alas still present on the concert scene today.

Another outstanding Juilliard piano teacher, Oxana Yablonskaya, is helping to guide the destiny of Alice Burla, born in Toronto in 1997. In such challenging works as Chopin’s “Variations brilliants,” Burla displays the suavity and maturity of an adult musician, quite apart from her fabulous technique. Tao, Peng-Peng, and Burla already are more accomplished artists than a number of adult pianists who trudge around the concert circuit; the challenge for their teachers is clearly not to spoil or discourage their inborn talent. This custodial task of wonderful young talent is far more thrilling than any fictional elaboration of a pathological teacher.

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Old Gould

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

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The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982) would have celebrated his 75th birthday on September 25, had he not died of an untimely stroke on October 4, 25 years ago. These two anniversaries have sufficed for a great deal of worldwide hoopla, from the naming in his honor of a plaza in his native Toronto, to a commemorative envelope issued by the Canadian post office. Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Civilization is offering a major exhibit, “Glenn Gould: The Sounds of Genius,” which runs through August 10, 2008. Sony/BMG, Gould’s longtime record company, is reissuing an 80-CD “complete original jacket” box set as an import. This offers a good occasion for an evaluation of Gould’s contribution, not a “re-performance” of “The Goldberg Variations”—which, in any event, already has been attempted, as I described in a previous post for contentions.

Setting aside the endless stories of his personal eccentricity and hypochondria, Gould’s musicianship could be brilliant when bizarreness did not intrude, making him the Bobby Fischer of classical music (before Fischer’s latest, definitive dip into darkness). Although Gould is unmistakably linked with Bach, whom he played with a jittery, edgy verve, he claimed to prefer the music of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625), and indeed, his CD of Gibbons and other English masters like William Byrd has an entrancing dignity and poise absent from many of his other recordings. Gould’s very lack of empyrean calm may have helped in the modern romantic repertoire, and he was an invigoratingly dramatic performer of Prokofiev and Scriabin, as well as of Richard Strauss. Franz Liszt’s piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, long dismissed as arid, were rediscovered with unsurpassed dazzle by Gould. In neo-classical works by Paul Hindemith, which can seem all too Apollonian in other hands, Gould’s storm and stress add contemporary, improvisational skittishness, also ideal for chamber works by Francis Poulenc and Dmitry Shostakovich.

Some readers may be allergic to the Second Vienna School, but Gould was one of the rare pianists (like Italy’s Maurizio Pollini, who played Arnold Schoenberg’s works with genuine love. A 1960’s meeting with violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the Schoenberg “Phantasy,” has a feeling of affection (tied to Gould’s admiration for Menuhin) unmatched in the discography. A gentler version of Schoenberg’s modernist investigations came from the Norwegian composer Fartein Valen (1887– 1952). Gould found spooky poetry in Valen’s work, too.

All of these achievements are essential elements of Gould’s artistry, and those who love—or dismiss—Gould based on his Bach recordings alone are missing the forest for the trees. Some who admire Gould’s Bach have missed his obsessively intense recording of Johann Sebastian’s “Art of Fugue” on the organ. Yes, Gould’s “Goldberg Variations” from 1955 and 1981 are both remarkable, but they are not the summa of all things Gouldian. Yes, there are bad recordings by Gould, like his Mozart sonatas (music he despised) or his famously ungainly 1962 Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with Leonard Bernstein. Yet the best of Gould is splendid indeed.

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Remembering Oskar Morawetz

The New York media have paid scant attention to the passing of the Czech-born Canadian composer Oskar Morawetz (1917-2007), who died this month at 90. One of Canada’s few internationally known composers, Morawetz wrote in an accessibly melodic style and disputed the notion that contemporary classical music needed to be abstruse, famously saying “I can’t agree with these people who say you have to listen to a work ten to fifteen times to understand it; if I don’t like a piece of food, I don’t eat it ten more times to persuade myself that I do.”

The most widely known recording of Morawetz’s music is undoubtedly Glenn Gould’s recording of his dynamic, urban, and humorous Fantasy for piano on Sony/ BMG. The Fantasy is very Czech in spirit, recalling the writings of Karel Čapek or Jaroslav Hašek. And Gould’s recording is very enjoyable, although Morawetz carped at the liberties in tempo and dynamics Gould took, causing the pianist to exclaim: “The trouble with you, Oskar, is you don’t understand your own music!”

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The New York media have paid scant attention to the passing of the Czech-born Canadian composer Oskar Morawetz (1917-2007), who died this month at 90. One of Canada’s few internationally known composers, Morawetz wrote in an accessibly melodic style and disputed the notion that contemporary classical music needed to be abstruse, famously saying “I can’t agree with these people who say you have to listen to a work ten to fifteen times to understand it; if I don’t like a piece of food, I don’t eat it ten more times to persuade myself that I do.”

The most widely known recording of Morawetz’s music is undoubtedly Glenn Gould’s recording of his dynamic, urban, and humorous Fantasy for piano on Sony/ BMG. The Fantasy is very Czech in spirit, recalling the writings of Karel Čapek or Jaroslav Hašek. And Gould’s recording is very enjoyable, although Morawetz carped at the liberties in tempo and dynamics Gould took, causing the pianist to exclaim: “The trouble with you, Oskar, is you don’t understand your own music!”

Morawetz composed a meditative concerto for harp (an instrument that rarely seems pensive) available on CBC Records, and a rambunctious Carnival Overture in the tradition of Dvorák, available on Naxos, and a deft, angular clarinet sonata (sensitively played by the virtuoso soloist Joaquin Valdepeñas) on CD from Musica Viva. Morawetz also wrote more somber works inspired by historical figures such as Anne Frank and Martin Luther King; these are frequently performed, although they lack the appealing lightness of his other compositions. Prone to severe depression, Morawetz composed sprightly works with an element of triumph over his natural low spirits, born of a lifetime of historical and personal struggle. A longtime bachelor, he embarked at the age of 40 on a miserable marriage lasting a quarter-century, through which he continued to compose. Only the death of his mother ten years ago at the age of 103 silenced him.

Lest Canada feel too proprietary about his achievements, it is useful to recall that Morawetz was almost refused admission as a refugee. Canada’s wartime director of immigration, Frederick Charles Blair, blocked the entry of all but a paltry 5,000 Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis between 1933 and 1939 (by comparison, Mexico accepted around 20,000 escapees from Hitler and the U.S. around 140,000). When asked how many imperiled Jews Canada should offer refuge to, Blair notoriously replied, “None is too many.” Still, Morawetz was finally allowed to join his family in Toronto in June 1940.

An apt memorial tribute to Oskar Morawetz would be the long-overdue transfer to CD of a brilliant recording on Capitol Records of his Piano Concerto No. 1 by the Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (led by another Czech-born refugee, Walter Susskind). Morawetz (a trained pianist) made his own recordings of piano pieces like Scherzo and Scherzino, which would also be well worth transferring to CD. CBC Records, which has kept a quantity of other Morawetz CD’s in print, should consider releasing these valuable documents of his talent.

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