A Night of Living Music History: A Trump, A Queer, and an Immigrant

Artist's rendition of Romeo & Juliet

On January 30th, 2017, I attended the Oregon Symphony’s performance of Romeo & Juliet, which was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. That Monday evening at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall followed a weekend of turmoil, coinciding with the President's (despicable) travel ban. Uncertainty, isolation, and a thick fear of what’s next, has persisted since the election. These emotions are almost palpable everywhere you turn, and because of this, I had decided that night to escape alone to the symphony for a little self-date.

I was seated next to a group of slightly-older, white, females that were heatedly exchanging their displeasure with the immigration chaos. Their disbelief over the action, their fear of what’s next, and where it might lead. They grew quiet slightly after the musicians took the stage.

Carlos Kalmar

Conductor Carlos Kalmar – the tenth Oregon Symphony Music Director since 1918 –walked out with an air of caution. His remarks had a purpose beyond establishing what the night had in store. A phantom of urgency – as if he was charged by the present, while preparing to channel the past. His commentary reflected the feelings and reasons that brought me to the audience, yet illustrated the emotions in a new clarifying light.

Kalmar’s full speech, provided to the Oregonian, has been reprinted here:

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening,

I have been thinking a lot about this interesting profession that I am in. I'm not referring to my profession as a conductor, but the profession that we all here on stage share - that of musicians. Musicians express themselves through an art form that does not need any words. What we do is understood by literally everybody on this planet.

I have thought lately that that is actually something wonderful, because we all come here and we play for you. There are these fantastic moments during which we all share the same sentiment, the same emotion. We can be happy together. We can cry together. Whatever it is, we all agree.

And I have been thinking about this unifying power that music has. Where words fail to bring people together, music can. (bold added for emphasis)

You know, this is a very personal concert for me. Aspects of the life of two of tonight's composers-Tchaikovsky, whose homosexuality made him an outcast, and Prokofiev, who suffered political oppression-are a reflection of the things that I have seen in my own life. The Jewish heritage of my parents made them flee their central European home for South America where my brother and I were born. Many years later I immigrated to the United States of America.

It is my hope that tonight you will all join me in reflecting on the beauty that musicians around the world bring to all our lives regardless of their background.