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Discordant Note


This is the most graceless stunt I’ve seen a while. Leon Fleisher, the conductor and pianist, received a Kennedy Center honor. As part of the weekend of festivities associated with this prestigious award, Fleisher was invited to attend a White House reception along with the four other honorees (Brian Wilson, Steve Martin, Diana Ross, and Martin Scorcese). This caused the conductor to wrestle with his conscience.

In the past seven years, Bush administration policies have amounted to a systematic shredding of our nation’s Constitution — the illegal war it initiated and perpetuates; the torturing of prisoners; the espousing of “values” that include a careful defense of the “rights” of embryos but show a profligate disregard for the lives of flesh-and-blood human beings; and the flagrant dismantling of environmental protections. These, among many other depressing policies, have left us weak and shamed at home and in the world.

For several weeks before the honors, I wrestled with this dilemma, deciding in the end that I would not attend the reception at the White House. That decision was met with deep, if understandable, disapproval by the powers that be. I was informed that I was hardly the first honoree to express such reserve; cited to me, among others, were Arthur Miller and Isaac Stern during the Reagan years and several during the present administration. I was asked to attend all of the scheduled events and to follow the well-established protocol of silence.

Silence? How about basic good manners? Listen Maestro, if your feelings were so strong you could have declined the honor. Instead you basked in the event (“I was pleased to be part of an event that raises money for the Kennedy Center and to be with my family and to see their joy at the ceremony”) and now you shoot over your shoulder at the president who feted you.

Obviously, Fleisher, like every American is fully within his rights to express his views on anything in the world. But to do it in this way, at this moment, is quite a shameful performance. Booooo.


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