I stopped listening to the piece as soon as it turned into "Simple Gifts." Regular readers are aware that I am not a fan of Copland in Americana mode, and I have heard the damn tune too many times already in Appalachian Spring. Friends tell me that President Obama likes Copland - that's a plus in a president, regardless of what I think of Copland - and that there was a specific request from him for "Simple Gifts." Okay, all right, in that context, it does seem an appropriate choice, though you still can't make me like it. And aren't there better American composers available than John Williams? Not that anyone would have liked to sit in the freezing cold through a 45-minute version by Philip Glass, mind you.
The latest news, though, leaves me mad: what we heard was not what we saw. Those musicians sawing away in the cold were synching to a recording made two days earlier. Itzhak Perlman put it this way in a talk with Daniel J. Wakin of the Times:
"It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way," he said Thursday in a telephone interview. This occasion's got to be perfect. You can't have any slip-ups."Like the administration of the oath of office, you mean?
The synching business bugs me because President Obama has been very clear that he wants his to be as transparent an administration as possible. His actions this week have followed his words; among other actions, he has cancelled a Bush II executive order giving former presidents an unreasonable degree of control over the fate of their presidential papers. He has ordered government officials to release more rather than less information.
It's a shame that the inaugural committee didn't follow suit. They could have handled the problem in two ways that would have been truthful before the fact: announce that because of the cold a recording would be used, then play a full audio/video recording, or they could have put the quartet indoors and video-relayed their performance to the crowd. The claim that the synching act was necessary is just plain wrong.