The sound of silence

Today’s Wall Street Journal Leisure and Arts page features a remarkable article by Iraqi immigrant Ayad Rahim about the visit of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra to Washington this week. The Journal assigned Rahim to write an advance article several weeks ago.
The Symphony Orchestra’s visit was arranged by the State Department and the performance occurred this past Tuesday at the Kennedy Center. The concert included Maestro Leonard Slatkin, the (American) National Symphony Orchestra and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. President and Mrs. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were in attendance.
Thirty years ago the Sunday New York Times Arts section published a brilliant essay by Hilton Kramer on the Hollywood blacklist. In the intervening 30 years I don’t think I have read an article on a newspaper arts page that so illuminates a political phenomenon.
The phenomenon illuminated by Rahim’s article is an aspect of the State Department culture that Deacon describes in “Momentous nonsense and its enabler in the Clinton adminstration” below. Rahim’s article is “The Iraqi Orchestra is here.”
As Rahim says at the outset of his article, this was to be a good news story for the government. “[Y]ou’d have thought that people at the State Department and the Kennedy Center would have been falling over themselves in the weeks before the concert to arrange media access. Instead, they acted more as if they had defectors from the North Korea Symphony Orchestra on their hands and as if the slightest press exposure would trigger an international incident.”
Rahim was unable to arrange interviews with the members of the Symphony that were necessary to complete his assigned article. Thus his piece is a retrospective on the obstacles placed in his path rather than an advance highlighting the Symphony Orchestra’s impending visit. Don’t miss this one!

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