Kissing the hand of the Female Concertmaster

Hola a todos. Whether or not you agree with the #MeToo movement that has been going on since October 2017 — and I’m merely using that as point of reference — one has to wonder how out-of-touch a person has to be to not know that it’s not wise to uninvitedly kiss or touch a woman (especially a woman you don’t know) in any way other than with a brief handshake, because she can interpret the behaviour as a form of sexual harassment or sexual assault, which in some cases it can be. Or, she can interpret it as a form of sexual interest, which in some cases it is.

So at the end of a performance when I saw conductor Paul McCreesh walk over to the First Concertmaster (a female) and shake her hand, then he held her hand and kissed it, I thought: Why the kissing of her hand, Paul? Living back in the 1800s, are you? Just because the composer whose work you just conducted (Franz Schubert) lived between 1797–1828, doesn’t mean that as part of the concert you have to demonstrate the chivalry of that time. And if the First Concertmaster were a guy, Paul wouldn’t have kissed his hand because we all know how that would look, don’t we? And we can’t have that now, can we? As we head back to the 1930-40s in many ways?! Paul didn’t shake or kiss the hand of the Second Concertmaster who was also a female. Or maybe this Orchestra only has one Concertmaster, and the second chair violist is referred to as such and not Second Concertmaster. There’s also a salary difference between the two positions, I think. But assuming they have two Concertmasters, only the First Concertmaster received a kiss, at which time she looked giddy and looked like she started to melt inside “because a guy had kissed her hand! What did this mean?” Yet another example of females getting all emotional just because some guy has kissed her hand. Note to females: In many cases, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s an empty gesture. No need to interpret it differently than it was meant. Then, it got more curious. The camera showed a close-up of her face 2-3 times after that and she looked like she was thinking about “the kiss.” Any other time, a close-up of the Concertmaster’s face is not shown. So apparently production was also interested in how “the kiss” affected her emotionally and wanted to spend some time on that. Were they thinking of interviewing her about “the kiss” and what it meant to her? (Sigh.) When the cameras pulled back, we saw the two women (First and Second Concertmasters) sitting there chatting with each other which is a bit unusual — other than one or two words between musicians — because it was still the bows and applause time and not a time for chatting between musicians. Were they chatting about “the kiss?” Well, Paul’s gesture evidently left a lasting impression on her — she may still be thinking/talking about it two years later!; the performance was in 2017 — even though his gesture looked very outdated, sexist and chauvinistic and based in an increasing mindset of Male Patriarchy where a female is considered second and subservient to the male. But I’m seeing more and more of this.

Seeing this kissing scene reminded me of when I saw conductor Herbert Blomstedt slobber over the female vocal soloist heavy-vibrato screamer after a performance. If I’m remembering correctly, for her bow she couldn’t just bow like anybody else. No, she felt she needed to engage in an outdated curtsy to the audience as if Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II were in attendance (even though she wasn’t). Was the curtsy intended to generate more applause for Ms Soprano Screamer? I suspect so, with the audience thinking, “Oh wow, she gave us a curtsy, let’s give her a big applause for that.” Well, I guess if one’s performance won’t generate a big applause, maybe the curtsy will. Maybe that’s the thinking: “I’ll get a big applause on this stage one way or the other!” A curtsy is also a gesture of one’s inferiority mindset that the person or people you’re curtsying to are your superiors or are of a higher social standing. Of course Herbert B. didn’t kiss the male soloist on the cheek standing to his right in the same performance. Just the female screamer. Didn’t the male soloist perform as well as the female, Herbert, in your opinion? If so, why only kiss her? I suspect Herbert would say, “Well you know how that would look, and we can’t have that!” No, of course not, Herbert, we can’t have that! What would the world think? [sarcasm intended]

Seeing “the kiss” also reminded me of when I saw conductor James Conlon kiss the female piano soloist on the cheek who had just played the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 in d, Op. 30 at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. His kissing gesture also looked outdated and of another generation. The Victorian Era comes to mind. And of course if the piano soloist had been a guy there would have been no kiss. Period.

The classical music tradition has so many double-standards. Don’t let me get started on that! And I really didn’t think about these double-standards until after I graduated from the Conservatory where I trained, and I began performing more. The double-standards are too many to list, but I’ll list one that comes to mind: It’s considered acceptable for a pianist to use his/her score with a page turner in chamber music (in a Piano Trio, Piano Quartet, Piano Quintet). But when playing a Piano Concerto (with a large group of musicians called an Orchestra), a pianist is not supposed to use his/her score. Well why not? What difference does it make whether you have 4 other musicians playing with you or 75-100 musicians playing with you. They are all using their scores, of course, and I understand the necessity for orchestral players needing to use their scores. Even though pianists play far more notes than orchestral musicians. Think: Rachmaninov’s signature thick chords in his extremely difficult piano works. I’m specifically thinking of his piano concerti and the two sets of his Études-Tableaux. And according to tradition, why does the number of musicians performing with a pianist determine or make the difference (chamber music versus orchestral) as to whether the pianist is allowed to use his/her score or not? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. And what idiot dreamed up that ludicrous thinking? Was that god Franz Liszt? He seems to have been responsible for some of these other ridiculous traditions we have today. Of course the boy could play — no one is disputing that — but we don’t need to take this to the extreme and demand from on high that all classically-trained pianists worldwide must follow what Saint Liszt did back in 1811-1886. Liszt was unique and not everyone has his abilities nor should they be forced to emulate him and look like cookie-cutter pianists born out of the Liszt womb. Everyone is different.

As the pendulum swings, feminism is on its way out — well it’s mostly dead now from what I see — and the mindset of Male Patriarchy is making a rapid comeback.

Bouquets of Flowers Strip Male Conductors of their Masculinity

There’s also another sexist behaviour I’m seeing regularly at the end of performances and that’s when male conductors give their bouquet of flowers that’s given to them at the end of a performance to a female in the Orchestra rather than to one of the male musicians. Didn’t the male orchestral players perform as well as the female orchestral players, Mr Conductor? They did to my ear.

To begin with, the conductor should keep his flowers since they were a gift to him presumably from orchestral management for his performance. Does he give other gifts away that he receives? And only to females? But most male conductors seem to think that an innocent bouquet of flowers strips him of his masculinity — I didn’t know that flowers had so much power, did you? — so as not to appear as if he is a “sissy” standing there holding his flowers, the male conductors quickly give their flower bouquet to one of the females in the Orchestra. The thinking seems to be that guys or “real men” don’t like flowers. Really? Flowers are only for females? That’s a new one. Gee, we’ve made so much progress, haven’t we? That’s as ridiculous as “guys shouldn’t wear pink.” Note to male conductors: Flowers are merely a flowering plant. I can think of other flowering plants that guys are not intimidated by and in fact grow in their gardens, yards or in planters, so why are flowers any different? Some of us guys love receiving flowers. I especially like White Carnations and their aroma. Where did male conductors get brainwashed with this thinking that flowers are only for females?

“Real Men” like and appreciate flowers.

Imagine if male actors behaved the way these male conductors do. The outstandingly superb actor, Jorge Enrique Abello (JEA) — who lives in Colombia and who played the role of Armando Mendoza Sáenz in the internationally-renowned telenovela, “Betty, la Fea” — and his masculinity was not threatened in the least when, in another telenovela he starred in, he played the role of a woman and a guy. Yes, JEA played a double-role in En los tacones de Eva. That speaks to how secure JEA is with himself as a person to play the role of a woman. This behaviour one sees from many male conductors speaks to their deep insecurities and archaic gender-role issues/hang-ups.

There are many other sexist and chauvinistic male conductors who engage in the behaviour like what I’ve described, but the ones I’ve listed are the ones I remember seeing. The Classical Music Snots never have a problem with this behaviour — quite the contrary, they rush to defend it on the rare occasion anyone were to point it out, such as myself — because they are usually of the same conservative, chauvinistic and sexist mindset and also view a woman as subservient to a man. Even the female commenters hold this sexist view.

Fortunately, I don’t remember ever seen a female conductor ever kiss a male soloist, vocal or instrumental. Perhaps they do, I’ve just not seen it. Well, it’s still so very rare to see a female conductor to begin with and the only ones who readily come to mind are Marin Alsop (she’s the new Chief Conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. She is currently music director of both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra. The other female conductor is Emmanuelle Haïm who conducted this performance of Händel’s Dixit Dominus. She was the Chorus Director — her superbly prepared Chorus — and conducted the performance, which is rare to have the Chorus Director conduct the performance itself.

No, this sexism seems to be only engrained in male conductors.

As I said earlier, the performance with conductor Paul McCreesh was from 2017, which was when the #metoo movement was getting revved up, so one might think Paul would have been more attuned to gender issues.

Our society brainwashes men to behave in this sexist and chauvinistic way towards women. Those who favour this behaviour call it “just being polite and gracious to the little lady.” Lady? Lady? During the feminist movement females preferred to be called Women, not little ladies. (To their credit, most orchestras use the word “Women” when referring to their Chorus, such as “The Women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus” when they perform alone with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, such as for their performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 3). But those who favour this behaviour see it as lovely, harmless and purely innocent. From what I’m seeing these days — now that the feminist movement is virtually dead — most women seem to welcome it too because, in part, it gives needy-her attention and she’s also fallen for the “polite and gracious little lady” brainwashing of our society. As if men should be dominant over the “dainty little lady” as she serves dutifully as his submissive pet, sex toy, trophy and property. Most women today seem to be more than happy to be compliant to that backwards sexist thinking mentality and they’re more than delighted to take on that role of him-dominant and her-submissive to the point where she’s walking one-half step behind the guy she’s with, as if not his equal. I see that frequently. Or her left or right arm is latched to one of his arms (his hand in his pocket) as if on a leash as she walks slightly behind him. Him being the dominant of course. I don’t know if it’s true but I read that Queen Elizabeth II told or urged Harry to walk ahead of Meghan (she, as his subservient, is supposed to be walking slightly behind him as he is “The Head of the House”). Men are also brainwashed to put women up on a pedestal with kisses and kissing their hand, and kissing other body parts. One wonders why Paul didn’t go all the way and get down on his knees and kiss the feet of the First Concertmaster?

It’s a form of chivalry.

From my research: A hand kiss became a gesture for chivalry when it originated during the 17th and 18th century in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Spanish courts.

But then in other commonly seen situations these days — and here are some examples — men kiss women’s hands and pull out their chairs for them in public places. Does he do this at home for her or only in public places “for show” because he thinks that’s what is expected of him per societal chauvinistic brainwashing and men’s “polite and gracious” treatment of “the little lady?” Helpless her can’t pull out her own chair? The poor thing. Yet “the little lady” has no problem at all pulling out chairs and moving them all around the room when she’s vacuuming and doing what the pro-Male Patriarchy guy would describe as “Woman’s Work.” But she never pulls out his chair for him. Why not? The guy opens doors for her. Does he do this at home for her or only in public places? She never learned to open a door? Pity. She opens doors at home when cleaning. But she never opens his door for him. Why not? Why is all of this behaviour just one-way in her favour? (Rhetorical question) But that and other sexist and chauvinistic behaviour takes place in public.

Then in private situations, it’s another matter entirely. Oh yes! For example, when among their macho, sexist and chauvinistic male friends, the guy(s) will refer to the same woman that he pulls out chairs for, opens doors for, buys dinners, flowers and candy for as “the bitch” and “the cunt.” Whoa! Rather offensive and pejorative, wouldn’t you say? He will complain about what he has to do for her and to her constantly. There would seem to be a double standard, no? Such language and complaining about his requirements in order to get the “dainty little lady” (sexually) would seem to cancel out that hand-kissing gesture of “the little lady” and all that other ridiculous female-worshipping behaviour I’ve described that guys must go through of putting “the dainty little lady” up on a pedestal any other times. I don’t know how these guys do it. I wouldn’t have the patience.

Also, I’d like to point out that the term “lady” is class-ist (a big turn-off to me) and of the aristocracy, as in Lady Diana Spencer, as one example. I think Diana — Prince Harry’s and Prince William’s mother who unfortunately died in a car crash — would be the most familiar example of “Lady” to most people.

On another topic — of a technical nature — but related to this same performance which was this piece (Schubert’s Große C-Dur-Sinfonie/Great Symphony in C major, also known as No. 9), I wondered why the First Concertmaster in that performance with Paul McCreesh conducting chose the bowing instructions that she did for particular parts of the last movement of the Schubert Symphony. All the other orchestras I’ve watched play this piece — including the excellent New England Conservatory Philharmonia (many of its musicians study with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra) — bowed those passages that I’m thinking of exactly the same way. But this Orchestra conducted by McCreesh did not. All other orchestras including the superb Orchestra I’ve linked to above used downbeat bowing for the four octaves in those measures that I’m thinking of beginning in the video above at 52.04, and from there on. You first see what I’m talking about very obviously in the violas (right side of stage), then in the double basses (left side of stage) and then in the violin section and the camera shows them directly. The camera work was excellent for this performance. And I imagine the first violinists drilled those runs to play them so perfectly at 52.32 and again at 52.37 in the video. I think this would have been a fun piece to play, especially the part near the end that I’m talking about. Using down beat bowing for those four octaves looks very showy that way and, again, all of the strings including the double basses bowed it that way in all performances I’ve watched (except for the McCreesh performance). It also creates a different musical effect when bowed that way (using all down-beat bowing on the four notes in the measure), as opposed to strong (down bowing), weak (up bowing), strong (down bowing) weak (up bowing) which is how the female Concertmaster in the McCreesh performance had all the strings bow this, for some reason. One can’t say that “the kiss” affected this because the bowing instructions to the strings were issued long before “the kiss” took place! McCreesh also breezed through most of the entire symphony. The performance I’ve linked to above is a much better performance and their string section bowed it “correctly” in my opinion. It’s also a better recording.

The classical music field is very slow to change any of its outdated traditions, but really, seeing male conductors still kissing the hands (or cheek) of female Concertmasters, instrumental soloists and vocal screamers is a bit much, especially when they don’t give the guys the same “courtesy” (and that’s the word they would likely use to describe what they’re doing with the females “I’m just giving her courtesy and be courteous.”) The guys don’t deserve the same “courtesy?”

Don’t you think it’s time to end the sexism, male chauvinism and chivalry, male conductors? No, you probably don’t, and have probably never thought anything of it because it’s so engrained in the classical music culture. And because of that, I live under no illusion that it’s about to end.

The thing is, we as a culture think we’re so advanced and “light years ahead,” way beyond futuristic “Star Trek” with our tech. Then one sees these sexist archaic practises from the 1800s that speak to the opposite times of “Star Trek” and advanced tech. Although it should be pointed out that the Tech Industrial Complex — some of the major tech corporations can’t even fix their own sites despite the thousands of people they employ — is well-known for being a very sexist, ageist, Millennial, male-dominated and phone-addicted culture.

Some of us were talking yesterday here in the hallway in the Conservatory, standing outside the pipe organ practise room, they asked me what I was writing about. I said, “Kissing the hand of the Female Concertmaster.” They said they had seen that happen after performances. The organ student who was taking a brief break from working on Jehan Alain’s Litanies (one of my favourite organ works) said to me: It’s surprising that the Classical Music Snots have not found your site to comment. I said to him: Good. I’m glad they haven’t. I’ve not promoted it on any classical music sites. I would not want that crowd on this site. I’ve never personally known any musicians who act like the Classical Music Snots (CMS). That’s why I’ve referred to them as wannbe-musicians and armchair critics. As I told the Conservatory students: They, the CMS, are also among the same people who have to shove their breeder sexuality in our faces with, “My husband and I went to (such and such performance)…” or “My wife and I went to see (such and such performance)…” Is it really necessary for a commenter to tell us his/her sexual orientation as a preface to a comment they write? I should think not. You don’t need to tell me you’re a breeder and shove it in my face which one does by saying (when it’s a female commenter), “My husband and I…” I don’t care about your breeder sexual orientation in the least. I find it annoying frankly. For those who would ask: Well what would you like us to say instead? You can say: “I” or “We” and leave it at that. I don’t need for you to define “We.” Or you can say, “I went with a friend.” That’s sufficient. But announcing to us all here in the Conservatory that you’re married is immaterial to us. We don’t care, considering that the straight community can’t stand to hear the same about gay couples/partners. So why should we have to hear about breeder couples? I doubt that there are many queer boys who introduce their partner as “my husband” or “my partner” or “my boyfriend” to a straight group of people or even mention him. The guy is usually referred to as “my friend” in a neutral/platonic way to avoid any hate that comes from having mentioned his queer/gay sexual orientation. Yet straight couples shove their breeder sexuality in our faces every day in many ways and think nothing of it. The Conservatory students in the hallway insisted that what I had just told them related to this inequality — since that’s what this article is about — must be included in this article. So to honour their wishes, I’ve included my statement, and I appreciate their input. Chau.—el barrio rosa