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April 27, 2009

"Sir, Is this a Mushroom Cloud or Just Glue?"

By: Bernard Chazelle

Krystian Zimerman might well be the finest classical pianist alive. Seems he won't board the Obama Express just yet.

And now, Sunday, making his Disney Hall debut in a recital sponsored by the Philharmonic, Zimerman, who has become arguably the greatest pianist of his generation, made the surprise and shocking announcement from the stage that in protest to America's military policies overseas and particularly in Poland, he would no longer perform in the United States.

“Get your hands off my country,” he said, soft-spoken but seething. He accused the U.S. military of wanting “to control the whole world,” and made a reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Approximately three dozen in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities.

“Yes,” he answered, “some people when they hear the word military start marching.”

(I say that scores pretty damn high on the comedy meter.)

Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano. But many more cheered. He responded by saying that America has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy.

Which does not seem to include airport security.

Zimerman has had problems in the United States in recent years. He travels with his own Steinway piano, which he has altered himself. But shortly after 9/11, the instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. "Thinking the glue smelled funny, the TSA decided to take no chances and destroyed the instrument."

Never heard of TSA? They look for terrorists at airports. The acronym stands for "Terminally Stupid Assholes."

Schubert in Zimerman's hands:

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at April 27, 2009 09:33 PM

Bravo X2

Posted by: otto at April 27, 2009 10:29 PM

Shorter TSA official:

"When I hear a Steinway Concert Grand, I reach for my Browning".

Posted by: SteveB at April 27, 2009 10:43 PM

I just finished Alastair Reynolds' "Century Rain" (I've actually been reading quite a bit of Reynolds lately, fans of sci-fi are advised to check him out). The opening scene of the novel is authoritarian gendarmes in an alternate history Paris (the Nazi invasion of France failed), ca. 1950s, destroying the treasured stand-up bass of a main character, ostensibly in search of contraband.

--"You destroyed history!" Custine shouted at the inspector. "That was Soudieux's double bass! Django Reinhardt touched that wood!"--

Anyway, being the music lover that I am, that scene was a great method by which Reynolds helped solidify an understanding in me of the barbarity of the authorities in question. To kill music has been an authoritarian barbarism since, probably, the invention of music. Nice to know that our "homeland authorities" are adding it to their arsenal.

And thanks for the youtube vid, that was quite special. It almost made me regret rebelling against the piano lessons my folks tried to cram down my throat for so many years (although I do still enjoy sitting down and playing some Clementi every once in a while, rusty as I am).

Posted by: Rojo at April 27, 2009 11:18 PM

Thank you, Krystian Zimerman!

Posted by: Nell at April 27, 2009 11:57 PM

At least TSA didn't torture the piano like Zimmerman does (kidding--KIDDING!) Truly painful to watch. Good thing our tumescent American Rock-n-Roll zeitguess was kept pure by our vigilant guardians in royal blue, their ears carefully honed on Metallica and AC-DC. And that new blue uniform! Spiff, thy name is TSA. Who can't enjoy it? Only those blind to the nuance of color. Only those unwilling to admit that fascism too can bring rainbows.

Speaking of admissions, perhaps with certain ... enhancements ... Zimmerman's intermezzo expostulations will no longer bring shame to our Disney Empire. Placing the Steinway in its crate with wood-boring termites might just bring the man to his senses.

Posted by: Oarwell at April 28, 2009 09:56 AM

The reason for Zimerman's vehement feelings about the CIA's dirty hands on Poland can be found here:,1518,621450,00.html

As a musician I can't begin to imagine the feelings that Zimerman must have had upon the destruction of his instrument. And the fascist thugs of the TSA were probably high-fivin' it as it was done.

Posted by: JerseyJeffersonian at April 28, 2009 11:34 AM

They destroyed his piano?!? That's both evil and stupid, just as what Zimerman's protesting is. Good for him.

Posted by: Batocchio at April 28, 2009 05:00 PM

bravo to zimerman (and nice schubert, btw.) TSA destroyed his piano? shades of the Baghdad Museum...

Posted by: anonymous at April 28, 2009 05:33 PM

I wouldn't take this too seriously, he does it all the time. He's made pronouncements at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (where I saw him), The Wasserman Festival and at Zellerbach. Basically, if you can get him on a stage anywhere in the world (not just in the US), he'll talk some shit for ya. I would love to say this is a reflection of his politics (which I agree with) but he is notoriously difficult on all fronts. He rarely gives master classes and when he does he been know to be very short with students. I'd love to talk to the faculty and students at Basel Academy in Switzerland to hear what they really think of him.
Trust me, he'll come back. He always does.

Posted by: RTT at April 28, 2009 06:48 PM

Ahh, TSA sniffing glue. Suprised? Really?

Posted by: tim at April 29, 2009 06:17 PM