Wrong and Wronger
Many years ago, in a land far away, I worked for a publication that employed (among other folks) a Very Bad Writer and a Very Bad Editor. The two of them had a little dance that they did nearly every week. VBW would submit his column, a turgid, pompous, unreadable mess. Then VBE would change it to his own kind of unreadable mess (blunt, clumsy, often ungrammatical). Then they would fight.
Periodically one of them would complain to me about the other, and despite holding both of them in roughly equal contempt, I found it easy to sympathize with each while remaining entirely truthful. "You're right," I'd say to VBE, "it's impossible to figure out what he's trying to say." "I agree," I'd say to VBW, "he has no right to change your copy to this embarrassing stuff."
Around my house, this ongoing argument is remembered for having given its name (well, the names of the two men involved) to a type of dispute that comes up not infrequently: one in which both parties are equally wrong, but each has at least the justice of having correctly diagnosed the other's bad behavior. If you've ever been called on to referee, or even just lend a sympathetic ear, in connection with an intergenerational family squabble, you'll know whereof I speak.
This past week's example is the case of Maazel v. New York Philharmonic. Lorin Maazel, you may recall, interrupted an unrelated press conference on Tuesday to remark that he thought the Philharmonic's board ought to name Daniel Barenboim as his successor.
At first (seeing only the headline) I assumed that this was one of those bouts of impolitic frankness that most public figures are prone to now and again — that he had let something slip without thinking in the presence of reporters. But no. It turns out that this was a deliberate, considered move, evidently designed to light a fire under the board.
Obviously, Maazel's ploy was preposterous — arrogant, counterproductive, and all the rest of it. But grant him at least this much: He understands that when it comes to naming music directors, the management and board of the Philharmonic doesn't have a clue. This has been amply demonstrated in previous go-rounds — most clearly, ironically enough, in the frantic last-minute scramble that led to Maazel's own hiring.
So now Maazel's more-or-less stated reason for his outrageous behavior is that the people in charge are screwing it up yet again. And by all appearances he's right (they seem to be pursuing Riccardo Muti once more, presumably on the theory that he didn't humiliate them enough last time around).
What can you say about a situation like this (other than, "Boy, I'm glad I live in San Francisco!")? A number of years ago I wrote that the simplest way to be an orchestra administrator was to watch the New York Philharmonic and do the opposite. Some things don't seem to change.