I’ll give you a thousand dollars if you don’t make me go.

Inspired by Aaron Sorkin’s excellent screenplay for The Social Network (which really is worth seeing), I’ve been watching The West Wing for the second time through.

I always liked President Bartlet, mostly because they make it fairly clear that he was supposed to be a professor at Dartmouth, but also because he uses a lot of Latin unnecessarily. That said, I was dismayed to learn that he does not support contemporary classical music! The set-up for this bad news is that President Bartlet is forced to go see The Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center one night because he canceled the previous day’s meeting with the Icelandic Ambassador (something about whale hunting). The President is already in a foul state of mind to see a concert (“I’ll give you a thousand dollars if you don’t make me go.”), and we all know how happy we are at concerts we really don’t want to be attending.

From the transcript of the episode Galileo in the second season:

CUT TO: INT. THE PRESIDENT’S LIMOUSINE – NIGHT
Bartlet and Charlie, in tuxedos, are riding inside.

BARTLET
Do you know what they’re playing?

CHARLIE
I’m sorry, sir?

BARTLET
The Reykjavik Symphony. Do we know what they’re playing and for how long
they’re playing it?

CHARLIE
[looking at program] It says here ‘an evening of modern music.’

BARTLET
Turn the car around.

CHARLIE
[reading] ‘The orchestra features 90 pieces, including anvils and castanets.’

BARTLET
Turn the car around.

CHARLIE
Modern music is cool.

BARTLET
Modern music sucks. Anything written after 1860 sucks.

CHARLIE
[reading] ‘Samuel Barber, Symphony No. 2.’

BARTLET
Sucks.

CHARLIE
[reading] ‘Stravinsky, Variations on a Theme.’

BARTLET
Sucks.

CHARLIE
[reading] ‘Schoenberg, Enlightened Night for String Orchestra.’

BARTLET
Totally blows.

CHARLIE
[reading] ‘After intermission, they’ll be performing the world premiere of
a piece…’

BARTLET
Played on teapots and gefilte fish.

CHARLIE
[reading] ‘…by a new Icelandic composer.’ They told me he got so nervous
when he heard you were coming that he was rewriting the piece until 6 o’clock.

BARTLET
If he wants more time, I’d be happy to take a rain check.

CHARLIE
I thought you liked classical music.

BARTLET
This is not classical music. It is not classical music if the guy finished
writing it this afternoon.

(I think I’ve actually seen Chorus for Teapots and Gefilte Fish at The Stone?)

I was all upset by Josiah Bartlet’s close-mindedness, but it turns out, the Icelandic composer proves him wrong! OK, he’s still not sold on Schoenberg, but at the end of the episode, we have this exchange:

BARTLET
C.J.?

C.J. approaches.

BARTLET
Did you hear the end of the concert?

C.J.
I didn’t hear much of the concert at all. How was it?

He takes a cigar and lights it.

BARTLET
Well, first of all, let’s not kid ourselves. The Reykjavik Symphony can
play. These guys have some serious game. In this particular case, their talents were tragically misapplied to an atonal nightmare of pretention, but after intermission…

He heads outside to the COLONNADE to smoke his cigar as C.J. follows. He
walks to a pillar and looks up to the night sky.

C.J.
After intermission?

BARTLET
They played a piece by a new composer. First, I wasn’t hearing it. I had 19
different things on my mind, but then I did, and C.J., it was magnificent. It was genius. He built these themes, and at the beginning, it was just an intellectual exercise, which is fun enough, I guess, but then in the fourth movement, he just let it go. I really didn’t think I could be surprised by music anymore. I thought about all the times this guy must’ve heard that his music was no good… I’ve got to write this guy a letter.

In the next episode, Yo-Yo Ma performs at the White House Christmas party. He does not play anything from Iceland.

YoYoMaWestWing.jpg

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Comments

  1. says

    I couldn’t watch The West Wing after that episode where they mispronounced “plenipotentiary” as “plentipotentiary” at least 6 times. The Barlet CHARACTER may have loved Latin, but clearly no one in the HUGE cast or crew had a clue. The most cringe-making mistake of the whole series…

  2. says

    Great post.
    I’ve borrowed from a different Bartlet quote for the subtitle of my blog. It comes from the episode when Pres. Bartlet is (again with Charlie) trying to prepare a speech for Abby’s birthday. I like it not only because it says a lot, but because I’m a little obsessed with The West Wing, myself. ;-)
    It reads:

    A Liberal’s Libretto

    Like Jed Bartlet, I believe that anyone who uses one word when they could have used ten … just isn’t trying. How terribly operatic.

  3. Jeep Gerhard says

    Alas, the fallback classical performer for any outfit trying to class up its act lo, these many boring years, is Mr. Ma. Unless it’s Josh Bell or Renee Fleming. Has no one heard of, say, Stephanie Blythe, Joyce DiDonato; Eric Owens; Jeremy Denk (they see/hear him if they have to sit through Bell, after all); or many, many other American artists? Who can sing/play the pants off the usual guys? Please?

  4. Eric says

    There’s actually a good amount of classical music in West Wing (Yo Yo Ma performance, fictional North Korean pianist, a number of Kennedy Center mentions). But, yes, I always assumed Bartlett to be more a fan of older classical music rather than anything from Iceland. Shame, since his character is always so open to mental challenges from Toby, Josh, etc.

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