88th Academy Awards Snubs Classical Musicians David Lang and Sumi Jo

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Posted by Variety on Sunday, February 28, 2016

Amid the heated race debates taking place before, during and after The 88th Academy Awards, there was one that I don't think you may have been aware of.

David Lang, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Composer, and Sumi Jo, award-winning soprano, were snubbed last night, having been nominated in the Best Original Song category. The four other artists nominated for the award, Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, Sam Smith (the eventual winner) and Anohni (who boycotted the award and therefore didn't perform) got to perform live at last night's ceremony. Lang and Jo did not.

On the red carpet, Lang and Jo commented on the snub, both had their say:

Lang: “We feel like we represent some of the diversity as well...In fairness, letting everyone sing would be a way to show it. I know there’s a lot of time constraints, but I think they’re worried that because we come from the opera world, that people won’t like opera. But actually, Sumi is one of the great singers of our time. And if people heard her, they would love her.”

Jo: “I must tell you the truth I’m quite disappointed. For me it was very important for me to perform. I was really looking forward to perform in front of everybody, but you know, no comment, very sad.”


I'll start my commentary with a very short story. In May of 2013, David Lang's Whisper Opera premiered at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary ArtI sat in rapt attention during this invigorating, boundary-breaking composition. I had performed Lang's music for the past several years and had become a very ardent fan of the composer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his composition, the little match-girl passionAfter the opera, I approached the composer, who was in attendance that evening. This brilliant man, who could have snubbed me himself, talked to my friend and I, with unceasing attention, for almost ten minutes. At the end of the conversation, he gave me a very timely piece of advice: "No matter what, just remember to never give up what you love."

This snub from the Academy Awards just continues a long line of classical musicians being snubbed at "popular awards" ceremonies. Afraid that people won't be able to "comprehend" the music scares the coordinators of this event into tossing the entire issue out. They believe that people won't be able stay with the music, that it is somehow to "above" them.

What The Academy has to realize is that the people who attend these ceremonies and watch them on TV aren't toddlers or mindless hicks. They are people who need to be introduced to this style of breathtaking music. Now, and I fully this, it may not be everyone's cup of tea. But is Lady Gaga universally loved? Is Sam Smith heralded without opposition? No. No matter what kind of music you put in front of people, there are people who will dislike it. The fact of whether someone can "handle" a certain type of music is not an issue in the slightest. The fact is the upper echelon of these awards doesn't want to take any risks, which resulted in the whole ceremony reeking of stale bread. There was no innovation, no ground-breaking ideas and  almost no fun whatsoever.

When will these people realize that classical musicians are not enemies? I'm a trained classical musician myself and I've been studying opera since I was ten-years-old. Much of the music I have sung in my life has been breathtaking and some of it has been utter crap. Classical music is like any other genre, be it Rock, Pop or Country or any other you can think of! The crux of the point is that we aren't even giving it a chance. People cannot decide whether they like something or not if they are never given the opportunity to experience it. How do you know you like a certain food unless you taste it? How do you know you like a certain sport until you play it? How do you know you like a book unless you read it?

I ask you today, dear readers, to take a few minutes out of your day and listen to a piece of classical music... heck I'll even link you to one right here! This is my favorite opera aria (aria meaning "air" in Italian, and is generally regarded as the solo song in an opera) from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. Donna Elvira is singing of her betrayal at hands of sex-crazed Don Giovanni (of the famous Don Juan myth.) This video is subtitled in English, so you'll understand every beautiful word she is saying: Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata from Mozart's Don Giovanni, sung by mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli.

Please, I ask you, leave you inhibitions and prejudices aside. Listen to this gorgeous music for what it is and experience something you may never have experienced before. Life is too short to live like an ostrich with your head shoved in the sand. Put yourself out of your comfort zone and experience new things. Life is for the living, my dear readers, and I'm asking you to open a new window. And who knows, after its open, you may enjoy the fresh air?


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  • I loved Sumi Jo after her wonderful performances, e.g. "Der Hölle Rache" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njgzI0T7hBI live, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTx1BeHiyvw score, and many more) or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox7pVUrznBg "Et incarnatus est". But here, using her own words for myself, "must tell you the truth I’m quite disappointed" to see her enter such a political (and somewhat unfair) fight against the poor westerners who constantly get libeled or calumniated. Do you imagine a westerner artist, no matter how great (and generally unrecognized) talents and performances, complaining of being « disappointed » or « snubbed » just because he has not been selected for another reward?
    Please Sumi give us back the lovely Sumi we used to love
    Versailles, Tue 01 Mar 2016 21:14:40 +0100

  • In reply to Michel Merlin:

    Wonderful comment, Michel. But I must correct you: She wasn't "complaining" because she didn't receive the award, she was simply stating that all the other people who were nominated for said award were allowed to perform at the awards ceremony itself, except her. She was stating it was unfair to her, as a classical musician, to not be able to perform, while Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, etc... were allowed to perform.

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    What a disappointment to be nominated and be the only one not allowed to perform. I do agree with Sumi Jo the Academy screened her out believing the general public would not enjoy opera/classical music. The musical score sounded beautiful...amazing! Listen.

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