Missy Mazzoli Is The 21st Century’s Gatecrasher Of New Classical Music

It’s not enough to make list after list. The Turning the Tables project seeks to suggest alternatives to the traditional popular music canon, and to do more than that, too: to stimulate conversation about how hierarchies emerge and endure. This year, Turning the Tables considers how women and non-binary artists are shaping music in our moment, from the pop mainstream to the sinecures of jazz and contemporary classical music. Our list of the 200 Greatest Songs By Women+ offers a soundtrack to a new century. This series of essays takes on another task.

The 25 arguments writers make in these pieces challenge the usual definitions of influence. Some rethink the building legacies of popular artists; others celebrate those who create within subcultures, their innovations rippling outward over time. As always, women forge new pathways in sound; today, they also make waves under the surface of culture by confronting, in their music, the increased fluidity of “woman” itself. What is a woman? It’s a timeless question on the surface, but one deeply engaged with whatever historical moment in which it is asked. Our 25 Most Influential Women Musicians of the 21st Century illuminate its complexities. —Ann Powers

Classical music has a gatekeeping problem, and much of that can be traced through the word “great.”

I don’t mean great as in “that was great,” the kind of thing you’d say as you walk out of the concert and pull out your phone to find somewhere for post-concert cocktails on Yelp. I mean Great as in Great Composers, the set of dead white guys whose Great Works manspread across the programming of most symphony orchestras, opera companies and other classical music-presenting institutions in the country that don’t exclusively focus on new music.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of these works are in the canon because they are actually pretty great. They’ve been fascinating us, pulling our heartstrings and making us hum along for centuries. But if the major selling point of classical music is how objectively Great it is or how Great the composers are, Greatness becomes insidious: effectively meaningless, but unchangeable, almost impossible to fight. Being sold Greatness is now what audiences expect. It belongs only to the past, so it’s antithetical to welcoming or nurturing composers and listeners of the present and future, especially if they don’t buy into that lineage of Greatness.

Missy Mazzoli, 38, is trying to tear down the gates for new composers and listeners. She’s a prominent figure in new music; she has three operas to her name with librettist Royce Vavrek, including the vicious Breaking the Waves — an adaptation of the controversial 1996 Lars von Trier film — and the dry, spooky Proving Up, based on Karen Russell’s ghost story set on the 19th-century prairie. Her work engages with stories about human beings and the oft-fraught relationships between them. None of her main characters is someone you would aspire to be or, conversely, an irredeemable monster (except one, in Proving Up, who actually is a monster). But all are complex and fully realized. In the case of Breaking the Waves, Mazzoli’s act of adapting a story hinging on a woman’s trauma feels especially prescient in a time when it’s still common for such stories to be told by all-male creative teams.

Her resumé also includes a handful of composer residencies with institutions like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the forward-thinking Opera Philadelphia, and two heady recordings with her all-female band Victoire, which she assembled to perform her own music.

“Band” isn’t a word that typically applies to classical ensembles, but it’s really the only accurate descriptor of Victoire, in which Mazzoli plays keyboards. Anything else would be slapping a label on it that doesn’t fit. Its second album of Mazzoli’s music, Vespers for a New Dark Age, turns poems by contemporary poet Matthew Zapruder into searing songs of secular prayer, with propulsive drumming by Wilco’s Glenn Kotche and production by Victoire member and synth wizard Lorna Dune. It feels like it belongs to no genre and many genres at once. It’s been called everything from “ravishing, unsettling…from the chamber-operatic to the electronic and semiabstract” to “an engrossing classical-electronic-vocal epic” to a “suite for singers, chamber ensemble and electronics” — that last clear-cut description nonetheless makes it sound drier and less friendly than it is. When I try to think of what to call it, anything I come up with either sounds too generic or detracts from the simplicity I hear in its core. But it moves; it’s old, new, borrowed and blue. I’d play it for people who would never go to a classical concert.

Airbnb Plans To Remove Listings In Israeli Settlements

Property-renting company Airbnb says it plans to remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin described it as a “disgraceful surrender,” while senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called it an “initial positive step.”

Broadly, settlements are viewed as an obstacle to peace by Palestinians and the international community, and the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. Security Council have said settlements on land captured by Israel are illegal under international law.

Airbnb said in a statement that its decision impacts about 200 Airbnb listings. It said it had previously allowed listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank “because we believe that people-to-people travel has considerable value,” adding that it had made the latest decision after weighing the issue over time and speaking to experts.

“We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” the company said. “We know that people will disagree with this decision and appreciate their perspective.”

As of Monday afternoon, listings within settlements still appear to be up on the site. The company told NPR’s Daniel Estrin that it plans to remove them “in the days ahead.”

Levin has stated that the Ministry of Tourism is taking action to “limit the company’s activity throughout the country.” And Gilad Erdan, the minister of strategic affairs, is encouraging people affected by the new policy to file lawsuits against Airbnb.

This comes after pressure from rights groups. Human Rights Watch says it has been urging Airbnb to leave the controversial region for two years.

“In essence they are helping to broker rentals on land stolen from Palestinians, for which those Palestinians themselves … are barred from entering,” Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, tells Estrin. The organization is preparing to release a report on the issue Tuesday, titled “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land.”

Airbnb made the announcement in a post titled “Listings in Disputed Regions.” It did not specify any policy changes in other disputed areas but said that each situation should be evaluated with a “case-by-case approach.”

Israelis say they feel singled out, while there are other conflicts going on that haven’t received as much international scrutiny. “The senior management of Airbnb will have to explain why they specifically, and uniquely, chose to implement this political and discriminatory decision in the case of citizens of the state of Israel,” said Erdan.

Eliana Passentin, an Israeli citizen who lives in the settlement of Eli in the West Bank, tells Estrin that she has rented her home several times to tourists. She criticized Airbnb’s decision.

“It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” said Passentin. “They’ve become political. … Instead of building bridges they are building fences.”

Businesses with ties to Israeli settlements are coming under increasing scrutiny from the United Nations. A report earlier this year from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights compiled a list of about 200 companies that do business with settlements; as Estrin reported at the time, the U.S. and Israel urged the U.N. not to publish that list.

North Korea Denuclearization Plan Has Gone Nowhere Since Trump-Kim Summit

After meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore this past June, President Trump was effusive.

“Our conversation was open, honest, direct and very, very productive,” he said. “We produced something that is beautiful.”

But after five months of canceled meetings and muted statements of dissatisfaction by both countries, experts say there is no sign of progress toward the Singapore goal of so-called “denuclearization” of the North.

“I think right now, we are absolutely stuck,” says Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Terry and others trace the source of the problem to the “beautiful” document signed in June by Trump and Kim. Known as the Singapore Declaration, it laid out, in the broadest terms, how the U.S. and North Korea could learn to get along.

In just over 400 words, it says that the U.S. will normalize relations with North Korea in exchange for “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But it does not specify a process or even an order in which these goals would occur.

Since the summit, North Korea has said normalization must start before denuclearization, while the U.S. maintains that the North must hand over its nuclear weapons before any normalization can begin.

“We are asking North Korea to move first, and North Korea is asking the United States to take the next step,” Terry says.

As a result, the situation looks very similar to how it did in June.

Last week, Terry’s colleagues published satellite photos showing an operating North Korean missile base near the South Korean border. The U.S. wants North Korea to declare such bases, but the North has so far refused to do so.

Meanwhile, Kim has urged the U.S. to drop sanctions ahead of denuclearization activities, but the U.S. refuses to budge.

“We’re at an impasse where we’re not going to give North Korea what they want, and the North Koreans are not giving us what we want,” says Jung Pak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Each week that passes without progress “really lays bare the anemic nature” of the Singapore Declaration, she says.

“We’re at a point where we have, in my opinion, almost an historic opportunity for a breakthrough in North Korea and we’re sitting around twiddling our thumbs,” says Sig Hecker, a physicist at Stanford University who has made several trips to some of North Korea’s most sensitive nuclear facilities. He says the opportunity exists because Kim wants economic development, and Trump wants a big foreign policy win.

Hecker believes that the administration’s all-or-nothing approach to dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons infrastructure is unrealistic and the Singapore summit must be followed by “dogged diplomacy.” Full denuclearization might take a decade or so.

“It’s going to take a lot of trust-building and a lot of individual actions on each side to get there,” he says.

“I think what we need to do is try to get things on paper in greater detail,” says Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

What’s needed to follow the Singapore Declaration, he says, is a document more like the old arms control agreements between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Those treaties went on for tens of pages and laid out clear rules for the Cold War adversaries.

“We didn’t like [the Soviets], we didn’t trust them, but by having very extensive carefully delineated text, we could move forward on capping and thinning down weapons programs,” he says.