12/30/08

Fact-Checking Is Still Hard

“Tripp is a perfectly acceptable name.” Only, that’s not true. I can’t go around making these things up; they’ll come back and bite me on the ass, one of these days. Or worse, if I say these things in public media, over time, they might become culturally true (the phenomenon where a falsity is reiterated enough times it becomes true). Hence, some unfortunate people are named Tripp. (Poor little guy)

It works the same way for information about music. If you’ve stuck with DR for while, you might recall an anecdote about my uncle: He bought a recording of Wozzeck, liked it, then asked me what was twelve-tone about it, because, contrary to what he heard, it was pretty. Where did he receive the information that twelve-tone music is ugly? Hmmm...

My gripe today is rather small, but the same principle applies. And we need to set the record straight.

Gyorgy Ligeti wrote his Horn Trio in 1982 after a five-year silence following his opera Le Grand Macabre, a breakthrough that led to a series of concertos over the next decade.

Bzzzt! Wrong.

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For the record:

(And I’ll be generous and give Lawrence 1992, just because it looks prettier [1982-1992], even though that’s eleven years.)

Ligeti wrote exactly one concerto in those eleven years—the Piano Concerto. THAT’S ALL—one concerto, not a series of concerti. He started the Violin Concerto in 1989, but didn’t finish it until 1993. His Hamburg Concerto, for horn, was written in 1999 and subsequently revised in 2002.

On the other end of the spectrum (before 1982), Ligeti wrote:

1. Romanian Concerto, for orchestra (1951)
2. Cello Concerto (1966)
3. Chamber Concerto (1970)
4. Double Concerto, for flute and oboe (1972)

Oh, and in those five years of silence: Scenes and Interludes from Le Grande Macabre (for four soloists, chorus and orchestra), Hungarian Rock (harpsichord), Passacaglia ungherese (harpsichord), and Hommage a Hilding Rosenberg (violin and cello).

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Other than that, the review is pretty alright.

(A link to the Detritus Hall, where one can find Ligeti's Hamburg Concerto)
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12/29/08

Now Hiring: Editor (no experience necessary)

Apparently, Beethoven would be proud that the Fry Street Quartet stopped playing his quartets:






Found, here, at the Salt Lake Tribune.
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12/22/08

Ha Ha! Men Hate the Arts!

Goodness gracious. Seriously? This?

Here's a list of things most guys would rather do than sit through The Nutcracker: Watch football, drink beer, mow the lawn, go fishing, ask for directions, watch Sleepless in Seattle, eat glass and run naked through the lion exhibit at the zoo while smeared in barbecue sauce.

So, so witty. Barbecue sauce! Ha!

But, try as we might, many of us will, in fact, be sitting through The Nutcracker sometime over the next few weeks (if we haven't already). So, wipe off that barbecue sauce and man up - here are a few reasons to actually look forward to the experience.

Man up!? Dude! Tell me more!

Those dancers are serious athletes:

Duh.

Assuming you see a production with trained dancers, take a minute to consider how hard it is to do what they're doing. Ballerinas train their whole lives to develop the strength to stand on tiptoe like that, and if Reggie Williams could jump like those Chinese dancers in the second act, the Jaguars wouldn't be in the mess they're in.

Ah, your sports metaphor totally makes me feel okay to see ballet. Whew! That was a close one.

If, on the other hand, you've been dragged to your niece's fourth-grade production, you're on your own, pal.

1) Your niece's fourth-grade production of anything is going to be cute and awful.

2) Thanks for calling me pal, pal.

The story is totally psychedelic, dude:

Dude! Pal! Chief! Boss! STOP IT!

This little girl, Clara, gets a nutcracker doll for Christmas. (Who gives a kid a nutcracker anyway?) She falls asleep and dreams it comes to life and battles this man-size mouse. Then she and the nutcracker guy visit the Kingdom of Sweets where the Sugar Plum Fairy treats them to a show put on by dancing tea, hot chocolate, peppermint sticks and flowers in tutus.

Thanks for the synopsis. It's totally like not the most famous ballet, ever, dude, pal.

There's some serious violence: Not, like, Steven Segal violence.

Dude: how awesome would it be if there was? Or maybe Chuck Norris?

Fuck yeah!

Then Segal would never wear a leotard.

Your lack of comma confuses me. You seem to mean: in the event of...Segal would never wear a leotard. In the event of what?

There's a battle scene between the mouse army and the nutcracker army and a nasty one-on-one fight between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

Appeals to dudes! And pals!

You might actually recognize some of the music:

Get the fuck out.

The tunes in The Nutcracker are pretty much inescapable. You hear them in Publix.

I don't know what that is. [Google] Oh, Jacksonville super market chain. Fair enough.

In commercials.

Friskies Cat Food, anyone?

In your wife's car when she makes you take it in for an oil change.

Ha ha! Women are incapable of doing that.

And there's good reason for that. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a rock star of his day, a regular Axl Rose of 19th-century Russia.

Analogy:

Analogy is both the cognitive process of transferring information from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target), and a linguistic expression corresponding to such a process. In a narrower sense, analogy is an inference or an argument from one particular to another particular, as opposed to deduction, induction, and abduction, where at least one of the premises or the conclusion is general. [via wikipedia]

You're doing it wrong.

He wrote operas, symphonies, ballets, chamber music, piano music and some of the earliest forms of grunge.

What the fuck?

Well, not that last one.

Oh. Ha ha! Good one.

But still, in an era dominated by a group of composers known as The Five, he was a rebel, an outsider who was, reputedly, quite fond of vodka (which might explain the whole dancing peppermint stick thing).

You...what? Seriously?

You can score big points with your lady friend:

Ha ha! Men only go to ballets to get laid. Good times.

As the couple is dancing near the end of the show, lean over and comment on how the pas de deux they're performing is far superior to anything on this season's Dancing With the Stars.

Fuck me running. [Ed note: I'd rather stab myself in the eye with a knitting needle than watch Dancing with the Stars. Also, dude, pal, don't capitalize prepositions.]

Did we mention the ballerinas in tutus? Enough said.

Ha ha ! Women are objects!

Jebus.

Christmas Cheers!

As our gift to all nine of our dear readers, I’ve linked an exemplary review of Handel's Messiah, by Anne Midgette of the Washington Post.

She dislikes the Messiah’s commoditization; she has meaningful and informative things to say about the performance; she even acknowledges that her gripes are kinda petty. But most importantly, she doesn't say anything stupid!

Well done!

Oh, and one more gift: Christmas Disco provided by Esther of Stax o' Wax!
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Oh, Crap. They Killed All The Editors in Dallas, Too

Quickie post, y'all, but this:

When American think about 20th-century British music

Wow. Did Dallas abolish plural nouns? You bastards!

12/17/08

The Critic's Paradox (Epitaph)

Here’s an example of what I have come to see as the critic's paradox.

With its mix of vigor, wit and stark introspection, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor can handle a variety of approaches.

No shit, Sherlock! In fact, I would posit that, aside from tape pieces (just as an easy example), music is indeed amenable to interpretation by performers—this is what performers do: they interpret.

But, the preceding is just an empty, poetic smokescreen acting as a transition toward:

...there should be surely be [sic] more edge beyond an uncomplicated bonhomie.

“Surely” surely is the equivalent of screaming louder to sound smart. “Should be” should be axed. Is this a critique of pianist Emanuel Ax’s interpretation? Or is it the author’s personal preference, stated without an attempt to understand why Ax is playing the piece in a particular manner?

If the latter, then the author is disallowing Ax an interpretive voice. In other words, “Ax is just doing it wrong.” Therefore, he couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to say.

And if you want some complicated bonhomie, I suggest dating your editor.

This lack was most palpable in the Largo -- arguably, Beethoven's most beautiful concerto slow movement -- where after a rushed phrasing of the yielding main theme, the soloist seemed content to glide on the music's graceful surface without exploring its expressive depths. [no explanation follows]

1) Who argues which Beethoven concerto slow movement is the most beautiful? That’s lame and not worth my time.

2) How would the author know if Ax was trying to explore “its expressive depths” if he doesn’t allow him an interpretive voice, if there’s a better, not different, way to do things?

Just saying. This sounds like it was written by a stodgy, old curmudgeon, unwilling to open his mind to new, different possibilities.

On the other hand, to critique is to have a bias. Enter paradox.
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12/16/08

Christmas Eureka!

Sometimes, it’s the simplest mathematical statement that’s the most profound. So, without further ado, I give you Stephen Hawking’s most recent discovery:

Holiday concerts abound at this time of year.

Finally, Nobel, here you come!
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12/15/08

Mini Take Home Quiz, #1: All-Brahms

Name:__________________________
Date:___________________________


Take Home Quiz, #1: All-Brahms (50 pts. possible)


Part I. Multiple choice (5 pts. each)

Given the following quotes, correctly identify the person(s), thing(s) being described. (Circle one)

1. In the opening "Tragic" Overture, ______ led a well-paced performance of exuberant intensity, drawing a richly textured sound from the strings, especially the dusky violas.

a) Virginia Allen
b) JoAnn Falletta
c) Marin Alsop
d) Who knows? That could describe anyone.

2. [In the Violin Concerto] ______ managed the feat of communicating equally well with the audience and the orchestra.

a) Leila Josefowicz
b) Nikolaj Znaider
c) Scholmo Mintz
d) Again, who knows?

3. ______ once observed that the work is "a concerto for violin against orchestra -- and the violin wins."

a) Bronislaw Huberman
b) Leopold Auer
c) Joseph Joachim
d) Instead of saying “someone,” which the author did, it sure would’ve been nice to waste one extra word to cite the source.

4. Yet [the violinist’s] ______ became an integral part of his muscular interpretation.

a) sweating
b) cackling
c) grunting
d) any gerund will do


Part II. True or False (5 pts. each)

Indicate whether or not the following statements are True or False. (circle one)

5. Los Angeles has many nicknames. “Southland” is one of them.

True/ False

6. The opening sections of Brahms’ Violin Concerto summon the genial ghost of Fritz Kriesler.

True /False

7. An overly searching account of Brahms’ First Symphony, with its constantly shifting landscapes of darkness and light, can easily turn fussy and overblown.

True /False

8. If one conducts the “Tragic” Overture and the First Symphony from memory, then it is wise to utilize a score for the Violin Concerto.

True/False


Part III. Fill In the Blank (5 pts. each)

9. And though [the conductor’s] concentrated attention on [the] soloist occasionally made [his/her] reading sound a bit too ______, the orchestra's momentum never flagged.

10. An overly ______ account of [the First Symphony] [...]can easily turn fussy and overblown.


Extra Credit:

Name the person in the photograph.











Answers: (1) C: Marin Alsop; (2) B: Nikolaj Znaider; (3) A: Bronislaw Huberman (only after a bit of research); (4) D: any gerund will do (the author actually used, “striving”); (5) True—according to the Los Angeles Almanac, “it is commonly used by Los Angeles radio and television media to refer to their broadcast market...”; (6) True—according only to the author; (7) False, because that’s just stupid; (8) Trick question—the answer is: “how can one make that judgment from the audience?”; (9) Careful—we all know that too much concentrated attention tends to screw with momentum; (10) Searching—I gave you the answer in #7; and it’s still stupid (if you got this question wrong, you fail); (Extra Credit) a young Bronislaw Huberman.
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12/10/08

Blackberry Cobbler

(Abstruseness follows)

If I were to open a post with a brief explanation about my beat-up, 10 year-old Honda Civic, about its 30+ miles to the gallon, about its next scheduled tune up, which is sure to cost me more than the car is worth, or the fact that collision insurance costs more than my rent, you might think: Hmmm, what the hell does this have to do with music?

Well, my friends (that’s for you Sator), it might not explicitly have anything to do with music, but it has everything to do with the latest Mark Swed lead-in.

When General Motors called to ask about my "Slob service," I didn’t take it personally. Still, as a longtime Saab loyalist, I can’t say that I’m overjoyed that my tax dollars are needed to bail out the bunglers in Detroit who took over the once imaginative Swedish make a few years ago and have systematically devalued it.

That’s scarily analogous to the forgotten introduction of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

Honest Abe: On the way here, our train made a stop in a small town outside of Philadelphia. It was just long enough to catch a bite to eat at the local inn, where we had a nice roasted chicken, served to us by the owner’s wife. She was affable and, by and by, urged us to try her famous blackberry cobbler. Unfortunately for her, as a child I had a very bad experience with several blackberry bushes, which rendered the thought of eating the cobbler less than desirable.

I no longer expect to drive a new Saab on the road to a better future. I do, however, insist on a better future, like the one I saw at the EXPO Center on Saturday morning. The American dream exists if we want it and if we are not so stupid that we throw away all our money on the things that don’t work rather than fund the things that work brilliantly.

Honest Abe: Yet, the innkeeper’s wife was so polite and good-natured, I couldn’t help thinking that this is what makes America the number one-best country. If by trying her cobbler I can symbolically lift this nation toward unity, toward singular motivation, then burying the dead today fortifies my belief that no one monument is greater than one country’s enduring ideals.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground.

Real work was done, and some real Beethoven was the reward.

Honest Abe: Uh, maybe we can hallow this ground, after all.
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12/9/08

'Tis the Season for East Indian Giving

The question you should be asking yourself right now is not “Do I want to see the Kansas City Ballet’s scrumptious production of "The Nutcracker?”

Ah, ‘tis the sugar plum season. And, apparaently, it’s also the season for quotation marks to go awry. (I’ll let Lisa Jo Sagolla of the KC Star correct this for herself)

But, the questions I’m asking myself today are whether or not I can afford my house, send my kids to college, buy next weeks’ groceries. Stuff like that.

So, do I want to see the scrumptious Nutcracker? Probably n...

Of course you do.

But, but...

It’s a holiday treat that children adore and all but the most Scrooge-like among us value as a time-honored, family-entertainment tradition.

By “Scrooge-like,” do you mean “tight wad?” Is this an advertisement or a review?

Your dilemma is to decide how many performances of "The Nutcracker" time will allow you to attend.

Or, for $19.98 plus tax, I could find myself an awesome DVD of the Nutcracker, then watch it as many times I very damn well please, and in front of my ultra-deluxe fireplace in my soon-to-be foreclosed house. (Not that I’m advocating this; it’s just that the cheapest seat to the KC Ballet is $20, which means it’ll cost at least $40 for a parent and a kid to sit in the balcony, which is approximately .3 miles from the stage.)

Fine. Advertisement it is. Lisa Jo, close the deal and let’s be done with this.

The Kansas City Ballet enjoys an abundance of riches when it comes to talented dancers who can perform the ballet’s exciting array of featured roles. Wisely, the company’s artistic director William Whitener has double- and in some cases triple-cast virtually all the solo parts. If you really want to appreciate all this production has to offer, seeing the show just once is hardly enough. At the opening matinee on Saturday afternoon, the stand-out performances were Nadia Iozzo’s gorgeous interpretation of the sensual Arabian Dance, Deanna Doyle’s dynamic portrayal of Dewdrop, and the exquisitely polished corps de ballet work by the women’s ensemble in both the Waltz of the Flowers and the Snowflakes scene.

Sounds like it could be really—what was it?—“scrumptious.”

Also noteworthy was Angelina Sansone as the stately Snow Queen. The lanky dancer made elegant use of her head, neck, and upper body to form stunning classical lines.

Okay, I’m sold. Let’s head on down to the Music Hall, shall we! How much, again?

If only she had been able to find her center on her pirouettes. Sansone has a habit of dropping her chin as she begins to turn which compromises her aristocratic allure and probably doesn’t help her pirouetting.

Oh...

While Michael Eaton needed to be a bit more percussive in his rendition of the challenging Chinese Dance...

While Lisa Jo needs to ease off, if she wants me to buy a ticket or two.

...the production’s only significant weak link was Lisa Choules’s portrayal of the Sugar Plum Fairy. A stiff, brittle-looking dancer with a jerky jump, she brought a lovely delicacy yet complete lack of clarity to the choreography. Her dancing is pretty, but makes no visceral impact. She seems to relinquish her muscular tensions just before she hits the endpoints of her positions, so her body shapes don’t fully register and no energy is projected out beyond her body.

I thought, for a half-second, that I might want to go to this at least once, if not twice. But, now...

Man, this is getting ugly.

Set to the famous Tchaikovsky score, played live by the Kansas City Ballet Orchestra under the expert direction of Ramona Pansegrau, the ballet’s uneven choreography, created by artistic director emeritus Todd Bolender, needs a bit of freshening up.

Uh, come to think of it, I’d rather spend my money elsew...

What’s that? You’re not finished?

While the enchanting second-act variations are first-rate, much of the movement performed by the children during the first-act party scene is too slow, simplistic, and predictable to be dramatically engaging.

Not even the kids are spared. Heartless. Just heartless.

The kids’ leisurely, pedestrian moves are placed squarely on each steady beat of the music, making even the tiniest of the dancers’ rhythmic errors glaringly obvious.

So, is it still a moral obligation to see this more than once, because I’d go if it was? But, it doesn’t sound all that good, so...













Figure 1. Actual nutcracker used in ballet

The attempts at physical comedy by the battle scene’s troupe of fat, effeminate mice fail to tickle, frighten, or entertain. Their actions descend too often into movement clichés that beg for more imaginative choreographic re-invention.


I could just watch a marathon of A Christmas Story, that’s sort of a tradition these days.
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12/8/08

Merry Carol Burnett Show

For those of you thinking about taking your kids to a holiday pops concert (read: variety show), you might think about purchasing a flask.

Don't be alarmed by what sounds like a giant vacuum cleaner turned on during the Seattle Symphony Orchestra's lovely rendition of "White Christmas."

Thanks, Tom Keogh of the Seattle Times, but I won’t be alarmed; I’ll be mildly tipsy.

What seemed initially like a terrible gaffe in an otherwise wonderful opening night of "Holiday POPS with Marvin Hamlisch" [...] turned out to be a cue to the audience to look up and see something unexpected.

A vacuum cleaner on the ceiling?

Snowflakes were falling from on high...

On high? Ugh.

...in Benaroya Hall, thanks to some unseen if unfortunately noisy machine.

Awesome. A loud machine spewing snowflakes (or shaved ice) on my head, inside a concert hall. How delightful. (I know the kids love that sort of thing, but, man alive, that’s why concerts take place inside, right? That’s why you give your The North Face, B McMurdo Parka to the nice coat-check person.)

Hamlisch, the symphony's principal pops conductor, expressed such a strong wish during the show that snow would hit Seattle, he...?

1. Evoked the name of Brittney Spears.
2. Made it snow in the concert hall.
3. Played a video of a local meteorologist predicting the weather.

Answer:

...he actually played a video of meteorologist Steve Pool predicting the likelihood of a winter wonderland around here.

That’s not to say he didn’t evoke Brittney Spears’ name.

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A drinking game for adults: take a sip from your flask every time something non-musical happens, e.g., snow, videos of meteorologists, etc.

Warning: make sure you have a designated driver.

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But more about Brittney later.

Wish fulfillment was something of a theme for "Holiday Pops," beginning with a lively visit from St. Nick [...].

Take note: wish AND fulfillment.

Mugging and wisecracking his way through the audience, Santa promised a few of the many children in attendance they would get what they want for Christmas.

First, take a sip from your flask.

Second, “mugging” took me by surprise—I had to look it up—because that’s not the ordinary meaning. Though, it’s still fun to imagine Santa hitting people with his sack, taking their wallets, then calling them names.

Finally, and most importantly, Santa is not fulfilling wishes. He’s setting up possible disappointment, as our temporarily confused author even indicates:

(Note to parents: yikes!)

Fail!

Kids are central to "Holiday Pops," but the irrepressible Hamlisch has something for everyone.

Kids don’t repress Hamlisch?!

At one point, Hamlisch randomly told a joke about his cardiologist's sneaky plan for averting a lawsuit.

Sip.

Congratulating the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Northwest Boychoir and composer Samuel Jones on their Grammy nomination for "The Shoe Bird" audio book, Hamlisch had some advice.

"If you're up against Britney Spears," he said, "write your concession speech now. But I'm voting for you."

Sip. Sip. Sip.

You know, aside from that minor “wish fulfillment” gaffe, the review was pretty alright. It’s an extraordinary task to make these pops concerts sound...well, anything other than a reason to drink, and heavily.
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12/7/08

Heroic Acts of Uploadery

We’ve probably all heard of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, to be conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (known acronymously as MTT). YouTubers can download Tan Dun’s new score, videotape themselves playing it, and upload their videos in the hopes that their performance will be one of the 150 accepted, which will then be superimposed onto the other videos culminating in one, gigantic collage. Meh. Could be interesting, I suppose.

Though, there’s something unusually ripe about all this hubbub.

To quote Anne Midgette:

The idea, launched by two YouTube employees at an offsite retreat about a year ago, is being greeted enthusiastically by the classical music world, which Tim Lee, one of the project's initiators, tactfully described as "hungry for innovation."

See, there’s being innovative, and then there’s...

Well, there’s the title of the piece:

"Internet Symphony No. 1: Eroica"

There’s YouTubing, then there’s...

...heroic YouTubing?

Even if the title isn’t supposed to reflect this new-fangled symphonic process, it’s quite the presumptuous, baggage-heavy, maybe even cocky, reference to one of the (emphasized: THE) most important symphonies ever, ever. Beethoven’s Eroica was trés innovative. It almost single-handedly ruined music, evermore.

This begs the question: How does Mr. Dun exhibit an heroic brand of music or innovation worthy of the name?

Speaking by video feed from London, Tan Dun said his piece attempts to connect "ancient and modern...”

Not original.

“East and West..."

So he’s rewriting his previous work?

...with actual [music] quotes...

As opposed to...? Original music quotes?

...with actual quotes ranging from a snippet of Beethoven's "Eroica..."

Heroic snippet!™ Get yours today and shipping is free!! For a limited time only. See store for details.

...to rhythmic footprints of Tchaikovsky to percussion effects that echo the street noise of today's global environment.

It’s no walk in der Wald, anymore, given today’s global environment! (enter Beethovenian urban/pastoral pun here)

Like I said, it could be interesting. There are plenty of supporters, for what that’s worth. (enter empty rhetoric here)

I just don't think it sends out a good forward-looking, classical-music-can-be-innovative-too message; it seems facile and terribly out of touch with organic properties/functions of the internet.
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12/2/08

Christmas Detritus

Ugh. Sorry for this, but it cannot go without comment.

Make a Joyful Noise

This is not...strictly...classical. But I cannot let it pass.

You can learn a lot about people from their Christmas music collections.

Christ. This is a tired, tired postmodern meme.

You can learn a lot about people by the car they drive!

Know what? I got my car from my parents because it was...free. I suppose my 1994 Dodge Caravan totally represents me. Because it is random. It could be anything that my parents happened to have owned. It tells you...nothing.

I had a professor that said that your ringtone on your cellphone tells a lot about you.

I have a realtor friend that opines that your shoes are the biggest tell about who you are.

I like to wear socks and Birkenstocks. Or do I?

Your aunt and her Celine Dion. Your grandpa and his Bing Crosby. Your brother and his hipster-lounge remixes. Your nephew and his punk rock. Your uncle and his Barbra Streisand. Your mom and her Three Tenors.

This is all crap. Stereotypes are lazy. Lazy, lazy writing. Sorry, dude. Ain't buying it.

The music we listen to at Christmas is a reflection of our childhoods, our traditions, our lives, our histories and our music taste in general.

So... to sum up, our taste in music reflects our...taste in music?

Player, please.

I got your xmas music right here.




11/26/08

Spicy, Passionate, Cliche'

How to turn out a quick column on a deadline? (Yes, we're not entirely unsympathetic.) Why, just go with the obvious!

Bocelli: I prefer to sing of love


Oh, good. Where are we going with this? Obviousland?

OK, opera fans, want to know what makes superstar tenor Andrea Bocelli tick?

Is it... Italian? I bet it's stereotypically Italian. Also, he's more of an Oprah celebrity; not that he couldn't sing me under the table, but...just sayin'.

Amore.

Awesome. That couldn't have illustrated my point better. We are headed directly for The Easy Cliche'.

"I think that we (see) the television, the radio, the newspaper. . . everywhere, there is war and hate," Bocelli said. "So, at least in my songs, I try to sing love. I prefer it."

Which is strange, because 9 out of ten people polled prefer hate and war to love. But not the Italians!

Bocelli spoke briefly at a press conference at the Grand Hyatt yesterday in advance of his sold-out appearance as Turiddu in a semi-staged production of "Cavalleria Rusticana" tonight and Wednesday at Municipal Auditorium.

Sounds Italian! I bet it's Italian. Also: please don't bother mentioning the composer's name.

In "Cavalleria Rusticana"

Is that Italian? What's it mean? Golly!

("Rustic Chivalry"),

Thanks for that.

a tragedy, the character Turiddu seduces and leaves one girl and then dallies with another man's wife before being challenged to a duel to the death.

Huh. Wow, that is about love! Sort of. Well, sex, anyway. And hatred and death! But we don't like to sing about that, do we? We do? We understand this behavior?

It may surprise the legions of fans that have swooned over the sweet-voiced tenor on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," but Bocelli says he gets the character.

Ah. He "gets" it. Truly excellent journalism.

"Like Turiddu, I'm Italian.

I wish this had come up earlier. It explains everything.

"I've loved women for all my life.

Um. And seduced them, and engaged in adultery? Or, no?

"I've lived all my life with my big passions, so I can understand very well Turiddu. And I honestly ... I excuse him. So, for me, it's very easy to sing the character."

Mmm, love. Spicy, Italian love.

Musically, though, the part is a challenge, Bocelli says, calling his role a "very tough part."

[snip]

And the Italian-speaking tenor,

Seriously? The Italian tenor...speaks Italian? Whoa. You just blew my mind.

who said he was battling a slight case of bronchitis, did promise his San Antonio audiences one thing: "I will do all my best tomorrow," he said. "I can't know the result, but I am sure that at least the pronunciation will be perfect."

Hilarious. Because, see, he speaks...

The San Antonio Opera production will be directed by Maestro Eugene Kohn, who is best known for his work with another great tenor: Placido Domingo, whom he directed in concert here last year.

Who is also Italian.

I'm bored. What's for lunch? Gin? That's not Italian! You know what's Italian? Love!

Edit: Placido Domingo is, of course, Spanish. I am an idiot.

11/23/08

Really? Q. for T.S.

As you’ve more than likely guessed, we’re not too up to date with our dance. And! (exclamation point)...this is why today’s post might yield some funny results.

Spectacle has been a big part of ballet from the beginning. Ballet, opera and pageant blended at the French royal court, from the horse ballets of Catherine de Medici’s day to outdoor re-enactments of sea battles in lakes built just for shows under Louis XIV.

Neat. In fact, I like to understand a little about what’s at hand. Historicism is often lost in the 700-800 word review. Thank you, Tom.

Even in more modest, indoor shows, the costumes of some grotesque or allegorical characters resembled parade floats.

This, I cannot attest for, but rest assured, I’m not surprised, but intrigued.

Virtuoso dance values became more important in the 19th century, but spectacle remained a staple of the art. Even the great innovator and choreographer Marius Petipa celebrated spectacle during his long, influential reign at the Imperial Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. "The Sleeping Beauty," from 1890, is among his most notable spectacle ballets and an icon of the art. It typically features dozens of elaborate, bejeweled costumes, enormous sets, lots of stage machinery and a huge cast.

How does a company such as the Milwaukee Ballet, with 25 full-time dancers and a lean budget, take on such a monster? MBC will stage its "Sleeping Beauty" from Thursday through next Sunday.

Michael Pink, the company's artistic director had the answers in an interview.

What? Yeah. I know. I’m copying and pasting the entire review. So what? Wanna fight about it?

"We bought the costumes from Ballet International, a company in Indianapolis that is now defunct," he said. "They were really rather well made. International got them from the Maryinsky."

On the cheap and cheap; nothing wrong with that, especially today.













Fig. 1 Dust Bowl

The Ballet International set, Pink said, comprised three tired-looking painted drops. He thought about renting the Houston Ballet's production, but it is so big that it wouldn't fit the Uihlein Hall stage at the Marcus Center. It also would have cost $80,000. So Pink had to get creative.

This is the economy, I guess. Whatever—fine.

"I thought that if I could put 'Sleeping Beauty' in a neutral setting, I could eliminate set changes and move the story along," he said. "I thought that would be better than some threadbare, poor-relation production we could have afforded to rent."


Bottom-line is important to a degree. Sounds average, but I’m still all ears.

Pink conceived and sketched out a "Sleeping Beauty" of his own.

Tom?! Hello?! Not gonna rail this? (Like I said, dance is a bit foreign to me, so set us straight, if you got the time.)

A white, open set trimmed with hundreds of white silk roses is a lighting designer's dream, as it can take on any hue when bathed in theatrical light. Pink worked closely on the design with lighting wizard David Grill. He also worked with music director and conductor Andrews Sill.

How’d that work out? (Wow. I’m constantly amazed at my ability to sarcastically bait the next statement. Fun, nonetheless.)

They trimmed Tchaikovsky's score from 3½ hours to two hours. [It. mine]

(Not surprised) Mmmm-hmmm.

We’re idealists, to a point. But. WTF?!!!? They just cut ‘Sleeping Beauty’ by one and a half hours? Because of money?

Shame.

Shame.

"There are yards and yards of repeats," Pink said.

Fuck repeats! In fact. FUCK repeat performances!!! They cost too much money!

"We have omitted many of them. I doubt that anyone will complain about that."

I haven’t given them my Visa number yet, so...

He’s got me there.

He's also eliminated yards and yards of processions, the point of which was to allow parading of yards and yards of expensive fabric formed into lavish costumes. That sort of thing doesn't play well these days, and it slows down the storytelling.

Like I said, I don’t know about that. So...

Really?!? Pink is gonna cut 40% of the music? Maybe this is a music-centric conceit, but isn’t ‘Sleeping Beauty’ largely a product of the music? There’s an orchestral suite, right? Might that be a reason for its success?

To Pink, the story counts.

Oh. (Again, amazed at my ability for sarcasm.)

To move the story along and to intensify and clarify motivation, he has tinkered with Charles Perrault's fairy tale and the Petipa/Tchaikovsky scenario.

..and Hamlet doesn’t die in the end.

Princess Aurora no longer falls into a yearlong slumber because she pricks her finger when encountering an old woman at a spinning wheel. Rather, she pricks it on the thorn of a red, red rose, the only item of color in her white world.

“A red, red rose?”

"It's full of dancing," Pink said of his "Sleeping Beauty."

As ballets ought to be, with music and its rhythmic-movement coincidences. “A symbiosis, my young padawan.”

"It's not just a cut-down version of a classic. It has its own integrity."

Tchaikovsky. Cut by one and a half hours; the time it takes to drive from Islamabad to Peshawar.

Watered-down booze if you ask me.

Tom?!!!?? Was it good? Does it irk you? Maybe I just don't get dance.
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11/22/08

The Easy Way Out

Here's a quick tip: The most obvious joke, perhaps the first one you think of, is likely neither the funniest nor the most poignant. This, I think, is true at dinner parties as well as in professionally written columns (see Dowd, Maureen).

To demonstrate, please welcome Mark Swed of the LA Times. He wrote a glowing review of the recent performance of Kurtag's Kafka Fragments. He obviously loved it, and this much-anticipated concert apparently delivered the goods. But how to introduce the review?

...

May we please stop obsessing over the hypoallergenic first puppy and change the subject to something deep, spiritual, life-changing?

Er, I don't know anyone--at all--who is obsessing over the "first puppy". Not sure where you got that. Also not too spiritual. But I'm all for deep and/or life-changing. Where are we going with this? (And: did you run out of "and"s?)

Like detergent.

Ah! A non sequitur, perhaps? Intriguing!

Sunday night, President-elect Barack Obama, appearing with his wife, Michelle, on “60 Minutes,” spoke of household chores.

Is this a collage? Or a game of telephone? Puppies! Detergent! 60 Minutes! Purple monkey dishwasher!

He doesn't, he admitted, volunteer to wash dishes, but he washes them.

[I am absolutely not insinuating that Obama is a purple monkey dishwasher; it was a Simpsons reference-Ed.]

Also, er, if he doesn't volunteer to wash them...she...forces him to? Conscripts him? Odd.

And when he does, he said, he tries to use that as therapeutic practice, to find something soothing in the discipline.

Also, odd. That is an odd sentence. What is the predicate of "that"? "Wash dishes"? But I'm straying from my main point.

Almost as if on cue, Tuesday night Dawn Upshaw

Um. I'm pretty certain that this concert was planned well before the 60 Minutes episode that aired two days prior. But if you're going somewhere with this...

Almost as if on cue, Tuesday night Dawn Upshaw got out the Dawn.

Dawn Upshaw? Dawn dish detergent! Ha?

Oh, come on. Seriously? That's not even a good pun.


This is the equivalent of lame, lazy, pointless anthropomorphizing in marketing and mascots.

Marketing Dude: Hey, thanks for seeing me. I hear you guys do great work. We need a good image for our upcoming ad blitz.

Ad Agency Dude: Thanks for coming. What is it you sell again?

MD: Ice cream cones!

AAD: Oh. Hm. Well, we could just slap a face on it! No one's ever done that before!


Marketing Dude: Hey, thanks for seeing me. I hear you guys do great work. We need a good image for our upcoming ad blitz.

Ad Agency Dude: Thanks for coming. What is it you sell again?

MD: Raisins!

AAD: Oh. Hm. Well, we could just slap a face on 'em! No one's ever done that before!

Marketing Dude: Hey, thanks for seeing me. I hear you guys do great work. We need a good image for our upcoming ad blitz.

Ad Agency Dude: Thanks for coming. What is it you sell again?

MD: Tires!

AAD: Oh. Hm. Well, we could just slap a face on 'em! No one's ever done that before!

The balance of the article gives a nice account of the performance, which by all reports was excellent. But the lead-in completely baffled me. Why?

[lifts arms to sky, grimaces]

WHY?!?!

11/21/08

Good Grief

Like we’ve said all along, music is terribly difficult to write about. If we copied and pasted Elvis Costello’s fun quip—“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”—every time a review had communicative difficulties, we’d find ourselves in that perpetually skeptical no-man’s land, shielding ourselves from the possibility that we can effectively describe the music we love. This is why we tend to nitpick over grammar and descriptors; often, we’ve nothing to overtly criticize. Moreover, I’d like to think that we are optimists, happily acknowledging the best of music criticism. It may not seem like it, granted. But our hearty thanks is omission—that’s the reward for writing well.

It saddens us that we’re constantly confronted with reviews that miss the mark (nay, miss the side of the barn), which is why poking some fun in the authors’ direction can add to the discussion about how we can effectively talk about, let alone criticize, music. Thus, every so often, “dancing about architecture” is the perfect quote to describe the awful mess in front of us.

Standing out as a haunting reminder of the historical importance of the early 20th century, the performance of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok's String Quartet No. 2 is unquestionably the highlight of the concert.

Though it might be sign of canonic progress--that Bartok is the highlight of the concert whilst performed alongside Haydn and Schumann--a retranslation is in order: "Bartok’s String Quartet was the highlight, because it stood out as a reminder that the early 20th century was important."

I’m no historian, per se, but isn’t it the case that all historical periods were important? Like I said, I’m no historian and I could be wrong.

A further distillation of the sentiment might read like this: "The Bartok String Quartet reminded me of the early 20th century; that’s why I liked it." Coupled with the knowledge that it was written in 1917, this statement says nothing. Nothing at all.

Bartok's String Quartet No. 2 was written in 1917, not long before he emigrated to America, and is clearly the composer's musical reaction to the First World War.

This is why I would like to require our critics to cite their sources (I know it’s not going to happen, space-wise, but still.). I simply don’t know where this tidbit comes from. It might be perfectly true--that the String Quartet is a reaction to the war--but after scanning several journal articles, the only connection that I could find is one of chronological coincidence. So, “clearly” is clearly dubious.

By the way, I once had a class on presidential campaigns with an encyclopedic professor who hated, absolutely hated certain adverbs. He would not hesitate to fail us for using “clearly,” “obviously,” or “surely.” I see why.

The work explores the depth of Bartok's mourning over the death and destruction of the war.

Surely (con sarcasmo), but how so?

Uncomfortable and lengthy dissonances...

Are you fucking kidding me?

Uncomfortable and lengthy dissonances thread through the melodies even as the scalar passages drive the work ever-forward like an unrelenting march toward the inevitable end.

Another retranslation: "Marching toward the end, with dissonant, scalar passages, exemplifies Bartok’s deep exploration of mourning over death and destruction."

...I’ll let that one soak in.

...

Mmmm, wanting.

The last movement is unmistakable in its grief; the unapologetic dissonances and scant melodies are certain to resonate with modern audiences reflecting on the current state of war around the world.

Summa: dissonance + scant melody = unmistakable grief.













Fig. 1 Aaarrghh!

Often compared to Beethoven's famous string quartets and considered equally as important to the canon, Bartok's six quartets invoke many folk melodies.

New books about the Beethoven Quartets this year? 10,028. New books about the Bartok Quartets? 3. (My source is clearly accurate.)

His works often infuse the Hungarian folk songs he studied in great depth as an ethnomusicologist...

If by “studied in great depth” you mean “collected and appropriated,” then...sure.

...with the movement toward atonality common to the time.


And if by “atonality” you mean “other triadic hierarchies,” then...fine.

Although, like any good composer, Bartok repeats his melodies throughout the works...

Does this need a retranslation? (pauses for fifteen seconds) If retranslations lead to absurdity, then absolutely! “The hallmark of a good composer is whether or not he/she repeats melodies.” That was fun, eh?

...he mimics the tradition of folk music passed from one musician to the next, by presenting the themes or melodies in slightly altered ways each time they return.

Jesus. This is indubitably becoming a retranslation party. Check this out: “Although Bartok repeats his melodies, Bartok repeats his melodies but not literally.”

This means that everyone ever, in the history of melody and melodious historicism, which includes those dissonant fuckers, mimics the traditions of folk music. Brilliant.

And, in case you were wondering, “those slightly altered ways” is just a fancy musicological phrase meaning “ornamented.” Ugh.

But go on, dear author, what does melodic variation do?

This gives Bartok's music a sense of evolution; each presentation of the thematic material represents an individual life within the enormous scope of time.


















Fig. 2 Gratuitous Calvin and Hobbes
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11/19/08

Ursa Major, Minor, and Augmented

We haven’t heard from Anne Midgette in while, so I thought, “What’s she been up to?”

-

I. In a Violinist’s Hands, The Masters Come Alive

Think Russian violinist, think high-profile recital debut at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, and you might think words like soaring, singing, flashy, fireworks.

At least she didn’t say, “bear.” If I had a nickel for every time a critic called a Russian performer a bear...

















...I’d have ten billion-million-thousand-plex dirt-blackened nickels. Ugh. Anyway, thank you Anne for abstaining from the offensive “bear” connotation.

So far, so good.

You probably wouldn't think smoky, subtle, nuanced and understated.

It is said of us islanders, that we take our time to make friends, but when we do it’s for life...

Well, if you love Laphroaig you’ll understand.

But that was how the star violinist Vadim Repin began his overdue Washington recital debut, in the Debussy Violin Sonata, on Saturday afternoon.

To clarify: he began his overdue recital like a scotch whiskey.

Okay. I’m down. This could go places. And, to boot, I like scotch.

Repin slipped into the piece as if the music were a mantle, not a vehicle, something that shaped his appearance, rather than showcasing it.

This makes sense; I like it. But, I must reiterate: The Detritus Review is a no cape zone, period. We will not tolerate the advocacy of capes in any shape or form. Not even as metaphors. They are vulgar, pompous and a waste of the sheep, spiders and baby seals killed to make them.

Still, I want to hear more scotch and/or alcohol metaphors.

The music of the first movement was as soft and raspy and prickling as cigarette smoke: quintessentially Gallic, emphasized by little Satie-like punctuations [by the pianist].

I guess we left the scotch thing behind. (sigh)

-

II. From Russia, With Languor

What else ya doin’, Anne?

Valery Gergiev's right hand inhabits a world of its own. Most conductors' hands work independently of each other, but the very fingers of Gergiev's right hand appear to be on separate tracks, pursuing thoughts and ideas within the music that are not necessarily even audible. The hand supplies its own subtext.

That’s very observant, even if it has little to do with the music.

It dances, mesmerizing and odd, like a peculiarly agile crab.

...moving on...

In [Prokofiev’s] "Romeo and Juliet," the playing seesawed between mastery and routine. The winds' entrance with the love theme at one point sounded like a yawn, and the concertmaster, far from embodying the romantic ideals about Russian violinists,

...of Russian violinists?

...played peremptorily in a couple of his solos. Offering a whole act of this piece, rather than the more familiar concert excerpts, is a mixed blessing; you get the dramatic integrity of the work but also fewer highlights and slower pacing.


Now, I’m not sure that this is more Anne or me, but this seems to be a symptom of some kind. Of what? I’m not sure.

Point: Why is it that the journey is no longer the reward? That is, if a work is long and has few climaxes (highlights, memorable tunes; call ’em what you will), why is it often less rewarding than a short piece with lots of memorable doohickeys? Seems to me that many would say that the reward in Beethoven’s music is the journey; the journey rewarded with the coda. In the case of an extended concert version of “Romeo and Juliet,” aren’t you, as an audience member, being given extra context, with which you can appreciate the increasingly sparse highlights a little more?

Even Gergiev's right hand was subdued, by the end, into something approaching conservatism.

...a conservatively agile crab.

-

III. ‘The System’s’ Star

If Mozart had been in the hands of a publicist, he might have talked like Gustavo Dudamel.

In English, with a Spanish accent?

The thrillingly gifted 27-year-old conductor is the hottest property in classical music at the moment.

...like a dancing bear, perhaps?
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11/18/08

A Completely Compelling Double Dose, Briefly Bestowed

Two quick hits from Mr Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News, two days apart.

First, a word about expectations.

What's the very last piece you'd expect to hear on a Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert?

Hmm. The very last? That's a thinker, right there. Let's see...

Ionisation?


Music for 18 Musicians?

Synaphai?

Cobra?

A pretty good guess would be Sir Edward Elgar's The Music Makers, a 40-minute piece for mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra set to poetry by Arthur O'Shaughnessy.

(The Music Makers)

(For no reason, here is a picture of Elgar that is fun to look at.)


Aw, man. Curses, foiled again! You got me. But I would have guessed Zorn, Xenakis, Reich, or Varese before anything by Elgar. Silly me! Not that it's not an obscure work of overblown English neo-Romanticism, but...the very last piece?

Two days later, a review of Stephen Hough's concert memorializing David Grice:

We would all like to be so warmly remembered as to merit the memorial recital Stephen Hough played Sunday afternoon. Honoring the late David Grice, a beloved Plano piano teacher, Mr. Hough reminded us just how transcendent an experience music can be.

I was just sitting here thinking, "Damn! I wish I could remember how transcendent music can be!". Wait, what? Oh...hyperbole. Right. It is, after all...Chopin...

The slow movement of Chopin's B minor Sonata seemed to inhabit a parallel universe, where time stood still amid aching beauties.

Time stood still...in a parallel universe...surrounded by gorgeous women in pain. Is this...is this H.P. Lovecraft? (click to enlarge)

The cascading accompaniments almost turned to vapor.

Yes, yes, Chopin is ethereal. And cascading.

The whole Chopin sonata was wonderfully personalized, at times feeling – quite appropriately – made up on the spot. The composer's B major Nocturne (Op. 62, No. 1) seemed a dream caught as it drifted by.

And dreamy! Everyone loves Chopin. But wait! There's more!

A very different piece, Aaron Copland's Piano Variations, got a no less compelling performance.

Usually modernist music is not compelling. And, arguably, this is Copland's most modernist piece, as he experiments with (*gasp*) serialism!*

(Copland Piano Variations)

This is craggy but compelling music

Dude, you just typed "compelling" like six words ago. Just sayin'.

This is craggy but compelling music, proving that even tough modernism can have a beating human heart.

Um.

Inherent anti-modernism aside (it's craggy and tough, not usually compelling, and inhuman), I think you missed the point of modernism.

The "beating human heart" of "tough modernism" is its casting off traditional modes of expression with the desire to express one's inner...

Ah, crap, I stopped being funny.

And I would've got away with it if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!

*Blogger does not think "serialism" is a word.