Zest and Zeal and Editors and Sentences

Zesty ROCO concert starts on slower note

As noted in this space before, columnists are not necessarily responsible for titling their efforts. Mr. Ward may not be culpable, here. However, if some editor wrote the title above they 1) read only the first paragraph when choosing the title, and/or 2) did not bother to edit the rest of the article. Because it needs editing, which I will now elucidate. Begin!

The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra needed a few movements to warm to guest conductor Joel Smirnoff. When it did, it took to music of Maurice Ravel, Joseph Haydn and Brad Sayles with relish and zeal.

I’d prefer “warm up to”, but I’ll accept “warm to” in the interest of brevity. However, I do not like relish. I do, though, like zeal in my martinis. “Give me a dry martini with zeal,” I’ll often say.

In the practice of today, ROCO named its final program of the season The Philosopher.

“In the practice of today”? What does that mean? Read that sentence again. I’ll wait. See? What? I…don’t know.

Taken from the nickname of Haydn's Symphony No. 22, it was a silly choice.

Um, okay?

Only one of the three works had anything substantial to do with philosophy: Sayles' Echoes of Invention after the popular public radio program of John Lienhard.

What? How has the connection between the work’s title (let alone the piece itself) been shown to have “anything substantial” to do with philosophy? Sayles’ piece is “after” a popular radio program? What? Named after? Inspired by? I really…

Smirnoff and others soon gave up trying to pack the music inside that title during their comments.

They…gave up…packing music…into the title…during comments? You…how does one pack music into a title? Perhaps the intended sentiment is something like “…they failed to show how the music conformed to the rubric “The Philospher” during their pre-concert talk”? But that’s the most sense I can make of this madness. Is it me? Am I dense? The…

The first performance, Saturday afternoon at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, was the closest ROCO has come to a standard concert-giving.

“A standard concert-giving”? Passive voice much? Is “a standard concert-giving” in “the practice of today”? Has anyone proofread this? Common usage is on the what now?

Only the excessive chattiness marked any departure.

Ugh. A common complaint. Critics hate it when artists take the time to try to explain the music to an audience. Especially because they’re trying to attract new audiences, often people who are less-than-familiar with the repertoire. My theory is that critics secretly hope classical music will just finally fucking die, so they don’t have to do their dreary jobs (attending concerts and subsequently writing about it) anymore. Perhaps they all secretly want to be laborers?

Much of the talk added little to the music.

See above.

It was particularly embarrassing to hear St. John Flynn, KUHF's new director of cultural programming and host of the arts program The Front Row, place Smirnoff as the new head of the Cincinnati Institute of Music when the correct city is Cleveland and Cincinnati's major school is the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Smirnoff, a longtime faculty member of the Juilliard School in New York and first violinist with the Juilliard Quartet, corrected him amicably.

Okay. That is really, really embarrassing. I’ll give you that. That is, in fact, unconscionably stupid, and Herr Ward is totally on the money here. Here’s a hint, St. John Flynn (director of cultural programming, for fuck’s sake): If you’re addressing a bunch of people, know what the hell you’re talking about.

[Edit: This was not his fault; see comments section. However, I will not delete the paragraph in the interest of honesty--SA.]

Smirnoff opened with Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, which looked back at Baroque dance movements for inspiration.

Le Tombeau de Couperin looks at things now? Since when are musical works sentient? Perhaps it was Ravel who was…

The first two movements went by as if everyone were on cruise control, rolling down the musical highway with highly tuned technique but little roar from the emotional engine. But midway through the third movement, Menuet, a swell of volume and energy turned into a swell of commitment and alertness. For the rest of the program, Smirnoff and musicians really clicked.

I don’t like the construction here. “Emotional engine”? However, the sentiment expressed is a valid criticism couched in a bizarre, if apt, metaphor. Fine. But:

In Haydn's symphony, Smirnoff and the musicians gave listeners a vivid reminder of Haydn's penchant for the unexpected:

It wasn’t Haydn that reminded listeners that he did strange things...it was the performance?

a seeming wrong turn in harmonies there,

Seemingly? (Note: adverbs modify verbs.) Also, some other performance of the same piece would not have “reminded” listeners of the seemingly wrong harmonic turn?

or, in the first movement, an unusual music texture.

Ah, yes. This is the one that really got me. “Unusual music texture”? Music texture? The…I…whew. No explanation, no elucidation, no…anything. First, “music texture” is redundant, since the article is about music. That’s like calling a cow a “land cow.” Second, that is the most awkward turn of phrase…ever. And what in The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s name does it mean?

The horns opened with a question, as Smirnoff termed it, and English horns answered, while the lower strings gave a very good imitation of the walking bass from American jazz. That's not the usual opening heard in Classical-era symphonies.

You…you just intimated—no, asserted—that Haydn’s 22nd Symphony (I assume, because you’ve failed to mention which symphony was played) IMITATES AMERICAN JAZZ. Can I please have your time machine? Because you’ve lost all track of the linear flow of history. I like the piece where Bach imitates Charles Ives. It’s my favorite!

The orchestra played with zest

As noted, I love me some zest (and/or zeal)! Especially with gin. Mmmm.

and distinctive style. The second movement had a low gusty roar, in part because the strings played with lots of grit to

“to” = “in”?

their bowing. The fourth movement, the last, sped along with woodwinds churning out repeated notes with surprising clarity.

The fourth movement was the last in a Haydn symphony? Dang!

Sayles' work comprised a series of six segments using text by Lienhard. The subject was "ghosts." They often were unexpected things that reminded us of the past in ways that might discomfort us, like the mummy found in the Alps in 1991 that upset notions about how humans developed.

What? Who are “they”? Do you mean “there”? Also: What? Mummies?

A recording engineer at KUHF, Sayles surrounded the words with a comfortable, eclectic style that suggested here and there movie themes of John Williams, the repetition of Philip Glass, soaring movie scores in general, pseudo-tribal dances, and a few other styles. The music sounded comfortable but the compositional technique was sure and the emotional shape of the music instinctively first-class.

John Williams’ movie scores, Glass, and, oh, also, movie scores. And a few other, non-specified styles. Great freaking sentence, wordsmith. Also the “emotional shape” (whatever that means) totally has extra leg room, a drink before take-off, and no charge for headphones for the in-flight movie. Instinctively.

KUHF's Dean Dalton narrated. Unfortunately, his body microphone wasn't well sited and many of his words came across slightly distorted and, often, overwhelmed by the accompaniment.

Finally, a coherent thought. About microphones.

Back to the top, and title: How, if at all, does the bulk of the article elucidate how the concert “started on a slower note”? What? Not at all? Only the first paragraph? Oh. Fine. I'll just show myself out...

Somewhere in Houston there are a bunch of dead proofreaders buried under, I don’t know, a construction site, or something. What? No? Then you explain this…this…thing.


Empiricus said...

Isn't the minuet a pseudo-tribal dance?

YJYRN: Bjorn's brother.

Aaron said...

I think my favorite Bach is the one where the organist quotes from Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing." Crazy, baby.

Murderface said...

I hate the "highly tuned technique" phrase the worst.

Also, your voices are quite distinct again. Un-merge complete.

Afgesqe: The long-lost French Canadian tribe of the second cousins to the Duke of Albuquerque.

Gustav said...

...Smirnoff. I love Yakov Smirnoff. I love his brand of non-sensical, fun and laughter-packed, pseduo-jingoistic Branson. MO family values humor.

In America, you drive car.
In Soviet Russia, car drives you!
In America, you open door.
In Soviet Russia, door opens you!
In America, you slaughter cow.
In Soviet Russia, cow slaughter you!

Okay, not really.

SA, good stuff. I'm not sure what else there is to say...plus I'm quite uncomfortable with this idea of a mummy in the Alps. In 1991 for God's sake! Though, at least the music was comfortable, and apparently always played with an agreeable piquant flavor.

St.John Flynn said...

This is St.John Flynn, the "director of cultural programming" referred to in this piece.
I'd like to say in my defense that, yes, I did get Mr. Smirnoff's new appointment wrong; however, I was making remarks to the audience from a list of bullet points given to me 10 minutes before the concert by the orchestra's communications director. The information was inaccurate and that was a shame. It made me look bad, and that was a shame.
What I should point out here is that, immediately after the concert, the orchestra's communications director went home and emailed Mr. Ward at the Houston Chronicle to explain that the mistake was her own and not mine. Ward had this information before he filed his review and yet still chose to devote the longest paragraph in his review to something that was nothing to do with the music.
It should also be noted that the program included a fourth piece of music, not noted in the concert program, which Joel Smirnoff introduced from the podium. The orchestra rounded out the concert with Milhaud's "Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit." No mention of this is made in the review because Ward left before the end of the concert.
It's one thing to point out mistakes that are relevant to the music being performed, and an entirely different thing to spend six lines of a short review to something that made me look like an idiot, especially when you've been told the mistake was not my fault.
I'm sorry Ward felt he had to make me look bad.

Sator Arepo said...

Mr. Flynn,

I'm sorry if I seemed rude or overly harsh to you. This was not about being mean, it was about being funny.

Also, it wasn't about you, it was about Mr. Ward. Your comments confirm that...well, he...is sometimes deserving of our little snarky criticism.

The facts that he 1) knew you were misinformed, and 2) chose to send you up anyway, and 3) LEFT EARLY, are all terribly...terrible.


St.John Flynn said...


You are a gentleman and a scholar, sir. I appreciate your comments.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Flynn doesn't need any help looking bad. He handles that quite well already.

Empiricus said...

Easy on the oats Trigger--too much and they'll make you flounder.

Empiricus said...

Or founder, as it were.

Anonymous said...

Greetings All, musical Houstonian type here. . .

All this said, the main idea of preparedness comes to the fore. And Mr. Flynn has proven, again and again, that he simply wishes not to be prepared to discuss, in any substantive way, those things his job would seen to require.

Charles hit it on the head with the word "embarrassing" and your BLOG continues to hit the same nail on the head by exposing the vapid, the uninformed, the amateur posing as professional, and the downright stupid.

Keep it up Sator. . . .

Fred Rico

Anonymous said...

The point is that there is an expectation that someone in Flynn's position should not have to be prompted or "prepared" for a reference such as the one he tried to make. He should JUST KNOW!!! He's the Director of Cultural Programming and Classical Music for a major market radio station for f*&%# sake!