Music City Mayhem

Maybe all of this starts with the musicians, unable to properly describe themselves in words. After all, they specialize in music, right? Maybe, because of their “authority by successful practice,” their language seeps into the critic’s lexicon. Maybe.

Consider Giancarlo Guerrero, formerly of the Eugene Symphony and most recent appointee to the helm of Music City’s Nashville Symphony Orchestra:

The decision to kick off the symphony's 2008-2009 season with a program consisting entirely of the work of George Gershwin, a composer trained not in a conservatory but on Broadway, Guerrero said, was an easy one.

Now, I’m a fan of Gershwin, sometimes. It’s just that, praise advertising, I associate his music with commercial schlock. Tom Hanks and FedEx, anyone? That I can’t have. And that’s my problem.

However, here’s my question: why was it, exactly, that an all-“composer not trained in a conservatory but on Broadway” program was an easy decision?

"I knew that I wanted something American to open the season because that's kind of the personality of the orchestra," he said of the symphony, which has long been known for its affinity with the music of composers from the United States.

Gershwin was certainly American. I give him that.

"Gershwin hadn't been done here in a while...

Fair enough.

“...and I'd had the privilege, for the last couple of years, of working with (pianist) Kevin Cole, who in my opinion is one of the greatest Gershwin interpreters around.

Go on.

“Plus, I said to myself, 'If you want to sell the house, this will do it.' "

You need to pay the rent. I get it.

Not only that, he said, but orchestras love to play Gershwin.

They also love to play other things. But, good enough for me. This all seems reasonable.

"He was the first composer to truly combine jazz and American music and turn it into classical music.”

Oh no. Let’s just ruminate on this for a while.




No. Take out “first” and “truly,” then we might have something.

Gershwin might not always be given his due in classical circles,

All together now: “But...?”

...but Guerrero likens his genius to that of Mozart.

Holy shit. Who said musicians aren’t creative? Fanciful, even? Ridiculously fanciful? Hyperbolistically ridiculously fanciful? Super-hyperbolistically ridiculously fanciful? Super-duper times a million-billion hyperbolistically ridiculously fanciful? Number one super-duper times a billion-billion...you get my point.

"It just came to him," he said of Gershwin's compositions.

That’s it? He had ideas, that... “came to him?” That’s why he’s like Mozart? Hmmm...

"He had the sounds in his head and he knew how he had to write.

If I remember correctly, I have heard stories of how his lack of “conservatory training” hurt his orchestration. What did he do, in some cases? He outsourced the work. "Truly" American, indeed.

I don’t give Wikipedia entries complete credence when it comes to music, but I thought this was appropriate:

The Concerto in F shows considerable development in Gershwin's compositional technique namely because he orchestrated the entire work himself, unlike the Rhapsody in Blue which was done by Ferde Grofé, the orchestrator for Paul Whiteman's orchestra.

All by himself, sometimes. Ha!

“He was so ahead of his time.

If you’re comparing him to the American auto industry.

“ 'An American in Paris' uses saxophones, which at the time were unusual.

Such is the case for all instruments that were once relatively new (Adolph Sax patented the saxophone in 1846). I mean, just because Mozart and Beethoven and C.P.E. Bach wrote music for Ol’ Ben Franklin’s “armonica,” or glass harmonica, doesn’t exactly mean that they were forward-looking, now does it? Composers tend to make use of new instruments as they become available. (In a scholarly voice) Thus! Let’s just drop this line of logic, shall we?

'Rhapsody in Blue' uses banjo. In the Cuban Overture you have that array of Latin instruments, which, again, were unknown at the time in classical circles."

No dropping of that line of logic? Okay. Then let me say this again: Maybe, because of musicians’ “authority by successful practice,” their problematic language seeps into the critic’s lexicon. Maybe.


Sator Arepo said...

Ever been to the Denver airport?

There's a player piano in the middle of the B Terminal (United) that has Rhapsody in Blue on constant repeat 24/7. I asked a waiter about it once and he looked like he was about to kill me.

Empiricus said...

Just in case I was being a little obtuse, the point is this: I'm criticizing the performers, conductors and composers that feed the print media this bullshit.