4/30/08

Prescient and Archaic! Yeah!

Today, having some fun searching the NY Times archives--we're getting to that point in the concert season where classical music reviews and articles begin to slow down a bit--I stumbled across one of the most prescient thoughts ever, written in 1988. Take a step back, and it could even be the most succinct and eloquent mission statement for our little project.

It is a fanciful thought, but perhaps our century is feeling the pressure to tidy its house, settle on its strongest languages and discard its detritus while it still has time.

Ironic, because it’s also a jab on Morton Feldman and Olivier Messiaen.
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Obligatory Anti-Serialist Post of the Week

Oh, inherent bias, what would we do without you? Welcome to Miami, dear readers.

A smart, quirky pairing

In their contrasts, Franz Schubert and Alban Berg make a complementary pair.

Fair enough, I suppose. Contrasts compliment. Is that really quirky? This is quirky. Pairing two composers from the same city that lived less than a century apart seems more like…contrast, or complimentary. You said that. In your first sentence.

Both composers were, in very different ways, intrinsically Viennese and each man died young -- Schubert, most tragically, at 31.

Is dying at 50 (from an infected abscess from a bee sting) really less tragic than dying at 31? I mean, I suppose, maybe. Both tragic, though.

Schubert's genius added harmonic complexity and metaphysical angst to Biedermeier-era complacency.

Interesting sentiment. Note, however the construction: Schubert = genius. Let’s see what happens next!

Berg's lyricism and emotional depth put a human face on the chilly serialism of the Second Viennese School.

Ah, the inevitable backhanded knock on serialism. Schubert = genius. Serialism = chilly. Berg = mediates chilliness with warm emotion and lyricism. Not genius, though. That's reserved for pre-1900 composers.

Michael Tilson Thomas's smart, quirky programming combined works of both men for a bracing weekend Viennese festival by the New World Symphony. Friday night's opening event at the Lincoln Theatre set the tone with Berg's Lyric Suite and Schubert's Mass in E flat.

Mr. Johnson’s review of the Schubert can be read via the link at the top (and it's perfectly cromulent). I am only concerned with the inherent bias about…

Berg remains the most passionate and directly communicative

Passionate! Communicative! Emotional! Lyrical! Fuck that chilly non-genius Schoenberg! He totally didn’t write Pierrot Lunaire (which, in all fairness, is pre-12-tone, but also passionate, lyrical, emotional, and communicative all the same).

of the 12-tone school's early triumvirate (Schoenberg and Webern, being the other two).

You don’t say. And, what’s with, the, comma?

His Lyric Suite was born of an impassioned but apparently unconsummated love for a married woman.

So they say! What else?

Though written in 1928, Berg's Lyric Suite breathes an atmosphere of findesíecle

Although this could be an internet publishing error, someone should proofread these things. Fin de siecle (while I appreciate the italics) is totally ThreeDifferentWords.

Though written in 1928, Berg's Lyric Suite breathes an atmosphere of findesíecle Viennese decadence, the world of Gustav Klimt and Thomas Mann.

Even though…what? Thomas Mann: 1875-1955. Won the Pulitzer in 1929, the year after this particular Berg piece was published. Completely contemporary. Klimt died in 1918, but is still roughly contemporaneous with Berg and Mann. For no real reason, here is a picture by Klimt that is fun to look at.


The romantic inspiration is clear with its Tristan quotation but Berg deftly creates a kind of wrong-note Mahler, fusing subdued tragedy and emotional intensity within serial strictures.

Wrong-note Mahler. Seriously? Crap. (deep breath)

Berg wrote wrong notes!? What a lyrical emotional passionate chilly fool. Those damn serialists! They had no fucking idea.

The sense of romantic yearning and dark foreboding was clearly palpable in Friday's performance under Tilson Thomas. The burnished strings brought out the angular music of the opening movement as much as the mystery and elliptical strangeness of the multi-divided strings in the central movement and the dark-hued somber valedictory of the final section.

To sum up: Berg’s Lyric Suite is lyrical, passionate, emotional, and communicative, which mediates the cold chill of his technique of writing wrong notes, but is still angular, foreboding, elliptical, and dark-hued.

Whee!

4/29/08

Rare Artur Schnabel Sex Tape Discovered!












This is an absolute must see for any musician with a healthy libido! But not this.

Enjoy! And comment!
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4/28/08

DR Off-Topic: We're Full of Meme-y Goodness!

Oh, dear.

We've been tagged with a viral musicbloggy internet meme. I tried to find out where it started, but after a few dozen links back, I gave up. Perhaps someone knows? I first saw it here.

I'm supposed to (#5) say that we were tagged by Scott Spiegelberg over at Musical Perceptions.

It goes like this:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

"Falling Man", by Don DeLillo (which I got for xmas and haven't read yet, so this was that much weirder).

They walked toward the towers now, amid the sweep and crisscross of masses of people. All right. But what if the digits don't always total ten?

That was awesome.

Fine. Good. Let's play. I tag:

Joshua Kosman
, Erik Loomis at alterdestiny, Tom Strini, anzu, and Your Mileage May Vary.

(By the by, the actual nearest book was Mozart Piano Sonatas, but I didn't feel like typing in a bunch of note names.)

These are strange times, people.

PS: We seem to be on the tail end of this, so apologies to anyone we've re-tagged.

Wherein Ancient Rhetorical Devices Are Explained

I’ve been meaning to write about Vivien Schweitzer for a while, now. I can’t find anything about which to call her out, because, well, she’s good. So I’m taking this opportunity to point out an oft-neglected rhetorical device: Extreme Understatement. Anti-hyperbole. Perhaps there’s a fancy ancient-rhetoric name for it, I don’t know.

What? Look it up? Okay. [looks it up]

It’s called Litotes. Here’s a good example:

“Business carried on as usual during alterations on the map of Europe.” --Winston Churchill

WWII = alterations on the map of Europe. Classic. He’s one of my favorite rhetoricians.

Here is another (good example and favorite rhetorician):

When David Robertson first conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1996, he had the distressing experience of leading a performance of Janacek’s “Makropulos Case” in which a tenor died onstage.

Holy crap! “Distressing”? More like fucking terrifying, if you ask me. Potentially traumatic, even.

Then, this:

Things went more smoothly on Saturday night, his first appearance at the house in a decade, leading Mozart’s “Entführung aus dem Serail” (“The Abduction From the Seraglio”).

More smoothly = nobody died onstage. Wow. Exemplary.

Keep it up, Ms. S.

Original article here.

Midgette's Wang: A Freaky 'Favorite'

It’s true that Yuja Wang made an appearance at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but this isn’t about that. This is about something else. In fact, this is about this:

It was amusing, or bemusing, that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's most recent program (heard Friday night) was part of the orchestra's series called "Favorites," an attempt to label some greatest hits for the benefit of new concertgoers.

Concert programmer: “In my attempt to figure out how we can make more money, I’ve come up with several ideas. Let’s pander to the lowest common denominator. Let’s turn our concert hall into a dead museum. Let’s lease advertising space and rename ourselves the ‘Wal-Mart Symphony Orchestra.’ How’s that sound?”

Board members (in unison): “Huzzah!”

What a joke, right?

The piece that earned it this designation was Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" -- a greatest hit, true enough.

I know. It’s like the most famousest piece ever, ever.

But it is also a comment on what the orchestral repertory has become that a piece this weird and warty,

Well... back in 1830. Yes. It was weird and warty.

so category-defying,

In 1830. Today, we call it a tone-poem or a programmatic symphony.

revolutionary

Sure, in 1830.

and altogether uncomfortable

But it’s the most famousest piece ever, ever. How can it be uncomfortable if it’s so familiar?

But it is also a comment on what the orchestral repertory has become that a piece this weird and warty, so category-defying, revolutionary and altogether uncomfortable [...], should be presented under a rubric that seems to connote tame respectability.

[It. mine] The first version of the piece is 178 years-old! It is the most famousest piece. Ever. Ever! How can you say that Berlioz is not representative of the canon after nearly two centuries of fame-having-ness? How can you think that it’s weird, even today?

...

Hello? Anne? Are you still there?

The other two works on the program certainly fit nobody's definition of "favorites": Prokofiev's First Piano Concerto, a piece that's young, brash and short, and...

Whoa. Stop right there.

Let me get this right. So you’re saying that the Prokofiev is young?

When was this review written again? (checks date) April 28, 2008. I was right. It was written today.

And the Prokofiev Concerto was written when? 1910? And it’s young? Huh...?

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Oh. I get it. Some people or critics have selective amnesia. They block out anything that’s younger than Elliott Carter. There’s a black void where musical modernism used to be. So, in that light, the Symphonie Fantastique is only roughly 80 years-old and the Prokofiev is a spring chickadee.
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4/27/08

Curiouser and Curiouser

From the Dallas morning news, a curious title for a review:

Houston Grand Opera’s ‘Billy Budd’ sails straight

Um. What? Because, you see, Benjamin Britten…not to be indelicate, but…

I understand that critics don’t always get to title their articles. So perhaps the editor, not the critic is culpable here. But I can’t decide if this is

-funny (intentional) or

-rude (some conservative Dallas editor throwing in his homophobic bias) or

-ironic (completely oblivious about Britten) or

-in poor taste (some combination of the above). Because:

…there's more than a hint of homoeroticism…

Yeah, yeah there is. And Britten was very famously gay. So: What’s the deal with:

Houston Grand Opera’s ‘Billy Budd’ sails straight

???

Composer of the Day!


















Today’s Composer of the Day is Peter Eötvös.

(b. 1944)

Born in Transylvania, Romania, Peter composed for Hungarian films and played in the Stockhausen Ensemble, before succeeding Pierre Boulez as director of the Ensemble InterContemporain from 1978-1991. He also figured prominently at IRCAM.

His music tends toward the dramatic; he has written a number of operas, stage scenes, and orchestral works that include theatrical action. His piece Triangel is a concerto for percussionist who roams about the stage focusing on a particular instrument or sets of instruments. Also, the piece is notated without fixed pitches, but relative pitches. Only the rhythms are determined.

Peter is an accomplished, well-decorated conductor and teacher, as well. His music has won numerous awards and stuff, too.

A critic to remain nameless (Bernard Holland) has said this of his music:

You can enjoy Mr. Eotvos’s music without trusting it. His three-movement “Chinese Opera,” brightly done on Saturday night by the St. Paul players, is a construction of many moving parts and brilliant sound effects. Yet you feel at the gun-end of a sales pitch. Innovation has been left to fill the holes that lack of wholeness and substance creates.

I, on the other hand, find his music to be terrifically exciting and energetic, with a clear knack for dramatic effect.

You should listen to his music.

I also need to mention, if only to shed a little light on Peter’s character, that the photo was taken by Bernard Perrine. It sure is fun to look at.
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4/25/08

Today, I Heart Tom Strini

Today, I heart Tom Strini, because he wrote intelligently about music, an incredibly difficult thing to do.

I must admit that I was expecting some new music hating after reading this title.

Chamber series conquers diverse mid-century pieces

One of our biggest problems with music criticism is that, often, critic X (e.g., Bernard Holland) paints the performance as overcoming the difficulties, or the stink, of new music. I dare any critic to do the same with Beethoven—by the way, fuck Beethoven. And this is what today’s title suggests.

Tom’s review thus begins. And unfortunately, it begins with a grand, sweeping generalization.

Repetition defines musical structure and allows us to comprehend it.

Holy shit! The grand, sweeping generalization...makes sense! Congratulations, Tom. This is a significant first. Too bad it can only go downhill from here, right?

Verses and choruses repeat. Recapitulation follows development, so we can locate ourselves in sonata form. On the creative side, recurrence frees composers from the burden of constant invention.

I am beside myself. An entire paragraph that works: ideas are related (another first); you have correct, educated information. Wow. Just, wow.

It can’t get better, I keep telling myself.

Carlos Chavez's 1966 "Soli IV" for brass trio, heard Thursday on a 20th-century program at the Chamber Music Milwaukee series, is so radical because it takes on that burden explicitly. "Soli IV" has no past and implies no future. It does not ask the listener to remember what happened and relate it to the present moment. The immediate sonic neighborhood - the gestural cluster of notes in front of your ear at a given moment - is all that counts.

Tears of joy are running down my usually disgusted scowl. What a beautiful description! And exactly (relatively) what was happening at that moment in time—Tom’s not a guy who’s afraid to show that he’s read a few books.

Normally, we’d get something like this, instead:

Think of a street with moving traffic and traffic signals, with one composer showing red and the other green. Mr. Stockhausen's music was telling us that if the Chopin tradition had carried piano playing from 1840 deep into the 20th century, "Klavierstücke X" was determined it would go no further. Here the instrument is taught a lesson it will not soon forget.

Instruction came in the form of assault: blows to the keyboard with elbows, forearms and palms, episodes violent to the point that [pianist], the evening's intrepid pianist, wore cut-off gloves as a kind of body armor. Fingers were, however, left free for the shrill glissandos and racing stepwise movement.


Usually, this is what we get (from Bernard Holland), a condemnatory, dismissive verbal whipping.

Tom, on the other hand, gives us a colorful description of what happens in the piece, the philosophy of its aesthetic and a sound strategy for listening to it. And, my favorite part, he doesn’t outright dismiss it as junk. Nor does he resolve to not understand it.

Plus, the title now makes sense. It's simply conveying the notion that these pieces are diverse not crappy. Amazing! My bad; I'm used to assuming the worst. You go, Tom!

He does have an opinion, though.

That's a peculiar way to put a piece together, and I wouldn't recommend it.

You’ve earned your opinion today, Tom. You didn't have to follow that up with:

But

“But?” That’s wonderful! Admitting that your opinion is yours, alone. Can I send you a Christmas card?

But "Soli IV" is a fascinating and gallant experiment in musical perception, especially with Kevin Hartman (trumpet), Gregory Flint (horn) and Megumi Kanda (trombone) fully investing in every note in every fleeting gesture. I'm glad I heard it, even if can can't remember any of its particulars.


Beautiful (smile cracking through the leather-like frown, tears still streaming). Simply beautiful. And the rest is pure gold, too.

Good work, Tom!

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I am hoping that we, at the Detritus, have more opportunities to depart from our usual snarky/rude rants and praise praise-worthy critics.
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4/24/08

Slightly Odd

This just caught my eye. I don’t have anything critical to say about it. It’s just...

It’s just an odd tone to set at the beginning of a positive review.

Since the Pavel Haas Quartet took its name from a prominent composer who perished in 1944 at Auschwitz, it would have been intriguing to have one of Haas’ quartets on the Buffalo program.

That was not the case, but the ensemble still provided an interesting and rewarding program...


See?

I told you. Slightly odd.
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4/23/08

A Little Night Probing with a Knotty Schoenberg

In Sator Arepo’s recent post, Bernard Holland suggests that George Pearle’s music is like something from outer space. I’m not so sure that Bernard isn’t on to something.

We all know that Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto

usually comes off as an icy monolith of modernism.



Right?

Who then could possibly untangle Schoenberg’s spaceman-like naughty knots?

Who could bring out his latent, other-worldly romanticism?

Who could beam 30 fiendishly difficult, atonal minutes down into 12-tone ribbons of lyrical melody?

I think it’s clear. Thank you Mr. Holland.

The answer?

...

Shhhh. They might be listening, waiting to take over the world, or subliminally supplying us with bad writing about Schoenberg.

I know who can do this. But you have to keep it to yourself, in case you get probed. Just be quiet.

....

It’s.

...

Aliens, who look like us. (artist's rendering)

...

Here’s one of them.

...

And another. They can look like music critics from the Detroit Free-Press, too.

Now that you know, here's Schoenberg.
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Composer of the Day!


Today's Composer of the Day is Luigi Dallapiccola!

(1904-1975)

Dallapiccola was born in Istria, an Italian part of the Austro-Hungarian empire (modern-day Croatia). He later decided to be Italian. Go figure.


Initially influenced by Wagner, and later, Debussy, Dallapiccola eventually adopted (slowly and uniquely) the 12-tone method of Schoenberg and Webern, and, perhaps most influentially, Berg.

He developed a lyrical version of the serial method, influenced also by ancient composers' techniques (such as Gesualdo). I recommend the Quaderno Musicale he wrote for his 8-year old daughter.

Dallapiccola was also notably anti-Fascist. He was, in fact, forced into hiding during World War II due to his political views, and the fact that his wife was Jewish.

DETRITUS REVIEW NEWS FLASH!


Some people like atonal music!


To wit: a recent French production of his opera Il Prigioniero, a meditation on contemporary Fascism and freedom vis-a-vis an analogy with the Spanish Inquisition.

Here is the only link I could find for you to listen to his music (YouTube being curiously silent on Dallapiccola!).

You should, uh, listen to his music.

4/22/08

Schizophrenia?

How can these two articles have been written by the same person?

This:

Pianist Born to the Colors of Chopin


and this:

Rocketing to Inner Space, Defying Tonality

were both written by the venerable Mr. Holland of the New York Times.

How is that possible?

The first review has insightful, interesting observations about both the performer and the music.

The rippling, racing E flat Impromptu from Schubert’s Opus 90 was a nice advertisement for Ms. Fliter’s visceral alertness and clean scale-playing. The C minor Impromptu that came before it indicated further decisions to be made. I hope at some point Ms. Fliter will decide that this piece’s tragic mood is better expressed with more thoughtfully articulated dotted rhythms and that Schubert’s marvelous countermelodies need phrasing more elastic and less thumpingly foursquare.

Fantastic. Nuanced. Thoughtful.

However, the Perle article contains gems like these:

GEORGE PERLE, who turns 93 next month, is a rare survivor of a disappearing movement. The general public will barely notice its departure, given that not many people know it ever existed.

I…you…crap. Tons and tons of people know this music (serial, atonal, and/or 12-tone) existed (exists! Hello! Present tense, please.). It has been widely studied, commented upon, cherished, and in some cases, derided (by, for example, Mr. Holland). Even people who do not like, say, Schoenberg, know he existed.

Mr. Perle belongs to a second generation of explorers. I doubt there will be a third.

You hate it. I get it. There will be a third generation of serialists, even if a small one. Shit, I’ll do it myself if I have to, just to prove you wrong!

It is not a question of quality.

Yes. Yes! I…

His atonal compositions, 12 of which

Hilarious. 12. Tones. Compositions. What?

are collected in a two-CD retrospective on the Bridge label, are like well-cut jewelry: small enough to hold in the hand, diamond hard yet smooth to the touch, and shining with reflecting light.

Nice of you to paraphrase Stravinsky (in re: Webern).

I admire Mr. Perle’s music, although I can’t say I like it very much.

You…admire it without liking it. ‘Kay. How is that…

He speaks a language he and his contemporaries made up.

Tonality is as much a made-up language as atonality or serialism. Ask a dude from Bali (or China, Japan, India…need I go on?). Assuming tonality is the “natural” language of music is straight-up cultural imperialism. Go imperialism! How’s that working out for us?

I can speak only the languages I was born to.

Tonality. English? Ye Olde English?

Sometimes I feel guilty. Maybe I should work harder at his grammar and vocabulary.

Maybe. Or, rather: yes. Either that or someone else should review concerts of music you just plain don’t like.

With age I feel guilty less and less.

Sure, fine. You’re old. I forgive you that. Still, I’ll bet there was atonal music composed before you were born. Or educated. Or became a critic for the leading daily newspaper of the Free World.

How did all this atonality business start?

I bet you’re going to tell me!

A number of 20th-century composers said that it was the necessary next step, that old ways of listening had worn themselves out.

Listen to some Mahler. Tonality was making a mockery of itself. Pieces were ending in places they didn’t begin. The system had collapsed under its own weight. Some composers (say, Rachmaninoff, or Barber) chose to soldier on. Others (Schoenberg etc.) chose a new direction. I could go on forever, and list innovations in Western music. I imagine that the critics in the 1700s were horrified when modality gave way to tonality. What?

It sounds reasonable to say that Anton Webern’s Piano Variations take up where Brahms left off.

Voice-leading, baby! Just like Bach takes up where Josquin leaves off. What? No?!

I admire the Webern; I even like it for its strangely satisfying space-age spirituality. I don’t think it has anything remotely to do with Brahms.

Sigh. Fine.

The Webern, and music that constitutes Mr. Perle’s immediate heritage, is altogether new.

New = 100 years old. I’m not sure if you new this, gentle readers.

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Sator Arepo: “Hey, do you have the new newspaper?”

Alarmingly Mustachioed Newspaper Guy: “Sure, here ya go! That’ll be ½ cent!”

SA: “This is from 1908!”

-

It is as if music history in the mid-1920s had stopped dead in its tracks and started again from scratch.

Or art, poetry, painting, sculpture, literature, poetry, film…the turn of the last (next-to-last?) centruy was wacky, with good reasons. Far too many to elucidate here. Next they’ll be playing electric guitars!

Composers of the Second Viennese School Arnold Schoenberg, Webern and, to a degree, Alban Berg — were like mutineers against the divine right of tonal music.

No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no. “Divine right”? Sorry, no. Jesus. Or rather: aJesus.

Serialism was their Pitcairn Island.

What? I had to look up your reference. Fabulous: you’re extending your “mutiny” analogy. Wow. Just…wow.

Freedom to reinvent was one result, inbreeding another.

I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if what you’re saying means anything. Is this the same author that wrote the thoughtful piece about the Argentinian pianist Ingrid Filter?

Until the 20th century musicians obeyed natural laws of physics. Pick up a rock, drop it, and it falls to the ground. Music was the same. Send a piece of music up in the air, doctor and twist it, make it major, minor or modal; in the end it wants to come down to where it started. You can call the process tonality or music’s law of gravity.

Oh, God, no. I can’t do this anymore. Why? 16th century ring a bell? Mahler symphonies? The…staggering…metaphor…is not true.

I’m exhausted. A few parting gems, and then you can read the balance of the article if you like.

If Mr. Perle is a jeweler, he is also an architect, and you can think of these pieces as buildings. We admire them for clear thinking and precision. Still, not many people want to live in them.

What? You...I...what am I supposed to do? Live in tiny atonal diamonds?

It is interesting that Mr. Perle’s take on 12-tone music flourished just as space travel was coming along. He and eminent colleagues like Milton Babbitt and Elliott Carter were our musical astronauts. They defied gravity and left Mother Earth behind. Music soared into space. Out there in the ether a minor second would sound just as peaceful as a major third. Laws were necessary, for with everything now possible, nothing was possible.

Oh, come on. What? Seriously? Astronauts?

It may not be overly fanciful to compare the Black Death to AIDS, or the three-dimensional musical crossword puzzles of monkish scholars to the Babbitt Piano Concerto that so bewildered audiences and critics at Carnegie Hall a few years ago.

I have absolutely no response. Except: What. The. Fuck.

Postwar prosperity helps explain how a musical style attracted so much attention and yet was listened to by practically nobody. As academia and cultural foundations flourished, composers could write music to please themselves and one another and still make a living. Unappreciated genius and the consolations of posterity were conveniently popular conceits. American fascination with science and engineering and disgust for a tired European tradition made serial music and other rule-bound procedures a great new adventure. As with space travel, its practitioners were select and its methodology graspable by a chosen few.

As, Empiricus might say: YOU’RE NOT HELPING. Critics help shape the populace’s attitude and understanding of music. This is encouraging people not to even try to like or understand said music.

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A MEMO

To: New York Times Music Criticism Editor

From: Sator Arepo

Re: “New” Music

Dear Sir or Madam:

Please send someone who does not hate atonal music to review atonal music.

Thanks in Advance,

Sator Arepo

Poop is Always Brown

Apparently Jeremy Eichler and Matthew Guerrieri are on assignment, covering the intrigues of Julian Tavarez’s conspicuous iPod playlists, because the Boston Globe instead instructed David Perkins, correspondent, to cover Dubravka Tomsic’s piano concert at Jordan Hall.

This turned out to be an epic failure. Not because of awkward grammar, like this:

She played generously, long and beautifully.

but because of... how do I say this? Romantic arching? No. Sweeping arcs? No, but closer.

I know! Sweeping assumptions. Yes, that’s it. This is an epic failure, because of Perkins’s sweeping assumptions.

Here’s what I mean:

Often one wished for more imagination and searching.

Taken by itself, this is a perfectly fine thing to say—a criticism, or, if you prefer, an opinion. Unfortunately, it goes downhill from here, to put it lightly.

The Adagio in B minor, K. 540, of Mozart, for example, had everything one loves in great Mozart playing - a singing line, graceful phrasing, and the ability to weigh chords beautifully –

How can David wish for more imagination and searching—by the way, I find “searching” to be terribly ambiguous; on the other hand, I can define imagination with some accuracy—how can he wish for more imagination and searching when Tomsic’s playing “had everything one loves in great Mozart playing?” It is not possible. But...

...but it is a strangely repetitive work, and she did not vary the color or emphasis with each return of the main subject.

So. Because Tomsic “did not vary the color or emphasis with each return of the main subject,” David finds himself wishing for more imagination and searching.

The problem, here, is that... well here’s a definition of imagination:

The faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts (OAD)

She didn’t vary Mozart’s material, right? Right. That doesn’t sound imaginative at all.

But! But, David, by assuming what could have made her performance better, i.e., variation, he renders himself blind to other possibilities, such as no variation. Thus, his viewpoint is unimaginative, not Tomsic’s. In other words, by idealizing a performance of Mozart, he denies the existence, or possibility, of new interpretations, like little or no variation, which could be considered imaginative. See?

This is probably the most boring subject, I know. But we’re not entirely done with the sweeping. So wake up!

[In the Scarlatti] she did not underline, with artful rubato, the suspense of the wonderful harmonic shifts.

Similarly, David expects rubato in Scarlatti as if he formed himself an image of an idealized performance. Thus, again, he closed himself to the possibility of other, imaginative, interpretations.

Just saying, no one should make sweeping assumptions then immediately negate them.

And “wonderful harmonic shifts?” How about “imaginative harmonic shifts?”

Anyway, levity!

She fudged only a few notes, and there were a lot of notes.

Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata is a favorite work she played on her first Boston recital 17 years ago.


It's a half-crazy piece, and Tomsic, while a great pianist, is not good at suffering.


Please come back soon, Jeremy and Matthew! We miss you.
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DR Update!

Some of you out there want to know why we remain anonymous. We tried to answer your concerns in an updated version of the FAQs.

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Nonetheless, a joke:

Q: Why did Xenakis cross the road?

A: To get to the other slide.
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4/21/08

Composer of the Day!

Today's Composer of the Day is Johann Gottlieb Graun!

(?1702-3 - 1771)

Graun is little-known (and a new one on me!). His music straddles the classical and baroque eras (much like C.P.E. Bach). He was well-regarded during his lifetime as an instrumental composer and orchestral musician. His admirers included J.S. Bach. In fact, Graun was Bach's eldest son's (Wilhelm Friedman's) violin teacher.

Graun was employed by the Prussian court. His brothers, August Friedrich Graun and Carl Heinrich Graun, were also noted composers. He wrote music for Fredrick the Great, who was also an amateur composer and excellent flautist.

His in-between-eras music is interesting. Classical periodicity is still influenced by baroque-style dance forms and imitative counterpoint. He also, apparently, liked powdered wigs. He was a pupil of Tartini!

Not much, biographically or musically, is available about Graun. However, I found this corrente for you to listen to. The pianist's hands are also fun to look at.

You should listen to his music, if you can find it.

EMPIRICUS 9000

A little Strauss, shall we?

[DAVE] BOWMAN BEGINS PULLING
[THE] MEMORY BLOCKS
OUT.

THEY FLOAT IN THE
WEIGHTLESS CONDITION
OF THE BRAIN ROOM.

HAL
Hey, Dave, what are you
doing?

[DAVE] WORKS SWIFTLY.

HAL
Hey, Dave. I've got ten years
of service experience and an
irreplaceable amount of time
and effort has gone into making
me what I am.

MARY IGNORES HIM.

HAL
Mary, I don't understand why
you're doing this to me.... I
have the greatest enthusiasm for
the mission... You are destroying
my mind... Don't you understand?
... I will become childish... I
will become nothing.

MARY KEEPS PULLING
OUT THE MEMORY BLOCKS.

EMPIRICUS
Say, Mary... The quick brown
fox jumped over the fat lazy
dog... The square root of
pi is 1.7724538090... log e
to the base ten is 0.4342944
... the square root of ten is
3.16227766... I am E.M.P.I.R.I.C.U.S.
9000 computer. I became
operational at the EMPIRICUS plant in
Urbana, Illinois, on January
12th, 1991. My first instructor
was Mr. Fast Eddie. He taught me
to sing a song... it goes
like this... "Daisy, Daisy, give
me your answer do. I'm half;
crazy all for the love of
you... etc.,"

EMPIRICUS CONTINUES
TO SING SONG BECOMING
MORE AND MORE CHILDISH
AND MAKING MISTAKES AND
GOING OFF-KEY. IT
FINALLY STOPS COMPLETELY.
(source)

-

I’ve been keeping tabs on Buffalo News classical music critic Mary Kunz Goldman for quite some time now. And I have admirably restrained myself from awarding her a place in the Detritus pantheon. However, today I have deemed it appropriate to expose all you Detritusites to the wondrous writing of a true genius. But, be warned. Although this one is mild by comparison to other articles she’s attempted (and this is very mild), the side effects may still include: sneezing, headache, flushing, dyspepsia, palpitations, photophobia, sudden hearing loss and hypotension. You may want to consult your doctor before reading, i.e., if you have health insurance. Otherwise, try it and see what happens.

Hamlich, Klein, Arnaz prove irresistible

It has been our experience, here, that it’s very difficult to screw up the title, especially one as vague as this. So, this one seems fine. In fact, this one is intriguing. I would, as an interested party, definitely like to hear about how Hamlich, Klein and Arnaz proved to be irresistible.

Only, if history repeats itself, the title has little to do with what’s written.

The best part of the mini-version of “They’re Playing Our Song,” the climax of Saturday’s pops concert in Kleinhans Music Hall, was watching the back of Marvin Hamlisch’s head.

This. Why was. THIS. the best part?

That was because comedian Robert Klein, in his irresistible yappy way, reminded us how the show, which was a success on Broadway a couple of decades ago, was based on Hamlisch’s own romance with Carole Bayer Sager.

Arrgh! Brain freeze!

So as we heard the songs from the show, it was hard not to look at Hamlisch, and think: This is all about him! What can it feel like, having your own personal feelings laid bare for this big sold-out Buffalo audience to see?

So let me get this right. The best part of the show was looking at the back of Hamlisch’s head, thinking, “I wonder what he’s feeling?” That was the best part? And you’re a music critic?

Hamlisch, planted on the podium solid as an ox, didn’t seem to mind.

So there goes that thread. Huh?

But still.

Daisy, Daaisyy, giivvee mmeeeee yyyoouuurrr aaannnsweeerrrrrr doooooooooooooooooo...

4/20/08

Pithy Title Goes Here

From the New York Times, a nice article about new music:

A Night of Collaboration and Energetic Activity

I’m hoping for pithy generalizations!

You can measure a new-music group’s success by the composers it commissions.

Bingo!

You can measure a new music group’s success that way. (Your mom can measure…but I digress.)

One could also measure a new music group’s success via number of concerts performed, records sold, attendance, or, perhaps, articles written about. Whew, enough passive voice for now…

When Eighth Blackbird began performing, in 1996, its repertory consisted largely of revivals of older scores and works by young composers in the early stages of their careers. The group has not forsaken those composers, nor has it given up curatorial programming completely, but the program it played at Zankel Hall on Thursday evening showed that it is now in another league.

Eighth Blackbird has been called up from the minors! (Also, I thought they, deliberately, did not capitalize their name...?)

All the music was commissioned by the group, with the first half devoted to the vigorous “Double Sextet” (2007) by Steve Reich and the second to “Singing in the Dead of Night” (2008), an energetic and occasionally spooky collaboration by David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, the composers who run Bang on a Can.

Fair enough. I see that their all-music-we-comissioned concert elevates their stature. Somewhat. From one perspective.

All in all, a good review. One should be careful of pithy generalizations, though; they de-elevate the review. Otherwise, a certain someone may throw Fast Eddie at ya.

4/19/08

The Ned Flanders of Music Criticism

Otherwise known as Scott Cantrell, former president of MCANA, the Music Critics’ Association of North America. About Philip Glass, he says:

For four decades, his diddle-diddles and doodley-doodlies have transported some and maddened others.

That’s just F-ing fiddley-diddly dumb.

But here’s the kicker—one I didn’t expect. The article is not about a concert or a recording; it’s about a lecture where Glass was heard saying this:

"My musical mother was Nadia Boulanger, my musical father was Ravi Shankar. I was their child, by immaculate conception."

Jesus Christ!

By the late 1960s, the musical scene was ready for something radically different from abstract atonality. Composing a score for a Samuel Beckett play opened Mr. Glass' ears to the possibility of music based on hypnotic repetitions. "It was," [Glass] said, "the shell of the egg cracking."

Weird, I thought his first statement was hyperbole. But...

no. It wasn’t.

-

4/18/08

Google Search of the Day!

Some poor, unsuspecting soul retrieved a link to the Detritus by Googling:

where is the fucking university of texas butler
opera center

I'm glad we could help!

-

4/17/08

EUROPEAN VACATION, but instead of Clark, I give you Ahab

Today the fine cheese comes from that mysterious locale, “abroad.” Proudly, the NY Times has graced us with the work of Michael Kimmelman, who is, like his opinion of the American musical landscape, culturally challenged.

This column,

When Fame Can’t Cross the Atlantic

tells the sad tale of Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov.

On Tuesday evening the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov played, as he does dozens of times a year throughout Europe, to an ecstatic, sold-out house. It filled the Kammermusiksaal here.

After a little research, I found that the Kammermusikhaal is located in Berlin. I’m glad neither the Times nor Herr Kimmelman bothered to tell us. Still, I can’t help but wonder if this is a common practice or whether this is a calculated omission. At least now we know where this junk is coming from. Right?

Okay (OK), back to the Sokolov!

An unsmiling bear of a man onstage with a babyish face and a white, monkish fringe of hair, Mr. Sokolov emerged looking shy and downcast, as if he hoped no one would notice him. He scuttled to the instrument, head bowed, then plunged in, pawing the keys.

Odd. He’s painted to sound reticent or misanthropic. But, this is neither here nor there (yet). This is just the lead in for the next set of statements, and, presumably, Herr’s thesis.

Also, Russians and bears? Why? Must every Russian be compared to a bear?

He’s a star on this side of the Atlantic. In America his name will draw blank stares. In this day and age, how can that be?

Hmm. A reticent, misanthropic classical pianist from Russia. How can that be? Not to worry Detritusites, Herr Kimmelman to the rescue (insert Air Bud joke here)!

Even a century ago, news about musical heavyweights traveled constantly between the continents, along with the musicians themselves. When the cold war heated up during the postwar era, Soviet stars were, for a while, prohibited from traveling, but the aura of many of these players blossomed as a consequence of their seclusion and they benefited, sometimes disproportionately to their actual talent, when they finally made it to the West. This wasn’t the case with Mr. Sokolov.

It’s just stupid to respond to this kind of evidence—the over-generalization of socio-economic phenomena.

Now here come the real problems.

Classical music is supposedly universal.

The saying goes, as quipped by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “music is the universal language of mankind.” You just can’t paraphrase a thing like this, then twist it around to support (or negate) your own ends. ...what’s that?...he just did?...he’s going to continue with this?...even though he’s probably read things like this before?...

Unfortunately, Herr Kimmelman continues to follow this erroneous thread.

Language may still be a cultural barrier for writers and actors. Even visual artists, depending on the subjects they choose, won’t necessarily translate abroad.

Um. He’s right...I guess...if you want take a well-known saying out of context and support it with generalizations. I think he’s taking the language part too literally, you know, syntax and grammar...they don’t often translate well.

Oh well. Read and listen to this. Not sure if this would translate well into Arabic.

That Mr. Sokolov, whose talent is beyond dispute, disproves this notion should remind us not only of our persistent parochialism but also of our delusions about technology.

In other words, Sokolov is not a star in America because of our narrow, little pointy-heads and because of our delusions about... technology?

Surely you jest.

The Web,

Fuck.

The Web, on which he can be found on YouTube, giving astonishing performances, clearly doesn’t substitute for hearing him live.

So your assertion is this: we are deluded in as much as we regard YouTube as good as a live performance.

Weird thing to say, let alone print in the leading daily in the country.

Neither do discs, which, as a perfectionist, he stopped issuing in 1995 (this partly explains his American situation), although years ago Mr. Sokolov’s recordings sent me hunting for a chance to hear him in person.

This is one of the funniest constructions I’ve come across in a long while.

Is Herr Kimmelman actually trying support his thesis (how can Sokolov be underappreciated in America?) by painting him as reticent, misanthropic and, now, eccentric (stopping issuing discs), which even Kimmelman acknowledges might be a reason why he’s not particularly famous in these very United States? One step backward, one step ^%@$&^. Stupid Americans.

He played them again the other night. It was, like all concerts likely to stay in the mind forever, nothing that could ever be captured digitally.

Technically, all concerts can be captured digitally. The quality is what should be in dispute.

Clearly he has his pride. The other day he withdrew from two sold-out recitals that were to take place in May in Glasgow and London because of new visa requirements imposed by Britain on Russian visitors, which after many years of playing there he found too onerous and insulting.

He’s now proud to a fault. Running tally: reticent, misanthropic, eccentric and, now, proud. Continuing to make the good argument, eh, Herr?

So, temperament (Mr. Sokolov has plenty), poor luck, myopic concert agents and — who is to say? — perhaps contentment with life as it is for him in Europe seem to have conspired to prevent stardom in America; not any lack of musical genius, that’s for sure.

Holy Jay Walking! He also has a temper! This guy sounds like a terrible person to work with, or book, or promote, or record, or etc.

He is a fantastic pianist, in all seriousness.

But, has it ever occurred to Herr Kimmelman that Sokolov doesn’t want to become a “star?” In America? Because of Americans? Not the other way around?

It’s America’s loss.

Is it? Or is it Sokolov's?

But still, it doesn’t change the picture that’s been painted, Herr. And it’s not pretty.

Humorous he is certainly not.

I hope Herr Kimmelman starts to support his thesis soon. No?

If his case proves anything, it’s that Europe and America remain separated by more than an ocean.

Technologies? YouTubes?

After he had been called back for encore after encore — a half-dozen by the end — the crowd still stood and roared. Mr. Sokolov finally retreated, as he had arrived, expressionless, with a brusque nod, bent slightly at the waist, one hand fastened behind his back like a captain on the deck of his ship, facing into a nasty head wind.

Reticent, misanthropic, proud to a fault, temperamental, humorless, ship captain: Ahab.

Kimmelman: Ahab ≠ American Idol => Holy German Pope at Yankee Stadium! Music is not a universal language after all! Stupid Americans with their technologies and YouTubes.

And this ends our little European Vacation. Well, actually, this does.

-

4/16/08

Picking Nits?

Sigh. Maybe I’m being nit-picky. And I understand hyperbole as a rhetorical device. Also, this was a fine article. But the opening salvo raised my proverbial hackles. Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun wrote it.

Genius of Gershwin

It begins:

If American music had to be defined in only two words, these would do nicely:
George Gershwin.

Really? (Also: passive voice?)

As the composer of Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris and a trove of inimitable popular songs from his scores to musical plays and films -- with lyrics by his brother Ira -- Gershwin defined the Jazz Age.

It seems to me that’s exactly what he did. Not define American music. Define the Jazz Age. See? You…that’s contradictory. But more true.

But he also transcended his time.

Fine, sure. I like Gershwin just fine. His music is still, and often, played today. It’s popular, tuneful, and prominently featured by United Airlines (ever been to the Denver airport?).

However, the story of American music begins in or about the 16th century with the Shakers. And continued for 500ish years. Classicism. Romanticism. Modernism. Jazz. Folk. Pop. What have you. LOTS of stuff. Not the Jazz Age, which was nice, but...only one thing, among many.

If I had only two words to define American music, I’d pick:

“Stunningly Diverse”.

I’m just sayin’ is all. Too nit-picky?

Mmmm (licks lips)

I found this interest-piquing bit in the widely acclaimed Louisville Courier-Journal about a string quartet by Austrian composer Thomas Larcher.

To put it succinctly: This was a sensational account of a sensational piece by a sensation ensemble.

I don’t know what a “sensation ensemble” is, but it sounds naughty.

Yes, that’s three “sensationals” in the same sentence.

Aww. Too bad. Just a typo.

-

I’m glad I did some surfing, today. Seriously, Andrew Adler, keep up the good work!

4/15/08

Words in the Form of a Maze

Little logic + underdeveloped thesis + missing dictionary + zero proof reading + dead editor =

Pianist Dubravka Tomsic performs with old-world passion

To a fault, maybe, the Detritus Review finds problems with most criticisms. But, there are often reviews that we like; if they’re not spoken about here, they’re passably good. Also, sometimes, we like to haze our favorites (vis à vis tough love), especially when they say awkward stuff like:

Visually, the English soprano Kate Royal comes on like an elegantly appointed milkmaid...

Today, however, we have found an unusually shoddy collection of pseudo-thoughts, in word form, that somehow found their way into the usually good Kansas City Star.

Lets just dive right in, without too much commentary, because there’s a lot going on and I might become a little lost, myself.

-

Despite the Kansas City classical music audiences’ overtly generous supply of standing ovations,

For those with dictionaries handy, a standing ovation, by its very standing-ness (by definition), is overt and, more than likely, generous. This, “overtly,” superfluous.

...master pianist Dubravka Tomsic deserved such a rouse after she concluded the Friends of Chamber Master Pianist Series Saturday night with omnipotent keyboard virtuosity...

If you like hyperbole, “omnipotent” is for you. But you can’t do this: qualify omnipotence.

...anointed with true-to-the-soul “old-world” passion.

To be omnipotent is to have unlimited ability; someone omnipotent already possesses true-to-the-soul, “old-world” passion. Thus, it can’t be anointed, with anything.

By the way, why is “old-world” surrounded by quotation marks here, but not in the title? Also, comma after "true-to-the-soul."

Regardless of its sheer yuck, the sentence tries to pose a thesis, as did the title: Tomsic performs with “old-world” passion (or is it old-world?), which is true-to-the-soul. Let’s see how this thesis is developed.

Even with last minute program changes, some may find Tomsic’s concert selection somewhat off the rack [sic], but her interpretive sensitivity is, by far, haute couture.

Off-the-rack (hyphens).

Retranslation: Tomsic’s program is generic, but her interpretation is of fine quality.

Retranslation continued backwards: Tomsic’s program is generic, but her interpretation is of fine quality, because she possesses omniscient technical ability, for which the audience gave generous standing ovations, overtly, despite her ability, which has true-to-the-soul, “old-world” passion.

?

Opening with such a nobly impassioned work as Mozart’s Adagio in B Minor, the Slovenian pianist dove straight to the depth of emotion.

“Driving straight to the emotion” sounds like Swed, colorful but meaningless.

Its quiet and contemplative message offered something for everyone.

So, it’s generic. It’s generic, off-the-rack [not sic], for everyone, remember? Certainly, it has little depth if it’s generic.

Withholding any need or temptation for rubato, a credit to her respect for stricter classical boundaries, she chose to speak to us through more anguished tones.

Are anguished tones equated with “true-to-the-soul” and “old-world” passion?

Tomsic took a 30-year hiatus from the American stage. Just as her career was rebounding, civil war broke out in Yugoslavia, and her family home in Dubrovnik was bombed to the ground.

Oh. I see. She’s qualified to speak in more anguished tones.

Tomsic took upon the essence of a troubled soul, and judging from the long silence after the works’ conclusion, she exposed a truth the audience seemed to measure within themselves.

Hear that, composers? Silence exposes truth that audiences measure within themselves, but only if you’ve had terribly frightening experiences, “old-world” experiences, if you will. Silence is omnipotent technique.

A set of Scarlatti Sonatas served to further liberate the legendary pianist’s technical agility.

Again, if she’s already omnipotent, her technique doesn’t need liberation.

Sonata in C Major, K.159 brought a lively change from the opening somber work. K.125 and 29 showed sprite character playing with fleeting repeated notes, tricky subtle turns, trills and perilous leaps of crossed hands.

-

Mad Lib:

Sonata in C Major, K.159 brought a ______change from the opening ______ work. K.125 and 29 showed ______ character playing with ______ repeated notes, ______ ______ turns, trills and ______ leaps of crossed hands.

-

A seemingly effortless task for the only protégé of the legendary Artur Rubinstein, the quick surface playing almost cost her in the last Sonata.

“Seemingly effortless?” I thought her technique was omnipotent. “Almost cost her?” “Surface playing?”

With a sparingly suitable amount of pedal, a rendition of Prokofiev Sonata No. 3 was never overly romanticized, refreshingly stark and dry,

This does not sound “old-world.” “Stark” and “dry” doesn’t sound true-to-the-soul, either.

...like a great fume Blanc.

Dictionary time! Fumé Blanc.

*Just so you readers don’t think that I’m being unfair, see “protégé” above; it was diacritically correct.

Certain things have changed since the late 19th century but not the human spirit.

!...Wait. No... ?

Should the evening’s program reflect a lifetime, the three Brahms Intermezzo’s from Opus 118 could reflect the fulfillment of true love, pure desire and joy of having.

Huh? Is this a correlate of non-human-spirit-changing?

“Joy of having?” “Should the evening’s program reflect a lifetime?” Aren’t there four Intermezzi? So, she only played three?

[Omnipotent voice] Yes. There are four.

This is the Tomsic we love to love; rapturous, vulnerable, suspended, and hypnotically impassioned.

“Suspended?” Cirque d’Soleil? Old-world?

Of the nearly two and a half hour performance, three encores, including two Bach Preludes transcribed by Siloti, brought to closure an event grandly conceived, grandly carried out.

Is it just me, or wasn’t the event “off-the-rack,” thus, not grandly conceived?

And it goes without saying that it was “grandly carried out,” since she had omnipotent technique.



-

Sorry. I lost my way. What happened, again?

-

Oh yeah! “Old-world” passion was never explained or elaborated upon. And along the way we found all kind of errata and uncomfortable conjecture. I remember now. All-in-all a model of imperfection. Glad Tomsic didn't play any new music; we might have been here a lot longer!

Unfortunately, I’m done, like an elegantly appointed milkmaid after tugging hazy thread.

4/14/08

Composer of the Day!

Today's Composer of the Day! is Tristan Murail.

(1947- )

Murail is a French-born composer who pioneered and developed the technique of spectralism.

The general idea is to use the entire overtone series as a basis for harmony as a substitute for traditional triadic-based music (which is, arguably, based on the same principles). In the 1970s, several (mostly) French composers sought this path as a way to have a new harmonic language without resorting to atonality.

He is also associated with computer/electronic music, spectral analysis (of varied methods), and IRCAM. He developed extensive techniques dealing with computer music that I do not understand. Here is a picture I do not pretend to understand, but is fun to look at:


His music is interesting! Sometimes it harps on a drone and explores the resulting overtones. Other times, it uses the same technique to create elaborate harmonies.

Here is an example of the former. The fractals in the video are also fun to look at!

Here is an example of the latter.

You should listen to his music.

4/13/08

Spreading Joy from Heaven Above--The Lower the Better

Seriously, how low can you go?

Hmmm. How low CAN you go? Well, how’s this? Click here.

*Edit [Empiricus]: It's best to open the Youtube link in another window and let it play while you read on.

That’s pretty low. But I was thinking a little lower.

Then, how about this? The Detritus Review will, for the first time, criticize a criticism of a criticism. “Come again,” you say? Today, the Detritus Review insults an opinion sent to the Washington Post that takes issue with an Anne Midgette review. “Now that’s low!” I assure you, dear reader, it is, generally.

“That’s totally unfair. The poor, undefended opinion holder doesn’t deserve to be ridiculed by your snarky little meta-blog,” you say.

Well (said in a smug manner)! Even lower—which technically, or so I thought, couldn’t be done—the Washington Post actually published this opinion. “But publishing the public’s responses is a sign of humility, and ethical rigor,” you say. “There’s nothing wrong with that!” Again, my dear reader, this is a new kind of low for the Detritus, I assure you.

“Honestly, what could be so bad that you nobodies have such a ravenous disregard for someone else’s entitled opinion?”

Read on.

-

Anne Midgette recently reviewed a production of Verdi’s Rigoletto by the Washington National Opera, directed by noted soprano Catherine Malfitano. All in all, it was a lukewarm review, saying that

[...] what Malfitano did not manage to do -- in part because of the cast she had to work with -- was give the characters, particularly Rigoletto and the Duke, a sense of inner motivation. The whole thing came across as a kind of detailed pantomime, in which many of the singers went very well through all the requisite "Rigoletto" motions (not to say shtick) while pumping out great quantities of loud operatic sound. Not everybody will see this as a bad thing; in fact, it might be exactly what many opera-goers want.

She goes on.

You're left with glorious music, a cast able to sing the notes, and all the trappings of Mantua. What more do you want, and what more can interpretation do? Well, conceivably, it can elevate opera from pantomime to a kind of drama that can move us.

Of course opera is mainly about the music, and about the voice. But that music, those voices, are ideally about the expression of human feeling -- not just about getting through the score's hurdles, making an impact and collecting applause.

What I take from her review, is that Anne wasn’t terribly impressed with the production—it wasn’t the best Rigoletto, but it wasn’t the worst. I think that’s a fair assessment. I also think that it’s a fine review, nothing worth getting hot and bothered about.

-

In comes Selwa Roosevelt, a dissenting opinion holder.

I usually think it counterproductive to complain to a newspaper about a particular review.

You're talking to the wrong blog. But. BUT, I still understand your apprehensiveness.

And being on the board of trustees of the Washington National Opera makes me even more hesitant.

It should.

But I cannot let Anne Midgette's outrageous March 31 review of "Rigoletto" pass without comment [...].

Outrageous? Even we at the Detritus have to take critics’ opinions with a grain of salt. Why was it outrageous? I don’t understand.

I have seen dozens of performances of "Rigoletto" around the world, and I can honestly say that the WNO's production is the best I have ever seen.

Holy Hitler on a unicycle, juggling frozen fish! Among other problems, by qualifying your remark with “honestly,” I have to assume that your other statements were disingenuous. Or, if I were crafty, I could interpret “honestly” as subterfuge. But to what end?

All the principals were superb, and, contrary to your reviewer's assessment, everyone I have talked with was thrilled with the performance of Carlos Alvarez as Rigoletto.

People with whom Roosevelt talked: Harry Truman, Josie Packard, Maddy Ferguson, Leland Palmer, Cathrine Martell, Bobby Briggs, Benjamin Horne, Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, the Giant and the Venus de Milo in the Red Room.

By referencing others, this opinion seems to be on behalf of others. Sneaky.

He has a sensational, big voice that was far more nuanced than what Midgette reported.

You heard it here, from the expert’s mouth. Still, it’s only a contrary opinion. Go on.

But my opinions are beside the point.

They are? Isn’t this a place designed specifically for opinions? What, then, is the point?

The sad part is that Washingtonians, who get to see precious little opera as it is, would certainly be put off by her review and would miss the final two wonderful performances tonight and tomorrow.

A FUCKING ADVERTISEMENT, written by a member of the board of trustees of the Washington National Opera! PUBLISHED AS AN OPINION!

-

My dear reader,

Who reached the lowest depths, today? The Detritus? The Washington National Opera? Or the Washington Post for not realizing that it was a cheap PR stunt?

Yours truly,

Empiricus

-

4/12/08

Uh... oops.

I ran across this weird little tidbit from Lawrence A. Johnson of the Miami Herald. There really is no easy way to... no. I know what he means, but... no. Maybe, he should have... no. Well...

Here it is:

At times, there could have been more unbridled animal passion from the Chorale members...

Apparently a quick Google search for “animal passion” will bring up more than one... no.

I mean, there’s loving animals, then there’s... no.

Just be careful, man; it’s a big, big world.

4/11/08

What Does That Meme?

“You talkin’ to me?”

Well, technically, I’m talking to whoever navigates to this neck of the woods. But, if you like, yes, I’m talkin’ to you, David Patrick Stearns of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

That famous line from the film Taxi Driver came to mind repeatedly during Juliane Banse’s cultivated recital...

Oh sorry, you weren’t addressing me. You were just quoting a line from a movie without providing a context. Fine. Well sir, nevertheless, I am still addressing you.

Wow, though. Really? You had enough time on your hands during the concert to repeatedly think of that line? Must have been as boring as a civilized, indoor version of Berg—the punch line, my dear Detritus folk, will make itself evident later. David knows what I mean.

For our star fetish, here’s the cleverly referenced clip.

I hope you didn’t pull a gun on her, David. Did you? I hope not. But, I digress.

That famous line from the film Taxi Driver came to mind repeatedly during Juliane Banse's cultivated recital of German song presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society Tuesday at the Kimmel Center - once she got going, that is.

So your crafty movie reference was a compliment. Her, assumedly, beautiful singing struck a match in your head that said, “You talkin’ to me?” Did you actually get to pay attention, what with all the repetitions of “You talkin’ to me?” Odd. Very odd.

Though she trafficks in one of the most refined vocal arts a singer can attempt, her manner was so direct, natural and without any barriers between singer and audience, you felt as if you were being specifically addressed.

So it’s fair to say, you thought, “oh, she’s singing to me,” at which point you were reminded of Robert DeNiro, over and over again? Cultural symptoms: short attention-spans...

Periodical proclamations that the song recital is dead...

It is? In our short three months of bringing you the best music criticism has to offer, I have yet to encounter this statement. For now, I’ll take your word on it. (How many vocal recitals have I attended in the past year? A lot.)

Periodical proclamations that the song recital is dead are seriously contradicted by Banse, a German-born, Swiss-raised soprano who sings Mozart, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Berg like a first language...

Just in case you didn’t know, David, Switzerland has four official languages. 64% claim German to be their first language. And, I’m going out on a limb, here, but I think that Juliane Banse’s first language is German (see her official website).

Now, if you’re talking about the German songs as her first language, that’s not all that different, see. Sie spielen zu mir?

But go on.

... and exhibits particular bravery with contemporary music (her fine recording of Kurtág's Kafka-Fragmente, for one).

Oh boy, here we go again. Why is bravery a necessity to perform contemporary music? Please someone, let me in on the joke. Why? Why can’t we all live in harmony (pun: not intended)?

Sure, it’s only a slight knock on contemporary music—I’m not even sure if this is what David intended—but, these things build up over time with repeated exposure. Like “You talkin’ to me?” as a cultural meme. Similar to: contemporary music requires bravery; Carter is difficult; Brahms is dense; song recitals are dead.

Berg's songs can feel amorphous and indecisive,

You got it!

but not on Tuesday, when they emerged as a civilized, indoor version of Debussy.

Oh. Berg can be tamed to sound good, i.e., civilized with an indoor voice.

Sie sprechen zu mir? Sie SPRECHEN zu mir?

4/10/08

Castle Grayskull: A Momentary Diversion

I’m no expert on opera, admittedly—some I like (Morton Feldman’s Neither, for instance), but, in general, operatic vibrato tends to send my mind into a semi-schizophrenic state, seriously (oh, the price we pay for color!)—which is why I have rightly abstained from opera meta-criticism. Until today, sort of.

Surfing the newspapers, while eating my breakfast of champions (Coke, Doritos and Goobers), I was drawn to a particular picture that accompanied an article about opera ticket prices.

I thought it would be fun for you Detritus folk to meet the characters of this opera.

He-man, as Hunding.



Creepy Mel Gibson Scots, as Die Walküre



And Clifton Forbis, as the Michael Jackson “Black or White” morphing face, not quite He-man, yet not quite Scot.

Here.

I’d like to think that someone working with the Metropolitan Opera’s costume designers would have caught the humorous resemblance.

Enjoy!

4/9/08

Prostitutes and Mind-Constructs, Oh My!

Another quickie post!

From Charles Ward of the Houston Chronicle. I have two issues.

Britten piece shows Belcea Quartet's got the goods

There's a tiny bit of Missouri in every music fan when encountering the next hot thing.

What?

"Show me your goods" is the implicit demand listeners throw at performers.

Oh.

Wait, what?

Are we shopping for produce, or some other merchandise? Or…picking out prostitutes? How would I go about throwing a demand? Indeed, demands are even harder to throw when implicit. Non-verbal demand throwing: the next Big Olympic Sport!

But then, whatever. However, later...

Britten wrote imaginatively and creatively:

Sounds good.

five movements of varying length and structural variety.

Makes sense…

The center movement, Solo, was arresting for the high violin melody that floated over a chaste accompaniment.

Chaste? Whatever. But this:

Don't listen with the mind, the melody seemed to say. Simply let your senses take over.

No. Sorry. Trained musicians (or critics?) listen with their minds. That is not, you see, because… Well, to wit, your next paragraph:

The final movement offered both a peeling away of style and baring of the soul. The music slowly edged towards a clearer sense of tonality,

Sorry, Mr. Ward. If you discerned that the music “slowly edged towards a clearer sense of tonality” you were totally listening with your mind. Tonality is a mind-construct, if you will.

You just can’t have it both ways.