9/30/08

Dear Cleveland Plain Dealer,

















...and a delicately spoken FU, by Tim Smith, on the "reassignment" of critic Don Rosenberg of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

I first heard about it today on KQED (NPR), which is definitely an out-of-the-way tidbit for them to run on-air. Also, according to KQED, the Plain Dealer is expecting layoffs in the near future.

(Again, painting by Jana Bartouskova)

P.S. I never read the Plain Dealer because it is horribly unnavigable.

Class Warfare

Well, music isn't music. It depends on class, apparently. Yes, this is a "classical" music blog, mostly, but I don't put up with condescension. It's my least favorite thing ever. Well, perhaps except for cancer, or something.

Olin Chism of the Dallas Morning News reviews the:

Voces Intimae opens season with salute to 1938

The season-opening program of Voces Intimae was so varied that you might be hard put to think of a theme linking all the works performed.

I've really, really never understood the urge to link works in a program. What's the point? You go to a concert, hear some music, and go home. Who cares if it's Webern and Machaut (although you could make an argument about math or something, but why?).

There was one, though: the year 1938. Each of the works was composed then, published then, or written by a composer born in that year.

Wow. That is a tenuous connection. Who cares? What's the point? Oh, crud, I just repeated myself. Does that make a connection between my last two paragraphs (for no discernible reason)?

Voces Intimae specializes in art song, but it is by no means exclusive in its definition of the form.

That is a very confusing sentence. I get the gist, but...really?

The composers in the Sunday-night concert at Grace United Methodist Church included Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington, and the lyricists included Bob Dylan

Okay, so there was some non-traditional "classical" music mixed in. Go on.

Vocalists Angela Turner Wilson, Rebecca Winston, Virginia Dupuy and Brooke Clark Gibson; pianists Shields-Collins Bray and Mark Stamper; and clarinetist Brent Buemi performed.

I still don't understand the semicolons, but whatever.

Although the music of the program's first two segments was by classical composers with distinguished credentials, it was a clear demonstration that music from lower on the social scale can have an impact.

Wow. I mean, wow. Who knew that "lower" music could "have an impact"? Class warfare much? Jesus. If anyone reading this thinks Duke Ellington was "not a composer" because he wrote "Jazz" music, well, um, I don't like you. That was the nicest thing I could think of to say.

See this. (sorry, couldn't embed video.)

Badass.

This included three of William Bolcom's Cabaret Songs. "Over the Piano" is a bluesy song about closing time, and "Lady Luck" is about a shady lady who keeps her pride even when she's kicked out. "George" is a weird story-in-song about a cross-dresser who prefers to be called Georgia and entertains customers with operatic soprano arias. But then he's stabbed to death by an offended customer in the middle of an aria from Madame Butterfly. He has a nice funeral, though, and you don't know whether to laugh or cry.

You don't know whether to laugh or cry. (That was the cleverist thing I could think of.)

Dallas composer Simon Sargon's three Patterns in Blue explore a similar down-and-maybe-out world, but without the weirdness. I particularly liked the music of "Lonesome Boys Blues," though the text was a little obscure.

I have no idea who that is, so I'm taking your word on this one, Chism. However, what does "the text was a little obscure" mean? You were unable to make it out from the singing? Or you didn't get it?

The heaviest portion of the program was John Corigliano's Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan, especially the ferocity of "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Masters of War." Other composers represented were Henry Cowell, Samuel Barber and David del Tridici

I happen to know that Corigliano admitted he'd never heard any Dylan when he set the lyrics for his art songs. Also, I'd love to hear about the Cowell and del Tridici. No? Crap.

All of Sunday night's performers were impressive musical dramatists, though a pop fan might feel they were too well trained for the Arlen-Porter-Ellington part of the program.

Ah, there's the rub, as that one guy once wrote. Too well trained (well-trained?)? WTF? That is some bullshit right there. Goddammit. Go ask fucking Robert Fripp who's too "well trained".

Again, on this site we focus on "classical" music, but I can't bear condescension towards other genres. Music is music, people. This classist shit has got to stop.

9/29/08

Happy Fuzzy Bunny Story Time Art!

Ah, Mr Ward. What would I do without you?

Houston Symphony Challenges Its Listeners

Many of us would prefer that art not disturb us.

What? All art should be Happy Fuzzy Bunny Story Time? Should not Art bring up the deepest issues of human nature? The most profound questions of our (or any other) time? Question our perceptions, and, yes, even beliefs?

Entertain us? Yes.

Wow. I guess, most superficially, entertainment is one goal of art. I think it's called The Entertainment Industry.

Fine Art, to me, whether visual, aural, or otherwise, should have loftier goals. Like, I don't know, being profound?

Reinforce our notions of beauty? Certainly.

Or perhaps challenge our notions of beauty? What is beauty? (Suddenly I'm fucking Socrates over here.)

Is this beautiful?

How about this?

Remind us of the wretched evil that can be found at times in mankind? Please, no.

Please, yes. We need to be reminded from time to time. Remember this dude?

Yeah, let's try not to forget not letting that shit happen again. Or this:

Let's actually try to keep in mind the evil of which man is capable.

In other words, we prefer Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to Dmitri Shostakovich's 13th.

We do? Who are we? Who am I? Who are you? Not Russian, apparently.

[snip]

But then we reverse direction! WTF? At the end of the article:

Art does have the role of reminding us of the dark side of man. Graf and his forces left, for me, a vivid reminder of that reality.

Yes! Exactly? What? You...like...what you don't want?

So...confused. Need...drink...

A Sexy Baton

I have nothing “critical” to say about the latest Richard Scheinen simile; it’s stupendously inventive, to say the least. But, I have no idea what it means.

There's rhythmic acuity in Dunner's conducting, as well as a general clarity to his gestures.

Obviously, that’s not the simile, but it sets it up. Symphony Silicon Valley conductor Leslie Dunner apparently did very well, because...

His baton seems to wipe away musical fog, like a wiper clearing mist off a windshield.

Sexy.
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9/28/08

Wha? Wha? What?

Part I

This week's performances of the biggest symphony Mahler ever wrote are being "dedicated to the many thousands of people who contributed to both the creation of Benaroya Hall and its monumental impact on our great city," according to the program.

They’re clever up there in Seattle, you know. Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is known as the “Symphony of a Thousand.” Tee-hee.

Thursday's subscription season opener was, in those terms, a triumph.

Wha? “In those terms?” What terms? From what I remember about the word “triumph,” it means, roughly, this: a great victory or achievement. So then, the season opener achieved...a big symphony? A dedication? Or was it more of a victory, instead? The season opener was victorious over...not having a season opener? Wha?

-

Part II

It was hard to know which to admire more: Mahler's skill in creating an edifice of sound at once massive and lucid, or music director Gerard Schwarz's in realizing both the massiveness and the lucidity.

I once had this question in the quantitative section of the GREs, so I know how hard it is, too.

But either way, the result was a ringing endorsement of the hall's acoustic excellence.

Wha? So let me get this right: The resultant performance, one which was a combination of Mahler’s compositional skill and Schwarz’s conducting skill, endorsed (????) the awesome acoustics of the hall? The performance endorsed the acoustics. Wha?

-

Part III

Schwarz has recently been bringing Mahler's bigger symphonies before the public at the rate of one a season — since 2006, the Third, the Seventh and the Sixth.

And now the Eighth. That’s forty percent of the total number of Mahler’s symphonies, that is if you want to count the Tenth, too. But really, how many more “bigger” ones does he have? I can’t wait ‘till Schwarz starts doing the smaller ones.

The vividness of the composer's inspiration has benefitted, on each occasion, from the conductor's equally vivid sympathy for the expressive fervor of the music and his ability to shape its often wildly varied elements into a coherent whole.

Wha? Huh? (plucks eyebrows, draws new ones with magenta Sharpie to suggest confusion) I think we’ve got it already—Schwarz did a good job with his baton. But...”the vividness of the composer’s inspiration benefited?” As I see it (and I could be wrong, of course), Bernard Jacobson of the Seattle Times is equating “inspiration” with the “score,” however convoluted that may be. In that sense, Schwarz, being able to read and perform the score, made the score “coherent,” which, in turn, benefited the score’s vivdness, which isn’t inherently coherent (maybe). Wha?

-

Part IV

The Eighth — known as the "Symphony of a Thousand" — poses a different structural problem.

...aside from not being inherently coherent, which befogged the vividness of the composer’s “inspiration.”

Its two movements are settings respectively of the ninth-century Latin hymn "Veni, Creator Spiritus" and the final scene of Goethe's "Faust." Mahler succeeded brilliantly in unifying his treatment of these two vastly different texts, but at the cost of variety. The seven-note figure that dominates the hourlong second movement is exploited far more repetitively than its potential justifies.

Here’s my best Bernard Jacobson impersonation: “Mahler had no idea what he was doing. He should have done it this way, instead, because I know better.”

And the method by which Mahler stretches relatively few motifs over his vast canvas is not development so much as permutation:

I’ve got a sinking feeling about this. (Hint: “permutation” sounds cold and mathematicky)

...the first movement's obsessive juggling with a handful of melodic ideas, in particular, reveals where Schoenberg's ultimately mechanistic 12-tone serial technique had its origins.

Wha? Give me fucking break! The one thing that Bernard “Totem Shoes” Jacobson would urge Mahler, himself, to change about the Symphony would be how much it reminded him of Schoenberg’s not-yet-invented technique, which is supposedly “ultimately mechanistic.”

Here’s my second best impersonation ol’ Totem Shoes Jacobson: “Hey Mahler, you shouldn’t have written it that way, because, one, I know better and, two, you might sound like Schoenberg, who I don’t like, because he is all mathematicky and stuff. You want to go get some coffee and type things on some Microsoft software then go hiking for vivid inspiration and not learn anything about modernism or Mahler or Schoenberg or serialism or music? Me, too!”

What?
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9/22/08

Tomatoes or Roses?

Berkeley Symphony Orchestra’s music director, Kent Nagano, stepped down from his position, after 30 years. Nagano was a champion of new music, which made his final program choices a bit odd, at least to Contra Costa Times critic Sue Gilmore. Instead of his usual pushing of the envelope, he programmed two symphonies, by Mozart and Bruckner.

Sue recounts the concert:

In rambling opening remarks, the maestro, a mere 28 when he took the reins three decades ago, acknowledged having lately recast his own concept of what makes music "contemporary." A recent trip to the Arctic Circle where his Inuit audiences reacted with explosive joy to their first exposure to Mozart, and headlines from Bruckner's late-19th-century era that could have been ripped from yesterday's New York Times, convinced him, Nagano said, that contemporary music is...

Full of not-having-a-dictionaryness:

...Nagano said, that contemporary music is "whatever people who are living today can relate to in our contemporary times."

I’m not sure if I want to throw tomatoes or roses. You?
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9/21/08

A Little Help: On Behalf of Sheet Music Purveyors

In another life, your very own snark factory, Empiricus, was once a snarky little sheet music purveyor. Back then, there were many idiomatic oddities with which I had to regularly deal—someone looking for a specific piece of music might have the wrong Hoboken number and I’d be charged with trying to help them find exactly which Haydn piece they came to the store for. Other times, a very thick accent proved challenging. Fortunately, there were always tricks of the trade that produced some good results. One, if they could sing the theme, or melody, or whatever, then that increased the chances of finding the right piece. Two, someone else might not know the name of the piece, but knew what the music’s cover looked like. There were always ways around missing information.

Sometimes, however, there was an utter lack of communication. It might have gone like this:

Little Empiricus: Hello there. Can I help you find something?

Sabine Kortals of the Denver Post: Yes, please.

Little Empiricus: It would be my pleasure. What are you looking for?

Sabine: Mozart’s Piano Concerto.

Little Empiricus: Which one?

Sabine: The “Elvira Madigan” Concerto.

Little Empiricus: ...? The “Elvira Madigan” Concerto?

Sabine: Yes. It’s very “beloved.”

Little Empiricus: (scratches head) Huh. Is it this one? (sings) Do, Mi (flat), La (flat), So, Fa (sharp), Mi (flat)...

Sabine: No, that’s not it.

Little Empiricus: How about this? (sings again) Mi, Do (sharp), Re, Fa (Sharp), Si, Re, Sol (sharp), La...

Sabine: No. That’s not it, either.

Little Empiricus: Hmmm. Don’t know what to say. I’ve never heard of the “Elvira Madigan” Concerto, before. Sorry. Do you have any other information?

Sabine: No (sigh). Well, thanks anyway. (leaves)

-

Then, later that evening, I’d return home from work and Google “Elvira Madigan” and “Mozart Piano Concerto,” to see what I might find, just in case Sabine ever came back to the store. Then I’d find out that “Elvira Madigan” is reference to a Swedish movie. A Swedish movie! In it, the second movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major (K.467) is played as a backdrop to a “lazy boat ride.” Crap! Of course I know that piece! Dammit! That's another Breitkopf & Hartel I failed to sell! You might be able to see, now, why I was fired.
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9/19/08

Coughing Redux: Hack, Hack, Wink, Wink

An awesome analysis follows this statement by Sumi Hahn:

The coughers were coughing, in full force, of course. And someone's watch kept beeping every 30 minutes. I could stand it — just barely. But the girls who kept getting up in the middle of every concerto to stomp out of the concert hall? I wanted to wring their little necks. About 12 or 13 years old, they were old enough to know better and too young to have gone to the concert by themselves. What were their parents thinking?

While coughing doesn’t bother me all that much, I see newbie Sumi Hahn’s point. Sounds irritating (That's not the analysis. It follows this next statement).

And, as long as I'm on the subject of rudeness — I get it, Seattle is a casual town. But shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes at Benaroya? Please, Seattle, would it kill you to try a bit harder?


Really?!

Really?!

Really really really?!

Really? Tennis shoes? Really? Shorts?! T-shirts?

Really?! That’s an issue? Tennis shoes? Really?

Wow. Really?!

I guess the thing that we love, classical music, is really only for the “elite,” the cultured,” the “fashion conscious.” Really?!
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9/16/08

Subtlety and Mr. New Age: John Cage

I’m not entirely positive that this is a slap in the face, but it sure seems like it.

[Pianist X] opened the concert on his own with an early Cage work, “In a Landscape” (1948).

You know who wasn’t born yet, in 1948? New Age pianist George Winston.

This is a side of Cage you don’t hear often, and you would be hard pressed to identify it as his work.

Possibly. Could you?

Its textures are gentle, rippling, vaguely Debussian, with simple melodies weaving through a tissue of arpeggiated, diatonic noodling.

“Noodling” is one of my top four favorite descriptors. Ever.

How odd to think that as a young composer, Cage wrote music that could today be mistaken as...

...as the back of Philip Glass’s (Glasses?) right eyeball? No? What, then?

...as the New Age meandering of George Winston.

Ugh. See? It just feels like a jab in the gut. Could Allan Kozinn be calling In a Landscape “New Age?” “Meandering?” Or how about “like George Winston?” Ever hear George Winston play?

Either way, I don’t like the implication; all three are pretty bad. It’s like, “How odd to think that as a young critic, Bernard Holland wrote reviews that could today be mistaken as the postmodern meandering of Allan Kozinn.” It just doesn’t feel right, for some reason. Subtle, indeed.
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9/15/08

We've Been over This Before...

...and yes, we know that critics are not always responsible for their titles. However, riding the line between pandering and inexcusable is:

Symphony goes da-da-da DUM

Really? Thanks, Mr. Editor!

What say you, Mr. Ward?

Consciously or not, the management and artistic staff of the Houston Symphony couldn't have picked a better work than Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to kick off its 2008-09 season.

You think...there's a chance...they selected the Fifth...unconsciously?

Certainly they had their eyes on the box office for Saturday's gala opening classical concert.

You'd think they'd be watching the concert.

Beethoven is about as sure-fire for ticket sales as it gets and the Fifth rivals only his Ninth Symphony in popular appeal. Jones Hall was virtually full.

I would argue, perhaps, that the Fifth is more well-known than the Ninth, but I haven't run the numbers. However, it's good to hear the concert was well-attended. Also, hyphens are outstanding.

But the real significance of the Fifth Symphony — for this year at least — lay in the work's musical progress from fatelike opening motive in a minor key to the triumphant conclusion in a major key.

Lay? Lies? Layed? Fatelike? Fate-like?

The symbolism of that artistic journey couldn't have been more appropriate. As an organization and musical organism, the orchestra has been in just that place: moving from seemingly implacable financial problems to, at least now, a fiscal stability where the orchestra has balanced its budget for four consecutive seasons. In the history of the Houston Symphony, that's a feat of epic, Beethoven proportions.

Beethoven proportions? Beethovenian? Adjectives?

Not that the Fifth Symphony has the monumentality of the Ninth. Formally, the first movement is particularly taut, and — the loquacious second movement aside — the work is typified by conciseness (versus the endless bluster of the Ninth).

Endless bluster? The Fifth is not monumental, rather, concise, but the Ninth has endless bluster. Is that good or bad? It sounds bad, yet monumental. What?

Because the Fifth is so overplayed, it's difficult for conductors and orchestras to find new insights. Saturday's performance had none, but music director Hans Graf and the orchestra made their performance vital, alive, in sync with the gentleness of the slow movement but ready for the robust celebration at the end.

Vital but not insightful. Okay...John McCain? In Sync?

Beethoven's Triple Concerto opened the evening. It is unique in the standard repertoire as a concerto for violin, cello and piano. Violinist Jennifer Koh; cellist Sophie Shao, who is originally from Houston; and pianist Jeremy Denk were the soloists.

Semicolons? Why?

The concerto is not top-notch Beethoven. A performance of it needs goosing rather than the caressing, even lax, energy that Graf preferred. Overall, the performance drifted.

Into the Gulf of Mexico?

Also: What's with the sexual imagery? Goosing?

The three soloists occasionally kicked up a real storm in their joint solo passages but in individual solo playing, only Denk was totally reliable. Shao occasionally was nervous, and Koh periodically had problems finding pitches accurately.

I want a joint solo!

Wait; joint solo? Multiple singularity? I...

I was disappointed with how the evening opened.

That is fair.

After Houston Symphony Society president Jesse B. Tutor finished his remarks (some of the introductions belonged to the party after the concert), he gestured to the empty stage and asked the audience to welcome the orchestra.

That is...embarrassing. But what does "belonged to the party after the concert" mean?

Nothing happened. The audience's applause almost died out before a musician came through a stage door.

Eep.

Classical music organizations still don't get that such slip-ups are inexcusable in this day of ultra-produced entertainment. When something is promised but not delivered, the buildup dissipates, and the chance for electric excitement is lost.

Well, after all my snarky fun, Mr. Ward has a good point. However, the generalization is lost on me. Some classical music organizations do get it; apparently, the Houston Symphony does not.

Truth Be Told, There's Truth to Tell

Sniff. Sniff. I smell fresh meat.

Amid all the hoopla of cocktail parties and pre-concert dinners, the opening night of the season celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Seattle Symphony's splendid Benaroya Hall, while taking note of the recent announcement that its music director will step down at the end of the 2010-11 season.

Here, we have two options, Bernard Jacobson’s: the opening night of the season celebrated the tenth anniversary of the hall. Meanwhile, the opening night took note of some recent news concerning its music director.

Or...

Mine: The opening night was a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the hall. Those who were present took note of the recent news.

I'll let you decide: the one that personifies an "opening night" or the rational one.

Gerard Schwarz, holder of that post since 1985, has been an inspirational leader.

I like to slowly stalk my prey.

Like any inspirational leader, he has had not only admirers, like this critic, but detractors too.

...detractors in what sense?

Readers of this newspaper will not be unaware of the controversies that have shadowed his relations with some orchestra members in recent seasons.

Oh. I get it. He’s talking about the detractors who...what? Pointed out how bad he was working with the musicians? So...his detractors were what? Oh. Just telling the truth! Silly me. Ms. Iron Tongue has a few complimentary words on this fiasco.

By the way, double-negatives, like “will not be unaware,” really irk me, especially when I presume you’re working with a fairly strict word count; they waste valuable space.

Happily there were no signs of tension at Saturday's concert.

There was a concert, too? How was that?

Besides an ovation of unmistakable affection from the audience...

The opposite: Besides an ovation of unmistakable derision from the audience...Ha! It’s only a guess, but my guess is that ovations are always of a positive nature (someone might want to consult a dictionary. Wait, no. There’s no point. I’m right). Therefore, “unmistakable affection” is totally superfluous. More wasted space.

Truth to tell...

Correction: “Truth be told.”

Truth to tell [sic], despite the "Symphony" in the name, there was nothing symphonic about this program.

Weird. They didn’t play together? They didn’t syn- “together” + phone “voice, sound?” Ever eaten an etymology with blood pudding? Yum.

Besides (and please help me out on this one, people), isn’t “Symphony” in the name merely a reference to the type of organization or instrumentation, not the specific kind of repertoire? There is no contractual obligation to play only symphonies, is there? If there is, I’m not aware of it.

Aside from three short orchestral pieces, the evening was given over to vocal music...

Yeah, Mr. Literal-head, accompanied by a symphony orchestra. Whatever.

Among the purely orchestral pieces [...] "An Outdoor Overture," handsomely as it was done, is a relatively banal chip from Aaron Copland's workbench...

Slowly stalking...

...but we were also treated to the waltz from the ballet "Billy the Kid," which is a different matter entirely.

Still stalking... Fill in the blanks:

The ballet, a potent and affecting blend of downhome ______ and streetwise ______, [...]

Any guesses?

You’re all wrong! The correct answer is:

The ballet, a potent and affecting blend of downhome and streetwise, [...]

The Seattle Times is generally pretty good, with witty and spectacular. But not this time.

Pounce!
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9/13/08

Not Very Interesting

Kyle MacMillan treats us to something “interesting”:

[Dawn] Upshaw has focused on making interesting music.

Ha ha! I made a funny! "Interesting” is the word I use to tell composers what I thought of their music when I don’t like it. Then I try to go into detail about how it sparked some faux “interest.” Works every time. Everyone does it, often without the composer being the wiser. Point being, “interesting” doesn’t tell me much.

She has gamely delved into unusual repertoire...

I love this interesting woman!

...and become something of a muse for several of today's leading composers, including John Adams, Osvaldo Golijov and Kaija Saariaho.

Wow (unenthusiastically). Those composers are VERY unusual (with the greatest amount of sarcasm one insignificant, puny, diminutive "person" on this great planet can muster, and then some.) Puke.
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9/11/08

The Most Dangerous Ding Dong

Here’s one of our favorites, David Hurwitz, on a new recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony:

Having enjoyed David Zinman's Mahler cycle to date, I came to this release with high expectations. What a disappointment! This is a lame, undercharacterized performance. It has one thing going for it: a nice clarity to the string counterpoint (and this work has lots of it), but this is a purely technical issue since emotional expression seems not to be high on Zinman's list of priorities. The opening funeral march is about as flat-footed as they come. Its two big outbursts don't so much climax as simply fizzle. This "wet noodle" approach positively kills the second movement. Could anyone call the opening "vehement", as Mahler demands, or is it simply neat as a pin? At nearly 19 minutes the scherzo sags badly well before its quiet central section. The adagietto is pretty (when is it not?), and the finale has the most string counterpoint and so bounces along reasonably well; but the final chorale has the weakest brass playing on disc combined with a tempo that starts off too fast but winds up too slow. The ample acoustic further blunts the music's impact.

Positively scathing. But, David’s not done yet!

The most dangerous thing about this whole production is the cover...

Hmmm. Dangerous cover. Hmmm? What could he possibly be talking about? What could possibly be dangerous AND on the cover? I suppose if the cover was laced with arsenic, then it could be dangerous. Or if the cover was fabricated out of used needles, then it could be dangerous.

This just doesn’t make sense, though. He must be talking about an image. So what image could possibly be dangerous?

(possibly the first full-frontal male nude to grace a Mahler symphony album).

Oh. A penis. A ding dong. How stupid of me (slaps forehead with palm).










Figure 1. Paleolithic police sketch artist's rendering of suspect album cover.
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9/10/08

You're Odds

Time Out New York (author unknown) gives us an odd look at this weekend’s upcoming concert featuring Xenakis’ Oresteia. Let’s see if I can reciprocate, shall I?

Odds

Odd indeed. Let’s go!

0.1%
That Miller Theatre impresario George Steel will take Oresteia to his new job at the Dallas Opera.


He screams, “Dallas doesn’t like new music!”

99%
That the little old couple sitting in the third row won’t make it past the 15-minute mark.


The old couple screams, “We don’t like new music! We also tire easily!”

2%
That the general public knows that Greek composer Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001) used higher maths to make music of raw, primitive fury.


Everyone screams, “We don’t know dick about new music! Or math! And we don’t like either of them!”

80%
That some local journalist will use the phrase “It’s all Greek to me” to describe the gnarly Oresteia, based on an ancient tragedy by Aeschylus.

The critic screams, "I don’t like new music! And I think I'm witty!”

40%
That Columbia University’s fraternities will make attendance a Greek Week pledge requirement. Xenakis’ Oresteia is at Miller Theatre Sept 13, 16 and 17.


Time Out New York screams, “Xenakis is tortuous crap that no one in their right mind would care to hear, even if they were bat-shit drunk wearing only a toga as a dare to fulfill their need for social acceptance! And we hate math, too!”

Commenter Bob has just one small problem with all of this:

“I think you mean probabilities, not odds. Odds (in favor of an event) are a ratio of the probability of success over the probability of failure of an event."

Good catch, Bob.
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Merdle and Haggard: A Quicky Dialogue

Merdle: Hey, Haggard. Did you hear about the all-Gershwin concert in Nashville?

Haggard: Yeah. I heard the Cuban Overture “entertained with its rumba-flavored, percussion-fueled beat.”

Merdle: Sure was appropriate, wasn’t it?

Haggard: How’s that?

Merdle: It was appropriate because the conductor used to play percussion.

Haggard: Oh.

Merdle: They also played the F Major Piano Concerto, with one of the best Gershwin pianists in America today.

Haggard: Ooh, fun. You know, “fine pianists, like good actors and other successful artists, allow us to find their transitions of mood and moment believable while not allowing us to notice them making those transitions.”

Merdle: Wake and bake?

Haggard: Yeah. Why?

Merdle: No reason.
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9/9/08

Loaded Questions Much?

I hate broad, sweeping generalizations. I also hate research that is based on loaded questions. Keep with me, gentle readers, this is going to take a few minutes.

Chris Green of the British journal The Independent reports on a (Scottish!) study correlating personality to musical taste. I submit that many other factors also play a role. Looking at the survey results, the questions were, in my estimation, rather loaded.

Classical to Rap: Music lovers have much more in common than you would think


People who listen to indie bands are miserable shaggy-haired layabouts, while fans of rap music are bold, brash and brimming with self-confidence.

Sweeping generalization! Narrow-minded stereotyping! No?

Rather than mere narrow- minded stereotyping, these are the results of an extensive psychological survey of more than 36,000 music lovers, which confirms, once and for all,

Once and for all!11! 1 eleven!1!

that our musical tastes really do reflect our personality.

And...where you're from? And your economic/social class? And your peer group? And your social circle? And...and...and...

But the study's most remarkable discovery is that refined lovers of classical music share a high number of personality traits with those who prefer rocking out to heavy metal.

That's the study's...most remarkable discovery?

The research, by the department of psychology at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, asked people worldwide to describe their personality, and then to list their favourite musical genres. The results show a distinct correlation between people's personality traits and the style of music they enjoy.

But only their personalities? Could we similarly correlate how close one lives to, say, a meat packing plant? Or how often they eat fish? Drink beer? Any other factors relevant here?

Fans of indie music, for instance, were found to have low self-esteem and little motivation, but described themselves as creative. Rap enthusiasts, on the other hand, tend to think a lot of themselves and are extremely outgoing. Those who love dance music are equally extrovert but are more likely to be unfriendly and slightly self-centred.

Just because you describe yourself as creative doesn't mean you are. And so on with all of the other descriptors. And "dance music" (polkas? minuets?) lovers are not friendly? Ever been to a club?

Professor Adrian North, who led the study, said: "What this research really tries to get at is why music is such an important part of people's identity. What is it about music that helps us to define who we are?

Professor, I am picking up what you're laying down. We could do the same thing with clothes, hairstyles, or any number of things. The one-to-one correlation you're selling seems like bunk to me. Sorry!

"People often define their sense of identity through their musical taste, wearing particular clothes, going to certain pubs, and using certain types of slang. It's not so surprising that personality should also be related to musical preference."

My point exactly. Why should "musical taste" be the primary correlative? That is illogical.

[snip]

According to Professor North, both heavy metal and classical fans are united by a shared "love of the grandiose", which means that a Metallica fan is far more likely to listen to Mahler than an indie kid is to give reggae a try.

That is not entirely illogical. I'll grant you that. But the sweeping generalizations...

"Aside from their age difference, they're basically the same kind of person," he said. "Lots of heavy metal fans will tell you that they also like Wagner, because it's big, loud and brash. There's also a sense of theatre in both heavy rock and classical music, and I suspect that this is what they're really trying to get at when they listen."

John Gregson, 23, a classically-trained musician with a passion for heavy metal, agrees. "As an instrumentalist, out of all of the main genres of music heavy metal and classical are the ones which require the most discipline to play – they're technically very difficult and involve playing at inhumanly fast speeds," he said.

Interesting comparison...

Let's cut to the conclusions, shall we? I think it will help.

What your music says about you

Indie: Devotees have low self-esteem and are not very hard-working, kind or generous. However, they are creative.

Rock 'n' Roll: Fans have high self-esteem and are very creative, hard-working and at ease with themselves, but not very kind or generous.

Blues: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease with themselves.

Classical: Classical music lovers have high self-esteem, are creative and at ease with themselves, but not outgoing.

Heavy metal: Very creative and at ease with themselves, but not very outgoing or hard-working.

Reggae: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, kind, generous and at ease with themselves, but not very hard-working.

Country & Western: Very hard-working and outgoing.

Dance: Creative and outgoing but not kind or generous.

Rap: High self-esteem, outgoing.

See, the thing is that when "asked to describe their personalities" the 36,000 people were clearly asked the following questions (rather than to describe themselves freely):

Are you generous? Hard-working? Outgoing? Kind? Creative? At ease with yourself? How is your self-esteem?

And...that's about it, according to the results above.

I submit that this is a poor correlative find.

Chanelling (paraphrasing?) Stephen Colbert: "Is Bush a great President? Or The Best President Ever?"

Here are some broad, sweeping generalizations that are fun to look at:

Figure 1: Indie

Figure 2: Rock 'n' Roll

Figure 3: Blues

Figure 4: Classical

Figure 5: Heavy Metal

Figure 6: Reggae

Figure 7: Country AND Western

Figure 8: Dance

Figure 9: Rap

I got your broad, sweeping generalizations right here! You like that? Me, neither.

Composer of the Day!

Today’s composer of the day is Howard Leslie Shore

(b. 1946)

Canadian by birth, he graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Afterward, he performed with the group Lighthouse, who were, according to Wikipedia, scheduled to play at Woodstock, but decided not to, “fearing that it would be a bad scene.” Later, he became a lifelong collaborator with Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels. Howard even suggested the title, The Blues Brothers, to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

However, he is primarily known for his films scores, such as Mrs. Doubtfire. Most notably, he won two Academy Awards for his Wagnerian scoring of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It won him a boatload of awards. More recently, Shore has compiled the music into a concert version—except there are projected scenes from the movie that accompany the performance—called The Lord of the Rings Symphony: Six Movements for Orchestra and Chorus: Music from the Motion Picture Trilogy.

He has also scored the music for many other films, like: Videodrome, After Hours, Big, The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Ed Wood, Se7en, That Thingh You Do!, Cop Land, Dogma, Analyze This, Gangs of New York, Panic Room, Spider, The Aviator, The Last Mimzy, and the 1986 film, The Fly, which began, for him, a fruitful collaboration with director David Cronenberg.

So fruitful, in fact, that it resulted in Shore’s most recent work, an opera based on the film. The Fly, in opera form, premiered at Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet in July. It has just made its American premiere in Los Angeles under the able hands of Plácido Domingo.

Mr. Anthony Tommasini, of the New York Times, was there to review the new work (required reading).

You should listen to new music!

(pictured with Lili Tomlin on SNL in 1975)
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9/8/08

The West Is Normative!

Okay, brace yourselves, people. A Detritus Review first time ever: ballet!

Now, I don't really know anything about ballet, but I know a little something about hierarchies.

In a nice review of Tchaikovsky's ballet Eugene Onegin, Molly Glentzer writes (Houston Chronicle):

The quotation printed in Russian on the front scrim for Houston Ballet's Onegin says, "If I am without honor, honor does not exist."

Confession: I had to look up "scrim". (Also, that sounds like Klingon. Honor! and Glory!)

It's taken from the unfinished narrative poem of the same name by Russian literary icon Alexander Pushkin, who's been called that country's William Shakespeare.

Surely, surely we would never say that Shakespeare is the Pushkin of England.

How about: Japan is the England of Asia!

(Although his romantic sensibilities are more like those of his contemporary Lord Byron.)

Byron's sensibilities are more like those of Pushkin than of Shakespeare. No? Why?

Clearly comparisons can be helpful to describe things; obviously comparisons to the familiar make sense. But it seems to me Pushkin can be considered in his own right at this point.

...

Debuting as Tatiana, Herrera is the Audrey Hepburn of ballerinas — intelligent, lyrical, sensitive and sincere.

I don't really even know what to do with that. That could just as well describe James Joyce.

Ah, well. Here's a picture of Derrida that is fun to look at.

9/5/08

Meta-Meta Nitpicky

Hooray to Mike Lynch of Mike Lynch Cartoons, a fun blog about, what else, cartoons! A week ago, Mike (Mike’s Dad) had found a rather stupid typo on a Pittsburgh Symphony advertisement. Instead of listing Joshua Bell as a violinist (who doesn’t know that, right?), they mistakenly label him a pianist. And as Mike hilariously points out, there’s a “tell” that somehow the advertising department missed:

The "tell" is that Joshua Bell is holding a violin.

Sweet. Hilarious, right? Not so fast.

Andrew Druckenbrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette happened upon Mike’s post and, well, he has a question. Actually it's more of a sneer.

And this was worth a blog post?

Lest you forgot, Andrew, you used space, posting space, if you will, on your blog, which is a blog that has posting space for trivial stuff that one can easily find on many blogs, which often have trivial things on them, in said posting spaces.

Come on, Mr. Lynch. I am sure you have never made any mistakes in your cartoon copy (actually, cartoonists are famous for doing that).

Fair enough. But then again, Mike never said he didn’t. He’s just humorously pointing out a “dopey” mistake—no derision involved, just humor, which is often funny.

If you know my writing here, I am far from an apologist for the PSO, but in my coverage of the institution and its performances, I always go by the philosophy that small errors don't concern me -- it's the big picture that counts.

Then again, Andrew, you’re getting paid to write about music. Mike, however, is not. He’s blogging about what interests him.

Typos interest me, too.

And in this case, I think we can cut the understaffed PSO marketing department a break, especially since the rest of the ad is well done.

Uh... you like the dopey slogan, “Feel the Chemistry?” Or the dopey slogan's silverish-tan letters written across Arabella Steinbacher's tan dress? Okay...

True (constructive) criticism...

Shit. Here comes the high and mighty...

True (constructive) criticism -- not self-serving nitpicking -- might point out that perhaps the PSO could stretch itself a bit for more bold moves in advertising.

Really? If you’re going to call Mike, who merely found the typo funny, a self-serving nitpicker, then let me ask you this: What is the only difference between your blog and Mike’s, Andrew?

But the world is hardly going to end because of this small mistake, and it is not as if mistakes don't occur everywhere...

I suggest Mr. Lynch pick on someone like Berkeley Breathed or Garfield...


This is lunacy. Either that or it’s overly-defensive. I can’t tell which. Are you suggesting that Mike should stick to what he knows, cartoons? He can’t find typos funny? He can’t post about them? On his blog? A freaking blog?!

I’ll ask again: What is the only difference between his blog and yours, Andrew? Give up? Your blog is affiliated with the Post-Gazette (and tons of their ads)! Do you think they want their name attached to your post? You know, the one criticizing a blogger for being nitpicky?

Is it worth a blog post?
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The Ol' Can of Corn

This is probably how I, too, would describe Yefim Bronfman’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto:

The third [movement] was tintinnabulating, but with Sinatra songsmanship, delicate partnering with the orchestra, and, above all, stamina.

But then again, for good measure, I would insert a baseball reference so not to seem too unhip, what with the Sinatra reference and all.

Bronfman was brushing back the hitters, then catching the outside corner.

Sweet.

Like Gibson and Koufax in one: a virtuoso in action.

Bob Gibson: retired 1975.
Sandy Koufax: retired 1966.
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9/4/08

24

24 preludes, each one coupled with a fugue of similar key (24 in all), equals 24 “prelude and fugues.” Got it?

[...] to understand Feltsman's curt but good-spirited onstage persona is to understand his worship of Bach and particularly the Well-Tempered Clavier, from which he played in entirety its First Book.

The first book (WTC I, as some call it) has exactly 24 preludes and 24 fugues. It’s just that each prelude is coupled, paired, hooked up with a fugue, which as we just saw, equals 24 “prelude and fugues,” a pair for each key (24 pairs).

The C Minor Prelude fluttered by in a blur, and from the outset, this set of 48 preludes and fugues seemed like a race to the finish.

Er...

Okay. If you add the 24 preludes to the 24 fugues, yes, you get 48 preludes and fugues. I’m just not sure if you're trying to refer to 24 “prelude and fugues.” 24, because each prelude is coupled with its own fugue.

See, when one speaks of 48 “prelude and fugues,” I assume they are referring to both WTC I and WTC II, each consisting of 24 “prelude and fugues.” Combined there are 48 “prelude and fugues.” However, there are 96 preludes and fugues. Got it? I'm lost. Maybe you're right.
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9/3/08

!naidrauG ,aY tA kcaB thgiR

The eight-lane road that wends its way to the Oakland McAfee Coliseum is, this rainy Wednesday evening, crowded with studded leather jackets and extensive makeup. Tonight sees the concertizing of KISS, and the seats of the California venue is flooded with drunks, their voices ringing clear and crisp across the stadium. I stand there in my slacks and sports jacket, flapping my broken umbrella, and gulp.

For years now, the nation's various rock venues have been making strenuous efforts to attract a more diverse audience - with specialty foods, cheap to expensive tickets, outdoorshows, cinematic screenings, "simulcasts," club nights, cult artists, a presence on Facebook and YouTube, and even ticket offers in the Chronicle. It does seem to be working: KISS concert attendance figures are up 80,000 on last year; 48% of patrons are newcomers; more than 22,000 students are registered for the company's stand-by ticket scheme; and 385,000 people download the podcast each month.

But can they make me want to come back? I am, surely, exactly the sort of person they are trying to tempt. I spend much of my time listening to music and attending gigs. I will happily spend vast sums on merchandise. Yet stadium rock has always seemed a raucus and smelly land, set far away across a sea of elitism. I have had little desire to visit it and I have always bridled at the notion that rock is considered a more accessible art form than classical. Sod your anthems, I thought, I'll stick with Fischer-Dieskau singing: "Im wunder schönen Monat Mai."

Accordingly, I have attended the one of these concerts just once, over a decade ago. It did little to encourage me. Yet some things have intrigued me: the bursts of pyrotechnics during the encores; the fact that when I interviewed the great Gene Simmons, he raved about new stage setups. So tonight, sitting in the puke-covered seats of the Coliseum, listening to the banal riffs heave and huff, I try to keep an open mind.

Although it is performed in English, there are no surtitles for when the singing grows incomprehensible, and there is an extravagant set, full of amplifiers and intricate lighting, which will hopefully prove compelling should one's mind begin to stray. Which it does. Repeatedly. The problems are various: I don't really care for the singing, all the fah-diddly-dahing smothers the musicality. I find it extremely annoying that they keep repeating everything; a singer will reiterate precisely what he has already said in the most tedious fashion. On top of it all, it's rather warm. I reach the first set change feeling decidedly drowsy.

Everyone rushes to the concession stand where they serve cheap beer and I am suddenly surrounded by umpteen leather-clad, middle-aged men shoving their way in front of me. I can't recall the last time I encountered such rudeness. Not even in the city's most dog-eared classical venues do you find such uncouth behavior. For a small fortune, I eventually procure a “Bud” and some nachos, and stand in the corner contemplating how objectionable everyone is. I think of my friends, somewhere across town watching a new staging of The Rake’s Progress and feel tearful.

My heart lifts when I discover that the second set is generally shorter than the first. Back in my seat, feeling more buoyant, I wonder what I make of Poison (the first band), and conclude that, while it looks spectacular, it is actually very dreary while, musically speaking, I like it slightly less than Toby Kieth. After the requisite “I Want to Rock and Roll All Night,” I am off across town to meet my friends at the usual little bar where there is better beer and plenty of quiet air to speak.

The next evening I return for the Rolling Stones, this time with a friend. "It's the worst place in the world!" I tell him. He, however, is enthusiastic, because he wants to hear the famous "Satisfaction." I tell him he has three long, pitchless hours before him and his zeal evaporates. Again, it looks gorgeous and the music is quite raucous. It is undoubtedly more engaging than the Kiss, but my mind still wanders. "Why do they need to repeat everything?" my friend whispers. "Exactly." I reply. "They could get the whole thing done a lot faster if they just said it once." We quell the boredom by surreptitiously eating an orange. At the intermission, we head to the concession stand. "Weren't you here last night?" the barman says. "Yes," I sigh. "Dear God," says a woman. "I don't think I could do two nights in a row."

So, just why do people go to these mega-rock stadium concerts? As far as I can see, it's too long, the music, singing and pyrotechnics never work together, and it is staggeringly self-indulgent, like sitting through the most noodly Carlos Santana guitar solo, only for Chris Rea to appear and go through it all again, with Mark Knopfler joining in for good measure. I think people must attend these things in the same way they introduce roughage to their diet - because they ought to, rather than because they want to.

Later that month, I catch a train to Santa Barbara for the rock festival, to see what’s left of Metallica, and the remnants of a once punk Red Hot Chili Peppers. Santa Barbara is a gorgeous place and the crowd far less annoying. I have been listening to Kill ‘Em All repeatedly, to accustom myself to the style of singing. It seems to be paying off: I enjoy Metallica far more than I expect. The Chili Peppers, though, is a struggle. It's the watered-down aspect, but rendered more politically with nods to terrorism and latter-day dictators.

When they’re on stage, it's lovely, but whenever Flea starts lamenting about everything, I just want him to stop moaning. It doesn't help that Anthony Kiedis, in the style of his hair and the way he dips his head when he sings, puts me in mind of Princess Diana being interviewed by Martin Bashir. Still, as the production feels considerably more am-dram than anything at the Coliseum, it makes me like it more.

Next is a trip back up to Golden Gate Park, a little jewel of the rock world. It is raining the day my friend and I visit in jeans and T-shirts. Fine gray mist is sweeping across the lawn where the picnickers are dressed in all their rock-wear. The rain rather puts a dampener on what is meant to be a splendid day out to the park, with a bit of rock’n’roll on the side. We are here to see a Beatles cover band. The Beatles are one of my favorite groups, so I'm actually excited.

Anything but well-played, it is sung in English, Latin, Spanish and Yoruba. I want to like this, really I do, but everything I love about the Beatles - their ripeness, their deliciousness - has been stripped away. It makes me very sad.

At the first intermission, we spill out into the grounds to drink champagne. The sense of occasion here at Golden Gate Park, the casualness, the tofu burgers and the strolls through the luscious grounds, make it feel like a county fair. My feelings towards the audience here are more benign. There is one exception: the woman who glares at us as the photographer takes my picture on the lawn. "That's so not San Francisco!" she hisses. I have a profound desire to spit in her hair.

It is not just incidents like this that will keep me from returning to rock’n’roll. It is the fact that I just cannot find a friend in this music. I can see it is fun. I can tell they are infectious, but it stirs nothing in my belly, conjures nothing in my heart. It carries for me none of the fire, the spine-tingling, stomach-flipping, bone-chilling lifeblood of classical music.

Back at Golden Gate Park, the rain is falling hard. With the applause still ringing, we dash to the taxi. "Get us out of here!" I tell the driver as he takes us to the BART station. "As fast as you can!" On the train home, we secretly swig cheap rosé straight from the bottle and eat dry-roasted peanuts, letting the rock ballads fade into the distance...

-

Screw that. Send me to a fucking rock concert and see what I write!
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9/2/08

My Breadcrumb Trail Has Been Eaten!

The Cliffs Notes to this column will be offered for only $4.95 at any of our participating cheesesteak stands and only $1.95 with the purchase of a side of Cheese Whiz.

Contradictory as it sounds, minimalist music is arriving in an avalanche this fall.

That’s gotta be one big avalanche, a big, contradictory avalanche; Philadelphia’s nowhere near the mountains.

But since minimalism is, by definition, minimal, one envisions...

a) a Buckminster Fuller building.
b) a Samuel Beckett play.
c) a Franz Kline painting.
d) a “less is more” attitude.
e) creatures from some musical Lilliput engulfing Beethoven and Brahms.

If you guessed a-d, you’re getting warmer. However, if you guessed the Jonathan Swift reference...

Yet minimalism has evolved to a point where John Adams' newest opera, The Flowering Tree, commands attention musically and dramatically as handily as Verdi.

Um. From its sheer numbers, minimalism is overshadowing (?) Beethoven and Brahms, yet (?) it commands attention, like Verdi? Okay. And all of this despite the fact that John Adams doesn’t consider himself a minimalist. (Sorry folks. This is for my sake. I just want to leave myself a trail of breadcrumbs, if you know what I mean.)

A musical language based on the idea of small cells of sound repeated to hypnotic lengths has found a range of expression undreamed-of 30 years ago, when some of this music sounded like an LP record stuck in a groove.

Thirty years ago, in 1978, which would make musical minimalism roughly twenty years old, John Adams was beginning to move away from eight-tracks to cassettes and from minimalism to this neo-romantic-minimalist hybrid of which you speak. So, John Adams, at least, was dreaming, way back then.

Is this the culmination of a long-germinating movement?

Cassettes? Probably not. Minimalism? Is fifty years long enough? A hybridized form of minimalism with expressive flexibility? As sure as the seasons change, which is, by the way, what will happen to this “movement,” too.

Certainly, there's a critical mass.

(brain twitches) Critical mass is the SMALLEST amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. In the vernacular, it’s the same, except it refers to people, ideas, or fads. So...

Tons of expressively flexible minimalism, an avalanche if you will, is ready to explode? Or has it already exploded? I’m confused. Very confused.

Either way, a bevy of CDs, DVDs and performances will be rolling down the hill this fall. This includes some John Adams (not a self-described minimalist) and Philip Glass.

Only Steve Reich, minimalism's J.S. Bach, is missing.

This avalanche of minimalism, as one might want to color it, consists of two, count them, two composers—a whole two composers (2). Too.

I also wonder who is minimalism’s Baldassare Galupi.

If there's a consolation, it's a strange but imposing one: British composer Michael Nyman, who coined the term "minimalism" and enjoyed overnight popularity with his distinctive score for the 1993 Jane Campion film The Piano, is getting a burst of U.S. visibility.

“Hear me my diminutive dominions. Instead of Steve Reich, let them eat Nyman.” Yeah (whimper).

Stand back from it all, and conclusions are unexpected.

Conclusions about what? Oh yeah, I almost forgot, the conclusions about this being the culmination of a long-germinating movement.

Why are conclusions unexpected, Dave?

Compare Adams' The Flowering Tree, about a woman who can transform herself into a tree, and Richard Strauss' Daphne, whose title character has similar talents.

Since comparisons are not conclusions (sigh), I’ll play along. What, then, separates the two? Though, I’m not sure where this could be going. Can a comparison of two similar stories utilizing different aesthetics inherently reveal whether or not this avalanche is, indeed a long-germinating movement? Paint me skeptical.

Adams defines the unimaginable, using hypnotic minimalist arpeggios in ways that convey the rhythm of the Earth while melodies wander into unknown regions, governed only by the winds of fate.

Sorry, I need to stand back from it all for a second, too, because it’s breadcrumb time (my head hurts)!

To recap: From its sheer numbers (three), minimalism is overshadowing (?) Beethoven and Brahms, yet (?) it commands attention, like Verdi. It has grown into something more expressive. Both of these facts leads to the question whether or not this is the culmination of a long-germinating movement. To investigate this further, we need to stand back, look at the bigger picture by closely examining two similar, yes dissimilar, works up close. (Am I being fair up to this point?) And conclusions are unexpected. But we're going through the motions anyway.

Where’d I leave off? Ah!

Adams defines the unimaginable, using hypnotic minimalist arpeggios in ways that convey the rhythm of the Earth while melodies wander into unknown regions, governed only by the winds of fate.

First, “hypnotic minimalist arpeggios” is, well, quirky. Unless “hypnotic” is modifying “minimalist,” which is okay, then...no. I take that back. It’s just wrong. Minimalism is, by and large, hypnotic. So, “hypnotic minimalism” is redundant. On the other hand, if “hypnotic” is modifying “arpeggios,” fine. But, then, in this case, the “minimalist” is redundant. You see? Both “hypnotic arpeggios” and “minimalist arpeggios” are the same thing. If you want to contend that they are not the same thing, then whoops, too! You need a comma separating “hypnotic” and “minimalist.”

Despite that nitpicky mess, the contention is that “Adams defines the unimaginable,” which, by its implicit impossibility, is impossible, given that he can’t imagine the unimaginable. Right? Moving on.

The woman-to-tree transformation arises from a bedrock of radiant string tremolos; celebratory percussion sounds like pealing bells in a meadow of glistening string harmonics and soft percussion.

I just threw up in my mouth.

The assemblage of sounds is one thing, but could traditional composers create such trancelike stasis?

Excellent. We’re back on track, sort of. We’re back on track to compare apples and oranges. But we’re still nowhere close to finding out why conclusions pertaining to whether or not today’s minimalism is the culmination of a long-germinating movement are, in fact, unexpected.

And to answer the question about traditional composers, yes.

In contrast, Strauss is about the emotional impact the characters experience at the hands of magic, so the transformation musically is such an afterthought - expressed with Daphne's wispy, wordless vocalization - that you could almost miss it. In effect, Strauss ducks the dramatic problem.

I’ll give Dave one thing: the conclusions, if you can call them that--and are apparently back on the table--are, indeed, unexpected. By comparing Adams to Strauss, we found that they composed with different means and intents. Adams defines the unimaginable; Strauss ducks the dramatic problem. In “conclusion,” romanticism is not minimalism. And to think, I’m up to my ears in student loans, when I could have just waited a few years in order to read this.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Like Renaissance vocal polyphony, which gives a spiritual radiance to anything composed with its precepts, minimalism seems to be the language of the heavens.

Hmmm. Either something is terribly wrong with this or I’m beginning to nod off. I know! I need some coffee. Just continue reading; I’ll be back in a moment.

Revisiting Glass' Mohandas K. Gandhi meditation, Satyagraha, one noticed anew how the piece elegantly bypassed the mundane particulars of a linear plot - the sort that took Tan Dun down hackneyed blind alleys in The First Emperor - and went straight to more important matters of the soul.

It's not the most dramatic way to go - you'd never want a sequel to Tosca done in this way. And yet Adams' Doctor Atomic gets dramatically muddy without leaving its lofty perch. Its landscape - Los Alamos, where the first atomic bomb was tested in 1945 - is built from peripheral details. A hard-bitten military officer goes on at length about counting calories. Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer closes Act I by singing the John Donne sonnet "Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God."

Soon, you realize the opera is directing its energies toward the moral dilemma of those who made the bomb: Civilization was in the hands not of gods but of real, calorie-counting individuals. The minimalist element - with high-stakes drama juxtaposed with almost passive washes of sound and repetition - gives space to the moral problems at hand, not just for the characters, but for the audience.

Okay, I’m back and caffeinated.

What would you have done?

What?! Who, me? Shit! What did I miss? A lot, apparently.

Into this comes Nyman - with all the grace of an atheist at a Christmas pageant.

I’m no stranger to insults, but man, this is like shooting an Indian for trying to dress all civilized and such but failing to cinch the bolo tie tighter.

What the hell did I miss!?

-

(reads previous thread)

-

Oh. Weird.

His new, determinedly secular pieces prove that minimalism can be earthy, jazzy and sexy, which would be admirable if the music weren't so suffocating in its inflexible, intractable manner.

So, is it fair to say that his pieces are characterized by suffocating earthiness, suffocating jazziness, and suffocating sexiness? Is it also fair to say that those things don’t mean anything?

Jesus. “An atheist at a Christmas pageant.” Jesus. What's with this "sacred vs. secular" thing, anyway?

Among American minimalists, repeated ostinatos are like the broken white stripe down the middle of the highway, each one taking you farther along the piece's musical path.

By most accounts (Well, one really. I did some research a while back, which was funded by the Michael Nyman Institute of Stupid Things People Say About Him)—by most accounts those white dashes in the middle of a road or highway are there solely to inform a motorist which side of the road he/she may occupy, while, circumstances allowing, indicating a safe place to pass a slower vehicle. They are not, repeat not, there to take you anywhere. You may pass by them, but never will they take you anywhere. In fact, they are not living creatures. Some living creatures can, indeed, take you places, like horses, elephants, seeing-eye dogs, and most importantly, asses.

Similarly, ostinati are simply there. You, you, pass by them.

Nyman's repetition is more like a rock-and-roll riff with abrasively robust sonorities and little contour, and with the composer's considerable sense of invention relentlessly tethered to the central idea. Never does his music kick into that minimalist overdrive when the music mushrooms into something greater than its parts. Nyman takes a straight, unveering, almost robotic route to its conclusion.

Really. When did this become a Michael Nyman bashing party? I thought we were here to find out whether or not this “expressive” (subjective opinion) minimalism (misnomer) is the culmination of a long-germinating movement. Or at least why conclusions are unexpected.

While I don’t particularly like Nyman’s music, does he deserve this? Maybe. But, still...

All the plasticity cultivated by American minimalists of late - which we may have taken too much for granted - is rejected by Nyman.

That is, if you can call what they’re doing “minimalist.”

In its place is novelty: His suite, Mozart 252, sets to music letters from the composer's father, poems by the composer, plus his list of debits and credits, all with clinical detachment and vocal lines behaving like just another instrumental voice within the larger musical machinery. Same thing, oddly enough, with settings of sexually graphic Italian poetry titled Lust Songs.

Setting odd texts to music is not novel.

Put to the service of a strictly secular cause, minimalism hardly seems like music.

Where did this come from? Where the fuck are we? I’m caffeinated and alert. Would someone like to fill me in?

However, that theory is shot down by, of all people, the devoutly Buddhist Glass.

? “Of all people?” ? ?????????? ??? ??? Glass shot down theories? Really? Your theory, maybe. Or maybe, you just didn't think your theory through before writing it down for all of Philadelphia and beyond (I'm in San Francisco) to read?

He achieves Nyman's in-your-face aggressiveness without the rigidity in Waiting for the Barbarians, a 2005 operatic adaptation of J.M. Coetzee's novel about military-dominated regimes and merciless torture.

Torture? What does this “story” have anything to do with Nyman’s music not really sounding like music?

Here, Glass exercises every compositional muscle he's ever had: In place of his usual musical expanse, he constructs scenes from penetrating modules that lack the pin-point specificity of nonminimalist composition but are dramatically masterful.

Oh yes. The “penetrating modules that lack the pin-point specificity of nonminimalist composition but are dramatically masterful” scene-construction muscles. I just worked those out the other day. Boy do they hurt.

In one, the humanitarian hero confronts a dictatorial colonel, who is heard against a choral backdrop telegraphing how much he's in the majority.

The story...though secular...what? Seems like music? Despite your theory?

The key difference is that Glass' compositional ego is subordinated to telling the story, while Nyman subordinates his stories (whether abstract or literal) to his personality.

Help. Anyone?

For Glass, minimalism is the key to a world of poetic expression.

Did you ask him? Christ.

Just fucking shoot me already. Any semblance of coherence is gone. Every sentence, phrase and word is problematic. I’m plain lost. And I still have no idea whether or not minimalism is the culmination of a long-germinating movement, nor are we even trying to conclude anything--that's why conclusions are unexpected--not to mention we still only have three composers that constitute an avalanche. And what's with this whole "sacred vs. secular" bullshit?

Nyman's key is just that,

What?! A world of poetic expression? I. Don’t. Know. What. Is. Going. On. Anymore.

...which means that no matter how technically impressive he is, the music remains cold and strangely irrelevant.

A note to everybody ever: Please stop talking about “stories” in music as if they were concrete, irrevocable determinants of a piece’s worth and importance. Thanks. It helps no one.

Usually, compositional methods are only as good as those using them. But minimalism is one that penalizes practitioners who use it perversely.

Those sentences say exactly the same thing!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !! !!!!!!!!(?)

Except now you’re calling Nyman perverse. For what? What's perverse? And where’s my goddamned long-germinating movement? (insert poop joke here about how we've been reading it, all along)
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9/1/08

"A Flower From The Garden Of Life"

Did you know that Thurland Chattaway wrote his song, “ Can’t You Take It Back And Change It For A Boy?” in 1911? Didn’t think so. That must mean you don't know anything about American music.

Intimidated by the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, [English-speaking] classical-music establishments and audiences seem to assume that all things good and great come from the European continent.

Seriously, mentioning Thurland Chattaway probably wouldn’t spark too many conversations.

Both Brits and Americans seem almost apologetic for their native musical heritages.

If, however, Thurland is all you think we think we have, then I think you think you’re still in 1911. Then again, I've never heard of Ives or Irving Berlin. Blecht. BLECHT. BLLEECCHTT.
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Things Are Products of Their Environments; Also, Objective Truth

The Phoenix Symphony is expanding its musical horizons. They're going to program a bunch of world music this season. Cool! Hooray! Let's have Richard Nilsen of the Phoenix Sun (online) tell us about it.

(Caveat: much of this has to do with his interviewee.)

Symphony Mixes Pop, Tradition


Suddenly all world music is pop music?

There is a tendency to think about classical music as somehow different from other musics in the world, something separate and distinct.

1) Passive voice much?

2) By whom? Westerners? Phoenixites? (?-ed) Critics? Everyone? The Japanese?

But that's not the way it really is: Every major composer has been influenced by the popular music of his time and by the music of the rest of the world.

The...general sense of this is clear, but false. Machaut was, I'm sure, not aware of Japanese music (let alone Japan) in the 14th century. No? Sure, he was influenced by the troubadors and trouveres, but...the rest of the world?

Also: define "major composer" please.

Which is one reason the Phoenix Symphony is starting its season with a "World Music Festival" (Sept. 11-21). It will include performances by many groups and soloists not normally associated with white-tie and tails.

Um. Scare quotes unnecessary. "White-tie" is not modifying anything, so doesn't need a hyphen, I think. Just saying. Really the scare quotes bother me more.

"Composers were of the world they lived in," says Maryellen Gleason, Phoenix Symphony director.

Paging Captian Obvious, come in Captain Obvious. Sheesh. Director? Wow.

Also: are there no longer composers?

Mozart lived in Vienna, she says,

Get the fuck out. No way!

and included not only Austrian and German folk music in his work, but the other influences of the time, such as the Turkish janissary band music that was so popular. Hence his "Turkish Rondo,

Um. Rondo a la Turka? From the Sonata for Piano in A Major, K.331? Yes.

or later, Beethoven's "Turkish March" from The Ruins of Athens. Even Beethoven's sublime Ninth Symphony has a Turkish military march in the middle of the finale.

Fair point about the Beethoven.

The list is long and invigorating: Bach wrote in French, Italian and English styles, in addition to his own German; Haydn loved to sneak an Alsatian folk tune into a symphony or two; Beethoven borrowed Russian folk tunes for his Rasumovsky quartets; Brahms and Liszt loved Gypsy tunes; Debussy imported Javanese gamelan music into his piano scores; and Bartok and Kodaly built their 20th century Modernism on Hungarian and Romanian folk melodies they collected in the countryside.

See? The point is fair, but...Hungarians like Hungarian music? Seriously? Yes, seriously.

Anyway. The rest of the article details the programming for the """World Music Festival""". It sounds like a great idea. Read about it here.

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.

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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.
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