Inventions and Discoveries

There are several confusing bits in an otherwise New York Times-y New York Times review by Mr. Kozinn last weekend.

2 Pianists in Supple, Flowing Dialogue

I like the way that "two" (or "2") is reinforced by "dialogue." Clever, no?

Classical music has been treated as a poor relation at the Lincoln Center...

Since when?

Classical music has been treated as a poor relation at the Lincoln Center Festival in recent summers,

Oh. Wait, what?

but this year the tally was down to one:

The tally? Of what? Down to one what? What?

...a program of contemporary works for two pianos performed by Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa at Alice Tully Hall on Saturday, the next-to-last night of the festival.

The tally was down to one program?

That is one confusing run-on sentence. Let's see:

Classical music has been treated as a poor relation [of what?] recently (at the festival), but this year the tally [of classical music-s?] was down to one: a program of contemporary works etc., on the next-to-last night.

The tally of musics was down to one program? Okay.

Lincoln Center apparently considered even that much to be heavy lifting.

That one...tally...was...heavy? Much?

The concert was presented as a collaboration with the Ruhr Piano Festival in Germany, which commissioned the works by Chen Yi and Philip Glass that made up the second half of the program.

Is the fact that the Ruhr Festival commissioned the works why the Lincoln Center Festival is felt to not have done the "heavy lifting" for the concert? It seems to me that pens and checkbooks are not all that heavy compared to, say, composing new works or learning, memorizing, and performing them.

Mr. Davies, though best known as a conductor, is also a fine pianist, and he has been playing duo recitals with Ms. Namekawa since 2003. A memorable concert at the Miller Theater in 2005 was also devoted to modern music, but their repertory includes Zemlinsky’s four-hand arrangements of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and Beethoven’s “Fidelio.” They have recorded both, and a contemporary American program, for the Ruhr festival’s label, Edition Klavier-Festival Ruhr.

They play contemporary music. But they also play Mozart arrangements, but they also play contemporary music. The Ruhr Piano Festival's label is called Edition Klavier-Festival Ruhr. Who knew?

Mr. Davies and Ms. Namekawa began with a lively account of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos (1935), a work Stravinsky composed for his own use in duo concerts with one of his sons, Soulima. He kept it eminently practical: by arguing that the orchestra parts that might normally be expected in a concerto were incorporated into the keyboard fabric, he guaranteed the work’s portability.

Okay, that's logical. Is there a reference to Stravinsky's "argument," or is it borne out by the fact that the piece, you know, exists?

And by couching it in Neo-Classical gestures and textures, he made it accessible and appealing, if not quite as sharp-edged as his most enduring work.

Ah, my. Sharp-edged is the opposite of accessible and, especially, appealing. We like our modernism drowned in a gigantic puddle of accessible pudding (e.g. Barber, Samuel).

Curiously, though, "appealing" does not necessarily equate to "enduring." Take that, anti-formalists!

The following is, inexplicably, the next paragraph in its entirety:

Its charms include a rhythmically vital opening movement and inventive variations, and Mr. Davies and Ms. Namekawa gave it a supple performance with a hint of modernist steeliness in its closing fugue. They ended the first half of their program with another, more recent oldie, Steve Reich’s “Piano Phase” (1967), an early experiment in applying to instrumental music the phasing techniques that Mr. Reich discovered in his seminal tape pieces, “Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain.”

Yeah, what? The entire last paragraph was about the Stravinsky; the entire next paragraph is about the Reich. Methinks the copy editor had an Idealized Paragraph Paradigm that somehow failed to take into account the subject of the sentences in their grouping preferences.

Figure 1: Goddamn it do I hate grouping preferences.

But let's back up to what should be the first sentence of the next paragraph:

They ended the first half of their program with another, more recent oldie, Steve Reich’s “Piano Phase” (1967), an early experiment in applying to instrumental music the phasing techniques that Mr. Reich discovered in his seminal tape pieces, “Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain.”

I like "recent oldie;" it amuses me. However, did Reich "discover" the phasing techniques he used in those [excellent] tape pieces? I guess...sort of. I mean, it's basically a really really really tight canon; and I think he more "invented" than "discovered" the phasing idea. Does this matter?

Figure 2: Steve Reich (r) with David Wooderson (played by Matthew McConaughey) from Dazed and Confused

Figure 2 [supplement]: (File photo of Wooderson for reference)

Anyway. So, phasing, huh? Sounds interesting. What's the idea?

The idea is that two musicians playing brief, simple figures begin in unison and then move apart one beat at a time.

I see!

Eventually they return to the positions from which they began, but along the way the displaced beats create an increasingly dense web of sound from which phantom themes emerge and interact.

Sounds about right, even if the procedure in the aforementioned tape pieces is more complicated.

Or at least, they seem to: Mr. Reich’s real discovery here is the power of the overtone series and of psychoacoustic effects.

Again, did he "discover" the "power" of the overtone series? I don't know about Pythagoras, but Helmholtz might be pissed about that claim.

Figure 3: Was 1863 before 1963?

In his phase pieces we hear rhythms and counterpoint that no one is actually playing.

Well, sort of. Someone is playing them, but between the echo and the overtones, and our acoustic memory...but I guess that's the "power" that Reich "discovered." Invented? Experimented with? Employed? No...? Discovered?

I find this turn of phrase very, very odd. Did Albers discover colors? Or combinations of colors in squares? Wait--maybe it was Mondrian?

Figure 4: I've "discovered" the "power" of embedded images!

Well, that was my main concern, I guess. The rest of the article basically...well, here:

Mr. Glass employs an amusing trick in his Four Movements (2008)...

The "amusing trick" is that it doesn't sound like Glass!...but then, it does. Ha ha! He's a one-trick pony! Hilarious.

The rest of the article is available from the link at the top, or, if you're lazy, here.

Thoughts about discovery or discoveries about thought are welcome.


Sator Arepo said...

Dammit. It wouldn't let me use the 'Philip Glass' tag three times in a row. And it was funny, too.

Gustav said...

What exactly is a "supple dialogue"? What an odd choice of adjectives.