New Music ruins yet another concert...

I love reading reviews of open-mindedness and personal discovery. Where the world of art and music grows just a little bit bigger, and everyone learns an important lesson. Thus was the case for Dorothy Chen in the Columbia Daily Spectator.

Never before have I seen the struggle for acceptance of new music so perfectly capsulized.

Review: Closing Concert of Carnegie’s China Festival

Vivid title.

Something very odd happened at Carnegie Hall tonight. Of the two pieces performed by the Shanghai Symphony, the first received a standing ovation, the second a couple of forced hand claps.

This is odd. In my recent experience, no matter how terrible the orchestra plays, the crowd erupts into standing ovations.

I wonder what piece got the shaft? I hope it's something by Édouard Lalo...I hate that guy.

The night began with Lang Lang’s performance of the time-honored Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Nothing like "time" as the ultimate judge of the value of a piece of music.

Despite it being one of my favorite piano pieces, I was immediately disappointed by the opening of tonight’s performance. It literally felt like a jumbled mass. It was as if the musicians are coming in cold and need some time to warm up, to become comfortable with each other’s sound.

Literally felt like a jumbled mass

Literally? I guess if it was literal, it begs the question what a jumbled mass is exactly.

Let's ask Google images.

figure jumbled mass: Is this about right?

But after getting through a more-or-less rough start, the scattered sounds began to co-exist harmoniously.

What a powerful message about love and peace, man.

figure harmony: Rachmaninoff at the end of the moderato.

This transition came about at the end of moderato, as if the musicians have suddenly found their sparks.

As a composer myself, that's always where I hide my sparks as well.

Henceforth, the performance became much more enjoyable.
In the end, Rachmaninoff’s coda in C was what saved tonight’s performance from mediocrity. It completely eased any discomfort I had about the beginning. Judging from how the quality of this concerto has evolved in the mere 33 minutes of its performance, I for one believe a standing ovation to be well-deserved.

Wow...lots of extraneous words in that paragraph. But more importantly, the plot thickens. We know that one piece "
received a standing ovation", and the other "a couple of forced hand claps."

At first I was worried that the time-honored Rachmaninoff would only get a few forced claps. Whew. It'll have to the next piece.

...I wonder what it could be? I hope it's by Michael Haydn...I hate that guy.


Ahh, good...a smoke break

figure intermission: Let's all go the lobby.

...15 wasted minutes later...

Okay, we're back. So what composer's pile of puke awaits only a couple of forced hand claps? I hope it's by H. Owen Reed...I hate that guy.

Then came eminent composer Chen Qigang’s “Iris dévoilée”.

composer Chen Qigang? Damn. I only like my composers to be pre-eminent. Surely this can't be the piece that will suck ass....it's not by Louis Spohr. (I hate that guy.)

This piece, if described positively,...

well, don't go out of your way or anything...

...is a portrayal of the universal female archetype in nine movements;...

...just like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, if I read my Susan McClary correctly...

or, if spoken of negatively,...

If you speak positively of something, it seems only fair to speak negatively of it as well...

...intervals of piquant female screams separated by much-needed silences specially designed for disgruntled audience members to flee the scene (many of whom did preciously that).

I've never heard this piece before, but this sounds fair and balanced to me.

Chen Qigang, having studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in China, moved to France at the age of 33 to study with Olivier Messiaen, a composer of contemporary music. Hence, much of Chen Qigang’s repertoire could be placed under the category of new music,...

"new music"...? What's that? Let's ask Google images!

figure new music fun: Yeah! New music looks awesome!

But could it be...

figure miley: On second thought...that sounds awful.

I guess I would have thought that it was music that was actually recently composed. But I guess it's more complicated than that. What did studying with Messiaen do to her music?

...as they sometimes evoke emotional extremes.

Her music was bi-polar? That does sound dreadful. All that damned emotion in her piece. When will composers learn that people just hate it when their compositions have emotional content and meaning? Jeez.

But that's still a bit lacking in terms of a definition. I think an anecdote would help straighten us out.

A catharsis of sorts, as shown by the old lady who sat two seats away from me, who began to laugh hysterically midway through the piece. Other than this interesting fact...

Wait...what interesting fact? That one old lady laughed? Yeah, I guess you're right...that is interesting. Can't wait to call Sator.

...though, “Iris dévoilée” was quite poorly received tonight.

No?! Really?

Facing these two vastly different receptions, it becomes difficult to comment on the concert as a whole.

Come on. Give it a try.

But I will say this: If the aim of this closing event was to act out the name of the China festival “Ancient Paths, Modern Voices”, then the programming did a wonderful job juxtaposing the traditional with the new.

Exactly, by juxtaposing a great work of music with this piece of shit, they did a wonderful job of putting traditional and new together.

However, if Chen Qigang’s piece was included as a representation of the Chinese music scene, then the audience was misled.

I didn't realize that you were an expert on the Chinese music scene. As someone who isn't, who would be an appropriate representation?

For such a depiction would be the equivalent of taking John Cage to be a prime example of “American music”, if such a thing even exists.

Yeah! Fuck John Cage! (I hate that guy sooooo much.)


Great. Article.


AnthonyS said...

Okay, maybe this comes from being in the process of grading 16 first-year college students' very first papers, but the tortured grammar in this article is really obnoxious.

This transition came about at the end of moderato, as if the musicians have suddenly found their sparks.

Tense change, much? This would read much better as "This transition came about at the end of moderato, as if the musicians had suddenly found their sparks."

See what I did there? Also, it is probably better to include an article in front of "moderato", as in "the moderato".

Conductor: Let's start at the top of Allegro.


Conductor: Let's start at the top of the Allegro.



It was as if the musicians are coming in cold and need some time to warm up, to become comfortable with each other’s sound.

Try "It was as if the musicians were coming cold..."

Granted, I'm overly sensitive to style right now, but still... something something, getting paid to write.

Danny said...

1.) There's a four-minute sample (of the 43-minute piece) on his website:


It's hard to get a sense of the piece from that brief sample, so I'm not really going to comment one way or the other, beyond:

2.) If we're going to include Chinese expat composers in the scope of contemporary Chinese classical music, then it should be noted that Chen's music is in more or less the same sound-world as his more famous erstwhile-countryman Tan Dun. From her protestations in defense of poor maligned Chinese music, I'd imagine not..

3.) A couple of years ago, I went to an art exhibit with an MIT grad student that didn't really know anything about art. As exasperated as I was by the question, I explained the difference between contemporary and modern. He wasn't paid to be an expert on art, though.

So what the hell do we do with this?

"...moved to France at the age of 33 to study with Olivier Messiaen, a composer of contemporary music. Hence, much of Chen Qigang’s repertoire could be placed under the category of new music..."

Remo Giazotto is the only composer I can think of off the top of my head that didn't write contemporary music.

Gustav said...

Thanks, Danny, for the link. I briefly searched for one, but didn't see anything. I guess going to the composer's website would have made sense.

Gustav said...

@AnthonyS: Furthermore regarding the whole moderato stuff, my question is, during the course of an entire concerto, is it generally accepted that everyone reading this article will have even the foggiest clue where the moderato is in the piece? What a bizarre point of reference.

I mean I do memorize all scores by their tempo markings, but does everyone?

Danny said...

Programs do sometimes have tempo markings listed in them.

You'll never guess what CD I found at Newbury Comics tonight. I'll listen to it after listening to Rach 2 and try to gauge how genuine my applause is to each.

dsi r4 said...

I am such a big fan of music when ever i free i turn on my i pod and listen music from it whole day...
I also searching for music info like lyrics albums singers and much more....
My favorite music types are sad songs , Fast Rock and Roll type songs and some really Hip Hop...
So this article will make me more better in music knowledge and also some kind of fun.....
Thanks for sharing some valuable info...

Empiricus said...

@dsi r4:

Hi. And your "more better." Good luck with your "sad songs." I also hope some kind of fun.

I also like music, too especially. I hope my valuable is info. And, I wish, "some kind of fun," plus to you.

Empiricus said...

Sorry. To get full effect, click on dsi r4's name. Then you'll appreciate my deserved derision.

Empiricus said...

Also Gustav,

Susan McClary reference + I hate that guy: Priceless.

Fred said...

re: "many of whom did preciously that"

um... shouldn't editors (or writes for that matter) be looking for precisely this type of error?

Danny said...

I finally got a chance to listen to it, and it's absolutely middle-of-the-road for music written by a contemporary Chinese ex-pat. And the "intervals of piquant female screams" that she mentioned are traditional Jingqu opera. I'd ask "What's her problem?", but I understand that her problem is that she knows nothing about the Chinese music scene, traditional or new.

Gustav said...

...her problem is that she knows nothing about the Chinese music scene, traditional or new.

Exactly, Danny. And knowing what Jingqu opera is, well, that'd take either research and/or a critic who knows something about music. And frankly, that's just not in the budget.

Anonymous said...

With all the skilled music students at Columbia to write in the school's paper, why choose this girl? How on earth do such incompetent people get these kinds of jobs!

Danny said...

I'm going to read a couple of lines from this review at a presentation I'm doing tonight at NerdNite Boston on contemporary Chinese music to show how traditional Chinese elements can be misunderstood. Whether I actually plug you guys will be a game-time decision, as I'll probably decide to spare Miss Chen the embarrassment of getting called out in front of a room full of nerds.

In any case, on the off chance that any of you is from the Boston area, it's 8:00 at the Middlesex Lounge, 315 Mass Ave in Cambridge. I'll be playing a clip illustrating why Miss Chen found this piece so distasteful, yet how it's right out of the traditions of Chinese music.

Gustav said...

Wow, Danny. Very cool. Wish I lived in the area, because I'd love to hear your presentation. Please let us know how it goes.

Sator Arepo said...

Ah, Danny. Haven't lived in Boston for 6.5 years now else I'd be there. Good luck! (And Go Sox!)