Rx for...Good Luck!

So, you’re the chief wellness officer of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, huh?

Okay, then. Shoot.

“Listening to finer music...

Hold on. Because you’re presumably someone with a scientific background, I’d like to ask you one quick question: How did you go about defining “finer” as it pertains to music? See, the reason I ask is because without a proper definition, i.e., some quantifiable differences between types (styles, aesthetics, philosophies?) of music, whatever you say next will be inherently flawed.


“Listening to finer music and attending concerts on a consistent basis...

The same goes for the terms “attendance,” “concerts” and “consistent.”

...makes your real age about four years younger,” Dr. Michael F. Roizen — the chief wellness officer of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, said recently.

Uh-huh. So if I smoke four year’s worth of crack, but attend finer music concerts consistently, I’ll be my normal age? Sweet. [puff, puff]


Dr. Roizen is one of a number of [cough] experts, Matthew Gurewitsch of the NY Times quotes in his recent article, presumably titled by a junior high school yearbook editor:

Composing Concertos in the Key of Rx

It’s an interesting glance at the potential of specifically designed music to clinically heal certain health-related symptoms, such as hypertension.

While I think the ideas are worthwhile, their science is...hmm...wanting. Too bad Muzak filed for chapter 11, they might’ve been able to help.


The Quickest Post, Because the Title Is Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Long

I love life. The most appropriate, yet random, search terms to hit the Review: "Reno" with "whorehouse."

Holy Shmoly!

Critics are usually given a small, out-of-the-way space for their review, often allowing enough room for a paltry 300 words. As we’ve seen time and time again, to make good use of all 300 is terribly difficult. So when I saw that Stephen Smoliar of the San Francisco Concerts Examiner was given room for 1000 words, I was ready at the Meta-Critique Helm®. Delightfully, every word was worth it! Congratulations!

Here is an excerpt:

In the past I have seen [Vladimir] Ashkenazy only as a pianist, and I think his experience as a pianist effectively informed his role as a conductor of this work. He had a particularly sensitive ear for the balance between the piano and the orchestral resources. This turned out to be important because [Yevgeny] Sudbin tended to get pedal-heavy, often when the fingering got more complicated. Ashkenazy was able to engage his "balancing act" techniques to maintain the overall message, so to speak, of the concerto.

Can anyone say: ShamWow? That's as good as being beaten up by a hooker.


Phunny Philly Phrenetics?

...and this is how Philly celebrates its first world championship in 20 years?

But it was [Richard Goode's] incredibly clean and fast fluidity that moved the interpretation well beyond respectable into the rarer realms ruled by pure adrenaline.

Cough, cough. I think you mean dopamine, Pete, not adrenaline. A world run by pure adrenaline (AKA epinephrine) would be very unpleasant, because, you see, it is a hormone released from the adrenal glands when a person faces danger or an emergency. It makes you “hyper-aware” and ready to fight or flee. (On the other hand, seeing a bunch of frenetic septuagenarians ready to fight would be humorous, I think.)

More to the point, dopamine is a neurohormone secreted by the hypothalymus and is associated with rewarding pleasurable activities. It gets you high. I think that’s closer to what you mean, Pete.

Pie chart 1: "Where's our encore!"

Changing Tenses in Mid(-Narrative) Stream

Or: There and Back Again

This little review shifts verb tenses in order to effect a tesseract. Or an exercise in experimental usage. Or...to convey a sense of motion...? I don't know. I'm not the world's best prose stylist, by far. But if something seems amiss, I go running:

Figure 1: I guess I need to get the 4th Edition

"...whichever tense the writer chooses he should use throughout. Shifting from one tense to another gives the appearance of uncertainty and irresolution." (3rd Edition, p. 31)


MSO Shines in Saturday Show

One of these days, maybe not this year or next or even the year after that, Muncie residents are going to wish they had spent time listening to the Muncie Symphony Orchestra under conductor Bohuslav Rattay.

A bold prediction, tempered by absolute hedging about when it will come to pass. Couched in the future, the sentence nonetheless foreshadows the temporal adventure ahead ("One of these days...will...wish they had...").

Because, as much as some may hate to believe it, one day a larger city’s orchestra is going to snatch him up from under the MSO’s tutelage and all of East Central Indiana will refer to his tenure as the “gold ol' days.”

The temporal ambiguity (and point-of-view) is slowly introduced. The predictions ("is going to...will refer to...") are mediated by the imposition of the present at the beginning ("...as much as some may hate to believe..."), situating the reader in the current attitudes of (one assumes) residents of East Central Indiana.

Fun Fact: Residents of East Central Indiana traditionally use the unusual colloquialism "gold ol' days," which 1) uses the contraction of "old" to prevent the untoward elision of consonants threatened by the repeated "d" joining "old" and "days," and 2) replaces "good" in the common phrase "good ol' days" with "gold." The reason for the latter remains unclear; however, recent research speculates that this oddity of speech is accounted for by the fact that "gold" is a common word, coupled with the ongoing problem that Spellcheck does not understand idioms.

Rattay is that good of a conductor.

Ah, an unqualified "is"; present tense, here we come! [The construction "that good of a..." is irksome for some reason, but I cannot substantiate my displeasure. Anyone on rules of usage?]

And his greatness was especially clear during the MSO’s latest concert Saturday evening in Emens Auditorium.

Oh, dear, back to "was" again.

“The Tale of the Three Strausses” was the theme of the night, with the well-known “On the beautiful Blue Danube” beginning the evening in a unique and wonderful way.

We seem now to be situated solidly in the past tense. Or are we? (Dun dun dunnn!) Why use "beginning" instead of "began" except throw into question the temporal situation of the reader (or reviewer)? Also, the clever uncapitalized "beautiful" in the title is a wry comment on the state of the Danube today.

Rattay started the piece off slowly, a rarity with American orchestras which typically begin the piece with a bombastic flair.

Considering how the waltz begins, this 1) seems unlikely, and 2) is totally unsubstantiated.

The MSO’s process allowed the audience to tune their ears to the fanciful movements in the piece.

Assuming there was a "process" (strategy? approach? reading? interpretation?), was it the orchestra's or the conductor's? Also, there's only one movement in the piece; clearly something else was intended instead of the usual musical parlance, but...what? Finally, three uses of "piece" in the last two sentences alone gets redundant really quickly. At least we're in past-tense-concert-review mode.

The same was true with the “Voices of Spring” piece performed after the intermission.

There's "piece" again. And it's awkward; "'Voices of Spring' piece"?

This time, the orchestra began with the alert attention that was more than loud noise.

I have no idea what this sentence means.

It was the appropriate start for a Straussian piece so well known.

Hold off on "piece" for a bit, hyphenate (?) "well-known," explain what "alert attention that was more than loud noise" means and explain why it was an appropriate beginning for "Voices of Spring" (because it is "well known" [sic]?) and we'll have ourselves a sentence. Moreover, "Straussian" makes it sound like the piece (sorry) was like Strauss' work. "...a Strauss piece" would have sufficed, I think.

Sarah Hibbard was the guest artist for the evening, using her beautiful soprano...

The sudden switch of tenses back to the present in mid-sentence was appropriate considering the immediacy of the...what? Maybe the rest of the paragraph will help.

Sarah Hibbard was the guest artist for the evening, using her beautiful soprano to add more flavor to the orchestra’s interpretation of Richard Strauss. Although she did not seem as strong a soprano needed to perform “Vier Letzte Lieder," at times her voice and the orchestra’s collaboration was unbelievably beautiful and well worth the price of admission.

Wow. At least we're back in the past tense, I guess.

It is with the final piece, also by Richard Strauss, where Rattay shows his ability to take musical risks that are intriguing and enjoyable.

It is? Now? Suddenly? Is the concert still going on? Piece?

As was the case with Miles Davis during his “Kind of Blue” days, he encourages the musicians to bring their own voices to the performance.


He also transitions these amazing artists beautifully in between movements,

He transitions...the performers?

...keeping the performance in a classical realm rather than a New Age version of Strauss.

I am so fucking lost. The present sure is confusing. Miles Davis? New Age Strauss?!

Figure 2: The dawning of the Age of Aquarius?

He is incredibly expressive during the piece without being overbearing or cartoonish in his body movements. He truly feels the music and the musicians do as well. The performance from all involved was simply great.

Ahh! Back to the past! What the hell?

Unfortunately, not many community members or BSU students were on hand to see and hear this very good orchestra. Not many cities of Muncie’s size can say they house a high-class orchestra and one has to wonder what it will take for people in Muncie to celebrate the fact that they do. Hopefully, it won’t be after Rattay has moved on to his next orchestra.

Goodness gracious. It's like some kind of swiftly tilting planet.

Figure 3: A Wrinkle in Time


This Year's "Ouch, My Logic Bone!" Award Goes to...

Cheryl North of the Contra Costa Times:

Sadly, most contemporary compositions these days just aren't readily likable at first hearing.





[cricket, cricket]





[Ugh. I’m too irritated to type anything nice for the moment; so I’ll just let it be]

This one was different.

Uh huh.

The old "here's a straw man to show people how much this piece defies the common wisdom that contemporary music sucks" tactic.

In what way does it not suck, Cheryl?

The way it formed an arc from atmospheric mystery through tension, and then onto a breathless resolution that ultimately evolved into a heavenly sense of peace, reminded me of Samuel Barber's beloved "Adagio for Strings" — and if enough people hear this new Vask [sic] work, I predict it will share a similar popularity.

Fair is fair. Let’s see if my logic bone is broken: Cheryl was previously familiar with the Adagio for Strings. She likes the Adagio. She heard something that reminded her of it. Thus, she liked what she heard.

And while I'm at it, maybe I can rephrase that first sentence:

Sadly, most compositions just aren’t readily the Adagio for Strings.


What's more, Vasks’ music (here) reminds me of Barber, too (here).


Prefabricated Sentence Jar

[Hypothetical critic’s logic process] Hmm. I have to review a symphony tonight.


Okay! They are generally laid out in a fast-slow-fast scheme. (Good, so far.) Fast movements are generally punchy, with thrust. (Sweet.) And slow movements...

I know! They’re poetic and warm. Excellent. (pats own back)

Now, to the word processor! Hmm:

The audience (no) conductor had the cellos (nope) music...flowing...with a...broom (er) sweep, giving the fast movements outer movements (that way I can kill two birds with one duck [arg] stone) a lot of punch and thrust, and...in particular...bringing out the slow movement’s (which one was it again?) the second movement’s Adagio’s poetry and with warmth.

Good, but it could be better. Let’s see. Where are the nouns?

The conductor had the beautiful music flowing with a passionate sweep, giving the outer movements a lot of punch and thrust, and, in particular, bringing out the Adagio’s wistful poetry with admirable warmth.

Still, not quite right. I think I need an adverb:

The conductor had the darkly beautiful music flowing with a passionate sweep, giving the outer movements a lot of punch and thrust, and, in particular, bringing out the Adagio’s wistful poetry with admirable warmth.

On the right track. Just needs a personal touch:

The conductor had the darkly beautiful music flowing with a passionate sweep, giving the outer movements a lot of punch and thrust (not that there couldn't have been even a little bit more), and, in particular, bringing out the Adagio’s wistful poetry with admirable warmth.

And who says critics’ jobs are easy?


[The conductor] had this darkly beautiful music flowing with a passionate sweep, giving the outer movements a lot of punch and thrust (not that there couldn't have been even a little bit more), and, in particular, bringing out the Adagio’s wistful poetry with admirable warmth.

Yikes. It sure didn’t require much insight, or attendance, to write that one, did it?


Citation Is Hard; Needs More Drama

A choose your own adventure! One of the functions of the review is to inform (besides offering criticism and opinion) the reader about the concert program. This includes, conventionally, naming the pieces performed, or trying to, or something.

This review comes to us from the Ann Arbor News. There was a concert, and some works were played. Let's see if we can figure out what!

It's not often there's a bit of drama at a classical music concert,

It's not? Usually there's at least musical drama, no? Like a "what-key-are-we-in-now?" drama, or "when-is-this-Glass-piece-going-to-end?" drama.

but drama there was at the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's "Midsummer in March" concert Saturday night, in honor of Mendelssohn's 200th birthday.

Apparently...some kind of extra-musical drama? Maybe the drama is in the consonance of the program title. Mendelssohn...Midsummer...March...Mmm.

The evening began with a marvelous playing of Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 21, Op. 61.

Somewhere in the universe, there's a closing double-apostrophe missing its title. (Poor little guy!) Also, the citation is confusing, or wrong, or both. Mendelssohn composed the "Overture to Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 21" in 1826. Later, in 1842, he penned the incidental music for the same play (Op. 61) which incorporates the op. 21 overture as its...overture.

I choose to believe the following: It's not often there's a bit of drama in a classical music review, but drama there is in trying to ascertain what was played at this concert.

Violins are the thing in the overture, and they were perfect.

I don't know what that means, but "thing" seems to agree with "they"...or rather, doesn't. More drama?

The flutes got a workout during the scherzo, and were more than up to the task of navigating the more tricky passages.

More more, more? (How did you like it?)

The Wedding March ended the segment, with the brass playing nicely off the strings. I was reminded of how magnificent this familiar music can be when played by a full symphony.

I'm still not certain if all of the incidental music (that's Op. 61 for those of you keeping score at home) was played or not. I do now know, however, that whatever was played was played by a "full" symphony.

Next up was J.S. Bach's intricate Concerto for Piano No. 1 in D minor, with guest pianist Joel Hastings.

Oh, sorry. I have to stop you there. The d minor Concerto (BWV 1052) was not composed for the piano, at least not as we think of it. The intended instrument was the harpsichord or perhaps clavichord; this is a small matter. But calling the work "Piano Concerto" as we think of it today is at best misleading, and at worst plain wrong.

The audience was startled when, during the first movement, Hastings abruptly stopped the performance and went to confer with conductor Arie Lipsky. When it happened again, everyone was buzzing.

Well, at least if they all had a buzz on they weren't that annoyed by the interruption?

Was Hastings upset with the orchestra? With Lipsky? That kind of thing is highly unusual.

Ah! the drama. What happened next? Was there a denouement? I hope there was a denouement.

The second movement went without a hitch, however just before the end of the third, as Hastings was playing solo, he stopped yet again.

Intriguing! A climax of sorts, perhaps?

Despite the problems, which were later attributed by A2S0 executive director Mary Steffek Blaske to memory lapse, Hastings soldiered on, playing beautifully.

The...executive director later attributed the repeated stoppages to...memory lapse? The pianist's, one assumes? Goodness gracious! How will this resolve?

He has just the right touch to let the work's subtleties shine though. At intermission, it was all anyone seemed to be talking about.

Unless I read this wrong, after all of the "drama," at intermission the audience was talking about...his touch and subtlety. One would think they'd be going on about said repeated interruptions, but...no. Unless...the paragraph is constructed this way deliberately to reflect the drama of the performance! Yes, that's it. It's a Choose Your Own Adventure: rearrange the sentences to find the intended meaning (and slay the dragon)!

Also: what happened?

A highlight of the concert was "The Wise Virgins," a suite from Walton's delicate ballet based on Bach "Sheep May Safely Graze" and others.


A highlight of the concert was "The Wise Virgins,"


...a suite from Walton's delicate ballet...


...based on Bach "Sheep May Safely Graze" and others.

Do what now?

Others? Other whats? What's a Bach "Sheep May Safely Graze"? Is that like his pro wrestling nickname?

Figure 1: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin

Figure 2: Johann Sebastian "Sheep May Safely Graze" Bach?

If I may, I think it means something like:

A highlight of the concert was a suite frim Walton's delicate ballet "The Wise Virgins," based on melodies from Bach's Cantata "Sheep May Safely Graze" (BWV 208) and others.

(Incidentally, Walton's ballet "The Wise Virgins" was made up of arrangements of music by Bach, orchestrated by Walton, and is officially "lost", so I wonder where this came from.)

"Ah! How Ephemeral" simply sparkled, and concertmaster Aaron Berofsky's violin on "Sheep" was sublime.

I don't know what "Ah! How Ephemeral" is, nor whence it came. I'm all researched out.

The evening concluded with Mendelssohn's 5th "Reformation" Symphony, a real treat featuring the music of Martin Luther and concluding with the triumphant "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

This makes it sound like Mendelssohn composed 5 or more "Reformation" symphonies. Which is not true.

What a great way to ring in spring.

With Midsummer? Obfuscation? A bit of both?

I bet I wasn't the only one who left the Michigan Theater feeling uplifted.

But what happened to the drama? Pfft. No denouement for me.


Cause of Depression

Hello again, Detritusites. Here’s some more lunacy.

But first, some clever editing:

His music [...] is inspired by the impressionistic imagery of fleeting clouds and plays of light.

Janelle is talking about Jeffrey Mumford’s music. Nice, huh?

Well, not so fast. (undoes editing)

His music, while atonal, is inspired by the impressionistic imagery of fleeting clouds and plays of light. [it. mine]

...as if atonality is immune from shlocky inspiration.

Table 1. From the super awesome Garfield Minus Garfield


A Modern, Mild-Mannered Admonishment

Because adjectives and adverbs are unavoidable, I’d like to refresh our vocabulary:

1. Lyrical means, “expressing the writer’s emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way.” However, in music lingo, it simply means “like a [beautifully] singing voice.”

2. Mildly means, “in a mild manner, without anger or severity” or “not seriously or dangerously” or “to a slight extent.”

3. Dissonant means, “lacking harmony” or “unsuitable or unusual in combination” or “sounding apart.”

4. Chords are “a group of (typically three or more notes) sounded together.”

So when one says:

The third movement introduced the lyrical playing of mildly dissonant chords.

One is really saying, “The third movement introduced the beautiful, singing-like playing of slightly clashing combinations of a series of simultaneous notes.”

See how this game works? Good.

Not surprisingly, however, this is something that must be overcome.

Despite the inherently modern harmonies...

5. Despite means, “without being affected by; in spite of.”

6. Inherently means, “existing in something as a permanent, essential or characteristic attribute.”

7. Modern, in music, means, “ugly or bad; usually denoting an incompatible aesthetic or philosophy.” Look it up—it’s really there!

8. Harmony means, “the combination of simultaneously sounded notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.”

When translated, this reads: “In spite of the characteristically ugly attributes of the series of clashing combinations of simultaneous sounding notes...”

...the music sounded distinctly romantic in character.

9. Romantic means, “redeeming” or "better than modern."


This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

It seems to me that there are too many things.

We've become so inundated with things that they are only describable in relation to other, familiar things. Well, at least it feels that way.

The SciFi Channel has a new show, "Eureka," which it describes as a series

...about a secret government facility in South Dakota where all mysterious relics and supernatural souvenirs are housed, is emblematic of the channel’s programming direction. “It is a dramedy and it is set in the here and now. It’s a kind of an Indiana Jones meets ‘Moonlighting’ meets ‘The X-Files,’” Mr. Howe said. “This is a very accessible, relatable, fun show.” [Edit: Sorry SA, the colors were too modern]
Wow. Now that sounds compelling! And vaguely familiar!

The Simpsons
(as usual) have already lampooned this concept with their (deliberately) short-lived character, Poochie the Dog.

Figure 1: Poochie Is Mad Irreverent!

Poochie even has a little "song" wherein he describes his corporate brain trust-generated character concept:
"Poochie Rap"

The name's Poochie D
And I rock the telly,
I'm half Joe Camel
And a third Fonzarelli.
I'm the kung fu hippie
From gangsta city,
I'm a rappin' surfer,
You the fool I pity.
Ah. That's the stuff. Spell it on out for us, Poochie!

Fortunately for us, this concept seems to be running, or bleeding, into other areas. Here's Sally Vallongo's review of the Toledo Opera's performance of Strauss' Salome.

Opera gives us many twisted heroines, but surely no other femme is quite so fatale as Salome.

Surely. Can you give a contemporary example of such a figure?

In today’s celebrity-fixated world, Salome would be part Britney and part Paris, a juicy, amoral beauty who answers to little past her own twisted ambitions.

Sweet. Now I want to go to Toledo!* Anything else to which I can easily relate? Something facile, perhaps? A dash of Lindsay Lohan?

Beneath a mane of hair a la Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City, [soprano Amy] Johnson floats and gyrates across the stage...

Oh. Well, crap.

Perhaps...perhaps we're interrogating the high art/low art dichotomy with this kind of comparison?

Figure 2: Salome (Lovis Corinth, 1900)

Figure 3: Reminds One of Figure 2, Yes? (Photo: Washington Post)
(If they're femmes fatales, does that mean they're dead?)

What's that funny taste in my mouth? Tastes like...dumbed down. Mmmm, dumbed down...

*May not be true.

[Edit: 3/20/2009: The SciFi show is not in fact Eureka, it's Warehouse 13.]



True and false, black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. What do these oppositions all have in common? They are dangerously dogmatic and assume metaphysical absolutes.

And you know who deals in absolutes?

Figure 1: A Sith Lord? (hat tip to Say No to Crack)

My money’s on David Hurwitz:

These are musical facts that can't be avoided. [it. mine]

...referring to the Brandenburg Concerti.

[Where], the presence of a full-bodied tutti only highlights more effectively the contrast between solo and orchestral episodes and encourages a wider range of dynamic shading (those "terraced" dynamics can be even more "terraced").

...in opposition to the release of a one-to-a-part, period chamber music approach.

(Does anyone remember the recent, infamous stir caused by a British conductor, who decided to eliminate vibrato from an Elgar piece? Well, no one died as a result.)

Granted, period music does seem to assert some intellectual superiority, but who cares? What kind of music connoisseur landscape have we cultivated where we get so pissed off by such small details, where we cannot tolerate different interpretations, where opinions turn to facts, truths, the right way to do things? I seem to remember several recent wars caused by proselytizing opinions as facts (relationship to David’s review exaggerated, but still).

Listen, “a full-bodied tutti” may “more effectively” highlight grosso and dynamic contrast, but you’ll never get that in writing from four out of five doctors. Know why? Because it depends on what you are trying to highlight, which could be any number of things. This means that “effectively” becomes a questionable opinion, not an absolute fact.


Attack of the Emphatic Modifiers

Musical criticism, as we've said countless times, is difficult. One of the issues facing the writer is praising and/or lauding the performers, performance, or music without coming across as over-effusive.

Emphatic modifiers--words or clauses that amplify (or, less often, clarify) other terms used--can be very effective (see what I did there?). When overused, the emphasis can be somewhat diluted (see?). Over-overuse can rob the emphatics of all of their...emphasis.

Here, Jeffrey Rossman of the Classical Voice of North Carolina gives a super-glowing account of the Guarneri String Quartet.

We may not all look like it, but chamber music enthusiasts are a hardy and tenacious species.

We are? Oh, good. I'd hate to think we were only hardy or tenacious, but not both.

Despite torrential rains, temperatures hovering at the freezing mark, and dire predictions of every conceivable form of precipitation,

While I am sure the rains were torrential and the predictions dire, that sounds like spring in Iowa to me. Anyway, so despite the preceding...

hundreds of fans trekked to Raleigh's Fletcher Opera Theater for a truly special event.

Truly? Oh, good. I hate ordinary special events. Or worse, falsely special events.

The Raleigh Chamber Music Guild landed one of the coveted stops on the final season tour of the highly esteemed Guarneri String Quartet.

Is the Guarneri Quartet "highly" esteemed? I'd have to say yes: but that's one more modifier, please and thank you! Also, I have no doubt that the Guild landed a "coveted" stop on their farewell tour, but in fairness, the tour does include 37 other concerts.

Figure 1: The Guarneri String Quartet

The Quartet announced that after a phenomenal run of 45 years

Phenomenal! Modified! Again: fair. Again: modified. Again.

The Quartet announced that after a phenomenal run of 45 years – with only one personnel change – the 2008-09 season would be their last together as a string quartet.

The Quartet announced that this was their last season...as a quartet? Okay...

Like most string players of such a high caliber, you'd have to pry their bows from their cold dead hands, so thankfully this does not mean total retirement from other musical endeavors for each individual player.

What? Again, please.

Like most string players of such a high caliber, you'd have to pry their bows from their cold dead hands,

Implied: in order to...make them stop playing entirely? Bury them in standard-sized coffins? Submit to Cubo-Soviet communist rule?

Fig 2: Wolverines!

so thankfully this does not mean total retirement from other musical endeavors for each individual player.

Oh. In re: Total retirement: The Quartet is retiring as a quartet per se, but that doesn't mean they can't play their instruments anymore. (At least not if Patrick Swayze has anything to say about it.)

The line-up of this most venerated string quartet

Venerated? Certainly. Most venerated? Emphatic effect...fading...

is a veritable who's who of musicians:

Ah, the use of veritable emphasizes the aptness of the metaphor!

violinists Arnold Steinhardt and John Dalley, Michael Tree, viola, and Peter Wiley, cello, who in 2000 replaced the original cellist and his teacher and mentor, David Soyer.

He replaced the original cellist and his teacher David Soyer in the same year?! Wow!

In addition to their recording and performing of nearly the entire standard string quartet repertoire as well as contemporary works,

It's nice that they gave the standard rep enough attention to perform it as well as they performed contemporary works? Wait, what? Oh. Ambiguity commas something something. I get it. Carry on.

the Guarneri has been featured on television shows and DVD documentaries and has also been both subject and author of several books on string quartet playing.

Technical question: can the quartet be an "author"? "Authors" seems awkward as well. Anyone?

Let's hope that, as is often the case with retirement victory laps, this one is premature and reconsidered.

Let's do!

The afternoon began where the string quartet itself originated – from the fertile mind of Franz Joseph Haydn.

The afternoon began...from the fertile mind of Haydn? I'm not sure the dash is working properly; can you try another?

They chose the nicknamed "Rider" quartet, the last of his Opus 74 collectively called the "Apponyi Quartets" – popularly named because of the galloping rhythmic effect in the outer movements.

The Apponyi quartets were "...popularly named because of the galloping rhythmic effect in the outer movements."? That seems odd. Maybe your dash is still broken; try setting off the aside with a set of dashes, the first replacing the comma between "quartet" and "the". Thusly:

"They chose the nicknamed "Rider" quartet – the last of his Opus 74 collectively called the "Apponyi Quartets" – popularly named because of the galloping rhythmic effect in the outer movements."

Also, the Op. 71 works are also known as "Apponyi" quartets. That's just an FYI. Ugh, now I'm off-topic. Moving on:

As the Guarneri Quartet played this work, and the others in the program, one thought back to 1964, the year they formed as a group.

One did? We? You? Was it you? I bet it was. (Also: was there a different year in which they formed, but not "as a group"?)

Of course it is impossible to compare live performances from the time LBJ was president to this frightening time,

Why would one compare performances from 1964 to the ("frightening") age we live in? That seems like comparing apples and riding mowers.

Oh, comparing performances from 1964 to performances in our "frightening time" is...impossible. Well, I'm not sure that's true...we do have recordings, after all, from the 60s. But the use of "of course" and "impossible" rhetorically confer an authority to your assertion that is, perhaps, unfounded. Was 1964 really not a "frightening" time?

Fig 3: Frightening

Fig 4: (Apparently) Not Frightening

but one thing is for certain:

Well, as long as it's for certain...

this is not a group that is just going through the motions and resting on their considerable reputation.

It's hard to rest upon your reputation unless it is considerable, I reckon.

Although they are somewhat austere and solemn in their demeanor, their playing continues to be engaged and alive. The Haydn quartet served as a perfect catalyst to break down the doldrums of the weather and the somewhat dangerous trip to this wonderfully intimate and acoustically balanced venue.

Ah, nicely done. All of the negative or scary clauses ("austere and solemn" and "dangerous") are mediated by "somewhat" to lessen the effect of the criticism, while the choice of programming and venue ("perfect catalyst" and "wonderfully intimate") are further emphasized.

Although far from contemporary, Zoltan Kodály's second string quartet, completed in 1918...

Who said anything about contemporary? What are we talking about?

Although far from contemporary, Zoltan Kodály's second string quartet, completed in 1918, is a still seldom performed work that perhaps adds to his reputation as Bartók lite.

Yeah, you know what else contributes to Kodály's reputation as "Bartók lite"? People who insist on repeating this (at best) back-handed compliment whenever they fucking write about him. Let's be sure and not consider Kodály on his own terms; we might have to memorize another name!

Fig 5: Kodály: All the Hungarian-ness, now with half the tritones!

Also, the sentence above makes no sense unless you hyphenate "seldom-performed".

This two-movement quartet, infused with Hungarian folk idioms. [sic] gave cellist Wiley the spotlight for much of the work. He is masterful in his ability to alternate between a bright, piercing sound to a rich, rounded baritone that vibrates your chair.

Whose chair? One's chair?

It is a sure bet...

Oh, boy.

It is a sure bet that you will put more paying behinds in the seats when you program one of the most celebrated string quartets ever written: Maurice Ravel's only work in that medium.

Do we have some data on that? No? Crap. How about a guide to awkward, circuitous sentence construction? Working on it? Get back to me on that one.

Dedicated to Gabriel Fauré and premiered in 1904, it is hard to believe that this was written while Ravel was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire.

Actually, the facts that (1) the piece was premiered in 1904 and (2) dedicated to Fauré put Ravel squarely still at the Conservatoire (he left in 1905). If the intent was to express surprise at, oh, something like the advanced harmonic language or sophisticated string writing, the opening clause of that sentence isn't helping.

The opening movement, with its beautiful rising cello line, is arguably the most sensuous music ever written.

Quick! Name the most sensuous music ever written! Do it! I'll wait...

...I know, right?

The hedging ("arguably") counterpoints the hyperbole ("most") nicely in order to say: basically nothing.

The Guarneri quartet imbued the music with the right balance of heart, mind, and muscle – especially in the deceptively difficult pizzicato movement. The Ravel quartet, even more than others, will lay like a dead fish if you play it without an emotional involvement,

Whoa. The Ravel Quartet is like...I can't even do it. I can't go there. Pass.

and these musicians invested it with the same passion as they may have done as beginners in 1964.

Aaaaand the paragraph wraps up nicely with an bit of unfounded speculation.

A well-deserved standing ovation brought the group back for an obviously pre-arranged encore – which brings me to my sole negative comment.

*Gasp!* I hope its effect is mediated somehow!

A beautiful Bach-like fugal opening section led to a classical style middle section that had everyone stumped and asking, "Do you know what that encore was?" I have heard many performers, even in very broken and painful English, announce their encores, so it seemed a bit haughty to not say one word during the entire concert.

Ah, yes. "A bit" haughty. Good, good. The circle is complete.

However, my unnamed source did discover that this little gem was the slow movement from Mozart's Quartet in F, K.168.

Oh unnamed source, what would we have done without you?

Fast Eddie on Effective Symphonic Programming in a Tough Economy

The following is an excerpt from an interview with renowned critic-scholar Fast Eddie at an undisclosed location.


[Empiricus] Some say the symphonic organizations are being hit very hard by this econom...

[Fast Eddie] Yeah, yeah. The economy this and the economy that, profit margins, season ticket subscriptions, local business donations, dwindling audiences, dying patrons, and on and on...

You knows what? I got your problems fixed, sure as folded pizza. If ya listen to what I gotta say, you’ll make all the moolah you can eat. Ready?

First, that’ll be five bucks. [At this point Empiricus asks for change for a twenty-dollar bill. Fast Eddie waives his fee]

Okay. Bottom line, what cha gotta do is this—really simple: Ya gotta have fait[h] that the customer is always right. Don’t try to be smart—that’s for those Ivy League know-it-alls who’ve got nothin betta t’do than analyze stuff all day. If ya simply give ‘em what they ask for, and not what you think they might want, then you’re on your way to cabbage heaven. Stick to whacha know’ll work, the warhorses. Your 70-somethin customers’ll love ya. Just don’t surprise ‘em; the more surprisin you are, the worse odds you’re getting on your dough.

One catch: Ya gotta lower your overhead, see. Instead of a 100 person orchestra, how ‘bout a 50 person orchestra? Presto! That way you don’t have to give ‘em the world, just what you can afford. The suckers’ll lap it up. Sure, they’ll miss the Mahler, the Berlioz, the Strauss, for a while. But they’ll still love ya for the Mozart and ya don’t have to lower the prices, see.

[Empiricus] But there’ll be those who say that Mahler is a core part of the repertoire. Can we really set it aside, like you propose?

[Fast Eddie] Listen, this economy bull-puckey is just a self-correction. Got it? We were livin beyond our means. That goes for symphonies, too. I mean, look at the whole shebang: three-thousand seats, statues, gold railings, thirty ushers, guest solists, commissions, what have ya. And all for a puny two hours of 50 string players waiving horse hair across cat gut? Holy friggin cannoli, ya got 180 people on the payroll, right. How much does that cost? Way too much. Ya just can’t keep it goin. That’s like Imelda Marcos and shoes. If ya cut half the shoes out of the picture, bingo, you make more than you spend!

[Empiricus] I see. Has anyone taken your advice, Mr. Eddie?

[Fast Eddie] Glad you asked. The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra recently purchased my patented advice; they even got a 20 percent discount, being they’re the first and all—I need t’get my brand out there, see.

Bang, they were going about their plan, throwing greenbacks at three Mahler Symphonies per season, right. Well, they took my award-winning wisdom and now they’re playin a bunch of Beethoven instead. Win-win, badda-bing.

They even got Scott Cantrell to hype it up as if nothin strange was happenin.

Instead of the planned performances of Mahler's Third, Fourth and Eighth symphonies, the FWSO will offer the ultimate in core repertory: Beethoven.

“Ultimate”: now that’s a winnin salesman!

The FWSO didn’t change the concert’s title, too.

The "Great Performances Festival," Aug. 28-30, will include Beethoven's Third, Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the first two piano concertos and the Violin Concerto.

They’re gonna play the safest—and most profitable—music in the encyclopedia.

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony will be performed during the FWSO's 2009-10 symphonic series...

But most strategic of all, they’re listenin to the suckers.

Most other programs include at least one work chosen by patrons in an audience survey.

Sure, they got some work to do still.

[Another] program will include the world premiere of a work by Peruvian composer Jimmy López. Jennifer Higdon, the orchestra's 2009-10 composer-in-residence, will be represented by four works on two different programs.

Guest conductors will be baroque-music specialist Nicholas McGegan, for music of Vivaldi, Haydn and Mozart; Giancarlo Guerrero, music director of the Nashville Symphony; and Mei-Ann Chen, assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony.

Soloists will include pianist Horacio Gutiérrez and violinists Midori, Sarah Chang and Jennifer Koh.

But there’s still time to cut more spending.


Dead, like the English language

No, we’re not dead. Too bad I can’t say the same for the English language. Today’s steamy [...] comes from Long Beach, California.

On Saturday night, the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra proved it can play with superb power, shimmering sheer force that can fill the Terrace Theater of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center...

Judging from the awkwardness of this construction, I think we can safely say that John Ferrell is not a fan of articles and conjunctions.

...the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra proved it can play with superb power, shimmering sheer force that can fill the Terrace Theater of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center to overflowing.

The orchestra. Can play with superb power. That can fill the theatre. To overflowing?

[English language] Gulp.

That kind of power is exactly what Richard Wagner wanted for the overture to his opera "The Flying Dutchman," inspired as it was by the composer's personal experience in a violent storm at sea.

[Schrödinger to cat] Get in the box!

The opera itself is less violent: a tale of love and sacrifice. But the overture, with horns and trombones blaring out the Dutchman's theme like the roaring winds of a Baltic storm...

I like it when the roaring winds (I also like puns) blare out themes. Reminds me of things that fill to overflowing.

...is meant to be a little terrifying, a 19th-century musical version of a Bruce Willis action-adventure film.

Monteverdi’s madrigals: seventeenth-century musical versions of a Reinhold Weege sitcom set in a Manhattan court, at night, starring Harry Anderson and John Larroquette.

This is still a review, right?

That's the ride LBSO Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke provided for his audience.

Huh? What’s the “ride” he provided? That he proved the orchestra can play with power that fills to overflowing? That’s not exactly a ride. Then again, maybe my dictionary is wrong.

Power, even sophisticated power, is something you would reasonably expect from a large symphony orchestra. After all, if you gather together more than 70 professionals, arm them with well-designed noisemakers and let fly, you would expect something loud to result.

By my fancy inductive reasoning skills, I will now assume that whenever John says “power” he really means “loud.”

However, you might not expect the poetic - even dreamlike. The second work on Saturday's program, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's meditative "Lamentate," featuring the orchestra's principal keyboard player, Gloria Cheng, as soloist, was exactly that.

Budding students take note: this is an exemplary passage demonstrating proficient text prolongation. If you need to fill your page count in a pinch, look no further.

Using almost the same orchestral forces...

Hmmm. Imagine that! An orchestral piece that makes use of almost the same forces as another orchestral piece.

There is power in his music...

Read: loud.

...especially in the opening, fugue-like movement, which crashes with abandon.

See? Inductive reasoning does work!

But the work moves elegantly into considerations of deeper emotion, thoughtful passages gently moving, full of deep longing and regret and sometimes painful resolution.

Could I say that the work fills out emotion to overflowing?

Despite appearances, Diemecke is not psychic.

Figure 1: Diemecke


We hope to get stuff up more regularly. See you then, Detritusites!


Did Shaft Kill All of the Editors?

It's been apparent for some time now that the traditional print newspaper is in trouble. Not only little outlets are flailing--some of the bigger papers (see the Rocky Mountain News!) are going under.

Naturally (in the United States), as in public education, the arts are one of the first casualties in newspapers trying to stay solvent.

In many places, the "Arts" (or similar section(s)) are merely listings of upcoming events, and reviews are relegated to online-only or blog-only status. This, in addition to depriving the reader of information/opinion, has the following chilling effects:

1) The "review" is often only a perfunctory blog entry;

2) The reviewer can be given too many assignments to perform adequately;

3) The reviewers are often spread too thin, over a variety of media;

4) The nature of the "blog" review, as opposed to something that will appear in print, is often inadequately edited; sometimes, indeed, it seems, not edited at all.

We cannot, therefore, put the full blame on the reviewer when things turn out poorly.

Sure, we have room for pages and pages of full-color pics of what who-gives-a-fuck wore to the Oscars. And, as noted, print newspapers are hurting right now.

So it's frustrating when a hard-working staff and/or freelance writer like Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is forced into extra duties. She writes for the Austin American Statesman about, well, about everything musical that's not some kid in a coffee shop with his guitar or new band that thinks they'll get "discovered" at this year's SXSW. She covers music, visual art, dance, theater, and Jeebus knows what else...

...now, mostly, on her paper-hosted blog. She gets basically no in-print column inches, er, of which to speak.

Apparently editing, fact-checking, and spell-checking have been eliminated from the budget as well.

Review: A heaven-sent Rachmaninov's Vesper's

Hmm. Well. Good start JCvR, or whoever titles your blog posts...except for the part where "Vespers" [Wikipedia, sorry] is plural, and not possessive. Which is spelled--or, rather, punctuated--correctly for the rest of the review. Anyhow, proceed:

Grammy-nominated Austin choir Conspirare

While Conspirare may be good--and by all accounts they are--"Grammy-nominated" is about as impressive as "breathing humans." Even "Grammy Award-Winning" would put one in such exalted company as Michael Bolton and Hootie and the Blowfish.

Fig 1: A Grammy Award Winner

Grammy-nominated Austin choir Conspirare stunned and awed Saturday night with a heaven-sent (and sold-out) performance of Rachmaninov’s stirring Vespers at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church.

Heaven-sent, eh? Going for the religious angle on the ol' Vespers (AKA All-Night Vigil, Op. 37)? Let's see how that goes.

Hushed and full of reverence, Rachmaninov’s religious mass for unaccompanied chorus is exquisitely beautiful and a departure from the lush piano music or emotive symphonies for which the Russian composer is most commonly known.

Keeping track of adjectives, Rachmaninov's Vespers are:

Hushed, full of reverence, (exquisitely) beautiful

and not:

lush (like his piano music) or emotive (like his symphonies).

Considered the crowning achievement of Russian Orthodox choral music

Considered by whom? Critics? Experts? Many? How about a citation? Vague reference?

Considered the crowning achievement of Russian Orthodox choral music, the Vespers follow the rules governing the church’s music with no instruments accompanying the voices.

An awkward, if factually true sentence. Pass.

And yet, while Rachmaninov echoes the melodic style of traditional Orthodox Church chants

Well, to be accurate, 10 of the 15 sections of the Vespers are actually based on Russian Orthodox chants. And yet, while I guess this could be considered an "echo" of sorts, this is somewhat misleading. A minor point, albeit one that took me all of 30 seconds of research.

And yet, while Rachmaninov echoes the melodic style of traditional Orthodox Church chants, he nevertheless brings an undeniable — though carefully considered — sensuousness...

Vespers: Hushed, full of reverence, (exquisitely) beautiful, sensuous (undeniably);

Not: Lush, emotive.

And yet, while Rachmaninov echoes the melodic style of traditional Orthodox Church chants, he nevertheless brings an undeniable — though carefully considered — sensuousness with harmonies refined to almost a pure essence.

Read the last bit again:

...with harmonies refined to almost a pure essence.

I don't know what that means. Essence of what? Harmony? Sensuousness? Gelfling?

Fig 2: Skeksis Likes Essence, Too!

The fervid intent of the music’s spirituality is undeniable.

The piece...which was written for a church service, based upon traditional chants, intends to be...spiritual. Glad we sussed that one out. Also, using the word "undeniable" in both sentences of a two-sentence paragraph somewhat undermines its emphatic purpose.

Conspirare director Craig Hella Johnson

Seriously? That is awesome. My official unofficial blog middle blog name is now "Hella". Fuck and yes.

Conspirare director Craig Hella Johnson intimately understood the balance between the simplicity and sensuousness of Rachmaninov’s other-worldly score.

Vespers: Hushed, full of reverence, (exquisitely) beautiful, sensuous (undeniably) balanced with simplicity, otherworldly;

Not: Lush, emotive.

Does it seem like any of the words in the "not" category could easily be moved into the "Vespers descriptors" category? I think the difference in the sense of the review would be close to nil.

The choir’s intonation and vocal blend was seemless and perfect, the soloists appropriately soft, the basses gently hit the low B flats. St. Martin’s high-valuted sanctuary provided lovely — and appropriate — acoustical depth and resonance for the spiritually exalting music.

Wait, was this religious music? Because you totally forgot to mention that.

Conspirare’s exacting perfection never translates to stiff, pretentious or distant. Quite the opposite. There’s a sincerity and prescence that underlies every Conspirare concert. No wonder the audience on Saturday hushed on its own before anyone took the stage: The sublime beauty of Conspirare exudes always.

Lastly: "prescence" is, as far as I can tell, more of a common misspelling than a word.

Hopefully, in my overly-long preamble, I explicated my real complaint: The arts are getting the shaft so badly, not only are they losing printed space, but even the most cursory editing is eschewed.

Fig 3: He's coming for you, Arts coverage