4/28/09

Sic and Ye Shall Find

Yes. My title sucks, but at least it’s appropriate as well shall see.

Today we have a refreshingly well-crafted review by a self-proclaimed neophyte, named Strings, who tries her/his best to promote the joys of the orchestral experience. It seems the local Fort Wayne Philharmonic can be a delight for the uninitiated.

[The solo cellist] literally freaked me out in places where she simultaneously plucked strings on the cello at the same time she was playing other strings with her bow—frighteningly great!

But...

But, again, the only thing that really matters is that it was incredibly pleasing to the ears.


Simple, na├»ve: sure. Yet, there is a genuine enthusiasm to Strings’ assessment that I appreciate.

Unfortunately, I don’t appreciate today’s over-reliance on spell checkers:

By the way, on you’re first trip to the philharmonic...

[sigh]
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4/23/09

Immersion

Travel Notes: Perusing the Local Papers

One of the interesting things about travel is reading the arts pages in newspapers in which one might not otherwise be inclined to search for Detritus. As it turns out, they have places all over the place. To wit:

It seems that the Augusta (GA, not ME) Symphony is conducting a conductor search.


That seems reasonable. Specifics are, I assume, forthcoming. Eventually.

Diane Wittry says the survival of symphonic music depends on its ability to become an immersive experience.

As well as, one notes, the economy, repertoire, community, players, education, acoustics, venues, and probably diet. But yes, yes, immersive experience and all that. Say, who is this Diane Wittry?

Ms. Wittry, the fourth and final applicant for the Augusta Symphony's soon-to-be vacant conductor's post,

Ah. Excellent. And what did she mean?

...[Ms. Wittry] said that means symphonies must find ways to involve the audience in their traditions.

What is important, then, is to create an immersive experience by finding ways to involve the audience in the traditions of symphonic music. And/or its concert-going, I reckon. Hopefully this is more than proper attire for orchestral concerts and not coughing.

"It's all about enhancing the musical product," she said during a recent telephone interview.

Oh...oops. I had erroneously assumed it was about music. (Who knew that one little capsule could provide natural musical enhancement?) Enhancing the musical product? Amplification? No? Then what are...

"But you always have to keep the music at the forefront.

But...what? Yes, you do. So what's the distinction?

It's a very important distinction. I never want the music to become a secondary component."

Secondary to what? The product? Seconary component of...immersion? Hmm.

What's going on? How did I get to Georgia? I'd better get some more coffee...

Okay. Now, we were discussing immersion without music becoming secondary...

As an example, Ms. Wittry cited a concert she programmed featuring music from films.

Sounds potentially immersive! How to keep the music in the fore?

She said she wanted to ensure the movies didn't overshadow the music,

So let's keep the movies out of the concert per se while including all of the (potentially immersive) depth latent in such a program! Sounds great; we could write about the films in the program, perhaps have links on the web of references or places audience members can view them before the concert, or read about them, or the composers. Something like that?

and so stills from the films were shown on a screen while the orchestra played selections from the score.

...or I suppose you could quite literally overshadow the music by projecting stills. Behind the orchestra. During the concert.

I propose that for full immersive effect, the experience should not begin and end with the concert hall. Immersion in music can begin before and end well after the actual 110 minutes or so of seated listening in a concert hall. With a little effort (perhaps with help from the concert organization) the experience could be a lifetime of learning and enjoyment for the audience. Whoo, art!

Or, you know, stills of movies during the concert.

"My whole mission in life is finding new ways to bring music to the people. I think what an orchestra should do is build community," she said.

She sounds like a commie. I'm all for it. Can we get some public funds while we're at it?

Ms. Wittry conducts orchestras in Allentown, Pa., and Norwalk, Conn. She has written a Pulitzer Prize-nominated book about her life in music and has composed and recorded her own music. Her latest is a Valentine's Day release titled Love's Passion.

This intrusive introductory biographical paragraph interrupts the narrative flow and may have been better served at the beginning of the article, but whatever.

She said the challenges presented in Augusta -- working with an unknown ensemble, a soloist and without repeating recent repertoire, were formidable, but welcome.

That sounds challenging yet rewarding! An outstanding opportunity for an aspiring conductor.

"It was, in this equation, an interesting process," she said.

I don't understand this quote at all. Which part is the process? The audition, I guess...but what things are being equated? Eh, the sense of the thing comes through. It sounds like coming to Augusta is appealing to Ms. Wittry.

Part of the appeal of coming to Augusta, Ms. Wittry said, is the relative stability of the conductor post. If hired, she would be only the third in its 54-year history.

That's very cool.

"I like that," she said. "I feel like that kind of stability is important. It's important for a director to come in and want to stay around long enough to see a group evolve. That's something that can take a few years.

"Stability is good for an orchestra."

Agreed. On the balance, a nice piece; I wanted to point out some other, more inclusive ideas of immersion. Or whatever. Mostly though...
...I think it'd be fascinating if Augusta's symphony hires a woman as a conductor before its famous golf club admits a woman as a member.

4/16/09

Your Iatrophobia Is Showing

Subtle is thy hand, for a serialist shall’nt love receive. Amidst a tasteful amount of gushing over some waltz by Strauss Junior and a Bruckner symphony, this:

[Berg’s Violin Concerto] explores the variety of emotion available to 12-tone compositions...

Subtle, indeed. Did you catch Tennessean critic Jonathan Neufeld’s slight jab, suggesting that there’s a limitation to the variety of emotion inherent in the 12-tone technique?

While it is not conclusive that the above is anti-serialist, there’s this one, which refers to the Laura Turner Hall’s fantastic acoustics for Bruckner’s music:

The same could not be said of the intensely expressive but intricately detailed Berg Violin Concerto. [italics mine]

Expressive BUT intricately detailed? Not sure what Jonathan’s going for—we’ve seen over and over serial music panned for its complexities. So it makes sense to think that Jonathan is implicating Berg’s intricate details as the main culprit, derailing what was otherwise a perfect acoustic display.

On the other hand, a wet hall might not be the perfect condition for the concerto. In my experience, this hasn’t been a problem. So I’ll leave that one in the air.

However, this might prove conclusive:

Berg's orchestration conspired to keep violinist James Ehnes from being heard as clearly as he might have been in a drier, more clinical, hall.

Oh, I get it! So, the orchestration ruined the performance.

See, it couldn’t have been the performer:

Nevertheless, he drew a pure, sweet and full tone, especially in the upper registers, that was a genuine pleasure to hear.

It couldn’t have been the new hall’s acoustics—Bruckner shines there:

Bruckner's huge sonorities and broad-brush Wagnerian drama, along with exposed but clear and full-voiced wind ensembles, come off extremely well in the richly toned Laura Turner Concert Hall.

So it must have been Berg’s orchestration, which requires a drier (don’t forget, serialism is erroneously synonymous with dry), more clinical hall (read: a sterilized operating room), because, as we all know, serialism is emotionally unavailable even if it is intensely expressive.

Like dermatological surgeons.














Graph 1. A place for skin graphs and serialism
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4/9/09

Definition by Exclusion, and A Belated Invitation

A curious piece, and a curious perspective about Roberto Sierra...

Roberto Sierra's music crosses cultures, traditions

The ancient origin of the tunes may be tied to a specific tradition: Judaism in medieval Spain.

They may?

But as composer Roberto Sierra re-imagined the seven tune fragments and set them to poetry about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain,

Oh, they are. The tunes (or tune-fragments? Same thing?) are from that tradition, and then set to poetry about that historical epoch. That seems fair enough. Thus the "may...but" construction is leading to something...

...he wanted his creation, Songs From the Diaspora, to resonate in a modern, mobile world.

Also logical, since he composed it in a modern, mobile world. So: although the material is from an old tradition, it is combined with poetry related to the same period (the source of which is not cited) which gives new meaning and perspective to both. Multiculturalism!

“This is perhaps the sign of the times,” Sierra said in a telephone interview last week. “There are no more boundaries culturally. Nowadays we have available the music from the whole world at our fingertips, from all times.”

First: Yes, we do, but especially if we're Western and have technology and money. However, this does not diminish the effort or concept of the work.

Second: This idea has been around for a while, now. Perhaps Houston has just now received its invitation to the 1889 Paris World's Fair?

Music that crosses tradition, time and culture has been one of the themes of Sierra’s compositions.

Not to diminish Sierra's work, or this sentiment, but composers, artists, and the public (again, mostly Western) have had access to and drawn influence from other cultures ever since they started invading them and taking their stuff. Earlier even; but the ages of Exploration and Colonialism(tm) certainly brought many influences into the work of curious artists and fascinated audiences for generations.

Famously, at the aforementioned Exposition Universelle of 1889, a young Debussy (looking at you from the left, here) heard the Javanese gamelan ensemble and was taken with and inspired by its repetitive rhythms and shimmering sounds. (For an interesting study, see this work detailing the wealth of musics in Paris at the Fair.)

"Exotic" influences became a staple of many facets of modernism, and later postmodern thinking. This kind of cultural collage is, indeed, as Mr. Sierra says, particularly representative of the information age.

For whatever reason, here is a picture of a Javanese gamelan that is fun to look at.

Javenese Gamelan Ensemble

So yeah! What else?

Born in Puerto Rico, trained in Europe,

Sounds like a good dash of multiculturalism right there, for starters...

Sierra, who is not Jewish,

What?

now makes his home and composes music in Ithaca, N.Y.

Um. Wow.

Obviously the tunes (or tune fragments, see above) have their origin in Spanish Judiaism. But Mr Sierra seems to have all of the hallmarks of a multicultural pedigree anyway. What is the point of pointing out his not-religious affiliation?

Is he unworthy, or unqualified to use this material? Is he co-opting Judiasm for his own ends? Notice that his acutal religion (if any) is not revealed. Is his lack of Jewishness so inportant vis-a-vis his using ancient Sephardic source material that it merits mention in the same sentence as his heritage?

Clearly there is not a total lack of context; mentioning that a composer (or anyone, for that matter) is not this or that in an informational vacuum would be another matter. But it still struck some kind of nerve, obviously.

This writer, left with no further information, can only assume that Mr Sierra is Zoroastrian.

"I'm standing on a lizard!"

4/3/09

Idioms, Metaphors, & Dangling Prepositions

This lovely biographical/fluff piece comes from the Scotsman.com (which is, unsurprisingly, a Scottish news organisation). [Queen's English sic]

Benedetti makes her critics face the music

Ah, it works on so many levels! Literally, idiomatically, and...well, two, actually.

SHE is almost as renowned for her impeccable manners and composure as she is for her sublime musical talent.

This seems blatantly false, but it makes a nice enough lead-in, I suppose. Perhaps I'm wrong; do they have a Manners and Composure section in most UK papers? (It can't be worse than the Life section in the Austin American-Statesman.)

But now, after years of biting her tongue, Nicola Benedetti...


Figure 1: Nicola Benedetti
(Careful, you'll get eye shadow on that thing!)

...has finally hit back at the critics who have caused her heartache.


It is generally not recommended that you date your critics.

The acclaimed violinist has aimed her bow at over-zealous reviewers who make sweeping assertions about her...

Violinist...bow...oh, I get it! She's also a part-time (and, presumably, renowned) ship's captain!


Figure 2: A Bow

Puns are outstanding.

...and urged them to "chill out".

Since the idiom is set off with quotes, I am able to identify it as such! Without such punctuational assistance, I'd be left with the assumption that she'd like her critics (and erstwhile suitors?) to remain outdoors in what (I assume) is nasty, bitter, Scottish weather. Thanks, quotation marks!

[snip]

Benedetti admitted that she had been left hurt by some particularly vituperative criticism. "There were some articles that I got really upset about."

There are some parts of speech about which I get upset when ending sentences, but only mildly.

But wait! There's content:

[snip]

The violin virtuoso also gave her verdict on modern music.

Ah, I am curious what a 21-year old violin virtuoso thinks about modernism and other current trends. What say you, wunderkind?

"There are some artists that are really, really special, but I don't like most commercial rap and R&B… I'd rather not listen to that."

Hmm. She doesn't like Rochberg and Berio? Who knew?

(Redundant Link: The whole article is here.)

4/1/09

Innuendo or Anachronism?

Strange things happen in this brief review of Sony/BMG’s re-release of Terry Riley’s premiere recording of In C (1968).

First, here’s an odd turn of phrase:

Terry Riley's In C (1964), the Magna Carta of Minimalism...

I’m not sure how to read this. In C demands the removal of all fishing weirs in England, except on the coast?

And, yet, an odder turn of phrase with an exclamation point:

A seminal release and a fun listen rolled into one!

Seminal (Oxford American Dictionaries):

1. adj. (of a work, moment, event, figure) strongly influencing later developments.
2. adj. of, relating to, or denoting semen.

Seminal in the first sense: anachronistic. Fun listen: probably not.

In C!
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