You're Lovin' It!

Here’s a nice enough idea:

The Redlands Symphony Orchestra will celebrate America's contribution to music…

Hmm. What is America’s contribution to music? For now, just keep that in mind. It’ll be important later on.

…in their season's final concert Saturday night, offering a program of American and Americana works. The program features Morton Gould's "American Salute," the Overture to "On the Town" by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" and Symphony No. 2 "Romantic" by Howard Hanson.

I am especially happy to see they’re programming Gould and Hanson, two very undeservedly neglected composers. I mean, there are names other than Gershwin, Bernstein, Copland, and Barber, don’t you know? Still, I can’t shake the feeling that orchestras are a small part of a mega-conglomerate that makes and sells American flags and, sometimes, Russian flags.

Anyway, let’s hear more about this promising concert.

"It's like splitting hairs lengthwise…

Plot twist: In case you were thinking I was going to take to task the author of this review, think again. The conductor, asked for some quips to fill some space in this Press-Enterprise puff piece, potentially errs in some way, or…uh, lengthwise.

"It's like splitting hairs lengthwise to distinguish between American and Americana," said conductor Jon Robertson as he discussed the program's composers […]

Well then. Distinguish away!

"Americana music reflects the American sound, usually with some elements of folk music or rhythmic music like jazz -- jazz being the American contribution to music."

Ah ha! So that’s the American contribution to music—jazz. Good to know.

To Robertson, the Hanson symphony is a good example of strictly American music…
So it’s nothing but folk music and jazz?

…that is, music composed by an American in a European style and structure.

Oh. So a touch of folk music or jazz is Americana (suspiciously nationalistic, if you ask me) and music written by an American is American. I’ll buy these distinctions. You?

To me, however, this is the first weird juncture. According to Mr. Robertson, America’s contribution to music was jazz and symphonic composers used jazz in their music. Fine. But let me ask this: why not go see jazz instead? Why should I pay to see watered-down American jazz or folk in a European-instituted venue? Besides, as the conductor of a symphony, aren’t you supposed to promote your organization?

Personally, I’m hardcore; gimme the good stuff.

"Copland -- now, that is clearly Americana, with the beautiful Shaker tune of 'Simple Gifts,' " said Robertson. "And Bernstein, too, is Americana with all the jazzy elements. The Gould piece is another example as it takes the tune of 'Johnny Comes Marching Home Again' and orchestrates it into a big piece."

There is some dispute whether or not “Johnny” is in fact American. So…


Robertson asserts that you can't hear that sound in other countries' music. "If you do, they copied it from us."

We most certainly hear jazz in other countries’ music. And by definition it’s still Americana.

But what I find odd about this whole “who copied who?” business are the arbitrary lines one must draw when making this assertion. Does borrowing a V-I cadence constitute copying from European music? What about all the American composers who have appropriated “Sheep May Safely Graze?” Are they copycats? On the flip side, I wonder if any Austrian critics boast that American composers still write for the string quartet.

Robertson has a theory about why Americana music is so appealing to listeners.

Yikes! Non sequitor. [abruptly shifts gears] Still, this has to be entertaining, given the above theorizing.

"Back in the time when avant garde music…

Here we go again.

"Back in the time when avant garde music was all that was being composed for orchestras, the listeners rejected it in droves.

Correction: Back in the fictitious time when avant garde music was all that was being composed for orchestras…

“At the same time [sic?], people were going to the movies and hearing beautifully accessible music written by highly-trained European composers who the film houses brought to America.

FYI Mr. Robertson: “beautifully accessible music” means that the accessibility was beautiful. I doubt that’s what you meant.

“These composers weren't just hacks. Without realizing it, film-goers were hearing really good music, and responding to it."

So it’s appealing because people liked it? Well that sounds like a wristwatch-challenged argument.

According to Robertson, Americana music fits naturally with the ear.

That’s the theory? It fits naturally with the ear? What the fuck does that mean?

"When you hear Copland or Bernstein, you just naturally enjoy it. It's really in the ear," he said.

Oh that clarifies everything. [snicker]

Listen. The point I’m try to articulate is that Mr. Robertson is promoting something that I think is somewhat detrimental to the health of American music. And I don’t think it’s completely unfair to draw a metaphor from the fast food industry.

Here’s what I mean: Big Macs are bad for you—we all know that. But they’re engineered in such a way that you can’t resist them. They’ve got all the goodies that we find naturally appealing: tons of fat and tons of sugar.

Instead, maybe that’s the defining characteristic of Americana.


Reviewing New Music Is Hard, Part 2

Part the Second! Wherein the Virtues of New Music Are Extolled

(Part One Here.)

The first part of the Kozinn article about the Either/Or ensemble is about the Lachenmann piece. Certainly, he was the best-known composer on the program, and unsurprisingly got the most column inches in the review.

This speaks also to the intended audience of Kozinn piece. Using a bunch of technical jargon when describing new music is not conducive to attracting the, let us say without disdain, lay public to concerts of new music. Using the flagship composer (who may be familiar to the reader, as he toured the States last year) for the bulk of the article is logical. An interested reader might then be curous about the other works on the program, or one like it.

It's good that Kozinn seems to have listened as intently to the other works, too, although he didn't like them all (which is of course fine). I'm still wondering about syntax and form vs. "sound worlds," and what is and is not "beside the point."

What say, then?

The charm of Mr. Carrick’s “Scène Miniature” (2009) was in the way the instruments — piano, violin, saxophone and musical saw — paired off in various combinations.

Here is a video, like the last one, of the same ensemble performing the piece.

The paired instruments began by playing abstract themes,

What would make a theme abstract? More importantly what would make one not abstract? Figurative? Tonal?

but in the final section, based on a sharply rhythmic Algerian dance melody, abstraction was overtaken by exoticism and sheer infectiousness.

Hm. If that was based on an Algerian melody, it was abstractly based. I'm not sure I like "exoticism" either, but it does seem pretty apt, especially with the naked "Arabic"-sounding naked scales in the piano part.

Still, pretty freaking good for two sentences on synopsis and review. Was the music about timbres and "sound world?" Yes, sure. However, it is even acknowledged in the review that syntax (abstract -> folk-based) and form are important aspects of the work as well. I would even say that the content and the form were interconnected.

Two movements from Andrew Byrne’s “Ringing World” (2009) made a direct, visceral appeal as well.

(Sorry, no video for this one. Oh, well.) One way to enjoy new music, especially the experimental kind that seems to be at work here, is viscerally.

Scored for metal percussion instruments, these short pieces used timbre as bait — the first was clangorous, the second mellower — but kept the listener engaged by piling up layers of counterpoint.

Again, it's interesting that the form and syntax seem to keep the reveiwer interested after acclamating to the sound world of the piece.

John Luther Adams’s “Red Arc/Blue Veil” (2002)...

(Video here.)

worked the opposite way: scored for piano, mallet instruments and recorded sound, it began with a gently inviting theme and devolved into a series of content-free textures...

Content-free? Wow. How can that be?

— first a brash glare, then a 1970s-ish electronic burble.

Sounds like content to me! What gives? It's loopy and minimalistic [sic], and atmospheric. Contemplative, meditative perhaps? But content-free?

Though not unpleasant, it went nowhere in 10 long minutes.

Well, it might not have gone nowhere, but it didn't go far. But that's part of the thing with ambient-type sound-world music [hyphen fans rejoice]. It's more subtle, I guess. But there is content, and form too. One gets the sense that Kozinn sort of liked it, but was a bit bored perhaps.

I'm really not sure what content-free music could be. Even a silent piece admits ambient noise. Perhaps my problem is contextual.

The closest thing I can think of offhand is the sound equivalent of something like this.

Hans Thomalla’s “Lied” (2008), for piano, vibraphone and saxophone, was an uninspiring succession of hazily sustained passages and fortissimo honks.

(No video, sorry.) Yikes. That is one, succinct, brutal reveiw. Given Kozinn's apparent openness to negotiate with the piece on its own terms, one wonders if the preceeding ambient, quiet piece was a poor palatte upon which to recieve "fortissimo honks." Or maybe he plain didn't care for it.

“The Negotiation of Context” (2009), by the Icelandic composer David Brynjar Franzson, proved similarly eventless,


but its sound world — lots of rummaging about inside the piano, with occasional wheezing from the harmonium — was engagingly tactile.

...mmm-hmm. Again it seems that an inviting or interesting "sound world" is more engaging as a piece if it has syntactic/formal and/or timbral elements as well. This is not earth-shaking, but it's a little glimpse, maybe, of what kind of approach one reviewer takes when encountering very new--even, or especially, totally unknown--music. Anyone with a little time and willingness to engage can have a similar experience with new-new music.

Which, finally, is why New Music writ large is (at its greatest potential) not just for graduate students and the "initiated." At its best (as with all art) one can encounter the gamut of contemporary thought about art, philosophy, history, and ideas (not to mention music) that contemporary composers are thinking about.

Reading a contemporary journal of music theory one is likely to encounter daunting and obfuscatory writing that is challenging even to adepts. Going to concerts doesn't have to be.

And no whining about "accessability" of new music. Can you afford the eight bucks and get there on time? That's fucking accessable.

Enough rant. Good article; any thoughts on content-free or eventless music?

Here is a picture that is fun to look at.

John Cage: Fontana Mix (score excerpt)

[Edit: 5/27: I fixed the link about the contextless music. It was supposed to be a political jab, not any kind of confusing shot at John Luther Adams. Also, AnthonyS pointed out that I made at least 4 spelling errors. For someone who sometimes picks nits, I should be more careful. (I was kind of on a roll.) But I left them in.]


Reviewing New Music Is Hard, Part 1

In two parts!

Part the First:

Allan Kozinn has a piece up in the Times reviewing a new music concert by the ensemble Either/Or.

Kozinn, largely, does an admirable job, as music this new (in this case, all post-1986, and mostly composed 2002-2009) sometimes has unique or challenging ideas, sounds, forms...you get the idea. The problem for the critic becomes, then, a mixture of description (which is more or less unnecessary for standard repertoire reviews, although often practiced), taking the pieces on their own merits, or within whatever parameters they seem to demand, and forming some sort of opinion about what was played.

This differs from a review of better-known pieces, both because the idioms might be new or experimental, and also because the reviewer may well not have any other performances of the music to compare to the concert at hand.

So what's up, Mr. Kozinn?

Ensemble That Plays by Its Own Rules

Oof. That is an inauspicious start, title-composing editor person. So trite, and yet so inapt. The Ensembles Union will likely have their heads!

Either/Or, the new-music ensemble...

Look. I understand this hyphen usage, but it's stupid. This construction just took the 4:30 autogyro to the Prussian consulate in Siam.

Figure 1: Now you're on the trolley!

"New music ensemble" is a perfectly cromulent and comprehensible construction. Even if there was a newly-formed group disussed in the article, surely it would not be referred to as a new "music ensemble." "Music ensemble" is sort of like "land cow."

Bah. Enough with the Simpsons references.

Either/Or, the new-music ensemble formed in 2004 by the composer and pianist Richard Carrick and the percussionist David Shively, is devoted to a species of avant-garde composition in which concepts like tonality, serialism and Minimalism are beside the point.

Why does "Minimalism" get capitalized? Screw you, serialism!

More importantly, calling those concepts "beside the point" seems...not quite right. The sense is that, perhaps, they are just in a larger set of expanded points, so their importance or interest is only diminished in that there are other concerns at least as well-explored.

Or am I quibbling? Don't get me wrong; I like quibbling, but not when I'm trying to really make a point.

The point being that, although I am not sure I like the way it is put, Kozinn seems to have a good idea of how to approach such music. His open-mindedness is surely appreciated, around these parts at least.

This is a world where pure sound and texture are of greater interest than form and syntax.

Again, more properly perhaps they are of equal interest as form and syntax. However, as a composer friend always argues given such propositions, Mozart is totally also about "pure sound and texture" as much as he is about form and syntax. So, uh, there you have it.

That’s not to say that form and syntax are outlawed,

That would be tough. Anything of any duration, especially if it can be considered to be in more than one part or section, has form. Also, were they outlawed, who would enforce this law and punish the transgressors thereof? The syntax police?

but works in the Either/Or repertory are just as likely to be governed by game theory as by standard notions of musical structure.

Fair enough, and enough quibbling.

The ensemble presented its annual spring festival on Saturday evening at the Tenri Cultural Institute in Manhattan, and if it was a modest offering — just a concert really — it did provide a good overview of what these musicians find compelling.

The "festival" was a modest, compelling concert. The musicians programmed music that they like to write, play, and hear.

In addition to Mr. Carrick and Mr. Shively (who also played musical saw and harmonium), the group included Jennifer Choi, the violinist, and Michael Ibrahim, the saxophonist.

The lack of hyphens makes it clear that Mr. Shively was not in fact playing the musical saw-and-harmonium.

Now, on to the meat course:

The most immediately striking work was Helmut Lachenmann’s “Toccatina” (1986).

Here is a video (at the Detritus Hall) where you can see/hear the same violinist, Jennifer Choi, perform this piece (she's awesome, by the way). Turn it up, y'all, the thing is very, very quiet. Please watch/listen to the piece (it's only about four minutes), then read the review below.

The title suggests the old Baroque form, a free fantasy meant to show a player’s virtuosity, but is also a play on the word toccata, which comes from the verb “to touch.”

Lachenmann experimented extensively with novel ways of producing sound from traditional instruments. It was sort of his "thing" for a while. [He's cool-ed.] Although this piece is from 1986, this sort of idea has been around for a while. Henry Cowell wrote a book called New Musical Resources in 1930. It's very cool, and kind of technical, so it's also useful.

Figure 2: Henry Cowell plays the piano

Scored for solo violin, the piece asks the performer to touch the instrument in atypical ways. Notes are first articulated, softly, by tapping the string with the screw of the bow. The bow’s wood is used too, and when the horsehair comes into play, it glides along the string tonelessly, producing a breathy, whispered sound.

This is a pretty good description of what goes on, no? There is no overt judgment, but Kozinn seems to like or at least admire the piece (unlike some later in the review).

But this was not just an exercise in odd techniques and sound effects.

I thought this was "new-music"! Can't you just do a bunch of crazy crap? No?!

Mr. Lachenmann gives the violin an attractive, amusing line, with short, alluring melodies, and Ms. Choi proved exceptionally nimble.

Hm. I would agree that the violin "line" (such as it is) is amusing, and perhaps attractive. Are there really "melodies" though? At what point does a sucession of discrete pitches constitute a melody?

Also, I think that, far from outlawed, or beside-the-point, the form of the piece is really very clear.

So: melody and form, I think, are both being interrogated in some way by the Lachenmann piece (as well as instruments being a repository of possible sounds, not necessarily the ones we expect). Kozinn identifies something he calls "melodies," do we agree? What about the form of the piece, or other elements?

Clearly, this was a short review and space was limited. And I think it's sensitive to the demands of the music, and in that sense well-approached. The other, newer pieces, were not always treated so kindly, but of course that could be justified.

Part the Second, and the rest of the article, tomorrow.


Science-Based Scientific Seeing...of Science!

Incompassing the entire range of absurdity, from specious science to bizarre grammar, is a hard one to pull off, but this article shows some plucky spirit and just won't give up! Some credit is due to the interviewee, without whose quotes I'd likely have let this one alone.

Utah tenor Michael Ballam's life is so surrounded by music that it's not a form of relaxation.

His life is not a form of relaxation? Predicates everywhere weep. Nominative sentences collapse for lack of structural integrity.

But when he finds himself facing personal trials, he'll turn to the choral movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Okay. Sure. Why?

"That piece always gives me strength in difficult times," he said.

Fair enough. Any reason?

"I considered where Mr. Beethoven was and how he was able to create that."

In Vienna? Oh, right, he was deaf and stuff. I saw that movie, or read about it somewhere, or something.

"It lifts me out of the pity party I'm experiencing."

Really? You make it sound so profoundly anguished.

Figure 1: A Google (tm) Image Search for "Pity Party" produced this entertaining (yet irrelevant) publicity photo for an eponymous band. Picture found at clubspaceland.com.

Having spent most of his 57 years of life onstage opera singer and pianist, Ballam has discovered that music has a far greater influence than just entertainment.


Having spent most of his 57 years of life onstage

Okay, I'm with you...

Having spent most of his 57 years of life onstage opera singer and pianist,

What? Not with you. Word count got you down? Afraid of indirect objects? Editor in a coma? Dead?...or murdered? (*Dun dun dun*)

...Ballam has discovered that music has a far greater influence than just entertainment.

Music has a greater influence than has entertainment? Or more influence than merely being entertainment? Which is reserved for...something other than music, presumably.

The founder and general director of Logan's Utah Festival Opera will share his experience and knowledge in a combination lecture/performance titled "Music as Healing" at the Madeleine Festival May 24.

"...combination lecture/recital" is really really redundant. Helpful hint: try to avoid superfluous words in your prose that you write for money for people to read (it's usually obfuscatory and cluttered). Unless, you know, you need to fill the word count. Too bad your editor didn't, er, edit this.

But anyway, "Music as Healing," huh? Seems like that could mean several things, from spiritual to speculative. No?

Organizers of the festival said the topic is especially timely as people experience severe economic hardships.

This sentence must be explained by the next one, since it is really confusing. It's timely because...music healing is free, so you can just not go get those antibiotics you need for your sinus infection? Come on next sentence, help me out, here!

They tapped Ballam for the speech because of his reputation.

That was not helpful, sentence.

Apparently, one would easily be misled, without this helpful sentence, to believe that Ballam was "tapped" for the speech because he has neither an opinion on nor experience with the topic at hand. Which is "Music as Healing" by the way. Which is relevant during an economic slump because...

As a singer, pianist and oboist, Ballam has performed around the world, from the Middle East to the Vatican, and created more than 40 recordings.

Oh. That...does show he has...experience with opinions about healing music. You know, all of those religious-y places he's been? Or something?

And don't get me started about the Oxford comma. (Mrs. Arepo is a copy editor.)

Locally, his voice is heard weekly on Logan's Utah Public Radio station.

Which again, speaks to his credentials for speaking in a combination mashup joint lecture/recital/concert/talk about "Music as Healing." Thus ends a paragraph that has nothing to do with its topic sentence.

"What I hope we can accomplish is to help people understand how they may tap into the great power that music has to soothe the soul, heal the body," Ballam said.

And how is that? Or do I have to go to the concertlecturerecital thing to get my free music healing?

"It's much bigger than applause-generating."

I honestly have no reasonable clue what that means. There should be a website named after this sentence that is about non-diagrammable sentences.

What is "it?" What part of speech is the clumsy, hyphenated "applause-generating?" A gerund? Some sinister subordinate clause?

Next paragraph! Make with the music-healing explanation, or your accumulated applause-generation will be next to nothing.

Ballam will sing several songs as examples of music that possesses a strong message of healing and hope.

So the healing power of music is in the words and/or message of the songs?

During the conversation, he will also explore those elements of music that transcend the traditional entertainment value, while drawing upon his personal experience.

What is the "traditional entertainment value?" The part of music you...like? Like but can't explain? It's got a good beat, but I can't dance to it, I give it a 74.

The healing power of music, Ballam acknowledged, is nothing new.

The idea or theory of healing power? The fact that music heals? Or, rather, is perceived to do so? I'm still not sure how I can cut down on my medical bills in these hard economic times.

The difference is living in a time when people can scientifically see how music affects the body.

I hate it when I see, but not scientifically. Induction is good. Inductive reasoning gave us sitcoms. Wait, what about seeing music? Science? Living in a time?

Hence there is a science today, music therapy, that didn't exist when he was youngster.

Sort of. Music therapy can take many forms. Playing soft, slow music to help someone relax is hardly a new idea (neither is the idea that what mode (or key, whatever) the piece is in affects the mood, too. See Plato, and stuff). But, sure, as a field per se, it's sort of new.

I kind of think we're not talking about the same thing, though.

"If such a field had been available when I was a child, perhaps that would have been the direction I took as opposed to standing on the world stages," Ballam said.

That's super. It's also irrelevant, speculative, and uninteresting.

From an early age, Ballam has been compelled to use music to bless people's lives.

Compelled by what or whom?

More importantly, what does that mean? I know it's Utah, but that's pretty nebulous. Is it like getting blessed by a priest or something? "Bless you, son." Hey! I'm blessed! Awesome.

"I have seen it not only heal people but bring people back from the dead, from comas."

We are certainly not talking about the same thing. I'd like to see the research on that. You know, the science-seeing research.

Also, and not for nothing--if true, there are some editors in Salt Lake City that are either dead or comatose. You might look into that, as there is probably some money to be made promising not to resurrect them, by the looks of things.

That exploration of music's healing power was further enhanced in raising his son, Benjamin, now 17, who was born with spina bifida, as music has helped the young Ballam overcome significant challenges.

That's fantastic, if true. Or even if it's not, really. But that doesn't make it science. How, exactly, or, shit, even anecdotally, did this happen? I'd be less snarky if I wasn't actually curious about this stuff. What kind of music? Any music? Anything?

"I don't think a week goes by in my life when I don't see some manifestation of music has help someone get through a difficult time," Ballam said.

I don't think a week goes by in my life when I don't see seme music/write person has made difficult concerttalkrecital article reading hard-generator.

"And healing isn't just a physical thing. ...There is a lot of mental and emotional anguish people carry with them that are just as painful."

Just as painful...as healing? I'm not sure this nominative sentence is functioning properly. Better call a sentence mechanic. Or maybe we could play it some music.

Broad sweeping assertion! Nonsense sentence! A perfect ending to a perfect day.

Figure 2: A Google Image Search for "superfluous" led me to this tortise. I bet Mister Tortise likes arts criticism, too.


Assertion Evaluated

Opening sentences—commonly known as hooks or attention grabbers—often seem grandiose or obese, fattened by wild assertions. This practice is so misused, so misguided, that they border on the absurd and surreal. To a fault, opening sentences too often shroud the prose in a foggy haze of tainted farts. All the stuff we passionately want to know about—the descriptions, the evaluation, the subjects—are, thus, left to wither inside a noxious methane cloud of “Huh?”

What to do? Or better, what not to do?

Thankfully, the nice people at Pearson Longman Publishing have made available the overview of their guide, The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing. Along our way, we'll reference Chapter 15, Making an Evaluation, which is appropriate for a concert review and a nice way to introduce, you know, sound writing practices.

Today’s attention grabber comes from Newspaper W, in City T, which is located in State F.

If you closed your eyes you’d swear you were listening to one of the great violinists of the past.

And in case you don’t remember, let’s name some of them: Jascha Heifitz, Fritz Kreisler, Yehudi Menuhin, Joseph Szigeti, Alma Moodie, Jacques Thibaud, David Oistrakh, and so on and so on. You get the picture.

Open [your eyes], and it’s time for a reality check.

Aha! So, based on the former, if we listened to today’s violinist, he/she would be indistinguishable from one of the above greats. Got it.

So what’s my problem, then? Well, if we take a look at Chapter 15 of the Allyn & Bacon Guide, the first—and probably most important—point to understand about making an evaluation, such as “the violinist sounded like one of the greats artists of the past,” is that:

1. Evaluation arguments proceed by a process called criteria-match.

In other words, we can’t compare apples to oranges without sacrificing the strength or validity of the evaluation. We can’t assert “apples are so much better than oranges,” without providing the context, or criteria, on which we base the evaluation.

Now, here’s how the author chose to match the criteria for his claims; this includes everything in the review referring to the violinist’s performance:

Her tone and color were very impressive.*

*Unless he’s referring to intonation, rather than “tone” which also means color, acousticians will weep.

Following a frenetic beginning, [the violinist] played with vibrancy and virtuosity.*

*Isn’t the emphasis on how the violinist played, instead of with what the violinist played? Shouldn’t it read, “the violinist’s playing was vibrant and virtuosic?”

In the “Passacaglia,” [the violinist’s] burnished tone and heart-rending softness were remarkable.*

*Tone, here, means color. Doesn’t it?

After an extended meditative solo by [the violinist], the work was concluded with [...]*

*I think this refers to the music (i.e., the score), so this doesn’t fall within the scope of our discussion. But, the work “was concluded?” Ick.

Anyway, the author detailed his reasoning for the opening assertion, right? Well let’s condense what he said: The violinist’s playing was vibrant (colorful), virtuosic, and heart-rendingly soft, with an impressive tone (color) and color (color).

Yes. In fact, these descriptors establish the criteria for evaluation; the violinist sounded a particular way, similar to past greats. Since what the author said about today’s violinist must also be true of the greats: “The greats’ playing was colorful, virtuosic and heart-rendingly soft.”

Good evaluation, then? No!

See, the criteria are so broad, they can’t possibly describe, let alone effectively evaluate, what makes violinists great. It's like saying, "All great cars from the fifties have windows and seats and wheels." What’s true of the past greats are true of the greats of today, of a hundred years ago, of two-hundred, of three-hundred years ago. Not to mention the possibility that “color,” or tone, refers to the actual violin(s), not the violinist(s), or that virtuosity is a prerequisite to play the piece in question—if someone even attempts to play Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto they’re probably pretty darn good to begin with.

In all, our author didn’t say one thing. My conclusion: stupid opening sentences are like making out in a Dutch oven.


Food Metaphors, Modern Music, and a Side of Redundancy

For the food metaphors, we have only to look at the title and its subordinate:

Bread, butter, with a side of surprise

How delightfully wordplayee!

In big season finale, Philharmonic leaves audience hungry for more

Squeee! I can never have too many food metaphors.


For the modern music, we need to take the Delorian for a ride.

“La Creation du Monde [sic],” composed in 1923 by Darius Milhaud, is a jazz-influenced ballet in six parts, inspired by the Parisian composer’s strolls in New York’s Harlem in the 1920s.

Also, badass punk rockers have no need for acute accents.

I may be giving music director Itkin too much credit, but programming the Milhaud seemed like the conductor’s punk-rock move, signalling to the audience: “Don’t get too comfortable.”

Anarchy in Sugar Hill!


And for the redundancy, behold:

And then the main event, the robust men robustly echoing and volleying with the clarion women in the resounding variations, building to the cathartic, celestial “Ode to Joy,”

...wait for it...

which evoked a surge of joy [...]

It’s good to be back, Detritusites! Stay tuned for more regular postings.


The Radical Subjective Contingency of Enjoyment

Bear with me, kind Detritusites.

Andrew S. Hughes, South Bend Symphony, Photos Enjoyable In Concert

Jeff Dunn, Spaced-Out Mussorgsky

Innovation has always been tricky in classical music. The search for new sounds and forms has long been a part of the tradition. Some innovations become part of the canon they challenged; some do not. Often, public reception to the New is mixed and both curiosity and hostility encountered. Reception, and by extension, criticism, is necessarily dependent on the receptor, the person, the subjective bundle of notions, tastes, and experience that witness (and in the case of the critic, bear witness to) the event.

Both of the articles above are reactions to multimedia productions of classical concerts. Images or video in both cases were timed to accompany the music, played live by an orchestra. What are the critics' reactions, and why?

First, Hughes:

In concert with guest artist James Westwater, Maestro Tsung Yeh and the South Bend Symphony Orchestra gave an enjoyable performance Saturday night to a larger-than-usual audience at the Morris Performing Arts Center.

Enjoyable and larger-than-usual audiences are both positive adjectives in the opening paragraph, which sets a tone for the review.

Although works such as Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings qualify as among the most popular in classical music’s repertoire,

Although they do...they're hopelessly overplayed?

Westwater’s choreographed use of photographs set to the music — photochoreography -

Yeah, I got that.

probably drew more people to the Morris than the concert’s light and accessible program of music.

I don't know whether this bespeaks a need for more adventurous programming, but the audience seemed interested, which is good, if you're a small-market orchestra trying to make an impact in the community.

Saturday’s multimedia concert also may have had its biggest success in that respect — as a vehicle to expose more people to the power of a live orchestra,

Which is excellent.

even if the music did more to enhance the photographs than the images did for the music.

The Preposition Police called, the "for" is unnecessary.

However, the observation that the photographs became somehow central to the experience is noted, with interest. This did not dissuade the reviewer from liking the concert or overall effect; it was different. And, potentially, gets people interested in going to the orchestra.

The critic, here, is writing for a small paper in a small-ish community, and is happy that the effect achieved is potentially good for the arts in the city.

Compare, then:


Another milestone in the history of American showmanship hit Walnut Creek’s Hofmann Theater last Sunday and Tuesday:

Is that sarcasm? Is someone making Sarcasm Soup here somewhere?

California Symphony's claim to the world’s first presentation of a 3-D video

Oh, maybe not!

to accompany


— or rather, subordinate — a live performance of a symphonic work.

Ahh! The symphony is being subordinated! Whatver shall we do? What exactly are we scared of? Who are we being made to serve?

The plea for more funding that followed was justified by the quality of the previous numbers on the program.

So, it was the last number, then? Okay. What? Oh, the other music was good (or at least "quality"), which justifies...pleas for funding.

Yet the grand finale, a video extravaganza of space photography, visualizations, and animation, to the music of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, fascinating as it was, did a disservice to the performing, if not the astronomic, arts.

Really? A "disservice?" Not an experiment? An adventure?

Curiously, the so-called "flyover state" concert reviewer was open to the adventure, while on the Left Coast, Hotbed of Experimentalism(tm), a similar concept left the reviewer feeling subordinated.

Clearly these are not all of the variables in this equation.

What is the subjective position of the two reviewers that causes the reactions to the concerts?


"You are witnessing something we have never had here, a new art, photochoreography," Yeh said after the concert’s opening selection, a stirring performance of Copland’s Fanfare. "Normally, I encourage you to sit back, maybe close your eyes. You can still sit back, but if you close your eyes, you’ll lose half the value of your ticket."

Were tickets double the normal price? Has the music been, literally, devalued? Moreover, are people in danger of leaning forward during the concert?

Much of the time, Yeh and Westwater proved the conductor right.

Westwater’s photographs were beautifully shot and edited with rich colors and dramatic uses of light and shadow, and his arrangement of the images displayed impeccable timing and understanding of the music.

His use of dissolves to create contrast between images that momentarily overlapped — a quick-cut from a sun-drenched plain to a dark-and-stormy-night scene to coincide with a sudden change in tone in the music — and his choice of dramatic images all played to the rhythms and character of the music the orchestra played, and fulfilled the potential this program held.

At times, however, the beauty and, sometimes, the mere presence of Westwater’s photographs rendered the music secondary to the images, even though the orchestra performed at its usual level of superb quality and, possibly, with even a little more energy than normal.

Hughes was clearly aware of the possibility of detraction from the musical experience, but the overall quality of the photographs and the production seem to have left a more positive experience than not.

(He also really, really likes the words "beauty" and "beautiful" to the point of rendering them meaningless.)


To give credit where credit is due, José Francisco Salgado, listed as “film creator” below Tao’s name in the program, did a stellar job of assembling and presenting the video visuals.

It was well-done. Okay...

A Ph.D. astronomer and “visualizer” for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Salgado knows his business well and is on a world tour with his sensitive coordination of images with Mussorgsky’s music. Only in Walnut Creek, so far, will the presentation be in 3-D, but it’s an especially effective technique for portraying two of the show’s many segments: solar flares and colliding galaxies.

Sensitive Ph.D., check...

Jekowsky, as well, is to be congratulated for superbly executing the coordination of the music with the video, thanks to a monitor below his music stand.

Also well-executed. What's the issue, again?

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not report that patrons thoroughly enjoyed the program and appeared unharmed by any perceived violations of concert convention caused by the experiment.

And...the audience liked it, too. What's the issue, again?

Innovation, or Degradation?

Um, here we go?

Yet I must severely question the artistic (not necessarily financial) wisdom of this sort of innovation. In sum, Salgado’s approach to entertainment (and education) degrades the composer, the performer, and the listening experience.

No one's threatening to take away non-multimedia concerts. Apparently, the audience likes it, it's well done, and potentially financially rewarding. Why is it degrading? And why so to the performer and listening experience (do we really mean "the audience?" No? Then why not?)

Mussorgsky’s intentions were to portray with his musical imagination specific paintings by Victor Hartman, not outer space.

Any claim to know authorial intent should be regarded with suspicion. In the case of a programmatic piece, the line is fuzzier, but the issue is far from simple. Was Mussorgsky's intent to portray the pictures in music, or record his impressions of them? Or were they simply a starting point for composition or inspiration? Can we imagine the pieces with an abstract or non-programmatic title and still understand and/or enjoy them?

And why can't we decontextualize or recontextualize them? Clearly, Beethoven had orchestras of a greatly reduced size from our modern ones; should we then not play them with full string sections (and so forth)? What about period instruments?

These are all issues not new to classical music. What's the real problem?

The piece is suffused with gestures related to these works.

Or inspired by them, or evocative of them. Or something.

To co-opt them for other uses in a formal concert setting does an injustice to the composer, and disrespects his art.

Really? I don't think ol' Modest M. cares a lot at this point. Also, why care? Are you entrusted to his legacy or estate? Or are you his mom? "Modest didn't get the lead in the Christmas pageant? But he's a composer! He's special! How dare you?!"

Not that this doesn’t happen all the time.

I'm confused. Does this support your argument or not?

I draw attention, in particular, to the egregious interpretations of Wagner’s Ring cycle that would have made a murderer out of poor Richard, were he alive to witness them.

Where are we going with this? What's the beef?

More pointedly, what could be going on in this review? The small-town small-orchestra multimedia concert was met with some concern, but overall acceptance and even enjoyment. The West Coast, better-funded, better-covered, concert is getting resistance to change? Recontextualization?

Why? The legalized pot/gay marriage/Hollywood liberal crowd is standing up, pounding their fists and tearing their hair out because, dammit, that dead old white canonized composer just isn't getting respect? Really?

Figure 1: Resistant to change, the San Francisco area is known for deeply held conservative beliefs in politics and the arts

Figure 2: Indiana: Up for whatever!

Sure, on one hand, it's nice to upend this stereotype. But what gives?

Absorbing as Salgado’s program was, I still ask: Why have a live orchestra at all?

It sounds better? Also, it's more of an event, a thing if you will, to go out and see something with live music in a theater, potentially wearing something uncomfortable. Or not.

Also, it sounds better. Way better.

The audience was thoroughly engrossed with the visuals, crying out “Ooh” and “Ahh” when letters of the alphabet flew through the air toward the credits, and many other times in addition. The stage was darkened, and the large screen obscured most of what the players were doing.

Like an opera? Yes, like an opera. Or a film, sort of. But more like an opera.

But who cared what they were doing, anyway?

Playing their instruments, presumably. Making that sound you hear. Or at least that's what makes sense. Sort of the way you assume the orchestra is playing their instruments when you're in the cheap seats at the symphony, because you can't really see much going on anyway. Unless you're a critic? Do you get good seats? For free?

No one was looking.

They could have been looking...at the screen. What? Also, there was this 3-D thing going on at the time to sort of distract them.

Almost like an opera.

The result is dehumanization of the performer, the human presence of which is a chief reason to attend a symphonic concert.

Like an opera. So no, no, not really.

The phenomenon is similar to what occurs when orchestras play film scores live, such as Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky. At least in the case of Nevsky, the composer intended the music to be played with a film.

What? Yes, sort of. Or like, you know, an opera.

Also, it sounds better.

The only advantage to a live performance, in my view — and a small one at that, considering today’s home technologies — is improved sonics.

Yes. It. Sounds. Better. Plus, you get to go do a thing with seats and bells and people and drinks and stuff.

You think the orchestra feels degraded? They'd rather have the music piped in? And, as a result, get payed for playing once? Ask the Broadway musicians about that.

Finally, there is the problem of the listening experience itself, which in this case parallels a disturbing trend in society generally: If we all sit passively, ingesting spoon-fed images as given without time for our own mental intermediation, our imaginations will atrophy.

Okay? What? Like an opera, except not, in what way?

The onslaught of cable TV has done this to many already.

Presumably in rural Indiana, where people actually enjoy trying new things. Or something else?

Why bring the scourge into the concert hall, where one of the most delightful aspects of experiencing music is to imagine your own “gnome” or “catacombs,” as outlined by Mussorgsky.

Sorry; I thought we were all about the composer's intent, which is the Hartman paintings, right? But you want your own "gnome" as well? I don't think so.

Why let Salgado, expert as he is in astronomy, deprive you of that possibility by throwing galaxies at you so fast that all you can do is ooh or ahh?

Because either or both activity can be enjoyable, interesting, fun, rewarding, challenging, beautiful, or just cool. Just sayin'.

For its (mostly unobserved) part, the California Symphony reserved its best for the nonexistent Hartmann Pictures, and is to be congratulated.

"But, also, well done, chaps."

Here’s hoping that the launch of Interplanetary Pictures at a Virtual Exhibition burns quickly on reentry, to become a splendid home video someday, where it belongs.

You hate it so much you hope it fails?

Also, the audience has somehow disappeared. The "sonic experience" being "degraded" apparently belongs to the reviewer. The audience, reportedly, enjoyed it. The reviewer misses his opportunity (which he'll have again--that is in the universe where somewhere, someone plays "Pictures" again) to visualize his own images as conjured up by the music.

Someone's trying to steal his gnome.

Figure 3: If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed, now.

It seems that there is more than an aesthetic problem. The way the reviewer organizes his enjoyment of concert music is threatened. He even seemed to like it, kind of, or appreciate it for what it might be. But it's deemed symbolically unacceptable, so arguments are organized in order to cast it as somehow wrong; the composer, music, players, and sonic experience (still not the audience) are cast as victim, degraded (somehow) by images of galaxies and disemwordened (?) letters ("of the alphabet" no less) in space.

Enough analysis, then. Jouissance is impossible; enjoy your symptom!

Figure 4: Good luck avoiding the real of desire


Opera Is Weird

A cogent piece in the New York Times about new operas, or, at least, excerpts thereof. Tommasini does an interesting analysis of the snippets' musical impression/content, which is always interesting since the music is all new, and thus the critic's first hearing. Furthermore, the commentary has much to say about the medium, and the state of the medium, of opera today.

Empiricus has some thoughts on this, too. Or so he would have me believe.

Sampling of New Dishes, Some Still Being Seasoned

Though the struggling New York City Opera has been mostly absent this season, it was in the center of things over the weekend. On Friday night and Saturday afternoon it presented Vox 2009, its 10th annual showcase of excerpts from new operas performed in concert by City Opera singers and the City Opera orchestra. The operas are typically works in progress or completed works awaiting proper productions.

It's good to see the City Opera's dedication to new works does not flag in the face of its struggles.

For the free showcases on Saturday afternoon, the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at
New York University was packed.

Also very encouraging.

Four of the five works presented on this occasion represented deliberate attempts by their composers to push the boundaries of the opera genre, for better or worse.

I'm a bit confused; did the composers express the desire to push the boundaries "for better or for worse," or is that the assessment of the situation by the critic? Let's find out!

In video interviews that preceded each performance, and in program notes, opera was described as the ultimate medium for musical exploration, and conservative gatekeepers were deplored.

"The Deploration of Conservative Gatekeepers" would make an interesting name for...something. But what?

So the upstart composers want to challenge the ultimate medium, possibly to the chagrin of the aforementioned Gatekeepers. How'd that work out? What are the criteria? What, properly, is opera (besides, possibly, the "ultimate medium")?

Of course, if opera tells stories through words and music, there is only so far you can push it before it becomes something else.

Hm. That's a large conditional. Is opera about stories? I'll concede the words (or, at least, singers) and music, for now. What are stories about? This is thick and sticky stuff.

Figure 1: Opera is like raw maple syrup

Also, how far can one push it before it becomes something else? Furthermore, what would it become? Not-opera? Is operatic intentionality, or performance in an opera house sufficient condition to be opera? What about a narrative ballad country song that uses words and music to tell a story? Perhaps if it were in an opera house?

These issues are perhaps more syrupy than the intent of the article. In fairness, let's see what point I was belaboring.

And experimentation should be no excuse for poor craftsmanship.

Ah, another issue altogether. However, is poorly crafted opera still opera, or is it something else?

Take “Invisible Cities,” with music and libretto by Christopher Cerrone, adapted from the novel by Italo Calvino. The opera tells of the emperor Kublai Khan, who, fearing that he is losing hold of his vast kingdom, listens to reports from the young explorer Marco Polo, who has traveled its remote and fantastical regions.

That sounds opera-y enough for an opera plot. Lots of potential subtext, issues to explore and all that. Imperialism, Empire, Death, Loss, Culture, Hegemony. Good stuff.

Also, not for nothing, potentially cool sets. Costumes. Characters, more or less well-known. Sort of a story, with words and music.

All of our lives lead to decay, Mr. Cerrone said in the video interview. His opera, he added, is about “finding a certain joy in that.”

Whoah. Check out Composer Bringdown over here. But still...

In his orchestral score Mr. Cerrone uses a prepared piano and electronic instruments to evoke exotic sounds and an ethereal atmosphere.

Hmm. For all of the potential topics, this smacks a little of Orientalism.

Figure 2: You make Edward Said Sad

But either way, why am I "taking" this example to support the opening of the article? About new opera?

But in the 30-minute excerpt, the dramatic pacing was static and the vocal writing cumbersome.

That sounds like a problem regardless of genre. Or, more particularly, illustrates that "experimentation [is] no excuse for poor craftmanship," so I see, or rather, read. Technical issues can foul one up in any medium.

When the text is sung, the vocal lines are almost continually slow, sustained and ponderous. When things pick up, the words are almost always either spoken or chanted in monotones.

This sounds like a stylistic critique; however, if the vocal writing impedes the delivery and/or comprehension, it is also a technical one. Also: ouch!

The composer Anne LeBaron approached text-setting much the same way in an excerpt from her opera “Crescent City,” with a libretto by Douglas Kearney.

That does not bode well, by these criteria...

In the story an imagined city (a metaphorical stand-in for New Orleans) is trying to recover from a devastating hurricane. The characters include ghost cops and a voodoo queen.

Again, potentially opera-y, no?

Strange things happen.

Like a statue coming to life and inviting you to dinner?

Ms. LeBaron, who salutes renegade composers like Meredith Monk and John Cage,


who upended the opera genre, seems to think that by using electronic gadgets and drawing from vernacular pop genres she can make her score automatically experimental.


But the vocal writing is like a cliché of pompous contemporary opera excess,

Perhaps it's a stylistic parody? Camp? Deliberate cliché?

with lines full of sustained chanting and pointlessly complicated leaps.

Hm. I'm not sure whether this is a stylistic or technical complaint; sounds like both.

Like Mr. Cerrone, Ms. LeBaron resorts to patter or speech when the text needs to be gotten through quickly.

So...didn't really like it, eh? What else?

Jonathan Dawe’s “Armide,” with a libretto by Heather Raffo, was inspired by Lully’s French Baroque opera of the same title. In fact, Mr. Dawe refashions stretches of Lully’s score with modern music twists in this work, which sets the story in postwar Iraq, in 2019. Mr. Dawe describes his opera as “Baroque music on steroids.”

That seems...unnecessary, but it's hard to say. What was it like?

But when transforming old music into something new, it is not enough to rewrite the original with a lot of wrong notes, extraneous harmonies and wandering inner voices, then throw in some orchestral craziness.

Double yikes. Someone brought their critic's pen today.

The last work showcased was by far the best.

What was different? Was it a story with words, and music, too? Less inept, more conservative, or both?

“A Bird in Your Ear” by the composer David Bruce and the librettist Alasdair Middleton is a fairy-tale opera about a nightingale and a privileged young boy, Ivan, who yearns to know what the birds are saying. After saving some baby birds from a severe storm, Ivan is granted his wish by their magical mother.

Sounds like an Oscar Wilde short story for some reason. And potentially loaded with fairy-tale opera conventions...

Mr. Bruce found a model for this work, he said, in Stravinsky’s dance cantata “Les Noces.”

Figure 3: Before fonts had been standardized, chaos reigned

In what way?

The story is told through short scenes with connecting narration.


The music, rich with imagined folk tunes, undulant accompaniment patterns and vibrant choral writing, is delicate, tartly tonal and lucidly orchestrated.

That sounds positive, if possibly less musically challenging. Hm, competent, fairy-tale opera, lucid, "tartly tonal" (?).

The characters are enchanting, and the vocal writing mostly effective,

In light of the other works reviewed, "mostly effective" is high praise indeed.

except for Mr. Bruce’s often flawed prosody,


the art of setting words to music in a way that conveys the natural patterns of speech.

Yes, that.

It may not have been the best decision to have the narrative sung, for the most part, by a trio of women. The words are sometimes garbled by elaborate three-part harmonies.

A small technical critique.

In context on this long afternoon of excerpts, “A Bird in Your Ear” offered an object lesson: it is better for an opera to be skillfully written and imaginative, however conventional, than to be experimental and inept.

It "is" better, especially if you're a young (relatively) unknown composer getting reviewed in the Times. Ineptitude cannot open new doors easily. The price for being unconventional, though, is sometimes clumsiness with new ideas or materials.

Perhaps that's what some of what opera "is", or has come to be. Chamber music concerts, their audiences, venues, and culture, seem to be generally more forgiving than the opera culture. It's not easy to get opera commissions if your name's not already on the lips of the Board of Directors; it's much easier to get chamber music heard.

Opera is more than the sum of words, music, and stories, skillfully wrought. It carries cultural, economic, and artistic baggage that's difficult to contend with, especially for new works.

The Arts Cost Money

Something Empiricus and I have been discussing came to light in Kyle MacMillan's article on the Colorado Symphony:

If they were not told, most concertgoers would probably have no idea that the tough economy forced the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to make significant alterations to its originally planned lineup for 2009-10.

The article goes on to describe how the artistic director has gone through great lengths to preserve a high-quality and full season for the orchestra despite budget cuts.


If they were not told...

...it also shows how The Arts are perceived as somehow automatic, or beyond the reach of mundane economic considerations. Having not been told (we are told), the public would assume that everything is hunky dory.

Figure 1: The androgynous person assures us everything's alright.

The reality is that running a major subscription orchestra (or opera company) entails an enormous flow of money, employment, contracts, management, organization, and time. But, of course, all of the other things are contingent on money.

Kudos to the CSO and its director for their commitment to quality in the face of budgetary limitations, and also to MacMillan for his reminder about the real-world economic world of the arts.


The orchestra is also not backing off on contemporary repertoire, presenting the world premiere of Chris Thile's Mandolin Concerto, as well as the local premiere of Peter Lieberson's "Neruda Songs" with up-and-coming mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor.

Awesome. Contemporary music is often the first victim.

Read the rest here.


Facing Budget Cuts, New York Times Enacts Dire Cutbacks on Diacritical Marks

Anthony Tommasini has a piece in the Times about the American Composers Orchestra. Sadly, even the Arts page is suffering the effects of the economic downturn; as the dollar continues to slip against world currencies, the costly, exotic diacritical marks used in some foreign alphabets are the latest casualty.

And other issues. To wit:

The American Composers Orchestra practices truth in advertising.

I think you mean "truth in autonomenclature" (not the kind about handguns, though).

As its name implies, its mission is to perform new, recent and neglected works by American composers.

Its name also implies, importantly, that it's an orchestra.

On Friday night at Zankel Hall it offered a program of premieres by Lukas Ligeti and Derek Bermel and the New York premiere of the Guitar Concerto by Robert Beaser.

Makes sense, I guess.

Obviously "premiere" has long been Anglicized (or Anglicised, if you prefer); the term became so prevalent that we obliterated its erstwhile accent grave to demonstrate our linguistic superiority over the French.

See? American Composers Orchestra.

A piece from 2007 by the Austrian composer Thomas Larcher was slipped in, proving that this open-minded orchestra is willing to reach beyond America for a worthy piece now and then.

Ooh. Although we approve of this programming, it does in fact set this paragraph at odds with itself, as it were. Ah, well. We can't have all of the supporting sentences, uh...supporting the topic sentence, now can we? That could be construed as gauche.

But the other purpose of the evening was to honor artistic leaders who have been crucial to the orchestra’s success: Mr. Beaser, its artistic director; Mr. Bermel, just finishing his tenure as composer in residence; and Dennis Russell Davies, the conductor laureate, who founded the orchestra 32 years ago and looked elated to be back.

Perhaps they should have called it the "American Composers, Conductors, and Artistic Directors Orchestra," but that hardly rolls off the tongue, does it?

Mr. Bermel’s work, “A shout, a whisper, and a trace,” was particularly effective and often exhilarating.

I've always thought "effective" was an odd descriptor of concert music. Effective as...music? Diversion? Intellectual fodder? Thirst quencher? Floor cleaner? Dessert topping?

Mr. Bermel draws from myriad genres: jazz, rock, gospel, cerebral modernism, you name it.

You already named it, and its name is Inherent Bias.

Jazz: Not Cerebral. Rock: Not Cerebral. Modernism: Cerebral.

Argument: There are lots of kinds of modernism; the qualifier merely indicates the particular cerebral kind of modernism alluded to in the piece reviewed here. You're being hypersensitive (again). Give it up.

Rebuttal: There is cerebral rock, and also cerebral jazz, one could argue. (Cererbral gospel is not familiar to this author; however this could constitute a deficiency or ignorance on my own part. (I suspect not. But it could.)) Qualifying modernism, and only modernism, in this description sets the "thinky" music appart from the "feely" music (rock, jazz, gospel).

Moreover, the construction of the sentence amplifies this effect. It's not "rocky rock, swingy jazz, goddy gospel, and cerebral modernism;" and the inclusion of the modified "modernism" at the end of the list only further sets off the distinction.

"Cerebral" is code for "thinky." You'll recognize the other influences, sure, but be careful! there's also some of that awful modernism.

That his interests are so wide-ranging could prevent him from forging a distinctive voice were his ear not so keen and his technique so assured.

Translation: There's some thinky music, but you'll still like it. Becuase, you know, rock and jazz! It's like two great tastes that taste great together! It's thinky on the outside, with a creamy, accessable center.

Figure 1: An early, successful attempt at modernist collage techniques. If conisdered today somewhat simplistic and naïve in its dualism, this classic example of early modernism is echoed now in less strictly dialectical efforts such as Snickers' Ice Cream Bar with Almonds.

Mr. Bermel says that this 20-minute piece was inspired by his reflection on Bartok’s final five years, as a transplant to New York. Though relieved to have left Hungary, his homeland, under the Nazis, Bartok maintained a personal connection to his musical roots.

His name, however, and the alphabet of his youth were abandoned at Ellis Island, corrupted by the influence of the New World.

NY Times: I'm sorry, Mr Bartók, we're going to have to go with an unadorned "o". Going to have to be "Bartok" for now. Frightfully sorry old chap. [adjusts monocle; money flies everywhere]

BB: But, sirs, please, it's my name...it's a different alphabet...

NY Times: Sorry, sir. Diacritical marks are just too expensive. Economy and all that.

BB: I see...

NY Times: Well, off with you, then.

BB: But I read the Sports section today! I saw...

NY Times: Well, yes. But you know, the arts and all, we can't afford to give them the same consideration as South American cities. Or baseball players. The Latin American market is very important.

BB: That sucks.