Phase 3: Profit

I think we’re all worried about our local performing arts organizations’ abilities to weather the economic shitstorm. Lately, they seem to be disappearing like Mayans.

Certainly, Miami has not been immune.

Miami City Ballet, which no longer performs to live music, has laid off dancers and pared its $14.8 million annual budget to slightly more than $11 million.


Florida Grand Opera cut its $14-million annual budget about 30 percent, froze wages and canceled a concert series.


And the Concert Association of Florida, once the major presenter of classical music in Miami-Dade and Broward, filed for bankruptcy liquidation in February.


The Concert Association's closure widened the void left by the 2003 bankruptcy of the Florida Philharmonic and the demise of Broward Friends of Chamber Music.

Yikes. It’s sure rough out there. But the young Miami Symphony isn’t giving in to the challenging climate.

''The crisis for an organization like ours was going to be more helpful than damaging,'' [conductor Eduardo Marturet] says, ``because we had no choice but to grow or disappear.''

Hmm. Interesting, if not impossible, opposition. Nevertheless, good for you! I like the arts. Keep them going!

''A fresh approach to orchestra management is really prevailing,'' says concertmaster Daniel Andai.

''It's like a gem that needs to be polished to become a precious stone,'' says Rafael Diaz-Balart, board chairman. ``We are going to get there.''

Like I said, good for you. But how are you going to get there?

Founded in 1989 by Cuban immigrants -- Ochoa, and his wife, Sofia, who recently retired as executive director -- Miami Symphony long recruited board members and musicians who were most familiar to its core leaders.

That meant the symphony, its leadership and its supporters were largely homogenous.

I’m not sure I follow.

Getting there will take more money, Diaz-Balart says, and, perhaps more important, a change in the orchestra's image as a predominantly Hispanic cultural group.


''It operated and developed very much as a Cuban-American, Hispanic organization for many years,'' Diaz-Balart says. ``And, I think, as a result of that aspect of the organization, we encountered certain—


--not necessarily obstacles-- but we were not properly represented on the board of directors by all the communities that exist in Miami, and as a result our outreach into the different communities . . .

[think about what you say, now]

was hampered.''

Unless I’m reading into this way too much (which is a possibility), this sounds like...

Well, I’ll just say this: the majority of Miami-Dade’s population is Hispanic, but that’s not where the money is.

Phase 1: Get rid of the poor Hispanics
Phase 2: ...
Phase 3: Profit


Le bon mot et le mot juste

What is the function of the critic: Part MCMLXXIV; also, Sentence of the Week!

The critic's job in reviewing a concert depends on several factors. An important one, of course, is the program under consideration.

In reviewing new(er) music, the reviewer often describes the music for the reader, since the chances that the music has been encountered before are small. For more well-known works, the performance can be compared to other performances of the same piece, and so forth.

There is, though, a middle ground; less-familiar works by known composers, for instance. In this case, the reviewer will often critique the performance and the work itself somewhat independently.

Here today to illustrate is Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News. The Dallas SO recently held a Latino Festival Concert, the Latin-ness of which was somewhat suspect. It's a good article, with genuine concerns, and I encourage you to read it.

Some of the works on the program were construed (probably correctly) as being showpieces for the featured performers. This is well and good, but I suppose there are limits to Mr. Cantrell's tolerance of fluffy, virtuosic display pieces with little musical substance:

Guarnieri's Dansa brasileira was a cheerfully chugging overture, and Gismonti's two-guitars-and-orchestra Sete Aneis, performed with the Brasil Guitar Duo (João Luiz and Douglas Lora), suggested some influence from minimalism. Neither of these impressed as deathless art, but each was pleasant enough.

This seems to sum it up pretty nicely. But then:

Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Concerto for Two Guitars was pretty inane, with dippy themes elaborated with all the imagination of an undergraduate composition student.

Wow. That is an awesome sentence.

I have just invented a new, meaningless award; I think I shall call it the Sentence of the Week! award.

Today, the inaugural Sentence of the Week! award goes to Scott Cantrell. Not the least of the accomplishments of this sentence is evoking the banality of the music (inane; dippy) combined with an icily clever dismissal of its inventive quality.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)

Castelnuovo-Tedesco was an Italian composer who was not very good at writing faux-Spanish guitar concerto showpieces. Or, at least, that's what I think I learned this week.

Seriously, though:

These festival programs attract lots of people who don't ordinarily attend symphony concerts. But the absence of at least brief program notes, even movement markings on the program page, suggests the DSO considers these second-class concerts. That's tacky.

Yes, yes it is. Boo, Dallas Symphony. Boo to you.


Tuesday Trivia

I’m going to skip around, so bear with me. But first, some trivia!


We know what harmony is. We know what a harmonic progression is. We know what harmonic reduction is. We even know what harmonic rhythm is. But what in the world is “true harmonic pulse”?

Answer here: paragraph three.


Truth be told, I don’t mind Bernard’s assessment of Thomas Ades’ Violin Concerto’s complication. After all, Bernard used the magic words, “to my ears,” which absolves him of overprecise commitment. That doesn’t mean I agree with him; it just means that I can’t refute him, despite not knowing what “true harmonic pulse” actually is.

Though I’d sleep better if I knew why it was qualified with “true” or why

Complexity is a matter of content; complication is a different and less praiseworthy quality.

Guess I’m doomed to a life with insomnia.

On the other hand, judgments beginning with “clearly,” “obviously,” or the like, should have some degree of objectivity, like, “Surely, according to the pie chart, party clowns are better because they own a greater percentage of stock in...”, or “By far, there are more bananas in the jungle than walruses,” or “Certainly, the conductor was becoming irritated by the percussionist’s refusal to stop texting his BFF.”

Without a certain amount of objectivity the argument, in my opinion, becomes weakened, like using the passive voice and the phrase, “in my opinion.”

By far the most successful passage comes about halfway through the long central slow movement.

See? After the “by far the most successful,” we need some qualification, some objectivity. We know where it was successful. But why was it so successful?

Here Adès, abandoning for a while the intricate rhythms that have made much of the solo music a trial for any soloist, allows the violin to sing its heart out in a sequence of sustained, easefully diatonic phrases.

In essence, what Bernard is saying (I think) is that the passage was successful because it was easy, uncomplicated, that the rhythms were no longer intricate.

Which totally negates a previous statement.

A listener coming unprepared to the work, 20 minutes long and subtitled "Concentric Paths," could be forgiven for thinking it relatively easy to play, for the prevailing effect of the solo part is simple and songful [...]

If the entire piece seemed easy, then why would that particular passage be “by far the most successful”? Because it was diatonic? I’m pretty sure that’s, by far, subjective.


More Trivia:

What do Ades’ Violin Concerto, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, and Stravinsky’s Firebird have in common?

Answer here: paragraph five.


One-Hour Crash Course in Music History

This article is about Mahler. Gustav Mahler.

He was a composer, and is fairly well-known today. Sometimes, major orchestras even program some of his symphonies.

Kyle MacMillan, Denver Post, Mahler Symphony Electrifies

Mahler, right? Mahler.

Got it.


The first word in this article about Mahler is...Beethoven.

Beethoven, of course, is the first and last word in music history. There was music B.B. (Before Beethoven), then Beethoven, then music After Beethoven (A.B.). The date 1 A.B. is commonly set at 1805, when his Symphony No. 3 was premiered on April 5th. Specifically, it was the C# in measure 7 of the first movement that ushered in the common era from which time is judged today. Any musicologist will tell you that.

That's common knowledge, though, and I don't mean to sound pedantic; in these days (204 A.B.) that hardly needs explaining.

What does need explaining, though, is Mahler. What's the deal with this Mahler fellow anyway, and how does he relate to Beethoven?

Beethoven reinvented the symphonic form, transforming it into a journey of heroism and redemption and investing it with new depth and meaning.

It is also commonly known that music before Beethoven was just a bunch of melodies and stuff. Beethoven changed all of that by investing music with emotion and meaning for the first time. Never before had the motion of tones through musical space been regarded as somehow reflective of the inner thoughts of the composer. Thus, also in 1 A.B. were born the twins radical subjectivity and hopeless anthropomorphism.

At the end of the 19th century, Gustav Mahler seized on his predecessor's vision and pushed it to its fullest possible expression, creating works that stand as some of the greatest achievements in the form.

Born in 55 A.B., Mahler was heavily influenced by Beethoven's idea of making music seem profound.

Among them is the composer's Symphony No. 2 in C minor, "Resurrection," which conductor Jeffrey Kahane and the Colorado Symphony presented Friday evening, putting an exclamation point on the ensemble's 2008-09 season.

I think you mean "2008-09 SEASON!!1!1".

Because of the length of this five-movement work — 80 minutes — and the supplementary forces it requires, including chorus and two vocal soloists, it is infrequently heard.

Yeah, except for the part where it's not infrequently heard. Last season (203-204 A.B.) it was played by "major" [a quibble for another time] symphonies in New York, Cincinnati, and Houston, by diverse international powerhouses like Halle, and smaller cities like Petersboro, England, and La Jolla, California. To name a few. (It's also been recorded a few times.)

Sorry about the linkfest, but it's really, really not infrequently heard, at all.

This paucity combined with the work's exceptional power make any performance an anticipated event and a precious one, when it receives the kind of masterful treatment it did Friday.

That's fair enough, as is the balance of the review (which can be found via the [first] link above). But the insinuations that a) this is somehow all contingent on Beethoven, and b) that the performance was special specifically because it's seldom performed, are silly.

Some fussy Mahler die-hards no doubt found something to quibble over — a tempo that was too slow or fast or whatever — but most listeners no doubt agreed that it was an electrifying, deeply moving experience.

The "fussy Mahler die-hards" constitute a classic straw man construction, and are admittedly imaginary. Equally apocryphal, and in a parallel construction, are the "most listeners" who "no doubt agreed" that the imaginary "die-hards" were full of shit.


The imaginary purists' (die-hards'?) imagined complaints were trumped by the imaginary every-listeners' imaginary contentions that the music was electrifying and moving.


Thankfully, this is all in the A.B. era, because music written B.B. was never moving, heroic, or redemptive.

Here is the rest of the review, which seems perfectly cromulent by itself:

Kahane invested this epic work with deep musical understanding and a razor-sharp sense of drama, bringing incisive definition to its constant shifts in sound and mood, from sweeping gestures and grand exclamations to moments of quiet vulnerability and wonder.

The well-matched vocal soloists were both first rate, but special kudos go to mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, who highlighted the third movement with her affecting simplicity of expression.The final movement possessed all the redemptive force and musical thunder it should, with Cooke and soprano Janice Chandler Eteme nicely meshing, and the CSO Chorus deftly building from a hushed opening to a thunderous climax.

This milestone evening ranks among the finest moments of Kahane's tenure, and it served as a reminder of how difficult it will be to bid farewell to him as music director at the end of 2009-10.

That all seems perfectly reasonable, well-reviewed, and about a good performance to boot. Why, then, the speculative and Beethoven-framed introduction? It seems like a bizarre supplement to the review proper, and that supplement implies a lack (but that seems beyond the scope of this afternoon's project).

Derrida, trying to think about Mahler as that which is naturally prior to Beethoven.

Perhaps someday, someone will pen a massive, 4000-page four-volume study on Mahler's life and music to flesh out this little-known composer for us.

It is, after all, going to be 205 A.B. before we know it.


Music Is Like Language(s)

This is not about Andrea Bocelli.

This is about music: classical music, pop music, and crossover music.

This article, however, is about Andrea Bocelli.

From Preston Jones (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, dfw.com):

Andrea Bocelli’s tenor, smooth as amaretto liqueur and potent as grappa, is arguably one of the world’s most famous voices.

Ha ha! It's relevant because he's Italian. That is some lazy rhetoric with which to open an article. Surely the man bearing "arguably one of the world's most famous voices" needs no introduction...

He has sold more than 65 million albums, lugged home dozens of industry awards in Europe and endeared himself to an adoring fan base while nonetheless incurring the wrath of numerous classical-music critics.

...or, uh, you know, that'll do. We all know who you're talking about. (Also, vis-a-vis this discussion about hyphens, "classical-music?")

Most people probably know of Bocelli either from his appearances on PBS stations (he has released 11 concerts on DVD, most of which have been aired on public television) or his lone smash single, Time to Say Goodbye (Con Te Partiro), the duet performed with fellow superstar Sarah Brightman.

Yeah, that's the guy. Let's move on.


Those who simply file him under the "pop" heading might be surprised to learn that, more than most artists who enjoy crossover success (such as Brightman or even Josh Groban), the 50-year-old Bocelli is intent on staking a claim as one of Italy’s premier operatic tenors, fighting for a place alongside the all-time greats like Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti.

I don't think those people (real or imaginary) would be surprised, per se, to learn of his aspirations. They may suspect his ability to reach those goals, but that's different.

That's because Bocelli has staked himself out a very successful career in the crossover market. This is a hard thing to pin down; some crossover admits freely and simultaneously both genres it claims to bridge (classical and pop/Italian song, in this instance). Some crossover artists dabble in both (or more) areas more or less independently. Both Bocelli's percieved shortcomings and talents have been discussed at length by critics; I'm not interested in that right now.

"I very much like the idea of keeping [pop and opera] separate because they’re like two languages that need to keep their own purity," Bocelli said.

Hm. This is, then, not the mixed, simultaneous kind of crossover.

Moreover, this "purity" seems like a false construct, sort of a nostalgia for an imaginary time when pop music and art music did not intersect. Both Caruso and Pavarotti (who were mentioned above) more than dabbled in popular music, too.

However, the idea of languages as a metaphor (couched as a simile) for genres of music is intriguing. Where will it lead?

"When you sing opera or pop, the beauty in either of those is like speaking two different languages."

Yeah, I got that part. How?

"The great attraction is being able to speak both of those languages with the right accent."

I like this extension of the argument. In order to sound convincing (say, like a native speaker) in both languages it's not enough to know the words (metaphorically the notes, melodies) and syntax of both languages, but to pronounce them idiomatically. This makes sense in the context of the construction.

His determination to be fluent in two distinct musical tongues is reflected in his attitude toward preparation.

The extension of the language metaphor would seem to be that both languages require intensive study and preparation, as both have their own traditions, performance practice, and so forth.

But no. No?

"There’s a difference. If one is approaching a classical piece of music, a score, for a classical piece you have to have very rigorous preparation," he said.

That's what people say, yes. But not...

"With pop songs, it’s quite the opposite. And really, instinct is the best way of approaching that sort of music."

Yikes, wow. Metaphor effectively shattered, and it was a nice construction, too.

Could it be resurrected? What is the musical equivalent of intuitive language? Slang? Or is it more akin to learning by immersion versus academic study? It seems like both are important to classical and pop music alike.

Unfortunately, the implication seems to be the opposite. Pop music "comes from the heart" or some nebulous nonsense like that, unlike classical music, which is far more academic and technical, and by extension, not "from the heart."

Figure 1: Enrico Caruso as Pagliacci, 1908 (Library of Congress)

Locating the difference between the genres in this way is unhelpful. When locating their different identities along the axis hard preparation/instinctive-intuitive, Bocelli's explanation does a disservice to both facets of musical art.

Is there another way we can distinguish between pop and classical music, and their intersection(s)? How would a more helpful delineation look?

Shit. This was about Bocelli. Sort of.


Let's Don't Apologize for Contemporary Music

They have orchestras in Montana now?

Figure 1: Montana, not Montana. Also, music, not this.

All kidding aside, it's great that the arts are thriving in some smaller communities. Perhaps the financial model and expectations of the audience, players, and cities are more viable than the big, struggling dinosaurs. And they're getting more adventurous, too, which is great.

Which is why I mostly liked this article:

Symphony's season finale hints at transformation ahead

but have a little problem, too. Introducing people to new "classical" music shouldn't be tortuous to reader or reviewer (or listener, for that matter).

It has been almost exactly two years since the Missoula Symphony Orchestra named Darko Butorac its new conductor and artistic director. Sunday's concert by the MSO served as a strong testament to all that has changed at the orchestra since his appointment - and a harbinger of further transformations.

Um, good? I hope that's good. It sounds like it might be good; sometimes harbingers can be portents of a more ominous sort (arguably). It sounds good, though.

For its season finale two years ago, in a concert conducted by Anthony Spain (one of five conductors who vied for the position that Butorac ultimately won), the orchestra performed one of the most celebrated works of the 20th century, Dmitri Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony.

Two years ago? Why that's the span of time you mentioned in the first paragraph! What's new?

In Sunday's concert, the orchestra revisited Shostakovich with an account of his precocious First Symphony... [snip] Yet compared to that performance two years ago - when the orchestra struggled with intonation for most of the first movement, and with tempo for much of the fourth - this was a concert on an entirely different level.

Excellent! So it was good.

Gone, for the most part, are the intonation problems, thin string sound, and ensemble unity issues that once were fairly common at MSO concerts. In their place is a full-bodied, beautifully blended string sound, and an orchestra that moves as one under Butorac's baton, often with exhilarating results.

It sounds like the orchestra has improved drastically over that time, and is reaching into the early 20th century repertoire. If these are the aforementioned harbingers, perhaps my fears about the return of Zombie Emperor Constantine were unfounded.

That is excellent news. Zombie Emperor Constantine is reportedly kind of a prick.

But wait! There's more!

Rounding out the program was Christopher Theofanidis' short orchestral work, “Rainbow Body.”

Dang, that's downright contemporary. If Shostakovich is new ground, this is a pretty big leap for the orchestral program and, one might guess, for the audience. This is also outstanding, I think.

Here is an excerpt
from the beginning of the piece I found on the composer's website. Here is a picture that is fun to look at:

Figure 2: Christopher Theofanidis. He teaches at Peabody.

If you've not heard of the composer or the music, you're forgiven: This was the first reading of the piece by a Montana orchestra.

Oof. Let's not apologize, or rather absolve. It smacks both of pandering elitism to and distrust of the audience.

Clearly, one's audience is important, and the good people of Missoula have perhaps, or even likely, not heard of Theofanidis. I'm not advocating (for instance) throwing a bunch of technical jargon in the review for no reason, but the apologetic stance comes across as weak or unsure.

Written less than 10 years ago, “Rainbow Body” has become one of a handful of oft-performed modern works, having been played now by more than 70 orchestras around the world.

Yeah, see. Now you've "forgiven" the reader for not having heard of the piece, which is "
one of a handful of oft-performed modern works" and therefore sort of famous.

Also, the assertion that it is in fact "
one of a handful of oft-performed modern works" is vague and troubling, and seems more like promotion than anything. But that's not really important...

It was the only work in the MSO's 2008-2009 season written in the past 50 years.

That fact that this sentence comprises an entire paragraph is an effective way to promote interest in the piece, I think, better than the assertion in the previous sentence.

Built on a simple melody credited to the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen, “Rainbow Body” exhibits none of the characteristics that have made “modern music” such a dangerous label in the classical concert hall.

Oops, back to apologizing for music again; not this piece, though. "Rainbow Body" isn't like that awful stuff that's the reason we don't program/consume/understand/like "modern music" in the first place.

The intent, again, seems to be to not scare off the audience. It would be better, perhaps, to ask them to listen instead.

Though the piece features a few dissonant tone clusters and unusual rhythms here and there, those features only add sparkling effect to the music's overarching consonance.

Clearly. Because all music before 1900 consisted entirely of tonic arpeggios, until in 1908 Schoenberg invented the non-chord tone.

Figure 3: You bastard!

Inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist belief that enlightened people turn to pure light upon death, the short work takes an almost episodic approach to musically depicting light: Here it sparkles, here it beams, here it glows all around. In the end, light seems to rain down in cascades, with the musicians of the orchestra sighing vocally as they play.

Good. Fine.

Despite the music's unusual challenges, the MSO played it like an old favorite, with a sense of purpose that clearly stirred the audience, which responded with a mix of enthusiastic applause and surprised chatter.

Even before their absolution?

In the lobby during intermission, several excited conversations about Theofanidis' work could be overheard.

Even before they read the review promising them not to be scared of the "modern music?"

Yes! Yes, a thousand times yes.*

*Actual concert attendance figures unavailable at press time.

It was a sign of the times. Under Butorac, the MSO has changed the conversation about classical music in Missoula.

That's fantastic. Generally intellegent and open-minded (one likes to think optimistically), people don't need apologies for new music. Hooray!

It looks to follow that trajectory next season, with performances of three similarly acclaimed contemporary works...as well as several of the most powerful and challenging works in the orchestral repertoire.


The future looks bright indeed.

I hope so, too. Let's be optimistic.