Shitty Review Redux

Following up on an earlier post where a reviewer offered up a very negative (and, if put positively, somewhat uninformed) critique of Chen Qigang’s “Iris dévoilée”, as performed by the Shanghai Symphony.

Well, for a bit of symmetry let me post part of another review of the same program (different performance) by a critic who doesn't suck.

Josef Woodward, of the Los Angeles Times, has the review.

Look on in amazement as his review demonstrates an understanding of cultural and musical backgrounds. He educates his reader while simultaneously offering opinion. It's really quite a marvel what a review can be when, say, the critic knows something about the subject matter.

After dealing fluently with Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff..., the orchestra delved into the definitively East-meets-West score of notable Chinese composer (living in Paris) Qigang Chen’s “Iris dévoilée (Iris unveiled)” and gave it a measured, captivating and discernibly “home turf” reading. For a change, the musical forces themselves, from a full, taut orchestra to Chinese instrumental soloists, came from the eastern end of the East-West spectrum. ...

Take note, Shitty Reviewer, of the subtle touches of the English translation of the title for the Franco-challenged readers. And further providing an answer to the logical question of why a Chinese composer would give their piece a French title. Facts are awesome.

Divided into nine varied fragments, Qigang’s 2001 piece works the theme of the feminine spirit...,

Okay, so the shitty review contains this same information, but let's look at how differently the two reviews handle the followup to these introductory remarks:

First, let me remind you of Shitty Reviewer's shitty review:

Then came eminent composer Chen Qigang’s “Iris dévoilée”. This piece, if described positively, is a portrayal of the universal female archetype in nine movements;....

Okay, now each review has covered the same ground, so, what next?

Shitty Reviewer:

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

Shit. The piece was so terrible people fled the scene. That's the shitty approach.

Now, Mr. Woodward:

Divided into nine varied fragments, Qigang’s 2001 piece works the theme of the feminine spirit, inspired by the Iris of Greek mythology fame, the goddess of the rainbow.

Wow. Didn't take but 13 words, but that's already way more information.

Shitty Reviewer, do you see how this is better? Information over biased, unsubstantiated innuendo?

But wait! There's more!

A rainbow motif, in fact, suits Qigang’s multi-colored approach well, as the music veers from distinctly Chinese sonorities to Western classical elements, often with a clear French accent, from Impressionism to echoes of the composer’s former teacher, Olivier Messiaen. In the main, the musical language(s) are seductive to the ears, occasionally punched up with more dissonant and abstract colors.

Granted, Mr. Woodward seems to have enjoyed this work and Shitty Reviewer seemed to have not. And that's fine. But there's a valuable lesson here -- see how Woodward gives us informed musical analysis, that then supports his position as an authority. Saying how you wish you had fled the building, well, that just makes you...a Shitty Reviewer. In math circles, we call this showing your work.

So what next for our two reviews. Shitty Reviewer went the route of anecdotal evidence to round out her review:

A catharsis of sorts, as shown by the old lady who sat two seats away from me, who began to laugh hysterically midway through the piece. Other than this interesting fact though, “Iris dévoilée” was quite poorly received tonight.

My god that's shitty.

And Mr. Woodward:

For traditional Chinese instruments (some of which Western classical audiences have become familiar with through other Chinese composers’ showcasing efforts), the composer includes the pipa (Jia Li), erhu (Nan Wang), and the proto-koto guzheng (Xin Sun). Less familiar is the distinctive dual presence of a rich Western-style female voice (Xiaoduo Chen) and the sharper-toned sound of Peking Opera tradition (Meng Meng). Qigang traverses various worlds and musical resources with his ambitious piece and does so with persuasive, culture-blending aplomb.

So much excellent information. Instrument names, composer and performer backgrounds, explanations of the the Western elements as distinct from the Chinese features. For those who may have enjoyed the concert, or perhaps have an interest in the heritage of Chinese music, these are some excellent starting spots. See Shitty Reviewer, just because you didn't like a performance, doesn't mean you have to be a douche. Facts are indeed awesome.


A Comedy of Errata (Thinly Disguised as Arts Reporting)

(The following (it turns out) is as much about the annual glut of identical holiday music offerings as about the shortcomings of this particular article.)

At first I didn't know what to make of ArtVoice. A glance around the front page seemed to be Buffalo-centric; indeed, the magazine seems to serve Buffalo and greater Western New York state. Its radically space-between-words-eschewing title and accompanying tagline ("We've got issues") evokes a sort of serious-if-commercial approach to arts-focused news and reviews in a design-school, independent newspaper-ish style.

I was a little perturbed when I couldn't find an "About" link or anything of the kind. Eventually, I settled on the "Media Kit" (which I found under the "Contact" tab) to find out what kind of publication I was reading. The first thing I learned--the first thing--was that

Artvoice has a broad readership that includes the young and hip, the highly educated and professionals, elected officials and business people. Audit reports show that our readers have substantial disposable incomes and enjoy extremely active lifestyles.

Huh. The Media Kit tagline eschews the "We've got issues" angle, instead opting for "The Best of Buffalo/News Enternainment Opinion Arts."



Double huh! And extra-classy!

Granted, the Media Kit was less of an informational package and more of [read: preciscely] information for prospective advertisers. Perusing the content, however, furthered my perception that ArtVoice is more of a Targeted Advertising Venture for self-described hip 18-34 year-olds with disposable income than an Arty Weekly Indie Newspaper.

"But," you're asking, "what's the classical music coverage like?"

Ah, many thanks, gentle reader. I'm glad you asked!

A Classical Christmas

Awesome. It's good that, once a year, the disenfranchised and marginalized devotees of the Sky God Cult 2.0 have a little time in the spotlight.

One of the greatest pleasures of the holiday season is the opportunity to see and hear a wide variety of Christmas music performed by favorite artists.

Yeah, that's way better than the rest of the year, during which one of the greatest pleasures is the distinct lack of fucking Christmas music.

But, shit: let's play along. So: I'm 18-34, "hip", nominally Christian, and have disposable income above and beyond the extra money that the holidays exact from me to begin with (making me a valuable member of the target audience of ArtVoice).

Figure 1: Target Audience

Oh, and I like me some nostalgia--preferably irony-free nostalgia, thanks very much. What's in store for me, unchallenging-music-wise, this season in Buffalo? Is it...is it the Nutcracker? Oh fuck, I hope someone is doing the Nutcracker!

The following round up highlights some of the most popular events.

Time out. If "round up" were capitalized, it'd probably refer to the weed killer, which might be apt but isn't intended. However, the space cleverly missing from "ArtVoice" seems here to have migrated to the middle of "roundup," which would make sense if it weren't there. But it is, unfortunately. Good editing, ad-savvy fake-hipster marketers!

(In the spirit of the "round up," however, I'll only hit the highlights. If you really want the details of which University of Buffalo faculty member designed the costumes, you'll have to wade through the whole thing yourself.)

A Pair of Nutcrackers and Three Irish Tenors

...walk into a bar?

Seriously, though: is two Nutcrakers even enough? We should play that shit year round.

On Saturday, November 28 at 7pm and Sunday, November 29 at 2pm, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra joins the Neglia Ballet Artists at Shea’s Performing Arts Center in presenting Tchaikovsky’s classic holiday ballet The Nutcracker. This traditional production of the work was conceived and choreographed by Sergio Neglia, artistic director of Neglia Ballet Artists, along with executive director Heidi Halt Neglia.

Blah blah blah, sure, sure. Everyone's doing that. What makes this production special?

What helps to make this production special is that it will feature live musical accompaniment by the BPO.

Um. Do what now?

On Saturday, November 28 at 7pm and Sunday, November 29 at 2pm, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra joins the Neglia Ballet Artists...

What helps to make this production special is that it will feature live musical accompaniment by the BPO.

So...the thing that makes the Buffalo Philharmonic's Nutcracker special is that it...features the Buffalo Philharmonic?

Really? Wow. That is some trippy, fractal shit right there.

Figure 2: Recursion (Explained by Sluggo)

Along with the corps de ballet, soloists, and principal professional ballet dancers, the children’s roles will be filled by students of the Neglia Conservatory of Ballet and other local dancers.

Huh. You'd think all of those professionals would let the children have all of the children's roles. Oh, wait! It's just a really crappy sentence. Never mind.


The Mainstage Theatre of the UB Center for the Arts will once again present the American Academy of Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker on Saturday, December &c...This version of the holiday classic, which is performed to a recorded soundtrack, is narrated by the grandfather at the Christmas Eve celebration at Clara’s home, with special flying effects and a hot air balloon as the prince and Clara visit exotic countries and a Victorian circus.

What? Hot air balloon? Circus? Frame story or something? What?

A favorite of audiences is their visit “Under the Sea,” where lobsters, turtles, mermaids, and sea urchins charm and delight.

That's almost delightfully surreal enough to be intriguing.

On Friday, December 11 at 8pm, the Mainstage Theatre of the UB Center for the Arts will be the location for a performance by the Irish Tenors. The three Irish Tenors—Finbar Wright, Anthony Kearns, and Karl Scully....

Figure 3: These guys thought of this way before the (so-called "famous") Three Tenors and weren't piggybacking on the popular success of the latter in any way.

...are all classically trained vocalists who have been a favorite of Buffalo audiences for the past decade.

Awesome. I'll wear my sweater. But if you have to mention that they're classically trained, doesn't that imply that, without that informaion, there'd be some question?


BPO Holiday Concerts

The BPO Classical Christmas program will be presented in Kleinhans Music Hall on Friday, December 11 at 10:30am, and on Saturday, December 12 at 8pm. Matthew Kraemer, now in his first season as associate conductor of the BPO, will lead the orchestra in a program of orchestral favorites traditionally associated with the holiday season.

Ah. It's not the music that's Christmas-y, it's the associations. That actually makes a lot of sense.


BPO music director JoAnn Falletta will be on the podium of Kleinhans Music Hall to lead a program billed as “Deck the Halls,” this year’s version of the ever popular Holiday Pops concerts...

Really? "Deck the Halls"? Man, that is some outside-the-box, adventurous PR right there.

"What should we call the holiday concert?"

Silence. Then:

"I know!"

Figure 4: [Title of Figure 4 Pending from Detritus Review Marketing Dept.]


The Messiah with The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus

For many classical music lovers, Christmas is not Christmas without a performance of Handel’s Messiah, one of the all-time most popular choral works...

...or a family suicide, or at least Uncle Johnny's Annual Trip to Rehab.

... On Monday, November 23 at 7:30pm, pre-registered audience members can sing along with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus...

You have to pre-register? Is there a background check?

...Bring a copy of the Messiah, if you intend to sing, or reserve a copy for $10.

Really? Really? Ah, the spirit of Christmas, down to the last available fucking dollar.


The Friends of Vienna Herald the Sounds of the Season

On Sunday, December 6 at 3:30pm, The Friends of Vienna present the Niagara Frontier Brass Quintet in a program entitled “The Sounds of the Season”...

Huh, I wonder what they'll play?

...The program of carols and songs will range from music by J.S. Bach’s “My Spirit Be Joyful”...

Dude, seriously? J.S. Bach’s “My Spirit Be Joyful” is totally my favorite composer.


The Freudig Singers Serve a Slice of Christmas Pie

This will be the 10th anniversary for a genuinely unique Buffalo tradition created by the Freudig Singers.


During every holiday season, the Freudig Singers have offered a pair of concerts in area churches, featuring some of the most rarely performed gems in the vast, Christmas music repertory.

It's good that the writer recognizes that the repertory is both vast and Christmas. Omission of that crucial comma could cause comprehension.

Figure 5: Happy Magical Carpenter Zombie Day Present
To: ArtVoice
From: The Detritus Review


Tonight at the Symphony -- Greatest Hits of TV Commericals

Rather than dissect the entire article, let me just point to two major fails.
First, the hallmark of almost every awful review, the bad introduction:

What happens when the family comes home for the holidays?

I don't know about your family, but in my family we drink and make fun of the Irish (Notre Dame, that is).

You laugh, you smile, you fight, you reminisce.

Same difference.

So it was Saturday night when the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra had its aptly named "Homecoming" concert.

Ugh. Terrible.
But, the number one rule of writing classical music reviews is, don't do this:

Conductor Ryan Haskins opened the door for Baron's welcome return by first giving the audience the Polovtsian Dances -- a piece that's instantly familiar. In addition to its inclusion on late night TV commercials ("You know it better as 'Stranger in Paradise'"), it also figured heavily in the musical "Kismet." That instant recognition got the party started and gave oboist Heidi Venaas one more stellar solo this season.

And don't forget when it was used in that great Simpsons' episode where Bart has a fantasy about life in Utah.

Ugh. Terrible. Just terrible.


New Music ruins yet another concert...

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

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

Review: Closing Concert of Carnegie’s China Festival

Vivid title.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Literally felt like a jumbled mass

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

Let's ask Google images.

figure jumbled mass: Is this about right?

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

What a powerful message about love and peace, man.

figure harmony: Rachmaninoff at the end of the moderato.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ahh, good...a smoke break

figure intermission: Let's all go the lobby.

...15 wasted minutes later...

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

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

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

This piece, if described positively,...

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

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

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

or, if spoken of negatively,...

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

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

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

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

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

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

But could it be...

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

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

...as they sometimes evoke emotional extremes.

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

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

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

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

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

No?! Really?

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

Come on. Give it a try.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Great. Article.


Extra! Extra! Glass opera doesn't suck!

David Stabler, of the Oregonian, has written many reviews that I've enjoyed. He's a good writer and has some interesting things to say on occasion. But, where in the world did this come from...?

Portland Opera takes us to hell and back

If you think all Philip Glass music sounds the same – rush-hour traffic for the ear – Portland Opera would like you to meet "Orphée," a French twist on the Orpheus myth.

Okay, a common criticism of Glass...I'd usually let this slide.

Glass' operatic riff opened at the Keller Auditorium on Friday in a stylish production that will almost make you take back those awful things you said about him.

I don't care how good his opera is, I'll never apologize until he apologizes for The Hours! (there's 2 hours I'm never getting back again)

Oh...you mean 'you', as in all of us reading your review. Does Glass' dog crap in all of their yards too?

And really, why bring this up here...? Is common knowledge that everyone dislikes Glass and finds his music awful? Is there some club that I should know about? A support group for those damaged by the music of Philip Glass?

Where are you going with this?

Surprise, surprise, "Orphée" isn't horrible.

That is a...surprise?

It's not wretched or dreary. It's not Novocain. The evening took a while to heat up, but when the visual, musical and dramatic elements came together, it carried an emotional and dramatic charge.

Jebus...tell us what you really think.

The pensive score, shot through with honky tonk bits and seesaw harmonies, kept the ear engaged.

The rest of the article reads fine. So why this, "surprise, surprise, something by Glass doesn't suck" routine?

This attack seems so unprepared and without cause, that I'm really left a bit speechless. Am I missing something, or has the music-loving world just agreed that Glass writes crappy, uninteresting music?

Any thoughts?


Hey, I asked for ketchup! I'm eatin' salad here!

Once upon a time there was this concert review I read in the Times Record News. The Wichita Falls Symphony had wowed the crowd. When they played, she raved. When they paused, she wondered why. Every single thing that they happened to play, in some way, was the greatest thing that had ever been played. That day Lana Sweeten-Shults regaled us of a time when resplendent was an understatement, and undertones both lurked and were pensive. It was a review full of passion and truth and wisdom. It was the kind of review that could only come from the heart.

Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra wows the crowd

The Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra conjured magical moment after magical moment Saturday evening at Memorial Auditorium with a perfectly delivered program of American music.

I love American music...being American and all.

(reflectively thinking to himself, somewhat patriotically) In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women!

To say the Candler Schaffer-led orchestra was resplendent in its presentation of “American Treasure: A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein” is an understatement.

Okay, so resplendent doesn't go far enough? What would you say the Candler-Schaffer led orchestra was then? Brilliant? Effulgent? Majestic and monumental? ...are these really more than "resplendent"?

hmmm.... What's greater than resplendent?...

I know. Splendiferous!

From the opening passages of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9...

Nothing says American (and "A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein") quite like bearded Czech composers from the 19th century...

figure not-American-composer: Musical Facial Hair of the Week

...to the Symphonic Suite from Bernstein’s “On the Waterfront” and selections from “Candide,” the orchestra mesmerized.

The WFSO had one of many shining moments with Dvorak’s gilded dream of the American frontier, his 40-minute, four-movement Ninth Symphony — hands down my favorite symphony after the orchestra’s passionate, rousing delivery of the work.

Now, I know what we're all thinking, "the 'New World' Symphony has four movements?!" It is amazing what a trained journalist can uncover. I guess it's true that you learn something new everyday.

But, this is "hands down" your favorite symphony after this performance? Just wondering out loud here, but have you ever heard a symphony before? Just asking.

While the first movement started off a little slowly,...

...well, to be fair, it is marked Adagio and pianissimo...

...it ended with a big bang, courtesy of insistent violins.

Violins bang?

But it was the work’s famous second movement, the Largo, based on the spiritual “Goin’ Home,” in which the orchestra brought on all its magic in spades. A majesty of strings, with undertones of pensiveness and sadness, lulled the audience with its splendid melody. The symphony handled this movement, often thought to convey nostalgia for home, adeptly and beautifully. The only downside was the long pauses between the first and second movements and again toward the end of the Largo.

er...um..."long pauses"?

Have you ever been to an orchestra concert before?

Just a note about the third and fourth movements. John Williams must have been inspired by this Dvorak work, some of whose passages sound like the battle scenes in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” and “Jaws,” even.

...And with that, amidst the noise and haste of the offices in Detritus Towers, an incredible calm suddenly surrounds him. Everything went quiet. All the irrepressible sounds of the bustling news room seemed to fade into the distance. Time slows to a crawl as he sits there motionless, pausing mid-thought for what must of felt like an eternity. Bewilderment creeps across his face, and a small pool of saliva forms in the corner of his mouth. Struggling to form cohesive thoughts, he wonders, is this a joke? A cleverly perpetrated hoax by a fan of the Detritus to test our fortitude?

And yet, the hours pass. Day into evening. Evening into night. The staff have all gone home to their blissfully oblivious families, and yet, there sits your humble detrital servant at his desk, mouth agape, eyes unblinking, and a completely blank look across his face. But as he sat there, he realized a few things about himself...about life.

...Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're listening to Mostly Mozart, the next day you're injecting Brian Ferneyhough straight into your eyeballs. But the innocence of childhood stay with you for the long haul, or until you wake up drunk in a motel bed next to Augusta Read Thomas. I remember a symphony, a movement, a phrase like a lot of other phrases, a motive like a lot of other motives, by a composer like a lot of other composers. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back, with wonder. Does the Jaws theme really sound like the Dvorak 9, 4th movement opening? Yes...I think it does.

We never really talked about it afterward, but I think about the events of that day again and again, and somehow I’m sure that she does too. Whenever some blowhard starts talking about the complexity of contemporary music, or the coldness of modernism. Because we know that Dvorak wrote a symphony that sounds like film music, sometimes, kind of, and that in spite of each of those soulless pieces of new music, with its thorny atonality, and its melody-less textures programed dissonantly before the Mozart piano concerto, there is the "New World" Symphony that sounds like a shark. And as we grow and hear more symphonies and newer music, there will be moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder.


Sator Arepo: Hey, Butthead. Wake up, kid!

Gus: Ba...

Empiricus: Have you been here all night? You look like shit.

Gus: Snee...

SA: Still working on the Sweeten-Shults piece, eh? Don't forget the staff meeting at 11. Remember, it's your turn to bring the Everclear and disposable enemas.


Details, people. Details.

Question: What do music critics value above all else?

I'm going to guess...the music.

No, no, journalistic integrity.

Perhaps, the service they provide to the community and their readers. ...

figure answer: "The...all....ighty....ollar...... Hahahah..I get it!"

Nat Bauer, of the Rockford Register Star, reviews the Cypress String Quartet, but more importantly has reminded me of a valuable lesson -- look deeper, and ask yourself what's missing.

Before we get to the review in question, let's start with some practice.

What's Missing?

How'd you do?

Great. Your skills have been honed and now, onto the review.

Quartet embraces classic, contemporary works

I'm glad to hear this, because those classic works are just too infrequently played and unfairly maligned. If musicians would just program these works, and give audiences the chance to get to know this music, the gifts of Georg Christoph Wagenseil and Josef Mysliveček wouldn't be lost on this generation.

So, what old, forgotten works in need of a good hug were on the concert?

Kleotzel [the cellist] introduced the first work, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s “Siring [sic] Quartet in A Minor, Op. 13,” also known as the “Ist es Wahr?” (“Is it True?”)

"also known as"...really? Not subtitled or inscribed...but, aka? ...I just hate when our vocabulary gives out on us.

But really, all of those would have been wrong. The piece is not subtitled "Ist es Wahr?", but instead borrows a three-note motive from a song of the same name that the composer had written a few months earlier. Small details, I know, but if you're going to mention them, accuracy helps.

And if you're into fun facts, why fail to mention that this three-note motive is eerily similar to one used in a Beethoven string quartet. String Quartet No. ...? Ooh, which one? I know I'll think of it, if you just give me a minute.

Oh well, I'm sure it'll come to me. Let's move on. What else is on the concert?

Ward [one of the violinists] introduced the next work, “Lento Assai,” which was commissioned for the quartet by Kevin Puts and premiered in February at the Library of Congress in Washington.

Details would help here too. Kevin Puts is the composer, not the commissioner. It helps when sentences make sense.

Anyways, moving on...

Borrowing some ideas from Beethoven,...

Really, like what?

...the work very slowly emerges with a pianissimo D-flat major chord,...

Oh, well, why even point out something this obvious. I mean a D-flat major chord, that just screams Beethoven. It's just like his famous D-flat major symphony, and all those D-flat major string quartets and piano sonatas.

...slowly builds to a haunting melody by first violin, expands into a more contemporary melody and harmony, then returns to conclude with the soft, subtle and almost seductive texture that began the work.

I've always enjoyed music that builds before it expands so much more than when it expands first and then builds.

Which, reminds me...what was that Beethoven quartet again?

The final work of the evening was Beethoven’s “String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135,”...

Ahh! Damn it! You beat me to it. But, that's the one.

So, this is excellent. Both pieces on the same concert -- explain to us, Mr. Bauer, how the Beethoven utilizes three-note motives and then was likely a source of inspiration for the Mendelssohn....

...which was written shortly before his death. Filner [the violist] explained that it poses two thoughts in musical motif format: “Muss es seine?” (“Must it be?”) and “Es muss seine!” (“It Must Be!”)

Okay. Yes, but what of the connection to the Mendelssohn? You hinted at it...now finish us off by explaining the similarity of the motives, and how they use similar rhythms which were derived from three word, existential questions.

To this day, 184 years later, the reason for and answer remains a mystery.

Umm...what? First, grammatically speaking, you need an object in that sentence. I assume you're referencing the quotes, so you could write, "...the reason for the quotes and their answer..." and so forth. Although, it still suffers from a lack of clarity.

Also, remains implies a singular object....
i.e. It remains...
They remain...
...so in this case we have two objects being referenced (the reason and the answer). Therefore, the sentence should read, "the reason for and answer remain a mystery."

Okay, now I'm getting sidetracked...let's try this again.

To this day, 184 years later, the reason for and answer remains a mystery. The music surrounding them, however, is classic Beethoven and has gained upper status in classical repertoire.

Mr. Bauer...praising the music is all well and good, although, I'm not sure what "upper status" means exactly, but you're missing the obvious. You're so close...you could have just made the connection between the Mendelssohn and the Beethoven and tied the whole concert (and review) together into nice, neat little package. But sadly, no.

First of all, not to be picky or anything, but the Beethoven was written in October 1826, making it pretty much exactly 183 years old. You're within a reasonable margin of error, but two seconds of research or editing would have prevented that mistake.

And, "the reason for and answer remains a mystery". Well, the quotes may have unknown origins (I'm not a German scholar, but I'd probably guess some literary source, while others have suggested they were inspired by an exchange between Beethoven and a friend regarding the payment of money), but this isn't like trying to unify relativity and quantum theory. These quotes do have some explanation -- musically speaking, Beethoven utilizes the implied rhythm of those two phrases (as though set for voice) to create his two rhythmic motives.

"Must it be?" = long, short, long
"It must be!" = short, long, long

...also, (and I hate to write so lengthily on this) why not mention that these motives are for the fourth movement, also known as "Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß" (or The Difficult Resolution), and not the entire work? It's kind of confusing, because it seems like you're implying that these motives are present in the first movement, and that's just wrong.

Remember, details help. Details are our friend.

The opening begins grave and poses the “Muss es seine?” motif, quickly followed by the playful and energetic allegretto. The scherzo has brilliance and a unique 50-measure robust repetitive rhythmic figure in the lower voices with first violin playing a melody like a country fiddler.

Do you see how this is confusing? You wrote about the fourth movement first (but I think you think it's the first movement), and then the second movement, which you fail to introduce as such.

Remember: Details, good. Confusion, bad. If confusing prose were an ice cream flavor, it'd be pralines and dick.

And, again with the clarity issues, "a unique 50-measure robust repetitive rhythmic figure," makes it sound like the figure that was repeated was 50 measures long. Frankly, I can think of several different ways to interpret that phrase. Your thought could so much more easily expressed if you had written something like:

...a unique 50-measure passage in the lower voices prominently featuring a robust rhythmic figure.

Or any variation of that, yes?

The third movement was very soft with a simple chorale like melody in four variations, the final movement culminating with a very definitive musical “It must be!”

figure shirt: Your article being the cognitive culmination of "It must be user error."

Okay, so you're not so much deliberately misleading us, as much as I think you're a bit confused. The first movement doesn't feature those motives. It's just in the final movement. So, the final movement is also the very definitive musical "Must it be?" as well.

figure confusing article:
"Must it be?"
"It must be!"

Amongst all the confusing sentences, really the most confounding issue is why you failed to understand the connection between the Mendelssohn and Beethoven string quartets. You linked the Puts to Beethoven (which you hadn't even introduced as having being on the concert yet) and fail to give tangible evidence of the association, but not the Mendelssohn, which actually has a credible, if not direct connect to Beethoven himself, and specifically the Beethoven string quartet being performed on the concert?

Seriously...I had to do way too much research just to understand all of the misleading statements in your article. I know you're a busy guy...so, I wonder if the perhaps the newspaper could hire someone to help review the factual parts...but who?


A Brief Call to Arms!

I know we’ve always suspected those “college” “professors” who “write” “intellectual” “music” of being evil imperialists, spewing “learning” all over the place like dinosaur bones in Eden. Well, it’s time to do something about it! Speak up and let the masses be heard! Together we shall overcome their brutal stranglehold on our pure music!

Tell it like it is, brother patriot!

An uninteresting, academic-composer-worthy chromatic theme pervades throughout the faster second movement.

That's right! We will only stand for uninteresting, non-academic-composer-worthy chromatic tunes! Gather up all the unsavory perpetrators and put them in “institutions,” where we can “keep an eye” on them! Fight to keep our mastermusic free from their taint!