12/22/09

What's the Real Question Here?

Over at MinnPost.com, David Hawley serves up a little holiday food...for thought!

Classical music can cleanse the soul -- unless, of course, we're distracted

1) You can just tell that this article is from an electronic publication. A print title would be shorter, contain at least one really stupid joke, and have, at best, only the most superficial hint as to the content of the article.

2) On the other hand, Hawley sort of promises a lot of substantive content: Music! Soul cleansing! Distracted! Double hyphens masquerading as m-dashes!

What's it all about? Let's read along!

Why do people go to classical music concerts?

I was under the impression that people, generally speaking, don't go to classical music concerts. This is widely seen as a problem in the classical music community.

Figure 1: Because they told us to in college?
(Source: Classical Music Consumer Segmentation Study, Princeton University, 2002)

So why do people go to classical music concerts? Is it for the periodic phrasing?

This is a question I tend to ponder at this time of the year,

Because 'tis the season for reflection and introspection?

...usually after reviewing performances of music I know pretty well.

Uh, okay. So, why do people go to classical music concerts of music they already know?

To support the lively arts with their patronage? For a break from the daily not-going-to-concerts routine? How about: because the music sounds better live?

Recently, for instance, I attended what is shaping up as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s semi-annual concert of the Brandenburg Concertos.

Well, sure. I mean, at least it's still Bach, and not some, oh, say, Holiday Sing-Along.

Figure 2: Not Bach. (Awesome beard, though, not to mention the sidelong, impish glance.)

I mean, look: We joke about holiday concerts and all, but it's pretty hard to get new pieces into The Canon, let alone The Holiday Music Canon (unless it's in a movie, as people seem to love that crap).

Figure 3: The New Classics, coming soon to your neice's junior high band concert. Music is alive and well.

I lucked out and didn’t get offered a gig to review “Messiah” for the zillionth time.

Yeah, that is lucky. Perhaps some poor unemployed person got that, uh...gig...instead. I mean: probably, right?

Figure 4: Unemployed, sure. But not at The Nutcracker!

No? It was some other ungrateful person who writes words about music for a living? I wonder if they complained about it, too.

(I jest, of course. Repetition and boredom are no less repetitious and tedious just because one doesn't work in a factory, or not at all.)

They were sell-outs, of course.

Who? What?

Oh...right: the Brandenburgs concert. How was that, by the way? Pretty good? I bet it was pretty good.

And I have to admit that the SPCO cheated — delightfully, I thought — by adding a Mozart string trio that I hadn’t heard performed live since my student days at Indiana University.

So...it was pretty good, then? I mean, for a bunch of cheaters?

Musically speaking, this is the season for comfort food, though any programmer will tell you that the familiar sells through most of the year.

Except for the erstwhile programmer in Figure 4, who'd probably take the fifty bucks and happily sit through the concert, then go get some food.

But, yes, most concert programmers agree that playing Beethoven all the damn time isn't driving anyone away. Curiously, the Holiday Concert analog to incessant Beethoven is incessant Holiday Music.

We accept this as established fact, yet when you think about it, it ought to be a little mystifying.

People like the familiar? Say! That is mystifying!

If you’re a classical-music enthusiast, you probably have a recording — or several recordings — of the Brandenburgs and at least one of “Messiah” — or at least excerpts on a cheapo record titled “Handel’s Greatest Hits.”

If I'm a "classical-music enthusiast" why the fuck would I own a record [a record? really?] titled "Handel's Greatest Hits"?

Figure 5: For graphic design and musical content, nothing beats a good Classical Greatest Hits album.

Why shell out sometimes premium money to attend a live performance?

I save my premium money for blow. I only use my crappy money for classical concert tickets, silk underwear, and caviar.

Figure 6: Some weak-assed cracker doesn't even have a Benjamin for his nose candy. Quel domage!

So, er, why do people go to classical music concerts? (And how was the Brandenburgs concert?)

We can run down the reasons usually cited for attending arts events,

Let's do.

...starting with the Aristotelian definition of the purpose of art: To enlighten and entertain.

People go to "arts events" to enlighten and entertain?

Okay, they go to arts events to be enlightened and entertained, then? I don't remember the Poetics all that well, and in Aristotle we often tend to mix up poeisis and techne [both variously translate as "art" depending on context], and mostly it was about imitation, or something. Barring a citation, let's take "enlighten and entertain" as a sort of classical given, Aristotle or not.

Figure 7: Aristotle. Or some Jedi. I forget.

And the psychological one about the human impulse to be part of a collective event — which is the only reason I can think of to explain why people shell out hundreds of dollars for lousy, nosebleed seats at the far end of a football stadium.

Nor does it explain why someone would use "shell out" in consecutive paragraphs, but I digress.

Becuase I thought we were talking about why people go to classical concerts, not the Warrant Reunion Tour.

Figure 8: Warrant. Still with periodic phrasing!

However, clearly the larger point about ceremony and participation is valid, but the author still finds it lacking. What's missing, Mr. Hawley? What's your deal, here?

Aristotelian definitions notwithstanding, I think many music fans go to live classical concerts to avoid being distracted.

Seems like going to a concert is pretty distracting to me.

Figure 9: Distractions are inherently neither good nor bad.

Hawley's not talking about escapism, though. He has a more musical problem.

How many of us can sit in our living rooms for an hour and listen intently to a recording, resolutely avoiding the urge to read something, say something to a companion or look out the window at the squirrel gnawing on the expensive birdfeeder we just bought?

Ah, nice. The thing about concerts is that you're not distracted from listening.

I think that's outstanding, and furthermore, in appreciation, will withhold any jokes about music critics being paid enough to buy expensive birdhouses.

Figure 10: I lied. Because: Really?

(Click to embiggen. No, seriously: do it.)

So we spend a week’s grocery budget on tickets, put on serious clothes, drive to the concert hall, pay 10 bucks for parking and sit quietly and intently as we are reminded that humans can create something that is simultaneously both eternal and ephemeral.

Or we check to see what the local college or university group is playing for free or a few bucks, put on pants, park for free, and do the same thing. Just sayin'.

Yeah, it cleanses the soul.

I don't know about all that, but I agree with the general sentiment.

Unless our minds wander. This leads me back to pondering why people want to attend concerts of music they know pretty well.

I see! It's all becoming clear now.

Shouldn’t we devote these undistracted moments to music we don’t know?

Perhaps not exclusively, but yes, yes we should. Unequivocally.

I have a hard time, in fact, making sense out unfamiliar music when I’m hearing it on a record.

Too many birdhouses, man. You know: metaphorically. Too many birdhouses.

New music should be heard first in the concert hall. Familiar music is best reserved for the home stereo.

I don't know about that either; the symphony live is pretty incredible, even if it is Carmen again.

So that is my hope for the New Year: More new music in the concert hall. Or more old music that is unfamiliar; there’s plenty of that around, too.

Me too. That's what I want. More new music in the concert hall.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on a recording of the Brandenburgs and read a magazine. Happy holidays, or whatever salutation you prefer.

To you too, sir, and to our gentle readers.

12/18/09

Migh Gud Tidel

Coming up with titles is like waiting in a long line for the restroom: you have to go—immediately!—but there’s no relief in sight. So, embarrassingly, you’re forced to...

From Mozart to Mahler, it was a bounteous year for classical recordings

...you’re forced to favor alliteration over accuracy.

Now, it’s not a horrible title, as these things go. We’ve seen much worse, especially atop year-end, top-ten type articles like this. But give it a gander once more and think about what it means to go from Mozart to Mahler.

Is the title suggesting that the music chronologically ranges from Mozart (b.1756) to Mahler (b.1860)? No. That would be silly; it’s only 104 years. Even if we expand the range by using Mahler’s death year (1911), that leaves only a 155 year window. I hardly expect experienced critic John von Rhein to be so narrow. If that’s not it, then what is?



Figure 1. Continuing with the classy toilet humor. Only $29.99!

Perhaps the title suggests that all the composers fall within the alphabetical space, between Mahler and Mozart? Hmm. There are some big M-boppers:

Marin Marais
Frank Martin
Bohuslav Martinu
Jules Massenet
Felix Mendelssohn
Gian Carlo Menotti
Olivier Messiaen
Giacomo Meyerbeer
Darius Milhaud
Claudio Monteverdi

That’s still pretty silly, a top ten list with music by composers whose last names begin Ma-Mo. That can’t be it. Is it a stylistic thing? Seems unlikely.

I know! Let’s go to the text for answers.

1 Mahler: "Symphony No. 9." Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert, conductor (BIS). : With Gilbert at the helm, the New York Philharmonic could be in for an exciting new era. His final concerts as chief conductor of the Stockholm orchestra inspired a studio recording of Mahler's sublime valedictory that strikes a wonderful balance between desolation and acceptance, with luminous sonics to match.

2 Mozart...

Or perhaps the editor didn’t bother to read about the other eight recordings?
-

12/15/09

Who's My Big, December Birthday Boy? That's Right! You Are!

Need a break from all the Christmas festivities? No problem. The Seattle Symphony has got your secular-seeking back.

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra celebrates Ludwig van Beethoven's 239th birthday this month...

You’re fucking shitting me. 200. And 39th. Birthday.

“Babe. Darling. Honey bear. It’s our twelve-thousand-four-hundred-and-twenty-eighth-week anniversary. I just wanted to... Because you’re so... Here. I know it’s a little soon... And I totally don’t expect anything in return... But here’s just a little token of my...”

200. And 39th. Couldn’t let Jesus take the spotlight just this once, could you, Beethoven?

Jerk.

Sure, he was born in December, too, so I guess he doesn’t get the birthday attention he inherently deserves. (Thanks Seattle Symphony) That, and today’s author, Tom Keogh, is most likely the one behind the ridiculous prime number. So, let's just forget that and get this thing under way!

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra celebrates Ludwig van Beethoven's 239th birthday this month with performances highlighting the German composer's early and late periods.

Surprise! Happy (prime-numbered) birthday, Beethoven! This is your life!* (Except the middle bits.)




Figure 1. Happy (non-prime) 234th birthday to you, Jane Austen! I hope you weren’t expecting a party; but you should’ve known that we don’t care.


Also, I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to welcome Handel’s Messiah as a breath of fresh air, at least next to the average, everyday (literally just about every day) Beethoven celebration. It's like truck month: Essentially, every month is truck month. And all that saturation of trucking sort of undermines the festive spirit.



Table 1. Using your imagination, replace Toby Keith with your favorite conductor and the word Truck with Beethoven.



Table 1a. Truck Month turned into Truck Winter. Truck Winter turned into Truck Spring. Truck Spring changed into Truck Summer. Truck Summer changed back into Truck Winter. And Truck Winter gave Truck Spring a miss and went straight on into Truck Autumn.


Whatever. Sorry for getting sidetracked. We have some puffery to attend to.

On Dec. 30 and 31, music director Gerard Schwarz will conduct Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor — arguably the most popular symphony in the world...

And, arguably, our author thinks his readers are really dumb. Just saying. If someone has the wherewithal to read a puff piece about the Seattle Symphony, it stands to reason that... well... write as low as you think you have to.

Anyway, how about some real information?

Premiering in Vienna in 1824, the Ninth was the final new work of the 54-year-old, largely deaf Beethoven's pieces to marshal large, musical forces. (He died at age 56.)

Uh-huh. I guess it was time for some confusing information, information that could have been clearer with the appropriate use of a comma. So, just to make sure we are all on the same page: Beethoven never marshaled large, culinary forces, just musical ones.

Also, what's up with the eye-crossing chronological work. Personally, if I were to rewrite it, it would read like this: The Ninth premiered in Vienna in 1824. For the 54-year-old, deaf composer, it was the last piece to marshal large orchestral forces. He died shortly thereafter in 1827.

I think my version is pretty clear. But does Tom have a strategy? Is he using an ancient rhetorical device known to only the wiliest of wordsmiths? I sure hope so. (Also, happy 185th birthday, Ninth?)

Anyway, if we keep moving, maybe we'll find out. Are there any other culinary musical forces at work?

Beethoven wasn't through, however: He turned his attention to a final series of string quartets...

That’s a smooth segue, especially if they’re going to play some of those late behemoths. Don’t you agree? I mean, things become clearer and the chronology becomes more apparent: later pieces follow earlier pieces.

Great. I think I'm beginning to get it.

"The string quartets are a true window on Beethoven, spread out over his life," says Seattle Symphony violinist Stephen Bryant.

They sure... do... having... true... windows... on... Beethoven... over his life.

...

Well, if anything else, it sounds like a wonderful endorsement.

And not for nothing, I think it's nice that Tom's bringing a performer to the conversation in order to build up good, old-fashioned, first-hand, puff-piecey anticipation for the string quartets--shrewd, topical, effusive, effective...

"They're intimate, spiritual, even more than the symphonies. The bare bones of what the composer is about is on display."

...vague, inarticulate, hyperbolic, over-generalized, playing down the Ninth...

Oversell much? Whew!

Anyway, the incredibly bloated language makes one wonder if any other composers ever wrote string quartets.

(thinks super hard for at least seven seconds)

Meh. Probably not. It’d be kinda pointless to try. I mean, this Beethoven chap apparently has the ability to hijack a popular deity's birthday party with ease. Don’t fuck with this guy or he'll open your presents and then pee in the pool. (So don't swim in his toilet.)

But before Beethoven focused on quartets, says Bryant, he explored other chamber-music possibilities [...]

Huh?

On Tuesday Bryant will perform with a handful of other SSO musicians in "Beethoven's Birthday Celebration," a program of works for quintet, trio and septet.

WHAT!? No quartets? But... but... you promised.

...

You promised, I think.




Figure 2. Dramatization of Empiricus conversing with Tom Keogh


"They're all pre-First Symphony," says Bryant. "This is untroubled Beethoven, happy works, full of charm with a minor key, at times, but not so serious as later in life when he was dealing with all the problems that afflicted him."

What happened to my quartets!!? And you, get off my lawn!




Figure 3. The brusque, brooding composer contemplates his next masterpiece. (Previous two images generated at Cheezburger.com)


I'm really confused. I don't know how we got here. At all.

How to remedy this? Hmm. I just want my quartets back. (sob)

I know! I should retrace my steps and maybe I'll see something I didn't see before. Fantastic! Let's give it a try:

There's a couple of symphony concerts celebrating Beethoven's 239th birthday; they'll play the Ninth Symphony; Beethoven's quartets are really, really, really, good--better than the symphonies; those won't be performed; instead, they'll play some early chamber works on a different concert, which were written before most of the quartets; they were also written before the First Symphony (celebrating its 209th birthday this year), which means they are generally happy (few minor keys), but not as good as the quartets, because life hadn't inflicted him with problems yet.

Hmm.

...

Nope. Didn't learn anything.

So here we are, in the bitter present, quartetless. (sigh)

"Beethoven's Birthday Celebration" includes his Quintet in C major for Two Violins, Two Violas and Cello; the Serenade in D major for Violin, Viola and Cello; and the Septet in E-flat major for Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass.

Good to know; but personally I like opus numbers. They’re helpful. Beethoven thought so, too; that’s why he added them. No biggie, though. Please, continue.

Bryant says the septet "was the single most popular chamber work in Beethoven's lifetime."

Maybe so, but Beethoven might have been a bit perturbed about that. In fact, when he contemplated arranging it to include flute, he thought that flute enthusiasts would “swarm around it and feed on it like insects” (Anderson, Letters of Beethoven, The, 1961, pp. 51). He did finally make an arrangement, though, which we know as the Piano Trio, Op. 38 (celebrating its 206th birthday). There is also evidence that he attempted to arrange it for military band; but this was never published. Interestingly, there were many successful arrangements made by others--so there was definitely money out there to be made by riding the coattails of this work. Yet, in spite of the possible financial gains to be had, Beethoven’s reluctance to add even more velocity to the Septet’s popularity might have suggested that he didn’t think this ranked among his more important works.

So, to make a long story short: popularity does not always mean good. And in some cases, it can be a negative. Besides, haven’t we already learned this lesson? Beethoven did.





Figure 4. The birthday boy was a fan of re-gifting.




Figure 5. Sorry for missing your 240th birthday bash, N-Bone. It wasn't my fault, I swear. The Seattle Symphony had me planning this year's Beethovenmas celebration. And, well, sorry. That took precedence.


Of the [string] quintet, [Bryant] says "no book says he was trying to get to Mozart's level, but it clearly pays homage to Mozart. Beethoven admired him tremendously."

Read: I don’t know what I'm talking about, but am willing to make nonsensical assertions, nonetheless.

Now, I don’t want to pretend to know what was trying to be expressed, but my impression is that Beethoven thought he wasn’t as good as Mozart, so he tried to imitate (or borrow, quote, whatever), instead. I don’t know; but it sounds like more downplaying, to me. You know, something like, "It's not exactly Mozart, but Beethoven really, really tried, because he liked him sooooo much."

And it's at this point that I begin to wonder if Mr. Bryant has overstayed his welcome and is beginning to do more damage than good to this year's Beethovenmas puffery. But, it needs to be mentioned that it's not just Mr. Bryant's wacky words--here, it takes three to tango. Someone has to type it into the article...

(I'm looking at you, Tom.)

... and someone has to publish it.

(Seattle Times, that means you!)

Meanwhile, the trio "is charming and beautiful with some sad moments in the scherzo."

Really? "Sad"? Is that as descriptive as we're gonna get? I mean, are you speaking to me or third graders?

"Nobody complains when you play him.”

Well, that's the spirit! What a festive endorsement! I simply can't top that, so let's call it a day. Job done.

-

I suppose, after all this, I think it’s undeniably time for a festive song. How 'bout it?

Sweet. I knew I could count on you.

Alright. Ready? 1, 2...

[all sing] Happy 239th birthday to you! Happy 239th birthday to you! Happy 239th birthday dear Ludwig! Happy 239th birthday to you. But not you, Jane Austen--nobody cares about you.




Figure 6. Not quite as good as the quartets, but can't complain.


*Funny. There's no mention of the other piece on that particular concert program: Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes. Is the symphony concert really a Beethoven celebration, as the preview implied? The Seattle Symphony press release, found on the Seattle Symphony website (linked above), notes that the Ninth is an annual tradition.
-

12/14/09

Patriotic Concert Features Vaporous Singer...AND SO MUCH MORE!

We here at The Detritus Review are aware that titles are a difficult thing, and that for music reviews the critic may not even supply the title, leaving that job for an editor with an impeccable sense of the riveting attention-grabber.

They are often innocuous and focus on some sort elementary word play, or painfully point out the obvious (a sort of 5-word abstract).

But, this gem, from the Omaha World-Herald deserves some special recognition.

Review: Symphony puts ‘pow’ in patriotic program

Where to start. First, the phraseology of "puts the ___ in ___" implies a certain kind of pun.

For example -- "...puts the fun back in fundamentalism."

or

figure delicious pun: Wait, there's not hyphen in the word "adolt".

Get it?

Clever, I know.

So, why the use of the word "pow"? Whose letters neither appear in "patriotic" nor "program". Yes, you have the alliterative quality of the 'p', but is that really enough? I say no!

Surely then, there music be something in the review itself about an explosion or something, right?

Let's check, shall we.

Were those bombs bursting in the air Friday night over the Holland Performing Arts Center?

Good question...I was just asking the same thing. Hmmm...the title must have foreshadowed this event, being the clever title that it is, so I will answer quite confidently, "Yes, those were bombs bursting over the arts center."

Nah, it was just the Omaha Symphony’s large percussion section, whacking away at nearly two hours worth of patriotic songs.

Nah? But the title promised "pow"...although I suppose I am relieved that the Holland Performing Arts Center wasn't under attack on Friday.

For its first pops concert of the 2009-10 season, the symphony under guest conductor Michael Krajewski presented a program called “Patriotic Celebration.”

I guess that explains the last part of the title.

The performance, which will be repeated tonight and Sunday afternoon, is a real flag-waving sonic extravaganza that includes just about everything except an F-16 flyover.

Oh boy! Just how I like my patriotic celebrations -- as real flag-waving sonic extravaganzas!!!

figure flag-waving: The Omaha Symphony on Friday.

And, oh, you mentioned something about an F-16. I'm not sure that'd fit in the hall, but that would make one hell of a pow. [Rereads sentence.]

Crap. No fighter jet. What kind of fucking patriotic celebration is this anyway?

A socialist one, I'd wager. Fuck.

figure socialist: First he ruins our economy, and then takes away our guns (or so I've been told), and now this socialist has taken away all the F-16s from our symphony concerts.

But even without sonic booms and afterburners, this is a performance designed to make a lot of noise.

Ohh..."lots of noise". It's loud. Loud = "pow".
Okay. I forgive you. I guess we can all just go home.

...

Wait, there's still more review?

Sure, why not. It's still early...let's see what else you've got.


The program itself is the musical equivalent of a giant, omnibus Defense Department spending bill.

No joke, this might possibly be the greatest analogy ever. I'm glad I kept reading...but I've been thinking....

What music is being performed in this "patriotic celebration"?


It not only includes selections intended to satisfy every constituency but also strange juxtapositions of songs and medleys.

Strange juxtapositions? I am intrigued.

For instance, the orchestra played the themes of the five military branches with enough spit and polish to make a Marine Corps drill sergeant snap to attention.

The orchestra played with "spit and polish"?

figure awesome: Spit N' Polish, I love those guys.

It then followed with a selection of peace songs that included, among other things, the John Lennon anthem “Give Peace a Chance.”

Peace?! That's not patriotic. Is this some sort of commie orchestra?

Similarly, sparkling virtuoso orchestra arrangements of Morton Gould’s “American Salute” and Leonard Bernstein’s “America” were followed with saccharine, flag-on-the-sleeve renditions of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” and Barry Manilow’s “Let Freedom Ring.”

It was a real mishmash.

Yes, four songs about saluting America, asking God to bless America, extolling one of its virtues through metaphor, and the piece called "America" do make up quite the odd grouping.

Yet there was also much to admire in this program.

Excellent. Wait...[rereads sentence]. This part of the program wasn't to be admired then. So not only is the orchestra socialist, but the reviewer obviously hates America.

I'm not sure I can take much more of this. I can take a lot in the line of this job, but I will not stand idly by as this man besmirches Barry Manilow singing about the supreme awesomeness of America. Fucking commies everywhere!

...[Calms down.]...remembers Detritus oath. "Despite what you think, there aren't fucking commies everywhere."

[Breaths in.]

[Breaths out.]

Friday’s concert opened with a glistening and heroic reading of John Williams’ “Liberty”...

That's "Liberty Fanfare" for those of you keeping score at home...

...and continued with a sincere and emotional performance of the national anthem,...

Sincere? As opposed to all those insincere performances...like this one?



figure R. Kelly: "Clap your hands, y'all". Really?

...or this one?


figure Roseanne: Well, this one is kind of awesome.

...for which we all stood in time-honored tradition.

A selection of George Gershwin’s patriotic Tin Pan Alley tunes — “Strike Up the Band,” “Love Is Sweeping the Country” and “Of Thee I Sing” — sounded overly weighty with the huge orchestra and chorus. These are songs that needed to snap and crackle.


figure rice krispies: Although he hides it well, Pop can't help but feel a little left out.

But the orchestra quickly turned around with joyous and enthusiastic readings of George Cohan’s “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” Several of Irving Berlin’s popular soldier songs — “Over There,” “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” and “This Is the Army, Mr. Jones” — were likewise performed with energy and humor.

Oh god, how I wish I could have been at this concert.

The revelation of the evening was Willett, whose flexible voice easily covered two octaves. He made a lasting impression in “Momma, Look Sharp,” from the musical “1776,” delivering his heart-rending lines with a vaporous falsetto.

Vaporous falsetto? Nothing like finishing off the review with bizarre word choice. Just a couple of definitions of "vaporous" from our good friends at dictionary.com:

3. producing or giving off vapor
4. dimmed or obscured with vapor
5. unsubstantial; diaphanous; airy
6. vaguely formed, fanciful, or unreliable

...delivering his heart-rending lines with vaguely formed, obscured falsetto, while giving off steam.

This review has everything! Finish it off for us, Mr. Pitcher.

The choruses, for their parts, distinguished themselves with their powerful, passionate performances.

Exactly. For these reasons, this review has won our coveted Crappy Review Title of the Week!

figure your review: Eggceptional, indeed.

12/11/09

I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

Clearly the writer, editor [sic], and title-providing person collaborated closely on this substantial and imaginative effort. I guess they assume nobody reads the Christmas concert reviews.

Quality of Songs makes Holiday Pops show pop

You cannot make this shit up. Really? The Pops show popped? Really.

The Columbus Symphony Orchestra's annual Holiday Pops concerts are always fun for the whole family, and this season's edition was no exception.

I'd like to submit that this could be true, providing one is properly prepared.

Figure 1: A contemporary American preparing to attend a holiday concert. This method is also recommended for Christmas shopping.

Figure 1a (Anhang): A friendly suggestion for the more conservative reader.

However, let's take a look at that opening salvo again.

The Columbus Symphony Orchestra's annual Holiday Pops concerts are always fun for the whole family, and this season's edition was no exception.

Wow. That is a magnificent introductory sentence. The Christmas concert is always great--and it was this year too!

Good thing that's getting archived forever.

Fine. So...the concert...

Tonight's well-attended show in the Ohio Theatre featured lots of singers, dancers, actors, decorations and videos on a big screen...

I guess that in better economic conditions all of that would have been live.

Wait, what?

Tonight's well-attended show in the Ohio Theatre featured lots of singers, dancers, actors, decorations and videos on a big screen, with the orchestra scrunched in the middle.

The orchestra was in the middle of a screen? That doesn't make sense.

Oh, wait. The singers, dancers, actors, and decorations weren't on the screen? That makes far more sense.

It, however, begs the question: Why did you write a sentence that said that they were?

All of which was nice, but what makes this show special is the quality of the songs and music chosen by conductor Ronald Jenkins.

Two things to note: First, there is actually an assertion about "what makes [sic?] this show special" made; Second, the abrupt and pointless changes of tense are sort of nauseating.

Nevertheless. Apparently it is the quality of the "songs and music" (oh...songs and music) that makes [made?] this show special.

Got it.

No, sorry; back up. "Songs and music?" It's hard to tell if that's dumb or just really lazy.

Figure 2 (Imaginary Salad Review): "The lettuce and food were tasty!"

The first half of the concert leaned more toward the classical side of Christmas music, while the second half contained more contemporary carols.

The use of "more" in each half of this sentence is superfluous; either phrase could pretty much do without. However, it's the use of "more" in each half of the sentence that makes the writing flat and...annoying.

Also, contemporary carols are apparently not "classical" music/songs? I guess "classical" is being used narrowly to describe a stylistic period, which would explain the above distinction. Right?

After a jaunty Holiday Pops Overture, the Columbus Symphony Chorus shone with Sing unto God and Hallelujah, Amen from Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus.

But those are Baroque p...ah, never mind. Kind of mildly special, I suppose, since obviously they could have played the other...

Jenkins joked that the latter piece is known in choral circles as "the other Hallelujah Chorus."

Hilarious. Choral humor is outstanding.

Coincidentally, the yearly vernal festivities musicians celebrate after the last Holiday concerts finally end are known as "the other Rite of Spring."

Next came the latter two movements of Vivaldi's Winter from The Four Seasons...

Not that special. I guess not playing the entire concerto as intended is kind of special, if by "special" one means "stupid." Next?

Next, Jenkins and the chorus introduced 21st century choral works set to centuries-old texts.

That's unusual enough to be special, potentially. (Because it's the quality of the music chosen that makes the concert so special! Right?) So: Who were they by? What were they like?

They weren't bad, but they weren't new holiday favorites, either.

And?

The second half of the concert...

And nothing? Nice fuckin' review. Guess they weren't special enough to merit mention, or even description.

The second half of the concert began with the chorus, children and audience singing O Come All Ye Faithful, The First Noel and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

Oh, the column inches that would have been wasted describing new music were reserved to name Christmas carols. That makes sense.

The biggest applause was reserved for one of the best moments:

That seems odd!

...when a youngster leads the symphony in Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride.

Wait, what?

The biggest applause was reserved for one of the best moments: when a youngster leads the symphony in Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride.

Dude, now you're chasing tenses and aspects. Been Christmas shopping?

Dublin Coffman High School freshman Nick Swanson (who plays flute in the school band) did such a good job - right down to the whip cues - that Jenkins let him keep the baton.

Schmaltzy and cute, but not really musically special. Right? Because it was the quality of the "songs and music" that were supposed to make the concert so...special. Did that assertion ever bear out? At all?

Remarkably, being squeezed in didn't affect the symphony's sound.

What?

Right in the middle of describing [sic] the special [sic] program, a quick acoustical evaluation? Okay...

The standout music was the cinematic soundtrack to The Night Before Christmas, composed by Randol Bass. Linda Dorff narrated the Clement Moore poem, with the help of children from BalletMet.

More boring than special, and arguably of dubious quality. Standard Holilday Concert Fare, anyway. I'm thinking the review's initial superlative assessment was only tangentially related (at best) to the actual concert.

The show ended with a duet by a famous couple from the North Pole, who sang pretty well.

People in costume? Sang pretty well?! Well! That is special.

If you're five.

Figure 3: Here comes a special boy!

12/9/09

More Holiday Jocularity

Continuing with the Christmas festivities, here’s a strange little puff piece, of whose 23 paragraphs only eight have more than one sentence.

Seriously. It reads like an outline.

A very bad outline.



Figure 1. Suggestive image

Take a look at what I mean.

The harpist will be Tabitha Reist Steiner, whom [chorale director Charles] Bruffy will put to full use on the program.

End paragraph.

“There is just something about the harp at Christmastime,” he said.

End paragraph.

Begin new paragraph and an entertaining concept concerning the flow of time.

Along with Britten’s 11-movement [Ceremony of Carols], the program courses over centuries.

End yet another paragraph.

But more importantly, when he says that, “the program courses over the centuries,” I, you know, kinda expect to hear about—how do you say?—music composed in bygone centuries.

Begin new paragraph.

Steven Paulus’ “Three Nativity Carols,” based on medieval sources, is one of several additional pieces accompanied by the harp on the holiday concert.

End paragraph.

“Medieval sources” is almost like coursing through the centuries. I suppose it’s also possible that Stephen Paulus was born in the twelfth century—his website doesn’t say.

Begin new paragraph.
-

12/8/09

Review: Christmas Concert Awesomeness

I love Christmas!

figure Christmas spirit: "Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving. Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We're all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse."

And, oh boy, do I love the symphony Christmas concert! It just fills me with the Christmas spirit.

I only wish that I could have been at all of these concerts!

So in the name of the Christmas spirit of generosity, there was so much to enjoy that I couldn't share just one review.

Review: Holly Jolly Christmas Spectacular Symphony Jubilation Mash-up

An uncommonly well-danced production of "The Nutcracker" delighted a Saturday afternoon audience at the Midland Center for the Arts Auditorium.

Subtle.

"The symphony is pleased to once again be able to present 'The Nutcracker' with live orchestra," Great Falls Symphony Executive Director Carolyn Valacich said. "Tchaikovsky's great score deserves no less!"

No less indeed. Frankly, I think more symphony concerts should feature the live orchestra.

But the singalong is coming soon, right?

The program’s popularity can be explained in just two words: Beethoven’s Ninth.

It is Christmas, who wants shit we've never heard before anyways?

Plus, that piece is long. A little too long if you know what I mean -- I'm pretty sure only socialist like music that long. Plus, I want to sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," possibly the greatest song on the subject figgy pudding ever written.

The program started with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, a four-part work featuring themes that would be familiar to many listeners.

Whoa! Slow down, Poindexter. I realize that I'll be forced to sit through all these "old" pieces...but I don't need to read about them too. Let's just get onto the singalong already!

Other than the “Hallelujah,” about 100 musicians performed at any given time, a chamber-sized ensemble entirely appropriate for the Baroque piece and the size of the church sanctuary.


100 = chamber sized? But...

"Hallelujah"?! That's that one about Jebus, right? I think know the words to that one...

HAL - LE - LU - JAH!

Richardson framed the symphony as Mozart’s look...

HAL - LE - LU - JAH!

...ahead to what the future of classical music could be, and the orchestra...

HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH!

...brought that vision to life...

HAL LE eh eh LU JAH!

...brought that vision to life by milking every nuance of the piece in its performance.

Whoa, I wasn't paying attention. Richardson did what now? Milked the symphony?

Understanding what they were singing about was simple. All you had to do was read the English translation of the German text...


Can you dumb it down a shade?

Next came the jazzy “Hot Chocolate” from the movie “The Polar Express.” On film and in person, it’s one of those holiday songs that uses schmaltz in a way that could be considered cheesy if it wasn’t so fun and endearing.

"Hot Chocolate"? Wasn't that the sex mini-game in Grand Theft Auto? That's not cheesy, that's just awesome.

Maybe this concert is going to feature something even better than the singalong.

Musicians and singers changed musical genres at the drop of a hat.

?

After that, the lights came up, the Yampa Valley Singers came on stage, more youth musicians set up their stands and the audience joined for a Christmas singalong.

Yeah! Finally, the singalong!

HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH!

figure Christmas singing: "It's Christmas Eve. It's-it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we-we-we smile a little easier, we-w-w-we-we-we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be."

While I did pay my compliments as an appreciative stranger, it seemed inappropriate to ask the name of the woman sitting in the pew behind me at Saturday's annual Holiday Pops concert by the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra....

Another gentleman in attendance at the church was right on the money, though, when he told her that, in this case, she should be singing with the choir, not with the audience.

HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH!

Handel would have been proud of the community feel of the performance.

That was so much fun. Yeah!

And, oh...
figure more Christmas spirit: "The bitch hit me with a toaster."

HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH!

-----------------------------
Sources:
Red -- from the Midland Daily News
Gray -- Great Falls Tribune
Green -- from the San Diego News Network:
Purplely-pink like color -- Steamboat Today
Blue -- San Antonio Express News
Brown -- Lubbock Online

12/7/09

EXTRA! EXTRA!

Read all about it! CHROMATIC HARMONY AS GOOD AS SEX!

Gesualdo’s extended harmonic language highlights chromatic tensions that resolve to their unexpected conclusions almost as erotic release.

NEW FINDING RAISES ANTI-MODERNISTS' HEADS, BAFFLES BIOLOGISTS!
-

12/3/09

Orchestra confuses Madison audience...

If you're like me and you've attended more than a handful of concerts in the past several years, you'll have noticed a trend toward the standing ovation for each and every piece performed. To me this is mostly a ridiculous fad that smacks of the audience congratulating themselves on attending a classical music concert. However, despite my cynicism, it's hard to begrudge an audience wanting to fully impart their joy and appreciation to the musicians on stage.

Although, never before have I heard the music accused of denying an audience their god-given right to the standing ovation.

figure ovation: The proper way to appreciate an orchestra performance. And what's wrong with those people in bottom left? Fucking commies, not standing.

Madison Symphony Features Cellist

Wow, snappy title.

Madison audiences are known for the generosity of their standing ovations...

...I know this is probably just me, but this is so condescending -- towards who I'm not exactly sure...

-- but, sometimes, it's hard to know when to stand.

I know. It really bites doesn't it? I mean, audiences already have so much to keep track of with respect to their applause.

How many movements? Are those movements performed without breaks? Is there a soloist? It's really enough to drive one to a fit of coughing or loudly crumpling their program in nervous anticipation.


Friday, for example,...

Excellent, an example.

...the Madison Symphony Orchestra featured cellist Ralph Kirshbaum, who played a haunting 22-minute piece, "Schelomo Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra" by Ernest Bloch, which ends in a long lamentation, one so somber that even the composer said "this work alone ends with complete negation, but the subject demands it."

Oooo...that is a tough call. The standing O for the somber lamentation? Man, how dare that orchestra put that kind of pressure on an audience while their community-wide sonic, choreographed love sits bursting at the seams.

A work of music that ends with "complete negation" is not the kind of thing that brings an audience to its feet, not matter how brilliantly the artist plays.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

So, when Kirshbaum finished, about half the audience at Overture Hall rose for the customary ovation and the other half seemed to wonder what to do.

So maybe music that ends with "complete negation" is the kind of thing that brings 50% of people to their feet. Learn something new everyday.

I mean, they only get one chance to show their appreciation. It's not like he's playing another piece.


His next work was Antonin Dvorak's "Silent Woods for Cello and Orchestra," which got off to a little bit of an awkward start as Kirshbaum and MSO Music Director John DeMain walked back onto the stage,...

Oh, wait. He's coming back for more? The audience must be so confused.


...walked back onto the stage, only to have DeMain peel off and go back to the wings before admitting he didn't have the music. It was one of those great non-musical moments you share only if you attend the live performances.

Great. Story.

But, what of the whole standing ovation fiasco? How was the situation resolved? Without violence I hope.

None of this is to detract from Kirshbaum, who played brilliantly. It's just that the music sometimes gets in the way of tradition.

Fucking music. Seriously, where does it get off?

When he finished the first half of the program, the audience had no problem at all rising as one to applaud him through several bows.

Whew. It's nice when things work themselves out, and everyone is able to just forget the unpleasantness that followed the Bloch.

--------

By the way, the second half the concert "featured" Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony with many "familiar tunes" and an excellent time was had by all. A standing ovation followed the performance.

12/2/09

Titles for Sale

And without further ado, here’s the title in question found atop a recent piece by David Patrick Stearns:

Itzhak Perlman a winner at Resorts



Figure 1. Foreshadowing the premise that the house always has the advantage

There are several things we should keep in mind as we go along which will be helpful in order to assess the efficacy of today’s title:

1) The Resorts is a casino-hotel in Atlantic City (A classical casino concert?)
2) Itzhak Perlman wins something (What did he win?)
3) He wins it at Resorts (Presumably, as opposed to somewhere else)

Fantastic! Now we can look at the review, which is pretty okay, not that there aren’t issues.

Musically, he played a medium-weight program - Leclair, Beethoven, Stravinsky - little different from what you'd hear at the Kimmel Center.

No kidding! I took it upon myself to check out the program for the next Philadelphia Orchestra concert and, well, there’s certainly some similarity: Brahms D minor Piano Concerto; Franck D minor Symphony; and Claude Vivier Orion. I don’t know what this says about the integrity of the orchestra’s programming, since casinos are essentially scams. But, hell, someone is doing it right.

Preconcert Muzak was Brahms' Symphony No. 1.

Muzaked Brahms? Wonderful beyond description. Ugh.

The big leap for Atlantic City, however, wasn't pop vs. classical, but singer vs. instrumentalist. Headliners are almost always singers (even if the voice happens to belong to Joan Jett). Nobody could recall a purely instrumental artist headlining recently in Atlantic City.

Why bring Joan Jett into question? This seems more like an unnecessary value judgment, to me. Is she less of a singer somehow?

More pressing, however, what is the Resorts up to? Why bring in someone who doesn’t fit the previous model for success?

So who was there? As I learned from chatting up those around me, many were from the immediate area: a local music teacher who has loved Perlman for years...

Also known as: someone who has never stepped inside a casino before. (Just a guess, but local music teachers probably don’t have a large amount of disposable income).

...a small-business owner who had caught [Perlman] on PBS...

PBS watchers aren’t generally attracted to bright lights and shiny things, or are they?

...and people who applauded between movements, suggesting a crossover/fringe crowd, but one that was ultimately more attentive than your typical concert audience.

Newbies, diversity, and attention: Hooray! It’s a veritable melting pot of fresh money!

The idea, according to casino officials, was to attract a different clientele, and what arrived was people who probably would have been just as happy to hear Perlman at, say, the Glassboro Center for the Performing Arts.

How’d the Resorts lure them in, then?

The difference is that this fringe audience probably wouldn't have known about the Atlantic City event without Resorts' marketing - and all its billboards.

Okay. It’s not like our symphonies don’t spend a bigillion on advertising, right? This is the norm. However, the catch was:

The net had to be cast wide to fill a theater with listeners willing to pay up to $125 for any violinist, and indeed, I talked to those who had driven in from Montgomery County.

That’s an expensive meatball.

And rather than traveling through suburban byways, you simply had to navigate the dense thickets of King Kong Cash slot machines between the parking garage and the theater.



Figure 2. “Twas Beast that bankrupted your future”

What David forgets to mention is that on byways you aren’t tempted to risk your kid’s college fund. He also doesn’t mention that the distance from the garage to the theater is roughly one-quarter of a mile—and the dense thickets of slot machines, which are designed to funnel you past places the casino wants you to pass, is akin to McDonald’s saying, “Yeah, the hamburgers are bad for you, but that’s why we have salads.”

So with the right marketing, most any fine classical artist,

Whoa there, partner: “most any fine classical artist”? Not terrible, just yuck.

So with the right marketing, most any fine classical artist, in theory, could work here. But I wonder if anyone else (perhaps cellist Yo-Yo Ma?) could truly fill the place.

I think that’s a good question, delving into issues about the relationship between marketing and the perceived quality of the product. But I thought this was a review?

Perlman's public identification level is unique among non-operatic classical figures. Though his visibility is nothing close to what it was, the name still has marketing power.

The violinist has long had a particular magnetism that makes audiences meet him more than halfway. Whether he's having a good night or a bad one - he's 64, an age when violinists are well into the winding-down phase - audiences listen to him more closely than they do other violinists, and thus take in more of the music at hand.

He’s still a moneymaker: check. He’s past his prime: check. He played a concert and I wrote a review about it: blank.

And Perlman had a very good night.

He...

He won a good night?! Though past his prime, he had a good night?! No senior moments? No medical scares? Please clear this up, David.

His playing has been through some bad patches in recent years, but technically speaking, he was secure and fluent.

Technically speaking, sure. But interpretive?

The first half pleasantly consisted of Leclair's Violin Sonata in D major and Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 7 (Op. 30 No. 2), and though Perlman's cultivated musical responses didn't feel so fresh, the ever-engaged pianist Rohan De Silva kept your ears constantly pricked.

...but the pianist played well.

Later, Perlman recalled his own glory days in Stravinsky's Suite Italienne (from the composer's quasi-baroque ballet Pulcinella); his gleaming tone with the light sandpaper-ish tang was back in full during Stravinsky's most lyrical sections. His most inspired moments involved expressive fingerslides, usually the province of violinists from the old, old days. Good for him! Fine with me.

Meh. I don’t have any problems with the concert assessment, even though it received a disproportionate amount of space. But it’s the disproportionate amount of space that raises questions.

To me, this reads like a plain-faced plug (see Comedy of Errata), but worse. Recall the title: “Perlman a winner at Resorts.” Really? Was he a winner? Did the past-his-prime, old, old school violinist really emerge as triumphant winner from this endeavor?

Perlman left with his integrity intact.

He also left with a nice paycheck. But it’s not exactly glowing, is it? If anything, he won the right to leave with his integrity. That’s all. It’s printed right there in the review.

The audience left the near-full 1,300-seat Superstar Theater seemingly thrilled [...]

So, maybe the audience won, then?

Or did the Resorts come out the victor? They filled a large venue, probably made a nice little profit. But more than that, they got 1,300 local people into the casino, people who otherwise might not have been tempted to go, filtered them through the slots and other entertainments, and said, “Go!”.



Figure 3. Sure it pays out 35:1, but you have a 2.63% of hitting it, or 38:1 chance of making your money back