Merdle: You know, it’s been a long time since we’ve been to a new music concert. I’m feeling a little guilty for not supporting the arts. Plus, I have a hankering for something not associated with Toy Story 3.
Haggard: Me too. I could go for something that doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator.
Want some coffee?
M: Sure. Thanks.
H: [pours coffee] We should check the listings—see if we can find something worthwhile.
M: Mmm. Did you grab the paper?
H: Yeah. It’s on the counter, behind you.
M: Oh. I didn't see it there. It’s early--not quite awake yet.
H: That’s what coffee is for.
M: You said it. [sips] Hmm. [fumbles through paper] Arts section...NY/ Region…Ah! Here’s something. Ooh! It’s about the Caramoor Music Festival.
H: We haven’t been to Caramoor in years. What are they up to?
M: Well… “CHAMBER music has been a key part of the Caramoor International Music Festival in Katonah for most of its 64 years. But rarely has the festival presented as wide a spectrum of chamber offerings as it will in its 65th season, which opens this month.”
H: I didn’t know they’ve been around that long! Good for them.
Would you like your eggs scrambled or sunny-side up?
M: Sunny-side up, please.
H: So, a rare, wide spectrum of chamber music? [goes to refrigerator, grabs butter, eggs, bacon, and jelly] Sounds good. What else does it say?
M: “Along with established and emerging artists serving up standard chamber fare, an audacious group of new-music exponents will be on hand — bending the chamber format and…”
H: How does one bend the chamber format?
M: Maybe it’ll be played in a large arena.
H: Or maybe there’ll be just enough players so that you can’t quite call it chamber, but few enough that you can’t quite call it an orchestra.
M: Meh. “’We’re still pushing the envelope, for Caramoor, and trying to reach a broader part of the community,’ said Michael Barrett, the chief executive and general director of the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts.”
H: The qualification of “pushing the envelope” doesn’t instill much chamber-format-bending confidence.
M: That and "trying to reach a broader community" kinda smells funny, don't you think? I mean, it sounds like a good thing, but for whom?
H: Not gonna tell you. It's just so good.
M: Mmm-hmm. “The new-music aesthetic being presented this year departs somewhat from that of academically oriented composers like Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter.”
H: Again with the qualifiers! I’m not sure what to make of these messages: first there was "wide spectrum"; then "format bending"; followed by pushing the envelope “for Caramoor”…
M: Don't forget departing “somewhat.” Yeah. They’re toeing a line, for sure. But the bigger issue is the seeming way almost all new music is being marketed.
H: Do you mean how they want to distance themselves from thinking and academia?
M: Totally. What’s wrong with thinking?
H: You got me. Not for nothing, I seem to think we've been through this whole "we want an art that appeals more to the senses than to reason" thing before.
H: That’s why I love you.
M: “While Caramoor’s performers maintain a uniformly high level of musicianship, they embrace elements of popular culture…”
H: Doesn't "while," as a conjunction here, connote a contrast? What's that supposed to mean?!
M: Hold on. “…producing what the festival’s marketers call extreme chamber music.”
H: But they know how to market popular culture! It’s like calling a sports drink extreme, because it actually contains water, instead of processed, liquid-like crap.
M: Do you ever get the feeling that arts advertising is, like, ten years behind current doublespeak practice?
H: Ha! You said sunny-side up, right?
M: Yep. “Reflecting their training at Oberlin and Juilliard, the members of 2 Foot Yard, a violin-cello-guitar trio that will appear on July 2, bring a certain phrasing and detail of tone to their interpretations, said Carla Kihlstedt, the group’s violinist.”
H: [cracks an egg]
M: “Yet, she said, the group works in forms that have more in common with folk or pop music than with traditional classical composition.”
H: …Because phrasing and details can't exist in folk and pop forms, don't you know? What?!
M: Maybe there’s something to this whole anti-academic distancing. Schools are obviously not doing their jobs well.
H: You’re just saying that to get under my skin, aren’t you? Besides, you mean conservatories; they're hardly schools.
M: But you’re cute, when you’re mad. [sips coffee]
H: Seriously, just read. Meanwhile I’ll cook your breakfast, without help…all by myself.
M: “None of its tunes run more than six minutes.”
H: Selling point for short attention spans, no doubt.
M: No doubt. Or broader audiences. Heh. “In pieces like ‘On Waking,’ which it may play at Caramoor, the band employs extensive harmonics and extended improvisations punctuated only by a recurring four-note vocal line — Ms. Kihlstedt and the cellist double on vocals.”
H: I’m glad they may decide to use more than just sine tones. Grisey would be happy. [removes several strips of bacon from the skillet] Also, don't you think it's kinda a stretch to call a six-minute improvisation "extended"? A happening might be extended, but not a six-minute improv.
M: Mmm. “This, she said…”
H: What does “this” refer to?
M: Dunno. The "four-note vocal line"?
‘I find that audiences are getting much better at connecting the dots between different kinds of music,’ she said.”
H: Wait. Are we or aren’t we going to this festival?
M: Connect the dots.
H: Would you like toast, my abstract cryptographer?
M: Two pieces, please.
I dunno. I've liked Caramoor events in the past. Maybe the wonky description is coloring my preferences; but I think I'd still like to go.
H: Good call.
M: “Connecting with audiences is a primary goal of Ethel, a quartet with two violins, a viola and a cello…”
H: Wait. Who wrote this, again?
M: Phillip Lutz, with two Ps, two Is, three Ls, an H, a U, a T, and a Z.
H: I suppose he has two eyes, four limbs, a torso, and a head, too.
M: You're funny. Not!
H: That’s an odd thing to say.
M: You mean invoking a “pedal to the metal” attitude in order to downplay something?
H: Yeah, that. The idea is provocative, though.
M: ...if not logically problematic. “While the group’s playing hardly lacks precision […] the precision is never achieved at the expense of passion, Ms. Rowell said.
‘If we’re going to alienate audiences, it’s just not going to work,’ she said.”
H: More coffee?
M: Please. [ponders, sips] Do you think she’s implying that pursuing perfection alienates audiences? Or pursuing an antiquated ideal alienates them? Or is perfection unattainable? Or...
H: I think you’d be better off by asking what she means by “work.”
M: True. Or maybe I'll just send a letter of complaint to Julliard's office of academic standards.
H: Ha! [plates the last of the food, carries it over to table]
M: But you’ll miss my favorite part.
H: Yeah? What’s that? [sits at table beside Merdle]
M: Get this: “And the clarinetist Anthony McGill, who said that the pivotal works of his Caramoor debut would be by Debussy and Stravinsky…”
H: Come on. My eggs are getting cold.
M: “...Debussy and Stravinsky — arguably new-music practitioners of their day…”
H: Did I read somewhere that Heidegger once argued this proposition and lost?
M: Shut up, chef-slave, and pass the Tabasco.