Extreme Merdle and Haggard

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.

Anyway, want to think about how you want your bacon to appeal to you?

M: Charred, baby.

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.”

I guess it means that nobody knows how to market that which is unmarketable.

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: Or, it's like...

H: I know. Sex joke.

M: Mmm. “This, she said…”

H: What does “this” refer to?

M: Dunno. The "four-note vocal line"?

H: Dah-dah-dah dum!

M: “This, she said, results in a kind of abstraction that owes as much to the ethos of alternative rock as to the culture of the academy.

‘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: We have nothing better to do, I suppose.

M: Either way, let’s find out what else is said about the state of arts advertising.

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: Nice. Nobody's used that reference since 1990!

M: Actually, 1992, chef-slave. Or 1993, if you want to count the sequel; but I don't know anyone who thinks that should count. [sips coffee]

“…the group adopts a ‘pedal to the metal’ attitude that plays down ‘the pursuit of perfection in classical performance,’ said Mary Rowell, one of the group’s violinists and a Juilliard graduate.”

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]

Alright, hun. Time to cry uncle. Breakfast is ready. Plus, this ham-fisted puffery is ruining my morning.

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…”



Wait for it.


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.


Sator Arepo said...



Empiricus said...

Extremely arguably!