8/18/10

At Least the Title Was Apt

Orchestra Review
Judith White, The Saratogian, 8/12/2010

There was a degree of irony in the programming for Wednesday’s Philadelphia Orchestra concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Mm-hm. Irony, you say? In the programming? Do tell.

The all-Gershwin program of American music began with the orchestra playing the well-known “An American in Paris,” and then moved on to feature French-born Jean-Yves Thibaudet as piano soloist with the orchestra for other Gershwin works, including the Piano Concerto in F and a set of variations to “I Got Rhythm,” all conducted by a Swiss-born, Montreal resident conductor.

I see. I don't know about the construction "Montreal resident conductor," but that's neither here nor there [in Montreal, apparently].

And the ironic part was...?

I’m certainly not complaining: just commenting on how things can work out with really good music — which transcends geography and culture.

Um. Let's back up, because, apparently, the ironic bit was in that last large paragraph.

The all-Gershwin program of American music began with the orchestra playing the well-known “An American in Paris,” and then moved on to feature French-born Jean-Yves Thibaudet as piano soloist with the orchestra for other Gershwin works, including the Piano Concerto in F and a set of variations to “I Got Rhythm,”...

Okay. An American orchestra was playing a Gershwin program, which, after "An American in Paris," featured a French pianist playing the Concerto in F. So...it's like there was a Parisian in America! Oh, except he's from Lyon. But still, he did go to the Paris Conservatoire!

So a Frenchman (who's been to Paris) in America! Playing "An American in Paris!" Er, well, no...actually playing the piece after that one on the program...which is sort of...a coincidence? But not irony.

...all conducted by a Swiss-born, Montreal resident conductor.

A Swiss-Canadian in Saratoga is sort of like an American in Paris, insofar as the sentences have parallel construction...which is ironic?

No. No, it's not.

The most ironic thing going on here is that something that's not really in any way ironic is being described as such.

We don’t require American interpreters of Gershwin’s compositions, no more than we require German interpreters of Brahms.

True, I suppose. We don't wear gigantic purple hats either, but it's not relevant, so we don't write sentences about it.

We got what we wanted...

Speak for yourself. I was led to believe there'd be irony.

— a brilliant pianist with a sensibility for Gershwin’s talent for rolling classical sensibility into the music of his time, and a conductor who literally threw himself into directing the music.

I guess I was really willing to be nice about this, but, sadly, no.

Because...look:

"Literally" does not mean "figuratively" or "metaphorically." Quite literally, "literally" literally means "literally."

Figure 1: Better.

3 comments:

Danny Liss said...

Literally also means figuratively, especially for the sake of exaggeration. It's called polysemy -- words often have more than one meaning depending on the context.

Back on topic, James Levine once put An American in Paris after Varese's Ameriques, which he called "A Frenchman in New York." No irony there, but a great juxtaposition.

AnthonyS said...

@ Danny

Good point, but I think most people use it without being aware of the fact that they are intentionally misusing a word for polysemic (?) effect. I've figuratively corrected this error on about 6,235,643 student papers. It usually just comes off as a bad habit (a la Joe Buck's "he literally exploded up the field", my all-time favorite). Maybe I'm not giving Joe Buck enough credit. Wait, nevermind...

Also, that sounds like an awesome concert.

Sator Arepo said...

Danny,

Based on the rest of the article (that is to say, in context), is the use of "literally" here a) polysemic, or b) lazy/poor use of English?

Also, that's a great anecdote. I guess that, by these criteria, any performance of "An American in Paris" that did not literally [sic] contain an American playing in Paris would be "ironic." Like when Flight of the Bumblebee is played, but not by a bumblebee.