Sibelius rudely awakens audience

Yet another gem from the Kansas City Star.

Timothy McDonald bravely infiltrated a Kansas City Symphony concert to help uncover the radical programming and shocking socialist agendas being used to brainwash its patrons.

Review: Chamber Players deliver a high-powered show

Classical music enthusiasts whose tastes are confined to Germany, Austria, Italy and France...

Wait a minute...? Germany, Italy... where do I know these countries from? They must have some sort of historical association...

[As always, checks internets for all of life's questions...]

figure Germans and Italians: Bringing venereal disease.

I knew it! Socialist communists!!

And it looks like they're bringing healthcare!!!

Let's throw a rock through their window!

No, no. Calm down, Gustav.

While classical music enthusiasts are fascists, that doesn't mean that
the Kansas City Symphony isn't going to launch some capitalist music up their asses!

[Takes deep breath. Pulls out "Glenn Beck's Common Sense" for some much needed wisdom...

“Everyone is Hitler, except for me!”...

Exactly. Thanks, Glenn.

Let's try this again, okay?

Classical music enthusiasts whose tastes are confined to Germany, Austria, Italy and France...

Okay...again, huh?

Is there someone out there who loves the 6 works Handel wrote in Germany, but scoffs at the music from after he moved to London in 1710? Or doubts the supreme-melodic-awesomeness of Tchaikovsky? They do realize that Dvorak was Czech and Chopin was Polish, right?

...experienced a rude awakening Friday night at the Bell Cultural Events Center of Mid-America Nazarene University.

Yeah, orchestras and audiences can become too reliant on the standard repertoire. Good call, let's shock the audiences to attention with new and challenging music...not just another performance of the "Holberg" Suite.

So, whatcha got on tap -- Composer-of-the-Day Louis Andriessen? Ligeti, Gubaydulina? Na...too socialist. How about some capitalist music? Jennifer Higdon seems pretty popular right now...how about some of her music?

The Kansas City Symphony Chamber Players took the chill out of a cool spring evening with a program entitled “Sibelius, Grieg and the Music of the North.”

Huh? First, I think your "took the chill out of [the] evening" with "Music of the North" construction is a bit contradictory. We associate the North with cold, yes? Especially Scandinavian countries...right?

No matter, we all know what you mean. I think.

But, I thought you said we were in for a rude awakening? You think that the incredibly often-played music of Sibelius and Grieg was a rude awakening to some in the audience?

That can't be right. Something else must be the rude part of the concert.

A Chamber Players concert is a somewhat more casual affair than the orchestra’s typical Classical Series offering.

Aha! ...er, casual? What does that mean? Let's ask google images...they know everything!

figure casual: Well, fuck yeah for casual!

So casual means hot chicks, beaches and looking great! What else?

The program is shorter, orchestral personnel are dressed more informally and the music is discussed in relaxed fashion from the stage.

Loosely fitting clothes for me, tight pants for her, and socialist, I mean, Scandinavian music...sounds like the perfect concert to me! However, I sense a "but" coming...

But casual by no means equates with unengaged.

Crap. I have to engage?

This was a high-powered concert by 21 string players and Steven Jarvi, the Kansas City Symphony’s associate conductor.
The concert opened with Andante Festivo, a brief one-movement work by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Andante?! String players?! That does sound "high-powered".

From the outset, the audience heard a wonderfully blended lyrical passage that was hymnlike in nature.

Hymnlike? Lyrical? I hope everyone brought earplugs in case things got out of hand.

Sounds like a pretty high-powered concert. If you had to narrow it down, what was the most satisfying part?

What was most satisfying was the rich sonority the orchestra brought to the work.

Rich sonority, eh? Good call, because if there's one thing all of Sibelius' music is missing, it's rich sonority.

The “Little” Suite by Danish composer Carl Nielsen followed.

figure Nielsen: Honk if you demand satisfaction.

It began with a particularly rich sound by the cellos and double basses.

Is that "rich sound" anything like the "rich sonority" of the Sibelius?

To be honest, the opening movement of this early work is not very melodically engaging.

What did you expect? Franco-Austrio-Italio-Germanic music?!

Jarvi and the players did a fine job, however, infusing the work with energy and insistent phrasing.

Thank god. Nielsen is a great composer and everything, but why he wrote all of his music without energy and insistent phrasing is beyond me.

But seriously, why are we programming all this melodically unengaging (i.e. not "casual"), sluggish, submissively phrased music?

I know the Germans tried to take over the world twice in the last hundred years, but at least their music doesn't lack melodies and phrasing.

The central movement was the work’s most interesting section, with its lilting, dancelike character. Again, beautifully shaped phrases produced a delightful gem that was occasionally compromised by flaws in intonation and blend.

Why would Nielsen compose in intonation flaws?

All in all, the performance was well conceived, and violist Jessica Nance played admirably as a soloist.

No thanks to that damn Dane.

A rarely heard gem followed: Two Swedish Folk Songs, Op. 27 by Johan Severin Svendsen, a Norwegian composer.

figure Svendsen: Compositional facial hair of the week.

The brief but luxuriant works were lovely and featured lush string sonorities that could take your frosty breath away.

Ahem, one work, two Swedish folk songs.

Also, were these sonorities also rich?

Edvard Grieg’s familiar but lovely “Holberg” Suite concluded the performance.

Because familiar pieces are rarely lovely?

The crisply accented opening was impressive, but the rhythms in the most rapid sections were not quite together.

What a strangely contradictory sentence. I actually think, in music, crisp usually mean that the rhythms were played together.

The concluding Rigaudon was delightful and playful and featured technically demanding solos from violinist Gregory Sandomirsky and violist Jessica Nance.

Consider me rudely awakened.


Despite surviving our brush with socialism, let us never forget the teachings of the great Glenn Beck:

The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be "What the hell you mean we're out of missiles?"



(Late Late) Friday Quickie

"Food Metaphor Friday"

Classical Music Review: Redlands symphony delivers the wow factor

(Sherli Leonard, [Riverside?] Press Enterprise, 3/15/2010)

The wow factor, eh? How's that working out for you? Good? I hope it's good.

It sure sounds good.

The Redlands Symphony Orchestra served up standard musical fare at the Saturday night concert with anything but standard ingredients.

What was that like?

It was like serving mac and cheese with Cowgirl Creamery cheeses and organic wheat pasta from Italy.

I mean: think about it. Italy!

Figure 1: Circa 1490

(Because I was all like, "This is a lame food metaphor!" but then it was all like, "Dude, Italy!" and I was all like, "Whoah.")


Themed Music

(or: It Probably Made More Sense in Italian)

Symphony, chorale put on “King” of a show

Sue Langenberg, Rockford Register-Star, 3/22/2010

The Rockford Symphony Orchestra invited Rockford’s Mendelssohn Chorale to share the stage at the Coronado Performing Arts Center on Saturday evening.

Rockford’s in northern Illinois, about an hour each from Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Dubuque, Iowa.

Figure 1: The Phantom Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps, also from Rockford, Illinois.

It was part of the Classic Series themed “God Save the King.”


So I did a little research. “Themed” seems sort of intuitively okay, but this usage is awfully strange. The adjectival form “themed” of the noun “theme” used in conjunction with an adjective or noun, and almost always after a hyphen, e.g.:

The girl’s princess-themed birthday party…
A dinosaur-themed miniature golf park…

...is becoming more common in the entertainment industry and related fields, but is slow to find acceptance in common usage and among grammarians. “Themed” as past tense (of a verb “to theme”) is pretty rare (92% of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel were against it), but it works, I guess. Would you say, “I themed my daughter’s birthday party.”? I wouldn’t.

Anyhow, I thought that was interesting. Perhaps, I mused, I’m dealing with a real wordsmith here, someone pushing the boundaries of English usage and up on the latest trends. What a treat!

With about 150 musicians on stage, although the estimates ranged, it was a compelling event to experience the full potential of home-grown talent performing a classy concert in a sort of musical heaven.

Ah, well. Not so much.

That sentence needs a brain transplant.

Figure 2: Steve Martin, 1983.

Even though the estimates (of attendance?) ranged [sic], the classy-ness of the concert was compelling. In a musical heaven, in Rockford, Illinois, sort of.

Three esteemed composers, Felix Mendelssohn, George Frideric Handel and Joseph Haydn, were saluted in the program.

Saluted…by having their music performed, one surmises.

They were historically connected by birth, death and professional accomplishment, said RSO musical director Steven Larsen.

All three were born, died, and composed music? I’ll give you that. No wonder he’s the music director!

While all three were born in German-speaking countries, they produced the majority of their works in England.

Haydn produced the majority of his works in England?

No. No, he did not.

That is silly. That is a silly, silly thing to assert; and by “silly I mean “false”.

Because I know you read the Wikipedia article on Haydn (see below), so you should know that he lived in Austria for his entire life (1732-1809, right, music students?) and made two trips to London (in 1791-92 and 1794-95).

Moreover, the program selections had a celebratory feel at the dawn of rebirth and renewal, a special rite of spring with each “Alleluia.”

I can’t decide if “program selections” or “dawn of rebirth and renewal” is more deliciously redundant. Just “dawn of rebirth” alone is precious. Because, you know: classical music, first day of spring. That kind of thing.

Handel’s Coronation Anthem from “Zadok the Priest” was composed for all vocal ranges and full orchestra.

I think “all vocal ranges” means “chorus”? Also, Zadok the Priest is an awesome name. For a thing.

Choruses from Handel’s “Judas Maccabeus,” an oratorio in three acts, were performed next after Larsen made light of the actual text that may or may not connect to contemporary appreciation.

Wow. This must be translated from Italian or something (“made light of”? Like: illuminated? Ridiculed? What?).

The text—the actual text—may or may not connect to our modern “appreciation”, appreciation being what it is these days.

Special guest tenor Geoffrey Agpalo and baritone Gerard Sundberg joined the orchestra and chorale to reign supreme.

Reign supreme?

Agpalo, who sang in selections from "Judas Maccabeus," began his singing career in lighter musical venue, but changed his focus to operatic roles.

Make sense. Lighter musical venue is a great place to cut your tooth.

He was an intriguing presence while Sundberg seemed to reign in pure form with his beautiful and clear voice.

There’s “reign” again. Is this about the way the concert is themed?

Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 in D Major, “The Clock,” was performed in the typical four movements with the rhythmic ticking featured throughout.

That’s a relief. Nowadays, what with their new-fangled ideas and ankle-revealing footwear, those upstarts and whippersnappers often perform Haydn 101 in however many movements they dang well please.

A prolific composer of symphonies, string quartets and sonata form, Haydn is placed at the forefront of the classic period with Beethoven.

What? “A prolific composer of…sonata form”? Not String Trios? Piano Sonatas? Piano Trios? Oratorios? Sonata form? Where did that come from?

[Wikipedia]: He is often called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these genres. He was also instrumental in the development of the piano trio and in the evolution of sonata form.

Ah, well.

There you go then. Good fuckin’ work.

With many more chapters of musical history since that era of the 18th century,

Chapters are on the what now? And which era of the 18th century?

…the contemporary ear might be more tuned to…

Lady Gaga?

Figure 4: The selfsame and aforementioned.

…such testosterone-rich composers as Sergei Prokofiev…


…or as emotionally satisfying as Peter Tchaikovsky.


By contrast, Haydn might seem lightweight in a perpetually happy 2/4 meter.

Final Exam, a Play in One Act. By Sator Arepo

Theory professor: All right, the last question on the exam is, “Explain 2/4 time.”

Ernest Music Student [writing furiously]: 2/4 is a simple duple time signature indicating that the tactus is the quarter note, and there are two quarters per measure. Metrically, the hierarchical structure puts more emphasis on the downbeat, whereas…

Theory professor [interrupting]: What’s all this? This is all wrong.

Student: What?

Theory professor: We were looking for “perpetually happy.”

Student: What?

History professor: Pfft. Haydn was a lightweight.

Theory professor: I know, right? Prokofiev, now that dude had balls.

Student: What?


This symphony hearkened to the symphonic language and genius of the era that laid the foundation for composers yet to come.

What? It hearkened to the language that it used?

Haydn has been frequently referred to as the “father of symphony,” a historic position along the way.

A historic…position…along the way? That’s awful and means nothing.

The Mendelssohn Chorale singing Mendelssohn finished the program in all the glory of vocal and symphonic power.

Okay? At least I understood that.

Selections from “Elijah” also featured Sundberg with the chorale under the direction of MC’s Martha Bein.

Who else was “also featured”?

Also featured were concertmaster Rachel Handlin, flutist Scott Metlicka, oboist Debra Freedland, bassoonist Karl Rzasa, horn player Becky Asher and trumpeter Mark Baldin.


While Larsen always acknowledges an awkward applause here and there between movements, he found himself gesturing the final moment that seemed to say, “that’s all folks,” in good humor.

He gestured...the final moment? Wow.

At least the review was grammatically well-themed, as it were.


Tchaikovsky and Higdon make the perfect pear

One of our favorite memes at the Detritus is food metaphors. Oh, no words seem to explain the greatness of a piece of music quite like the comestibles it has nothing to do with.

Today's entry comes to us from the Richmond Times-Dispatch where Angela Lehman-Rios has the difficult task of explaining the difference between a "concerto" and a "concerto for orchestra".

Symphony impressive on a wide range of works

Saturday's Masterworks concert by the Richmond Symphony explored the relationship of parts to a musical whole.

I'm not at all certain what that means, but it sure does sound important.

What parts are we breaking down today. Are we just looking at rhythm? or perhaps harmony? Perhaps those are bit too broad...timbre maybe?

Oh, why guess when you can just tell me.

While the parts were sometimes more interesting, the sum was certainly a pleasure to behold.

So, the parts were more interesting, but you liked the whole thing too?

What were we comparing again?

The program started with "D'un Matin de Printemps" by Lili Boulanger.

Oh, no time for that "parts to the whole" discussion...looks like we've got actual music.

From its shimmering beginning to its full-bodied end, the short work demonstrates the grace and power of an orchestra playing all together.

Yes, the piece features a burst of bold raspberry, slutty kiwis and rambunctious African horned melons, along with hints of chicken, gravel and compost. After a short fugal explosion of toner, semisynthetic organic amorphous solids, and black currant, there is a long finish of nacho cheese with an intriguing ferrous hint.

Conductor Erin Freeman easily drew a rich, balanced sound from the musicians.

Excellent! So, it's as though Erin Freeman made a cohesive whole from the sum of the parts.

I like the unity. Go on.

Tchaikovsky's Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, on the other hand, is a showpiece for a soloist.

Yes, I know what a concerto is, thank you very much.


Okay, so far so good. What else was on the concert?

The evening concluded with the five-movement "Concerto for Orchestra," written in 2002 by Jennifer Higdon.

Wait, what? You said this is a concerto...but for what instrument? "Orchestra" is not an instrument, but instead is the sum of many instruments.

This work combines or isolates parts of the orchestra -- entire sections or players within a section -- in various ways, and also gives the full orchestra the sort of brilliant writing a concerto soloist gets.

So, it's a standard orchestra piece? I guess I don't follow. Perhaps you can break this down for me in easier to understand terms.

Think of a salad, if you will.

Okay. A salad.

figure salad: A salad.

Got it.

A violin concerto is grilled tuna atop a bed of greens...,

Whoa, whoa. Slow down...

...violin. concerto. is. grilled. tuna...

...but Higdon's work is a Greek salad:

...Higdon's. is. Greek. salad. Got it.

Okay. But what does it all mean?

In any bite, the feta, the pepperoncinis or the crisp lettuce may stand out, but the flavors work together as a whole.

But the tuna doesn't work together with the greens?

I think I understand?


What do you mean, "nevertheless". We were just on the edge of breakthrough!

Okay, we'll move on, but this better be good.

...the second and fourth movements are perhaps most attractive for new listeners,...

What kind of salad are they?

...since they single out sections of the orchestra (string and percussion, respectively), which makes it simpler to take in something unfamiliar.

Huh? So the reason new music has had such a difficult time finding mainstream audiences is the fault of the woodwinds and the brass sections?!?

Does Brian Ferneyhough know this?

The symphony's percussionists were clearly enjoying the chance to demonstrate a vast range of sounds, and delighted murmurs could be heard from the audience.

Don't they know you're not supposed to talk in between movements? That's like talking with your mouth full. It's just gross.

The third movement features short solos played by section leaders who are joined by the section and often paired with another section.

The section leaders are joined by the section and paired with another section?

Strangely, that couldn't make more sense.

Yes, pairing section leaders with a contrasting
side section can be an effective way to build a menu...er, I mean work.

The violas, led by Molly Sharp, made delicious work of their tune,...

[insert food joke here]

...while Russell Wilson's piano and Lynette Wardle's harp were also highlights. Leisurely crescendos and decrescendos bind the elements together, as does a sliding motif played by the strings, although it becomes tiresome.

Yep, her music only has two moves: shake, and bake.

The full orchestra performed expertly in the first and fifth movements, and the piece ended with a flashy Hollywood-esque cadence that made the audience laugh.

Hehe. Film music is funny.




I've got the ill communications

Sifting through the Kansas City Star, I came across this title:

Chinese composers show Western influence

And decided that I didn’t want to deal with that particular type of stupid. Instead, I chose this winner:

Yo-Yo Ma shows why he’s probably the world’s greatest

Uh. Greatest…? Online poker player?

I kid the witty, yet only somewhat confident, copy editors of the Star. But seriously, what’s the deal with the off titles? Obviously, the Star hasn’t heard of any of the numerous online random title generators. They must actually use their brains. Dang, that’s hard work! In a few seconds, I didn’t use my brain and came up with this title: Delicious Man. I think that would have been a perfectly apt title. Don’t you?

Anyway, how is Mr. Ma doing these days?

The program opened with Franz Schubert's Sonata for Piano and Arpeggione, an extinct, cello-sized six-string guitar played with a bow.

I see. So the Star has heard of Wikipedia, but not its fallibility.

This work flows from one wonderful song or dance to another…

What our author “probably” means is that it flows from the Allegro moderato to the Adagio, then to the Allegretto. Kind of like songs or dances, I suppose. Then again, Wikipedia doesn’t cover the details. It does, however, cover this:

…but there's an undercurrent of sadness to it all -- perhaps because in 1824 Schubert was growing seriously ill and felt increasingly isolated.

…though, Wikipedia covers this without the speculation. Way to avoid plagiarism! Give yourself five points.

What else does Wikipedia say? Nothing?! I guess it’s time for some original prose, then.

Anyone who's ever played a music program for a live audience knows how hard it can be to hit the ground running, especially with music this reflective.

No comment. Just, yikes.

That Ma and [pianist] Stott were still very affecting in the Schubert only shows the level at which they're working.

The rest of the review, which doesn’t deserve any more of my time, continues on with a similar mix of horrible non-information, like the above, and Wikipedia alterations.

Figure 1. Last known photograph of a living arpeggione


Metapost: You May Find Yourself Living in a Shotgun Shack

Tucked away as we are in our little alcove of the internet (in the basement at the corner of Classical Music Street and Copious Profanity Avenue), it’s hard to imagine someone stumbling upon the Detritus Review by accident.

Or is it? [dun dun dun!]

The following is a sampling of Google searches that led people to Our Humble Blog in the past week:

“favorite rhetorician”

I’m going to go ahead and assert that if you have to ask Google who your favorite rhetorician is, you don’t have one.

“composers with schizophrenia”

Someone’s either writing a research paper or has a seriously niche fetish.

“what italian word means joke”

The word you're looking for is tedesco.

“Schoenberg sucks”

You don’t have to tell me that. Idiot. Good thing that’s one of our tags.

“That’s like asking the square root of a million; no one will ever know”

Translation: we use far, far too many Simpsons references.

“user friendly hyphenated”

You’re doing it wrong.

“empiricus wow”

Uh, World of Warcraft, I assume. Either that or someone’s finally found E’s Wombat on Wombat slash fiction.

Figure 1: The Common Wombat.

Figure 2: Obligitory Simpsons reference/World of Warcraft joke.

"brahms with wrong notes"schoenberg"

Here’s a handy tip: the space bar is the really big one in the middle of the keyboard at the bottom.

“worst joke in the world”

Sorry, Bernard Holland retired. Next?

"Ginastera Impressiones de la pluna"

This is impressive because few people know about Ginastera's piano meditations on Uruguay's national airline.

“Classical music is boring”

Well, obviously...

And the Number One Most Excellent Google Search That Led to the Detritus Review Last Week:

“dangerous dingdong”


Thanks, anonymous Google searcher! You just invented me a sweet new tag.


The Well-Reasoned, Fully Substantiated Attack of the Week!

This week is Spring Break for many in the world of academia, which means none of those annoying students around. And with nothing to do this morning, I decided to partake of a caffeine beverage at the local café. There I fortuitously came across a discarded copy of the New York Times. O frabjous day! A special treat to those of us without a major newspaper, to say the least. As I plodded my way through all the liberal bias and hidden socialist agenda, I eventually made it to the arts section, of which the New York Times writers rarely disappoint.

There are, of course, different approaches to writing a music critique. Review the performance, review the music, provide a play-by-play summary of the evening, or an editorial style commentary of the evening -- it's all good.

For the Flux Quartet's performance in the Bargemusic Here and Now series, Vivien Schweitzer decided the best approach was to introduce the mostly unfamiliar works to the reader subtly punctuated by a summation of her overall thoughts of the success of the piece.

Let me highlight my favorite part. (Read the full article here.)

Elliott Sharp’s “Tessellation Row” (1984) uses the Fibonacci series (in which the first two numbers are 0 and 1 and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two) to generate rhythms, forms and tunings.

figure fibonacci: The number sequence of the Fibonacci series, just because we stand for knowing shit here at the Detritus.

Interesting. It's certainly not a new idea to use mathematical constructs as the basis of a musical composition, but the results are almost never the same so I tend to be open-minded.

A nice introduction to the piece. What else?

Pitches are played on open strings tuned to different ratios relating to the series.

See, this sounds pretty cool. Instead of using the mathematical series to determine pitch (which is so often the result), Sharp has in essence created his own tuning system. Very cool.

So, speaking as an audience member, how did it sound?

Aggressive outbursts were tempered with occasional moments of respite.

Okay. A rather generic statement, but fine. What else?

For the most part the cacophonous work sounded like something that might be used to torture prisoners.

Excuse me? Come again. Baking powder? Music for torturing prisoners?!

Are you sure?

Which actually begs the question...what is music used for torturing prisoners?

[Emails Dick Cheney...no response. Checks the internets...success!]

So, it sounded like
Eminem's song "The Real Slim Shady"?

That does sound awful. Thanks for the warning. Your well-reasoned and fully substantiated critique has surely saved many innocent music lovers from this dreadful concert (seeing as most of us prefer not to be tortured) or ever trying to listen to Elliott Sharp's music!

What a service! Thanks, Vivien.


In case you're interested and don't want to read the whole article, here's Ms. Schweitzer's concert scorecard:

Annie Gosfield, Lighthearted and Heavyhearted -- Loved it!

Giacinto Scelsi, String Quartet No. 5 -- Hated it!

Elliott Sharp, Tessellation Row -- Hated it!

David First, Elegies for the Afterland -- Strangely no opinion given...I guess it was the result of the "hypnotic, trance-inducing mood"

Conlon Nancarrow, String Quartet No. 1 -- Nancarrow later wrote for the player piano

Webern, Six Bagatelles -- "Provided a striking contrast" (e.g. better than most of the crap on this concert)


Composer of the Day!

Today's Composer of the Day is Louis Andriessen (b. June 6, 1939).

Andriessen is probably the most prominent of all Dutch composers, narrowly edging out the likes of Henk Badings, Otto Ketting, and the indubitable Johan de Meij (who our high school concert band devotees will remember as the composer of the insufferable "Lord of the Rings" Symphony).

Andriessen was seemingly born to be a composer, following in the steps of his father Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981), older brothers Jurriaan and Caecilia, and his uncle Willem Andriessen (1887-1964) who were/are all professional composers.

Much verbosity can be wasted trying to nail down an exact description of the style of Andriessen's music. Let me instead provide a couple of quintessential examples:

From his massive four-part De Materie (Matter) for voices and orchestra -- mvt. III, "De Stijl", with text from The Principles of Plastic Mathematics by M. H. J. Schoenmaekers:

Worker's Union (1975) for any loud-sounding group of instruments -- Andriessen said of the work, "The idea is to have music that suggests people shouting at a political rally."

As you can probably hear, there are number of different styles at work in Andriessen's music. For example, De Materie has portions which recall the music of composers such as Bach and Stravinsky, boogie-woogie bands from the 1940s, minimalists like Terry Riley, and even quotes the "L'homme armé" melody (which appropriately originates in the Netherlands, for you Renaissance music history buffs out there). This mishmash of influences has led many to describe his music as pastiche, and his use of many repetitive and motoric textures as post-minimalist, or to claim his music as a blend of high and low brow culture. However, while embracing such varied styles as neo-classicism, American minimalism, jazz, and serialism, Andriessen has created a musical aesthetic uniquely his own.

In 1969, Andriessen and fellow Dutch composers protested Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra because of their continued unwillingness to perform new works, especially those of a more adventurous spirit. This group of rabble-rousers brought with them children's noise-makers in the shape of frogs that chirped in protest. Recalling the protest now, Andriessen says, "The sounds we made were actually quite serene and nice," but these serene sounds were still successful. Many point to this protest as a pivotal moment in the rebirth of contemporary music in Holland. But more importantly, it seemingly set Andriessen down a path in which he rejects the traditional orchestra in favor of a more eclectic approach to instrumentation.

His orchestrations often included unique groupings of instruments, and unusual additions to standard ensembles. For example, his work Orpheus (1977) is scored for 8 mixed voices, lyricon, electric guitar, bass guitar, synthesizer, and percussion. And his work De Staat (1972-76, text by Plato) is scored for 2 sopranos, 2 mezzo-sopranos, 4 oboes (3rd, 4th + English horn), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass trombone, 2 harps, 2 electric guitars, 4 violas, bass guitar, and 2 pianos.

Much of Andriessen's music also includes vocal or theatrical elements . These include using texts from seemingly non-musical sources such as Machiavelli, Plato, Nietzsche, text from the Book of Job, and Dante Alighieri (set for female jazz vocalist). Among the most famous of his works with literary and theatrical components are his collaborations with filmmaker and librettist Peter Greenaway. Andriessen's score to the Greenaway's film M is for Man, Music, Mozart is one my personal favorites, and is exceptional strong as a concert piece as well. See one movement from the film here:

M is for Man Music Mozart (1991) - Vesalius Song

Other collaborations include the operas Rosa: A Horse Drama (1994) and Writing to Vermeer (1998), and the La Passione (2000-02).

As with all Composer of the Day recommendations, Andriessen is a badass composer who is more than worth a moment of your time.

And just because, here is the text to "The Alphabet Song" from M is Man, Music, Mozart:

A is for Adam and
E is for Eve
B is for bile, blood, and bones.
C is for conception, chromosomes, and clones.
D is for Devil.
F is for fertility and Venus’ fur.
G is for germs and growth and genius.
H is for hysteria.
I is for intercourse.
J is for Justine or the misfortunes of virtue.
K is for Kalium, or potassium, if you like.
L is for lust, and lightening, lightening…


Useful Applications of The John Cage Brand(tm) Random Comma Distributor

I don’t even know anymore.

This review is clearly full of interest, energy, and passion, which is great:

Concert Review: Chamber Glimmers
Bill Peters, Burbank Leader, 2/26/2010

A little tidying up of the grammar, punctuation, and content would have made for a perfectly cromulent article. So why not have an editor give it a look?

A change of the guard was the order of the evening for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s concert last Saturday at the Alex Theatre.

They’re getting new players? No? New guards?

Conductor Jeffrey Kahane stepped aside in order to allow the depth of talent in the principal chairs from the string and woodwind section to take the spotlight.

So the socialist media spin is that the conductor “let” the principals take over. You know, just for one concert. That’s a slippery slope; sounds like creeping communism to me.

Showing their phenomenal skills were Concertmaster Margaret Batjer, Assistant Concertmaster Tereza Stanislav, principal second violin Josefina Vergara, associate principal second violin Sarah Thornblade, principal cello Andrew Shulman and principal oboe Allan Vogel.

From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs, I say. So far so good.

All were called on to perform the music of the Baroque era, stretching back nearly 400 years,

From about 1600-1750, more or less, right?

…as well as that of an upstart youngster, Felix Mendelssohn, who wrote a piece emulating the Baroque masters almost 200 years after the era.

Mendelssohn…did what? In 1950?

To explain, the members of the chamber orchestra seated at the first chair of their sections, brought the music of Henry Purcell, Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Mendelssohn to life in a rather brief concert — the music lasted a mere 60 minutes — but with an impact that left the audience applauding and satisfied.

Wow. I think that sentence fell into a blender.

Figure 1: A food processor is different than a word processor.

The concert opened with a Purcell sort of dance…

A “Purcell sort of dance”? I would have perhaps, grudgingly, accepted “sort-of dance” here, but this just fails. Unless this dance form (chaconne/chacony) is particular to Purcell, which it isn’t. So: what?

…that many call a chaconne, the Chacony in G-minor.

Yeah, those cognates are notoriously tricky to explain. Did you know, for example, that “Francais” means “French” in French?

Leader-violinist Batjer kept the 14-member chamber group assembled from the larger chamber ensemble at a lively pace.

He kept them…assembled at a lively pace? Did anyone read this for content?

Shulman moved to the front of the stage and demonstrated not only exceptional command of his instrument but an alarming ease as he parsed each phrase in a full and gorgeous sound.

It’s curious that it was “alarming” for some reason, but I’ll write it off as evocative hyperbole.

Shulman performed the Vivaldi Cello Concerto in C-minor, a 1728 work that has all the elements of the composer’s famous “Four Seasons” but looms with dark and somber tones in the second movement.

That’s like saying “Goldfinger has all of the elements of the famous previous James Bond films, but with car chases, evil villains, spy gadgets, and witty one-liners.”


Baroque almost wouldn’t have happened without Bach,

That…that’s just stupid. No, sorry, that’s unfair; I take it back. That’s not just stupid. It’s stupid and false.

…and the orchestra included two pieces by the venerated composer — one the Concerto in D-major for Three Violins and the other, the Oboe d’amore Concerto in A-major.

That's all the more impressive because D Minus Major and A Minus Major are widely regarded as extraordinarily difficult keys.

For the Three Violin work, Stanislav, Vergara and Thornblade put on what could only be called a sparkling display of virtuosic performance. Vogel, longtime, and really celebrity oboist with the orchestra...

While I appreciate the internal rhythm inherent in the phrase “Vogel, longtime, and really celebrity oboist…”, it doesn’t change the fact that it makes no goddamn sense.

Is there a John Cage Brand Random Comma Distributor missing in Southern California?

The reviewer clearly has interesting observations and opinions; it just needs a little...editing.

Are there no editors in Southern California?

I have half a mind to quickly assemble a phony Craigslist Los Angeles ad soliciting applications for an editorial position for the arts section at the Burbank Leader.

That, however, seems like fraud, and one of my goals in life is Not Going to Prison.

Here is a picture of John Cage that is fun to look at.

Figure 2: John Cage thinks about commas while performing on a toy piano.


Arguments, Agreements, Advice, Answers, Articulate Announcements

Minnesota Orchestra review: Finns deliver Sibelius' work with authority

Rob Hubbard, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, 2/25/2010

No American feels about a classical composer the way that Finns feel about Jean Sibelius.

Hear that, Americans? NO AMERICAN feels this way . You can’t even know. Rob Hubbard (who was presumably born Roope Huuskonen) knows you don’t know. So don’t fucking pretend. He’s all over that shit.

That said, this silly assertion might be true considering most Americans can’t name a native-born composer other than John Williams.

Their attachment to his music is so profound that Sibelius has created nothing less than the soundtrack to their national identity.

The attribution of agency here is confusing; it sounds like they loved him (dude: so much!) and therefore [i.e. not because] he wrote them a bunch of music.

Also: does the American national identity have a soundtrack? (I’d like to submit Spinal Tap's "Gimme Some Money", but I'd love to hear reader suggestions in the comments.)

There should have been more Finnish-Americans at Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall on Wednesday night.

Roope Huuskonen is judging you, Finno-American Twin Cities-area residents. Can’t you be bothered to come hear some freakin’ Sibelius? Come. On.

As it was, the stage was lined with Finnish-born musicians: conductor Osmo Vanska on the podium, two vocal soloists from the Finnish National Opera up front, and the 60 men of the YL Male Voice Choir at the back.

Voice Choirs are my favorite kind of choir. I don’t, however, know what “YL” stands for. I’m gonna go with “Yummy Lips” for now. “Yummy Lips Male Voice Choir” has a nice ring to it.

They gathered to perform Sibelius' sprawling "Kullervo," a "symphonic poem" inspired by Finland's "Kalevala" legend.

Could you jam any more quotation marks into that sentence? (I get the sense that Roope thinks it’s something other than a symphonic poem.)

But it was an encore of Sibelius' "Finlandia" — and a rare opportunity to hear a choir sing its reverent verses — that likely will stay longest with those who stayed to hear it.

Objection! Speculation.

By that time, the Orchestra Hall house was only about a fifth full, but it was a disappointing turnout to begin with, especially since this concert was a warm-up for a Monday night performance at New York's storied Carnegie Hall.

Yeah, that is surprising. “Hey, everyone! Come hear our warm-up! ‘Cause we’re goin’ to New York to do the real thing! And, um, you won’t be there!”

And at which Carnegie Hall will they be playing? That’s right: storied Carnegie Hall.

Recent visits there by Vanska and the orchestra have produced lusty ovations and rave reviews, much of it in response to their exceptional way with Sibelius. Whether "Kullervo" will produce the same reaction remains to be seen.

Really? Since when is time linear?

It's an epic work, but an early one for Sibelius, with the 26-year-old composer finding his voice…

Figure 1: Sibelius in Vienna, 1891 (age 26).

…but not yet articulating himself as impressively as in ensuing years.

Figure 2: Late Sibelius, circa 1950.

It bears the weighty sense of import and evocative scene setting the composer inherited from one of his heroes, Anton Bruckner.

Bruckner, eh? That also explains his brevity and genial lightheartedness.

But there's a jarring abruptness to his mood swings, his musical arcs not as refined as they would come to be.

This is not true of most composers, whose refinement and mastery tend to diminish with age and experience.

The work also serves a reminder of why Sibelius hasn't gone down as a great writer of vocal music,

And why is that? Is it...because he's unjustly neglected as a vocal composer?


No? Nothing? Nice. Lettin' me down here, Roope.

…but the soloists and choir were nevertheless outstanding. Soprano Paivi Nisula delivered the aria upon which the drama of "Kullervo" turns with tremendous power. And the choir navigated the work's widely varied dynamics with precision and clarity.

(Talk, talk, talk. It's only talk.)

Perhaps Sibelius is in the blood of all Finnish musicians, but this group's understanding of him sounds quite deep.

Ah, Roope, you’ve given yourself away. Only a Finn could have heard the depth of their understanding.


Friday Quickie: Memo to Gary Panetta

Recently, I wrote about an editorial by Gary Panetta, of the Peoria Journal Star, where he lamented the lack of new music accessible to the masses.

Accordingly, I'd like to help Mr. Panetta on this matter to find new composers writing new music for the NPR/PBSers out there.

I think the title of this article says it all:

Pulitzer winner writes music the masses can appreciate

Here you go, Mr. Panetta. Not just any composer writing music for the masses, but Pulitzer Prize winner, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (America's preeminent Floridian composer)!

figure ellen: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich looking a little like Meredith Baxter.

A couple of highlights from the interview:

"I remember the days in which (writing accessible music) was an insult, and I have been targeted for that. OK, what is the opposite? Inaccessible? Unapproachable? There's a barrier between you and it? All great music, to me, is accessible," she says. "There has to be something that stirs your whole humanity. To me, music is about your soul, your emotions, your brains, and your body - everything that pulls together into one art form."


"Part of it has to do with my feelings about the composer's place in society, so to speak. We don't belong in an ivory tower. I think we belong in the public and with musicians."

So, there's at least one composer out there for you.

figure ellen and company: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich with fellow new composers, although of decidedly inaccessible, unapproachable music, Charles Wuroinen (sporting very manly facial hair), Milton Babbitt (short old dude), Yehudi Wyner (the Jewish one), Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and some other guy.


Will the next Mozart please stand up?

Much time is wasted discussing what's wrong with classical music. These complaints cover many aspects of the classical music culture, from concert rituals, to education and public advocacy, to style and content. There are plenty of wonderful ideas and innovations, and lots of smart, dedicated people intent upon affecting positive change and facilitating the further evolution of classical music. To my thinking many of the ideas out there are trivial changes and mostly meaningless, but there are points to be made.

But on the other hand, then there are people who argue what Gary Panetta, of the Peoria Journal Star, argues. He moves right past issues of availability, education, and a dated concert ritual and goes straight to blaming the most obvious party -- the composers.

Will the next Mozart please stand up?

Here’s a comment that will probably confirm me as Philistine in most people’s minds, but I’m going to make it anyway.

Well, a Philistine, generally speaking is someone that is said to despise high art and intellectualism. Probably not the best point of view to be coming from when commenting on contemporary music.

But you mentioned Mozart, so I'm totally with you -- what's your argument?

Classical music today just doesn’t need a new way of presenting music. It needs new composers and new music.

It'd probably be stupid of me to point out the obvious here, so I'm going to assume that you know that there already are new composers and new music. Perhaps the ones we have aren't to your liking?

Specifically, it needs composers who can write for symphony orchestras instead of chamber music groups or soloists.

And again, you're probably making a philosophical point, so I don't need to tell you that almost all those new composers compose new music for orchestras too. I guess they write bad music for orchestras, and what we need is good music. Great point, Gary!

Moreover, classical music needs composers who can write music for symphony orchestras that is accessible.

That's a funny word, "accessible". Seems to mean different things to different people.

But let's just use your definition for the time being -- what's accessible mean?

This means – gasp! – that composers need to think about their audiences and what their audiences would like to hear.

Exactly! Just like Mozart said: “I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.”

By audience, I don’t mean “people in general.”

Yeah, fuck "people in general".

I mean the likely audience for classical music – the PBS, NPR crowd, that slice of the overall population that is open to the idea of hearing a symphony orchestra.

Precisely (although, just for clarification, when you say "the PBS, NPR crowd", you're talking about people like you, right?). "People in general" are too stupid and unwilling to try new things to be considered.

Classical music would need an even newer, more accessible breed of composer to speak to them, and that does sound like a lot of work. Nope, I'm with you, Gary. Stick to the basics -- new music.

But I guess I'm confused by what you mean by "new composers and new music". For example, I just heard a Symphony perform On the Transmigration of Souls by John Adams. The program notes said it was about September 11th, which I'm pretty sure means this piece is probably new. I mean it can't be more than 9 years old, can it? And let me tell you, it was great. The way he captured the sounds of New York, and his use of texts taken from missing person signs, and the dynamic music were all so incredibly powerful.

This niche audience should be excited whenever a new piece of music is published and be clamoring for public radio stations and for local symphony orchestras to play it.

When was this ever the situation?

You do realize that you're trading one niche audience for another. I mean you've sold me, Gary, but it's possible that someone (not me, mind you) might say that these non-existent new composers are actually writing music that they "clamor" for, even if you don't.

Remember, not me. You're totally right about new music not being new enough.

But these are radical concepts you're peddling here. I think you're basically saying that composers should stop writing music for themselves and start writing music for you. And, I listen to NPR also...so, I guess me, too!

This niche audience, however, is never excited because composers don’t think about this audience when they write.

I'm totally with you. I know composers and they are self-absorbed dickholes. Good call.

And oh, just for the files, how did you come by this knowledge again? I assume you having polling data to support your thesis, right?

They don’t think about the kind of harmonic language this audience is accustomed to hearing.

Wait a minute. I thought you said we need new music by new composers?

Gary, you and I are totally buddies here, but I think "language this audience is accustomed to hearing" could be misinterpreted. I think some people might think that you are referencing older music. Like the music of 200 years ago? I'm not a history expert, but that strikes me as decidedly not new. Fuck me, I'm confused.

They don’t realize that people still like to hear melodies – and that writing a good melody takes more than training. It’s something of a gift.

So right. Melodies are hard, and modern composers are just such quitters. I mean, how else can you explain the music of Steve Reich?

He must write all this music for percussion (really the lesser of all instruments -- banging doesn't equal playing) and all that minimalist stuff because he can't write a good melody. It's sad really. A failed composer who just persists upon writing more and more music under the mistaken belief that anybody likes it.

Face it, Steve. They don't! The people (not the "people in general", but the "PBS, NPR" people) like melodies, and therefore hate your music. And I'm looking your direction too John Adams.

I recently heard a symphony play On the Transmigration of Souls?! What the fuck was that? Street noises? Sound effects? Random texts? And for a piece about September 11th, not one super sad melody?

Composition lesson #1, my friend: minor key equals sad. How about you rewrite that pile of shit in g minor? And while you're at it, there are far too many letters in the word "transmigration". Titles should not contain words that I need to look up.

But I digress. Gary has the ball...drive it to the hole!

I’m not talking about dumbing music down.

Of course not. The "PBS, NPR crowd" aren't dumb, they just hate learning anything new.

I’m talking about marrying a sense of what’s popular and accessible with true musical sophistication and creating something that appeals to lay people while giving those more musically sophisticated something to appreciate.

Exactly. A more perfect utopia I couldn't imagine.

But for you non-NPR/PBS readers out there, this probably rather confusing. Let me translate some of the this for you.

"Popular" means what was popular 150 years ago.

"Accessible" means not requiring any effort or new knowledge from the audience. (I mean, all orchestra audiences were formed in full with just the right amount musical knowledge at birth. Any excess knowledge really is crime against humanity.)

"True musical sophistication" means there are good melodies. Hopefully melodies that can be whistled pompously around less worldly, ignorant workmates on the way to the office radio to change the station from easy listening to Fresh Air.

If composers want to be heard, they have no other choice.

So don't be like Mozart and make sure you pay attention to our whims. And certainly don't write what you feel.

You can only be so experimental when writing for symphony orchestra concerts, which are costly to mount, depend on a full or near full hall, and which frankly ask a great deal from the average person in terms of time and money.

Another great point, Gary. Which makes me wonder...why do we want this new music by new composers again? I mean, they're not going to write anything better than a Beethoven symphony, plus I love hearing Beethoven live.

Specialist music attracts only a specialist audience.

i.e. people who don't deserve orchestra music.

If composers want someone other than fellow academics listening, they need to change.

Or else.


Please forgive me now while I step onto my soapbox and editorialize on this subject for a moment.

Not to put too blunt a point on it, but Gary Panetta is what's wrong with classical music, not the composers writing this inaccessible music. What he is advocating for is not having to learn anything new. Gary Panetta has been challenged by music that he doesn't understand, and therefore doesn't like. And rather than admit his ignorance, he claims a position of self-righteousness -- composers have lost their way and should adjust their music to people like him.

Mr. Panetta will undoubtedly find many that agree with him, but thus is the reality of all stupid ideas (case in the point, the Republican party). I don't want to be too dismissive, but Mr. Panetta is a moron. His parents were probably morons, and he wants you to be a moron too. Because, if he doesn't get it, then no one who is worth caring about should get it either.

Now, don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with being a moron. Some of my best friends are morons...but I don't let them pick the movie, either. And not all morons are as easy to point out as say, Ms. Teen South Carolina, Heidi Montag, or Mitch McConnell. Nope, some even went to college, got fancy degrees and end up in places of power and influence, but that doesn't change the fact that they're morons. And they're not difficult to identify, because the hallmark of the moron is the advocacy, defense, or general malaise around not knowing.

Classical music has always required a certain level of sophistication from listeners. It has always been an intellectual exercise. It takes incredible skill and years of practice and experience to compose a piece of "true musical sophistication". And, as I'm sure Mr. Panetta would admit (and already basically concedes when he excludes "people in general" from his argument), that it takes a certain amount of knowledge and understanding to fully appreciate what a composer like Beethoven or Mozart is doing in their music. Granted, it's not an entirely intellectual exercise as a listener, but it's an important element that makes it distinct from listening to other types of music.

Now, what Mr. Panetta is essentially arguing is that the music he and his NPR/PBS brethren like contains the perfect blend of complexity and pretty stuff, like melodies. And since it's mostly music from 100+ years ago, he and everyone he knows grew up on this music and probably grew to appreciate it from an early age, which is when you're already forced to learn all sorts of new stuff, so it doesn't hurt as much. But now he's an adult, and he'll be damned if he learns anything else. The music of Mozart and Brahms is the best music Mr. Panetta knows, so if there must be new music, then if should reflect that great music of the past.

However, Mr. Panetta, as previously asserted, is a moron. He doesn't know what he's talking about. His argument is stupid and, if his first sentence is any indication, he knows it too. First of all, there is no perfect music. Classical music is in constant evolution. Each composer builds upon the legacy of the composers that come before them, incorporating the sensibilities of their culture, the technological advances of the era, and the greater wealth of music that had preceded them. And the problem is, Mr. Panetta, that for each new generation of composer there is more history and innovation packed into their compositions. Beethoven's music was keenly aware of Mozart, Bach, Haydn, Handel and a handful of others. Brahms also knew that music, plus the harmonic advancements of Schumann and Chopin, the nationalism of Dvorak and Smetana, the massive, bloated orchestrations of Berlioz and Wagner, not to mention the virtuosic vomitous volumes of Liszt and Paganini.

As a natural by-product of the modern age of classical music, there is a greater amount of knowledge necessary to understand Brahms than Beethoven. And the same is true of Mahler and Stravinsky and even Copland. That doesn't make any of this music better, nor does it make more complicated. Even as "accessible" as Copland's populist music of the early 1940s is, this music requires quite a bit of sophistication to fully understand.

But if your ultimate point, Mr. Panetta, is not about understanding and appreciating classical music for it's emotive powers, technical prowess and architectural beauty, but simply to admire it for it's pretty sounds and singable tunes, well then you have no point. That music is already out there for you. There is already an entire genre (an industry really) of music that is dedicated to thinking "about their audiences and what their audiences would like to hear." They already write their music in a "harmonic language this audience is accustomed to hearing." And they certainly have tried to "marr[y] a sense of what’s popular and accessible." It's called pop music. Perhaps you've heard of it. And for you ivory tower sorts, "pop" is short for "popular", and it is music designed for the sole purpose of being popular -- so the opposite of classical music. You'll love it, because I promise you, that from here till the end of time you'll never have to learn anything new to understand this music.

What makes classical music different is that it isn't meant for everyone. This isn't true in an elitist sense that it trying to keep anyone out, but by virtue of the level of sophistication and required knowledge base it will naturally appeal to a smaller segment of the population (I call them "readers"). And the thing is, that despite you not knowing this, classical music is in constant motion, even during the time of your favorite composers. There will always be music that pushes the boundaries, and music that rehashes the styles of earlier eras. Just look harder, Mr. Panetta, because it isn't difficult to find composers who want to be Brahms (check with any unemployed film scorer, or virtually any sophomore composition class).

But if you really want to talk about what's wrong with classical music, it's morons like you who think it's a static entity. That it was perfect when Beethoven and Brahms roamed the Bavarian countryside. Composers have always been ahead of audiences, it's the nature of all creative fields. But somewhere along the line it became acceptable for audiences to elevate themselves to the center of the classical music universe and decree that anything they don't understand is stupid and wrong. Well, you're not the center of this universe, and frankly as Milton Babbitt says, and I think I speak for most composers here, we doesn't care if you listen.