Premise Falls Short, 7 Dead, 11 Injured

One of our favorite strategies, here at the DR, is to follow an opening premise to its end, to see if it actually pans out. In most cases, no, it doesn’t. And that’s what makes it funny.

So, in the spirit of tradition, let’s do just that, but abbreviated.

It’s tempting to call Vladimir Feltsman a madman.

Oh my gosh! An opening premise that presumably won’t pan out! Please, please, please tell us—so we can laugh at you—why is it tempting to call him a madman?

It’s crazy what he can do at the piano.

Oh. (sigh)

That’s what most of us would call virtuosic; but, then again, who are we to kiss the Oxford English Dictionary's ass? (And, by the way, screw you Webster! Stop calling.)

You expect the whole thing is going to come apart at the seams, that the elements holding the structure of the piece together are simply going to break apart, like a bridge compromised by a gale force wind.

If by “gale force” you mean Vladimir and by “bridge” you mean music, then no. You’re doing similes wrong, my friend. Bridges blown apart by gale force winds are poorly designed, which is not what you’re saying. Are you saying Chopin sucks. Are you? Didn’t think so.

Figure 1: The original orchestration of the First Piano Concerto 

For an encore, Feltsman offered the ever-popular Chopin Waltz in C-sharp Minor. As he finished the final run at the very top of the keyboard his hand kept going and he seemed to wave goodbye to the audience.


Then he smiled – like a madman.

Get it? Because he smiled like a madman, thus ending another awesome DR deconstruction, er, destruction.


Sadly, the Title Was Not Apt

Music review: Exotic chamber music opens Stowe festival
Jim Lowe, Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, August 20, 2010

Exotic? So, you mean something other than Beethoven and Mozart?

Trying something new and unusual isn't very American, plus I'm pretty sure that's how the country got overrun with all these communists. But, I'm game.

figure unusual: Sure, what the hell.

The Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas is more than an excellent New York orchestra, it's an ensemble of fine individual instrumentalists.

Interesting. So you're hypothesizing that there is an excellent New York orchestra that isn't an ensemble of fine individual instrumentalists?

Rochester Philharmonic...I'm looking in your direction.

(Just kidding, of course, because everyone knows it's the Albany Symphony that is made up of a bunch of loafing, slack-jawed yokels.)

The Music Festival of the Americas at Stowe opened Wednesday at Topnotch Resort,...

Topnotch? That's a good name for a resort. Very good name. I wonder who's the ad wizard that came up with that one.

...with a chamber music concert that showcased members of the weeklong festival's resident orchestra – and some proved superb.

Others sadly didn't. I hope someone had the guts to put those poor musicians out of their misery.

The POA, led by Music Director Alondra de la Parra, is in-residence in Stowe for the week for Music Festival of Americas at Stowe.

Excellent. Show me some exotic music.

figure 19th century exoticism: The Exotic White Man

Maybe some little traveled Chinese classical music, or perhaps even the locally exotic musics of Harry Partch, for example?

Most impressive was a deeply felt and passionate performance of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 7 in f-sharp minor, Opus 108.

Wait. I thought you said the program was exotic? Now, I've never been to Russia, so it's exotic to me, but...Shostakovich? A string quartet? With an opus number? Come on.

Violinists Daniel Andai and Brooke Quiggins Saulnier, violist Ryan Rump and cellist Benjamin Capps, all POA principals, played with an intimate sense of ensemble not often heard outside of a fulltime [sic] quartet.

figure vodka: Yes, it's Russian, but not terribly exotic. Wait...win a what?

Maybe this was just the warm up to the impending exoticism.

Andai is a particularly fine violinist with a keen musical sense and a rich, warm sound. (He is also on the faculty of Vermont's summer Killington Music Festival.) But,...


...he was well-matched by the others in creating a compelling performance of this three-movement work that mixes the forlorn nature of the Soviet Union with a suppressed wit, even sarcasm.

Or maybe it was written in memory of his first wife, Nina, who had passed in 1954. But who am I to get in the way of preconceived notions of what all of Shostakovich's music must be about.

However, again, I must say that I am not impressed with the exotic credentials of a Shostakovich quartet. That's fairly ubiquitous fare as chamber music goes.

What else ya got?

Also fascinating and well-played was the String Quartet by Mexican contemporary composer Enrico Chapela (b. 1974).

Mexican... contemporary.... I like what I'm hearing. Although, when you think about it, Mexico is about as exotic as Canada. But whatever, it's not like it's distinctly American. Or even partly American...it's exotic.

figure not-that-exotic: It's Mexican-ish. Also, earn a jillion buckaroos!

The sunny work combines Latin themes...

To be expected...
I suppose.

...and jazz flavors...

Hmmm..."Latin themes" and "jazz flavors"...this is beginning to sound slightly less exotic. But I'm sure that it mixes these popular elements with a unique, boldly exotic harmonic language

...with thoroughly modern but accessible harmonic language.

An "accessible harmonic language"? Hmmm...that sounds decidedly not exotic.

The performance by violinists Cecee Pantikian and Saulnier, violist Rump and cellist Maria Jeffers was passionate and exciting – and a crowd-pleaser.

Passionate? Well, I can see you're well-versed in Latin cliches? Was it also perhaps, hot and spicy?

The biggest crowd-pleaser,...

As your editor, I would suggest not using the phrase "crowd-pleaser" twice with in the space of four words. Just saying.

Carry on...exoticism of epic proportions must surely await us.

...though, were several “pop” selections by a brass quintet: trumpets Michael Gortham and Gabriel Dias, hornist Daniel Wions, trombonist Alexis Regazzi and tubist Justin Clarkson.

First of all, I am definitely a fan of the "unnecessary" use of quotation marks, but pop music is hardly exotic.

Am I beginning to repeat myself? I'm starting to think that we don't know what the word actually means, or I guess more accurately, have a very low threshold for what qualifies for exoticism.

A Spanish march and “Bess, You is My Woman” from Gershwin's “Porgy and Bess” were stylishly played, but it was a jazzy version of “Amazing Grace” that brought the house down.

I hate when that happens.

figure popular exoticism: Everybody was kung-fu fighting.

So after the strange and foreign musings of the brass quintet wrecked the stage, what happened next?

Conversely, an intimate and at times tender conversation between two violins was achieved in New York composer Kyle Saulnier's Duo.

New York composer...and I was beginning to think this concert wasn't all that exotic.

Brooke Quiggans Saulnier, the composer's wife, and Elizabeth Young, who also plays in the Vermont Symphony, played lyrically and warmly making this conversation charming and compelling.

Sounds compelling.

figure exotic?: Okay, this is a tough one.

What else was compelling?

Another compelling performance was of Argentinean composer...

Ah, Argentinean! Now we're getting somewhere

Also, what did I tell you about repeating word choices?

Also, also...Argentine composer? Or maybe Argentinian?
Anywho, you were saying, compelling performance of Argentinean composer...

...Astor Piazzola's “Historia del Tango.”

Oh. Piazzola.

Harpist Kristi Shade's sensitive lyricism was beautifully contrasted by Nuno Antunes' jazzy clarinet in this fine sophisticated work.

I must say that I'm having a hard time hiding my disappointment.

But I guess I should remember our definition: exotic = something other than Mozart and Beethoven. So I guess it's not all bad.

Two traditional works were less successful.

Traditional? I could be wrong (but I'm not), but I'm fairly certain that traditional and "pop" just aren't the standard criterion for exotic.

However, I should thank you for bringing some common sense to all this "exoticism". I was beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable with all these new and strange musics.

Yep, some traditional values (i.e. something like Mozart and Beethoven, but clearly not them, since that would probably be too on the nose, as it were) sound pretty good right about now.

figure "go-around-the-person's-intellect": Where. Is. The. Crocoduck?

The playing in one movement of Mozart's Horn Quintet, K. 407, was rough but the spirit was there. The playing was fine in Beethoven's Serenade, Opus 25, for flute, violin and viola, but the music-making wasn't comfortable.

The music-making wasn't comfortable?

The "playing"...was fine. O-kay.

But, the "music-making" wasn't comfortable? ...

Damn. I thought I had it there for a moment. Maybe you can help explain?

These are busy musicians.

Good point? Busy makes music-making uncomfortable? So, out-of-work, lazy musicians (Albany musicians I assume) would logically make the most comfortable music, yes?

But, then we're left with a strange catch-22 -- if you hire these lazy musicians for their comfortable music-making abilities, they would cease to be apathetic and slothful, and therefore, more uncomfortable in their music-making.

And therefore, comfortable music-making only exists in theory. Kind of like absolute zero.

Whoa. I just totally blew my own mind with that one.

Tonight, the orchestra, conducted by de la Parra, will perform its staple Latin American classical music,...

Again, playing one's "staple" doesn't seem very exotic. I hate to harp on that one word choice, but you know, it's sort of (if not exceptionally) confusing.

...this time, Mexican works from its new Sony Classical album, “My Mexican Soul.”

I'll be the burrito-taster.

figure exotic: Kind of erotic too.


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.


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

Figure 1: Better.


Inflammable Means Flammable?

Figure 1: Calm down, sir, you're going to give yourself skin failure.

Kalmar channels wit and anger of Shostakovich
Bryant Manning, Chicago Sun-Times, 8/5/2010

Is the Shostakovich transitive? That is: is just the anger his, or the wit as well?

After a month of excellent guest conductors having seized the riches of the Grant Park Orchestra, principal conductor Carlos Kalmar returned in top form to the Pritzker pavilion Wednesday night.

After a month of...having seized? Man, the tense wars in Chicago must be worse than they say! The guest conductors siezed the riches...for a month, but now that's over? Where are the riches now? Do the erstwhile guest artists still have them? Will they ever give them back?

But this isn't about that.

The Uruguay-Austrian maestro was back for one of the season's most impressive concerts, which, at least during this summer season, might as well be repeated over and over again.

What? Why? Saying "might as well" makes it sound like you're grudgingly resigned to the possibility.

This isn't about that, either.

Yet Wednesday's offering truly showed the municipally funded, free outdoor concert at its best,

I am in favor of such endeavors; I hold them in esteem.

...where festival administrators paid tribute to Millennium Park's founders with a first-class program featuring the incomparable violinist Christian Tetzlaff.


[but soon...]

While Tetzlaff is not the most lyrical violinist around, his playing can sing and serenade without the usual slick array of pretty notes.


First, I don't know what that means. He didn't play any notes? Or just not any pretty ones? Perhaps it suggests that he played them, but not in the "usual array"? Did he, I don't know, change their order at random?

Second...well, look.

This "incomparable" performer isn't "the most lyrical violinist around"?

Even if "incomparable" means something metaphrorical, less like "not able to be compared to anything" and more like "benchmark by which all others are compared," how is he not the most anything?

Anything good, anyway. I suppose he could be both "incomparable" and "not the shittiest violinist around."

I am forced, then, to conclude one of two things:

Either Mr. Manning is not a fan of flashy, over-emotive performance styles, preferring instead an intellectual (and/or, apparently, quasi-improvisatory) approach; or "incomparable" doesn't mean what he thinks it means.

Figure 2: Thinly disguised oblique meta-reference


@!#?@! What in the hell is that "boing"?

What's the most important part of music review, you might ask? It's a good question. The who, what, when, where, or possibly the why?

Those things are nice, but they don't get to the heart of what it is to attend a classical music concert.

No, it's all about the setting and the mood. Bring the reader into the seat of the reviewer to experience the beauty and grandeur of watching an entire symphony orchestra in action.

Concert review: Conductor Jahja Ling impressive at RPO concert
Anna Reguero, Democrat and Chronicle, August 6, 2010

For future concerts, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra might want to add to its pre-concert announcements.

Really? Why might they want to do that?

It could go something like this: Will all musicians please turn off any metronomes, tuning devices — and cell phones?

"Musicians," always leaving their metronomes running.


So, really, how about this impressive performance from Jahja Ling?

Guest conductor Jahja Ling had just cut off the orchestra for a large break in the second movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17
during Wednesday evening's concert at Hochstein.

Ah, the glorious K. 453 in G major, with the somewhat unusual sub-dominant slow movement. Lovely little concerto...

Ling's wife, pianist Jessie Chang, was about to begin her cadenza.

A husband and wife cast as conductor and soloist. Seemingly the perfect set up for a truly magical, and not at all unusual, evening.

Great set up...what happened next?

That's when a "boing" interrupted the silence.

A 'what' interrupted the silence?

And then another "boing."

A "boing"?

figure boing: Watch out for that snake!

And another.

What in the hell is a boing?

Its origin unknown,...

Sounds like aliens.

figure x-file: There's been another unsubstantiated UFO sighting in the heartland of America. We've got to get there right away.

...the audience scanned the hall to find the culprit. Was it a metronome? A timer?

I dunno. Maybe it was a violin dancing with a saxophone...

figure unexplained noise: Now, that's just silly.

In any case, I just can't wait to find out what happens next.

And what about the poor soloist for pity's sake!?

Chang kept her concentration and continued through her cadenza,...

Whew. A consummate professional, to say the least. Truly she is a hero to have kept her cool in such trying times.

...which showed off her light and sparkling touch, perfect for Mozart.

Who has time for a review of the performance at a time like this?

Get on with it, man. What of the mysterious "boing"?

By the end of her cadenza, the "boing" continued on.

The suspense is killing me.

So did the orchestra, ignoring the extraneous noise as they sailed into the work's final movement.

They're on a boat?

The ushers finally walked around the hall, trying to locate the noise.

Isn't always the extras who get killed first in these types of concerts?

That's when I noticed principal bassist Colin Corner...

@!#?@! It's always the bassist!

....shrugging and shooting worried looks at his stand partner. Could it be that the sound was coming from his case, sitting behind him on top of a spare piano on the side of Hochstein's stage?

figure bassist: "It grew louder -- louder -- louder! ...They heard! -- they suspected! -- they KNEW! -- they were making a mockery of my horror!"


"Villains!" he shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear open my case! -- here, here! -- it is the boinging of his hideous heart!"

During a few measures of rest near the end of the concerto, Corner handed over his bass to go silence the "boing" song. It turns out it was an alert feature on his cell phone.

Well, that's rather anti-climactic.

Was it at least an alert feature of DOOM?

Rather than roast Corner, this mistake was likely because Hochstein does not have backstage space to keep instrument cases.

Ah, I guess that explains that. Everything's been wrapped up into a nice little package.

I'm glad that's over with. So, onto the concert.

At the Eastman Theatre, the musicians have both a downstairs green room and space behind the stage shell for storage.

I see. [Looks at watch.]

Any cell phones to ring in cases and bags would not be heard on stage.

Really? They wouldn't be heard on stage at the Eastman Theatre?

Valiantly, Ling — for whom this performance was a possible audition for the music director opening (he's currently music director of the San Diego Symphony) — didn't flinch and continued to steer the orchestra confidently.

Not just a guest conductor, but an audition to become the new music director of this ensemble? And you wrote about boings?! @!#?@!, indeed.

He had great chemistry with Chang.

Really? He had great chemistry with his wife?

When Chang's first entrance moved a little more swiftly than the orchestra, Ling immediately looked back at her to adjust.

Well, recovering from a "boing" of this magnitude is sure to leave at least a few scars.

She adjusted, too. They were a great pair.

What was she playing again?

Ling's chemistry with the orchestra was also noticeable.

Noticeable? Do you think he's cheating with the viola section?

Though he lacks the graceful arm movements and posture of some of the other candidates, he has a friendly and encouraging presence on stage.

Well, you know, grace is a tough one. You either have grace or you don't. Grace isn't something you can pick up at the market.

He blazed through Mozart's Overture to The Marriage of Figaro and also conducted a high voltage version,...

So, over 600 V?

...if not overly so, of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 without a score after intermission.

Did he blaze through the Mozart the way you blazed through the meaningful part of this review?

The musicians let their opinions be known by sitting when asked to stand during the multiple ovations at the concert's end to direct the applause at Ling.

embeddence awesome: Is it just me, or does Q*bert have a legitimate case against the Snorks for copyright infringement?

Just in case you hadn't read the original review yet, of the 12 paragraphs (newspaper paragraphs), 8 were about the "boing". Eight.



Brahms Concerto Assulted; Charges Pending

Concert review: Encore undercuts Brahms at Bowdoin
Christopher Hyde, Portland Press Herald, 7/20/2010

An encore at the end of a [classical] music concert isn’t that rare, especially when a soloist is involved. In this case—indeed, in most cases nowadays—“encore” means “more stuff!” instead of “again!” This is widely regarded by the paying concert-attending public as something between More Art-Stuff for My Money = Value! and A Gift from the Artist to the Audience.

Not all encores, of course, are good, or well-performed, or well-composed, or even in good taste. However, never, in my experience, has anyone complained about an encore as such.

Young violinist Ray Chen, one of the new class of virtuosi at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, drove a stake through the heart of a brilliant performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major (Op. 77) at Crooker Theater on Friday…

He drove a stake through the heart…of a performance…of the concerto? Really? Or is it just Overwrought Prose Day in the Maine newspaper community?

…by choosing to play an encore.

Yeah. First, being a “young” artist [of unspecified age], he probably didn’t “choose” to play jack shit. Second, what the fuck is your problem?

Chen may be too young to know better,

But not, I take it, too young to be publicly excoriated for it. In the Springfield Shopper. I mean Portland Press Herald. Whatever.

Figure 1: Journamalism.

…but I felt sorry for festival co-founder Lewis Kaplan, who conducted orchestra and soloist in one of the outstanding performances in the festival's history.

An historic moment: the 35,457,221th performance of the Brahms concerto. And pity the poor festival organizer/conductor, who probably absolutely had no hand in the planning and execution of an encore showpiece to showcase his featured young artist.

All of a sudden it seems like Bowdoin isn’t about the critics anymore. What happened, man?

There are all kinds of reasons not to play an encore after any concerto,

Not really. This is a made-up objection articulated by means of a weak appeal to an unnamed authority.

There is, however, a long-standing tradition of critics not reviewing or completely ignoring encores which has been tossed out the window here.

…but after the Brahms, one of the towering masterpieces of Western civilization, it is little short of sacrilege.

This comes across like a supply-sider jerking off while writing about the awesome power and fragility of the free market. “It’s huge and powerful and towering and majestic and awesome—but don’t touch it! It breaks easily!”

Brahms has withstood worse injustices than suffering through an encore by some prodigious young artist at a summer music festival concert. For fuck’s sake; what are we even talking about?

The work is a unity.

Yikes. I hope you have your Schenker diagrams ready to prove that shit. Also, how’s that discredited, anachronistic, 19th-century faux-organicist teleological view of art working out for you? Good?

It should send the audience home with a feeling of awe, perhaps a little euphoria, and fond memories.

Also nostalgia, a unicorn, and full employment. Since when is it the critic’s job to assert what you should be feeling when you go home after hearing a particular piece? That’s some Palin-esque batshittery right there.

Figure 2: Palin 2012.

To puncture that mood with anything gratuitous -- like the Bach andante for unaccompanied violin that Chen played –

Yes, showy-ass Bach and his unaccompanied andante [sic]. Talk about empty showpieces!

While researching this article, I happened upon this great thread (at violinist.com) discussing Joshua Bell’s recent practice of playing Vieutemps' set of variations on “Yankee Doodle” (Variations burlesques sur "Yankee Doodle", op. 17)…after performing the Brahms concerto (among other pieces). Most of their commentariat (made up, one surmises, mostly of violinists) are fine with it, and with encores after concerti in general.

So what are we on about again?

…no matter how good, calls into question the musicality and even the integrity of the performer.

Oh jesus shit. Says you.

Does he consider Brahms merely a vehicle to show off?

Brahms is dead, and his concerto is solidly ensconced in the canon. What are you whining about? Who are you trying to protect? Because your protestations are about as weak as your rhetoric, and it’s kind of sad.

Chen is better than that.

We think? You assert? Was it on his website? Press release? Over lunch?

He seemed to have a feeling for the music and its intimate orchestration, blending the timbre of the violin with the French horns in a way I had not heard before.

Seeming to have a feeling, as reported secondhand, is like blowing your nose in a lace doily.

Figure 3: Decorative, or effective? Mmm, yeah.

His double-stop work sounded like two equally angelic voices, his tone was the acme of purity…

Ooh aah ohh gush overcompensate-for-criticism blah blah squee!

…and his dynamics were the way Brahms wrote them.

That…no. That is a terrible ending to a bad sentence.

After the final cadenza, he should have quit while he was ahead.

After the last cadenza…he should have stopped playing before the piece was over? I guess that’d make a great, if vague, political statement of some kind. Or something.

It may be objected that the first work on the program, the Beethoven String Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 ("Rasoumovsky"), included what might be considered an encore by the Ying Quartet. It was not an encore at all but a recapitulation of (part of) the exciting final movement, actually reinforcing the impression of the whole.


That’s exactly what an encore is. It’s “more.”

Furthermore: that’s a bunch of bullshit and you know it. Oh, but it’s okay, because it wasn’t after a concerto, specifically the Brahms concerto, which is such a powerful, towering monument of Western civilization that it has all of the constitutional integrity of a syphilitic mayfly.

So spare me. Or better: kill me now, but spare the Brahms concerto! It's too young to die!