Friday Quickie: News You Can Use

Critic's Pick
Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe, 10/10/2010

-Boston Symphony Orchestra


In other news, if you want to see a football game in Pittsburgh, try the Steelers!

Also recommended: a great way to cure hunger is eating!

Ah, Eichler. We kid because we love.

Figure 1: I mean: Come. On.


Emily's Mom and Dad Think Soloist Played Well

Every now and then it's nice to a have a concert that appeals to us vernacular audience members...you know with music from another country, written over a 100 years ago.

Review: Guest cellist lends his talent to Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra
J. Shane Mercer, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead (inforum.com), Oct. 17. 2010

The encore made the night.

That just sounds sad. The one piece that wasn't on the program "made" the concert.

As the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra and guest cellist Zuill Bailey worked their way through...

Solid introduction -- implying that the performance was drudgery -- I'm definitely interested now. But I'm so quick with these asides...carry on.

...Richard Strauss’ “Don Quixote” at the first 2010 Masterworks concert Saturday night, I kept thinking, “I like Zuill. I’d just like a little more of him.”

Yes, well, I've never quite understood why people insist on treating Don Quixote as a cello concerto. There is a solo viola part too, you know.

But it's a cool piece, so if Zuill was happy, I'm happy.

It seemed that the composition didn’t give the chart-topping recording artist and performer room to do his talents justice.

Yep...waste of a perfectly good soloist with an awesome name. Zuill.

figure tonight's soloist: There is no Dana, only Zuill.

But with regards to that "do his talents justice" comment...don't kid yourself, that's not an easy piece music. As one string player puts it "...Don Quixote separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and in doing so tests the real quality of the musician.”

I know that's not a funny quote, but I'm making a point here: words do have meanings.

But at the close of “Don Quixote,” after much applause and a bouquet of flowers (that he passed on to a cellist in the orchestra), Bailey returned to the stage...

...for the encore? For the encore that "made the concert"?! Wow. Really, I quite excited.

...and performed a gorgeous interpretation of the cello-only Prelude to Bach’s First Cello Suite in G Major.

A lovely piece indeed.

The tones that rang from his more-than-three-centuries-old cello sounded like the voice of a human at times.

Well, I prefer my cellos to sound like...cellos. But to each his own.

With that, I felt satisfied, though I would not have complained had he gone into a second solo (or that same one again).

Man, what else is on the rest of this concert that could leave you so incredibly apathetic about hearing more of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony?

Some crappy Bruckner symphony?

Bailey’s smoky, dark good looks have helped land him a number of television appearances.

Oh, I get it. It's not what the orchestra has programmed, but you have a crush on Zuill. Well, I've always said that pretty people are better musicians than ugly people. I think it's a scientific fact.

So, what does Zuill Bailey look like?

figure handsome: Tom Brady plays the cello, too?!

This guy makes Rostropovich look like a pile of puke. So, we can see that he's hot, but what about his personality?

He hit the stage Saturday in all black with a stage demeanor that is immediately likable and engaging.

Sounds dreamy.

“He’s a real performer,” said Doris Matter of St. Cloud, Minn., whose daughter, Emily, plays bassoon in the orchestra. “He really engages with the audience.”

Wait, Emily's mom? Is she some sort of authority on this subject?

Well, what did Emily's dad think?

“You can tell he’s into his work,” said Peter Matter, Doris’ husband.

I must say these might qualify as the most random people you could have interviewed.

So, really, onto the rest of the concert. You've hit the highlight in the soloist's encore, and sort of implied that you didn't really care for the rest of the concert, so...

The music at Saturday’s concert focused on Spain.

Ah, Spain. Home of the tooth mouse, Ratoncito Perez.

figure tooth mouse: Oh yeah, this is much more amusing than a fairy.

In any case, a program about Spain, huh. Well, the Strauss is about a famous Spanish character, but the music is quite German, yes? He even quotes his own orchestral suite, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, which is based on a French play. But, these program threads are always tenuous. What else was on the concert?

It was the first Masterworks concert of a year dubbed the “Taste the World season,” in which each concert will focus on a different part of the world. It opened with 19th-century composer Emmanuel Chabrier’s “España,” a light and fun romp that has the liveliness of Spanish music,...

Wait, the Spanish piece, called "
España", has the liveliness of Spanish music...? Are you sure?

...though not a great deal of its distinctive dark half-tones.
At the end of “España,” conductor Bernard Rubenstein and concertmaster Benjamin Sung jokingly hugged, a reference to a comment said to be made by Chabrier that at the end of the piece, the audience would embrace one another.

I assume everyone was let in on the joke in advance, because while I consider myself an aficionado of all things Chabrier (as I imagine most of the audience were as well), I did not know that anecdote.

The gesture drew laughter from the audience.

I can only assume.

It’s noteworthy because it’s a microcosm of something that this orchestra is doing very well: walking the fine line of being accessible to a more vernacular audience while still maintaining the dignity of the art form.

Hugging = vernacular?

I'm not sure that word means what you think it means.

The orchestra can do so, in part, because the music is of high quality, which is really what makes art worthy of dignity in the first place.

Music of high quality is what make art worthy of dignity? It's an interesting thesis.

And, as if to illustrate that point, Saturday’s comic moment came after a tight, tidy performance of Chabrier’s creation followed by another quality performance on “El Sombrero de Tres Picos.”

Which has no composer, of course. But I notice that the title is in Spanish. Nice. That totally fits with the focus on Spain.

But, you're making some sort of point about the symphony being more accessible to us vernacular sorts. How was a quality performance of a piece about hats accomplishing that?

figure vernacular: "Left Unalakleet warmth for rain in Juneau tonite. No drought threat down here, ever but consistent rain reminds us: 'No rain? No rainbow!'"

I guess hats are vernacular, although, I can't really remember the last time I saw someone wearing a hat with three-corners, so maybe that mitigates the vernacular quality of this performance some, yes?

In some sense, Bailey’s performance was also a nod to that approach – whether intentional or not.

Really? How so?

Bailey is handsome, engaging and has television credits, too.

I see. You're right, we are a shallow, celebrity-obsessed society. We couldn't possibly value Bailey's talent as a cellist above his looks and popular culture credentials.

But when the bow strikes the strings, the form is not without substance.
And that is the key.

Lesson learned. To all you ugly children out there...just give up now. You may have substance, but without the form... .


[Pro Tip]

What's a good way to casually devalue something while, ostensibly, talking favorably about it?

Concert Review: Electrifying performance of contempo-music

Bogdan Fedeles, The Tech [MIT paper], 10/8/2010

Yeah: Title FAIL.

(Otherwise quite a decent little review. Do go read it. And after you have, ask yourself:

What the hell?)


Friday Quickie: Tired Cliches and Rants Edition

The best way to get your point across and grab the attention of the reader to make a connection right away. So, many critics find a point of agreement as their topic sentence. But that's where so many critics run into trouble -- the generalization.

I know, I know. It's just an innocent comment, but really...does it serve any purpose at all, other than to reinforce the idea that contemporary music is generally awful? Anne Midgette is an excellent critic, and I expect better from her on the fundamental issues like this one.

I mean, I understand. But sometimes...you know...[sigh].

Take it away, Anne.

If you want to scare off an audience,...

Wait for it...

If you want to scare off an audience, offer contemporary music.

Nailed it. Couldn't agree more. Yep, contemporary music is awful. And now that I think about it, classical music is boring, also. Which begs the question why anyone would ever program that new music garbage?

Oh, wait. Could it be that's a gross generalization that reflects antiquated thinking? The casting of an audience as a single, like-minded organism is so very lazy. I think it's safe to say that not all of us regular symphony patrons like the same music. Some of us want nothing more than to hear contemporary music often (very often) at the symphony, and to never hear the Bruch Violin Concerto ever again (for example).

I know -- we don't count. There's only so much information that can be included in your standard stereotype, so it's easier to ignore the minority and make all arguments as though we don't exist. But we do exist. And the problem is, at least as is my experience, some of us will purposefully avoid your average symphonic tripe on a regular basis, nearly assuring that we'll never feel connected to these institutions.

But the strange part (and the most reassuring part as well) is that while critics like Ms. Midgette (and actually I read Ms. Midgette quite often, so I know she's much better than this) dwell in the delusion about the awfulness of contemporary music, orchestras are smarter. It no longer makes sense to generalize about the attitudes of audiences, especially as the new garde of conductors -- Marin Alsop in Baltimore, Gustavo Dudamel in LA, David Robertson in St. Louis, Robert Spano in Atlanta -- all make programming contemporary music part of their missions. How is it that these people, who need to schmooze the blue hairs on a nearly daily basis as part of their very livelihood, are further ahead of the curve on this issue than music critics? Seriously. It's time for a new cliche.

figure scary music: Sounds like ants eating my face.

Oh, but I cut you off. Contemporary music scares audiences, but...

If you want to soothe it, offer George Gershwin.

Well, I would have said Beethoven, but 20th century American music is a good call too.

Read the full article here:
Concert review: Post-Classical Ensemble's 'Gershwin Project' at Clarice Smith Center
Anne Midgette, The Washington Post, September 23, 2010


Just Saying It Doesn't Make It So...

But it's a nice sentiment nonetheless:

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: not just for old people
(Erin Schumaker, Medill Reports (Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism), 10/13/2010)

As a bonus, it's a cogently written and, apparently, edited (!) article, if a bit of a fluff piece.

Still, it's nice to see that not only is classical music still attractive to younger people, classical music journalism may just survive into another generation yet.

Extra points for the hilarious title, even if it does reinforce an unfortunate stereotype (the very one that the article attempts to dispel).


Creeping-Hyphen Menace Reaches Columbus

Figure 1: "There are places in America where creeping hyphenation is already taking hold!"

Season opener nicely balances familiar and not
Barbara Zuck, Columbus Dispatch, 10/11/2010

There is a specter haunting American arts journalism: the specter of unnecessary punctuation.

The ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus capped a big weekend for the performing arts tonight with a superb season-opener at its home, the Southern Theatre.

"Season opener" is a compound noun, and not adjectivally modifying...anything. Why the hyphen? The poorly constructed title of the article gets it right, for once.

Music Director Timothy Russell accomplished what he has done so many times before: assemble a wonderful program that...

He accomplished...assemble? Say, that is an accomplishment! You know, in the rarefied air of avant-garde subject-verb agreement circles.

Music Director Timothy Russell accomplished what he has done so many times before: assemble a wonderful program that balanced the familiar with the "not-so" and starred a brilliant guest artist, American cellist Zuill Bailey.

The "not-so"? Is an orphaned modifier somehow worthy of quotes, or just a random punctuation attractor [er, punctuation-attractor?]?

A recent chamber-orchestra arrangement of the well-known Mussorgsky piano work Pictures at an Exhibition opened.

Yikes. Why not hyphenate "piano-work" as well? Also, and not for nothing, that is some textbook passive voice right there. The Mussorgsky "opened," did it?

This version was created...


...by a member of a renowned Brazilian musical family - Clarice Assad, sister of the well-known guitar duo, the Assad Brothers.

Why use an m-dash to do an m-dash's job when the hyphen is sitting right there on your keyboard, staring you in the face? Or when a comma would do just fine? A colon, even, would be a good candidate; but no. The Creeping Hyphen Menace is trying to subvert the very principles established by our English-speaking founding fathers!

Clarice Assad's arrangement brims with clever instrumental combinations, interesting solo-instrument choices and a sense of humor.

Solo-instrument? Sure! Why not "instrumental-combinations" and "sense-of-humor" as well? Yeah, I guess that'd be too obvious.

Those who know the piece well might have found themselves chuckling at various moments, as well as marveling at the colors created by the particular instrumental hues Assad selected.

Might have. Might not, though. I guess. Is this a speculation based on personal experience, or a projection about how one who knew the Mussorgsky may have reacted?

Safer not to alienate anyone. I mean: who knows that piece, anyway?

No hyphens in that sentence, anyway. But maybe we're being lulled into a false sense of security?

ProMusica reprised Prokofiev's marvelous
Symphony No. 1 (Classical), a charming and melodic work that is among the composer's best-known creations.

See? The hyphens are pretending to be well-behaved and normalized. That's how they getcha.

Was Prokofiev having fun at music-history's expense - or merely enjoying himself creatively?

Okay. My fears were justified.

"Music-history"? And another use of a hyphen where a comma would do, or an m-dash would be appropriate? Barely noticed, did you? Man, these hyphens are playing the long game. They're willing to wait us out.

Also, the entire premise of this sentence is...unintelligible. I don't know what "enjoying himself creatively" means (it sounds like a euphemism for individualistic onanism) , nor do I know why it's differentiated from "having fun at music-history's [sic] expense."

Perhaps both.


Oh, wait. No I don't.

ProMusica had a good time as well, most notably in the heavy-footed "gavotte."

Oh, well, as long as they had a good time. Playing a "gavotte." Which is...a movement from the Prokofiev? Yes, it is (III: Gavotta non troppo allegro), but you wouldn't know that unless you already knew it.

Bailey, a native of Virginia with an exotic appearance onstage, joined the orchestra for the closer, the
Concerto No. 1 for Violoncello and Orchestra by Shostakovich.
Figure 2: The exotic appearance of Zuill Bailey.

Playing a magnificent 1693 Gofriller cello that once belonged to the Budapest Quartet's Mischa Schneider, Bailey sounded as facile as a violinist...

One doesn't expect a professional soloist playing anything other than a violin, or perhaps a piano, to demonstrate any agility on their instrument.

...while simultaneously delivering a powerful and sonorous tone quality no matter the range of the score.

This awkward sentence could have, mind you, been further garbled by substitution "score-range." So there's that.

The Shostakovich No. 1 may not be regarded as your typical instrumental showpiece.

It may not? (Although I don't see why.)

Bailey may have changed a few minds last night with his virtuoso rendition.

He may have? What does this double-speculation-as-possible-contradiction construction achieve?

Many of Columbus' major arts groups offered performances this weekend. ProMusica's concert was the stand-out in the crowd.

Figure 3: "Oh, I see. Then everything is wrapped up in a neat little package!"


Friday Quckie: Brahms' music was indeed intellectual

I do realize that most critics are not theorists or musicologists, and from time to time their reviews may call for such considerations. They may be forgiven if their comments aren't always one hundred percent accurate. However, we here at the Detritus just have to say..."wait, what?"

Review: West Michigan Symphony gets season off to fiery start
Laura Alexandria, The Muskegon Chronicle, September 25, 2010

The final selection, Johannes Brahms' (1833-1897) Symphony No. 4 in Eminor [sic], was described by Speck as "intellectual" and "lavish," and indeed that is what it was.

I just love this confirmation by the critic of the conductor's pre-performance talk:

Yeah, he described this Brahms Symphony -- pssh -- as "intellectual", but I had to hear it first to be sure. Who ever heard of this Brahms character anyway? I'm not one of those rubber stamp critics you know...up here in Western Michigan, we demand results!

Actually, I'm sure it's a completely innocent statement. But a little editing would have revealed how
that last remark is really completely unnecessary.

Moving on. Tell us more about the music of this Brahms fellow.

Although not melodic, Brahms' music is a balance between technique and expression,...

Yes, yes. Balance of technique and expression, not melodic and...wait. ...


Brahms' music is not melodic?! Are you sure?

I mean, I've heard of a lot of Brahms' music before, and I've also heard quite a few melodies.

I guess I don't know what you mean. Are you suggesting that Brahms' music doesn't contain groupings of pitches arranged in a linear progression? Is the Fourth Symphony nothing more than homophony?

Oh, perhaps you're using the term "melodic" in the most idiotic sense of the word, to mean 'a hummable tune'. Please say that isn't so.

But if it is so, is there anyone out there who can't hum the opening theme to Brahms' Fourth Symphony? To any of the movements really.

Even 70's prog-rock band, Yes, thinks the Fourth Symphony has a melody.

But I interrupted you, perhaps the rest of your sentence will clarify this unsubstantiated claim.

...and the symphony delivered on the classical form, the dynamic range, and some lovely woodwind passages in the second movement.

Whew! The four movement structure of the piece was in doubt until the West Michigan Symphony came along. Thanks, guys!


Rhetoric Effectively Used to Say Little

I've read reviews in the past, but never one quite like this. It was fitting, and poured across my eyes like words from a computer screen. The descriptions glowed effervescently with metaphors and similes sparkling with the delirium of cliche observations and orgasming in a "cool down" and a dubbing.

Chopin was there too.

Review: Rockford symphony starts season on high note
Tim Hughes, RRStar.com (Rockford Register Star), September 20, 2010

I’ve attended opening night at the symphony in the past, but never one quite like this.

Really? Never??

figure guess: This would be a bit different...what do you think?

So what was so unique about this concert?

It began with Czech composer Bedrich Smetana’s “Overture to the Bartered Bride,” a comic opera which, since its first performance 145 years ago, has become a staple of opera company repertories around the world.

So, the overture to a standard repertoire opera is uncommon for opening night symphony concerts?

I think I'm confused.

The brief, lively overture was a fitting opening number for the new season, reaching an incredible intensity.

Fitting? Why do you say that? It's a comic opera about arranged marriages...is that the fitting part?

Or just the "incredible intensity"?

Then came the evening’s guest artist, Jeffrey Biegel.

You're right. Why would we care about why you felt it necessary to single out this opening night concert as unique, or why the Smetana overture was especially apt? That kind of first-person elucidation is boring.

Let's move on.

In honor of the bicentennial of Frederic Chopin’s birth, Biegel performed two of the composer’s early opuses...

Seems logical, but rather stiff...how about a out-of-place metaphor or simile that tells us nothing?

...that at times fell on the audience’s ear like cascading brook water.

Beautiful. Plus it's rather cliche. Bravo, sir.

figure Monument to Chopin in the Singapore Botanical Gardens: Not funny, just thought it odd that Singapore has a monument to Chopin.

So, I'm a pretty big fan of overwrought prose and metaphorical descriptions. Do you have any more?

At other times, it was delivered with a fury that gemmed and jeweled each note as his fingers flew across the keyboard.

Impressive. I think you've succeed quite nicely in telling us pretty much nothing.

Next, Biegel performed Keith Emerson’s “Piano Concerto No. 1,”...

Which Chopin did he play again?

...which radiated with an onrushing cacophony of sound glittering with the frenzy of modern urban life and climaxing in a horizon wide crescendo of breathtaking tonal power.

Bravo. Your words are as florid as they are meaningless.

After taking several well deserved bows,...

I'm sure the ovations were well-deserved...the bows on the other hand...

...Biegel, in what might be deemed a “cool down” encore, moved the audience with a tender rendering of Chopin’s “Fantasy Impromptu.”

"Cool down"?

figure cool down: Good call. We definitely wouldn't want to do something we would feel sorry about later. Thanks, Chopin.

Anyway, why would one have doubted that deeming?

The evening was capped with a performance of Brahms’s sprawling “Symphony No. 1.,” dubbed “The Tenth” in recognition of it similarities to Beethoven’s ninth.

Why tell us the Brahms has similarities to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony? Is that relevant to this performance?

Nevermind, you're right, don't overwhelm us with details. Information only confuses the matter.

General impressions, melodramatic metaphors, and unexplained opinions are the tools of any great critic.