Thanksgiving, Detritus Style

Nearing the end of our third year bringing you the finest meta-music journalism the profession has ever seen and having some spare time from the rigors of academic life, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about something a little different. I’d like to take you on a tour, a very magical and perhaps mysterious tour—a brief look into the world of The Detritus Review.

For some time, the board of directors had entertained the possibility of leading guided tours through the halls and offices of the Detritus Tower, where all the (now classic) musical shenanigans sprout from the ether and bud into bulbous bundles of blogosphere brilliance. However, even The Detritus Review is not immune to the collective ill fortunes of capitalist speculation and, thus, that plan was scrapped.

But, in its conception, it was glorious. There were to be two guided tours each workday, lead by none other than the magnificent Gustav himself. He would have taken the tour groups, first, through the Great Hall, which currently serves as the main library and contains some of the most rare and curious volumes of forgotten cultural lore. This was to be followed by a brief stop to my cubicle or to Sator Arepo’s corner office to witness the feeding of his caged gorilla named Bernard. Also, there would have been a stop to the luxurious conference room, which we lovingly call “The Con,” after Star Trek. Here, the tour group would have been invited to watch a brief video history of the DR and be treated to an endless supply of Jolt and Doritos. And if that wasn’t enough, the tour would end with a stop by the newly added gift store, where you would have had the opportunity to purchase one of our signature line of poker visors! (My personal favorite: “I’m a Detritus Fish”)

Alas, any prospect that a tour of such grandeur takes place is now dead. Yet, I hope to fill some of your voyeuristic needs by inviting you to follow along with my thought process, step by step, beginning to end, while I search for and deconstruct an odorous pile of words, the end result of which will eventually find its way onto the front page.

How’s that sound? Great! Glad to have you on board. Let’s get cracking!


There are obviously many facets to the production of our posts, all with a degree of purpose and, hopefully, integrity. But before anything can be done, there are certain ground rules to which we must adhere.

Here is a brief description of just one of the criteria and how we come to negotiate it. For the most part, the articles we chose are found online. (I like to think we save trees from further embarrassment) This brings up several questions. First, does the source maintain journalistic standards or, at least, does it say it tries to? And, second, is the source aiming for profit? If yes to both, we feel we have the obligation to criticize it; this obviously means that newspapers will be our main sources. But if the answer to one or more of those questions is negative, I will consult the I-Ching chances are we won’t touch it with a ten-foot Polish person. Blogs, in the traditional sense, i.e. those not attached to newspapers, are generally off-limits. So ACD, consider yourself mostly-lucky.

There are certainly other things we think about before we deconstruct a music review, but I won’t bore you too much longer. Just one more thing: unfortunately, many of these ground rules were discovered after initial dissemination. We have since eliminated these faults, but would like to emphasize that apples are also vegetables, depending on how you look at them.

Okay, so you have a taste for where we begin. Now, let’s find an article and rip it apart. I have many of the major newspapers bookmarked, but my favorite way to go about finding an article is to take a random walk through a forest of armpit hair. The critics who write for major newspapers usually do a good enough job, so a little grunt work is often needed. I usually start by hopping over to onlinenewspapers.com, which is simply a directory of online newspapers, big and small, especially the small ones. And so I click on a random newspaper, like the Arkansas Times, where I found this:

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s ‘New World’
By Edward Wooten


Ah, the symphony has a new director. “How ‘bout that?,” I think to myself.

It was apparent even before the concert began that a new era was at hand.

Okay. Yeah. But I can’t really work with it, unless…

A more energetic setting of the National Anthem also signaled the arrival of a new era.

Hmm. Can I twist this to make fun of the National Anthem? Can I make fun of Arkansas-ionians? Is that even a word? Can I use that as an in? Ooh! I wonder if I can make fun of National Anthem connoisseurship?

Maybe I should wait a bit longer to make fun of this. Let’s read a little more, first.

([The director’s] predecessor had used the hymn-like arrangement first used at the Greek Olympics.)

Yeah! See, this can be funny stuff. I don’t know if he means that the ancient Greeks used the national anthem or if it was performed at the recent Olympics in Greece. Plus, hymn-like tunes are so yesterday, right? I mean, he’s insinuating that more energy is required to reinforce, or maybe reinvigorate, patriotism, or that the National Anthem is boring.

See, these are things that go through my mind as I read what may turn out to be a decent article. However, I usually require more substance than that, which was simply some awkward wording. Let’s see if there’s anything else.

The Bernstein was vigorously performed[…]

Well, maybe this whole “vigor’ thing can serve as a thread for this post? I mean, if you think about it, what our reviewer is responding to is the smoke and mirrors of fast and loud. Let’s keep this in mind, shall we?

The highlight of the program, however, was the Dvorak [“The New World”].

Okay. The meat and apples of the concert. This part usually contains some good DR fodder.

The significant themes and motifs in every section stood out.

Heh. That’s a limp thing to say. I guess it could be worth mentioning as an aside. What else can we use for our meta-review?

[The director] conducted the familiar second movement up-tempo just enough to eliminate the dirge-like performance it often gets[…]

Well, there we go! For some reason our author just likes fast. Maybe we can do a NASCAR joke or two (probably at the beginning). I’m sure this material would make a fine DR meta-review. Don’t you think?

The orchestra played throughout with the raw vigor that the piece demands.

More cushion for the pushin’! I think we’ve stumbled across the right article.

Sometimes it happens this quickly, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t want to give you the impression that we here at the Detritus Review don’t do any work or research; but sometimes fate intervenes and hands us a pile of words that begs for the royal treatment.

(It is a "ninth symphony," after all.)

Oh, this is just a long, fantastic purple cherry on top! How lucky are we?! How could we even hope to get through a review of a symphony concert without the slightest reference to Beethoven even though Beethoven wasn’t on the program? Beautiful. Simply beautiful; and, yet, stereotypical of clunky music journalism.


Alright, guys. We have an article, a thread, and even some material. So, now it’s my job to put all this into some sort of coherent narrative and to flesh out the jokes with a bit more precision. Once that is done, we can be a little creative and spice it up with some links and silly pictures, which may or may not have anything to do with the review.

I like to start this phase by coming up with a title that…


Friday Quickie: The Beginning is the End

Well, Gustav (and Mrs. Gustav and new! baby Gustav) are moving across the country; Empiricus is mired in grading undergraduate theory exercises (heh).

So I guess it's up to me...suckers.


Sometimes things are over before they even get started. And I'm not even thinking about titles. (For once.)

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Review: A palpable connection to Mendelssohn and Beethoven
Ronni Reich, The Star-Ledger (nj.com), 2/26/2010

With more than 250 years of music-making to its legacy, it is no surprise that the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra brings with it a real, unshakable sense of history.

250 is, indeed, a lot of years for a legacy...to have...to...it.

Er. With?

SPCO reinvents Bach with a barn-dance vibe
Rob Hubbard, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, 11/18/2010

Have you ever gone to a classical concert where a hoedown broke out?

I've been to classical concerts in lots of places. It's totally conceivable that a hoedown has broken
out in one or more of them at some point (Copland notwithstanding).

Review: Symphony's 'Requiem Mass" reveals plenty
Bruce Miller, Sioux City Journal, 11/14/2010

With Charles Ives' “The Unanswered Question,” [conductor Ryan] Haskins played with lighting, dabbled with educating and teased with staging.

That's a lot of with. I like the parallel construction and everything, but the first with doesn't do what it's trying to do. If only we had perfectly good English prepositions such as in or during! Ah, but that's a little nit-picky. At least we're past the first sentence.

The piece may not have been an appetizing first course,

It may not? Does that mean it may have? Or that it wasn't? Or is it just casual degradation of the merest morsel of modernism?

Well, at least there's a food metaphor. Let's see how that plays out.

...but it said plenty about the music director's desire to do more than classical music's greatest hits.

Ah, not so much. Oh, well.

Okay, wait. Back up.

The piece may not have been an appetizing first course, but it said plenty about the music director's desire to do more than classical music's greatest hits.

Ah, very clever. By omitting the obviously necessary -- and therefore unnecessary -- verb "perform," "play," or "program" between more than and classical, the writer shrewdly comments on the stolid state of over-programming standard concert repertoire. Subtle.

The work was designed to address the questions of existence.

I...okay. Maybe? Or even: probably. But why bust that out in the middle of this particular paragraph?

Ah, but it's more clever wordsmithing; a seemingly out-of-place and perhaps profound interjection paralleling the brassy interjections in the Ives. Well played.

It featured an offstage trumpet, a simmering set of strings and a quartet of jarring flutes.

This is true.

By anyone's standards, it was odd, but provocative.

By my standards, there are two too many commas in that last bit, but that's merely a subjective point of style.


By anyone's standards, Ives' Unanswered Question is odd but provocative...if it's nineteen-oh-freakin'-six.

Just sayin'.

I feel that I have been negligent, so here is a picture that is fun to look at.

Figure 1: Burl Ives is/was not Charles Ives.

Happy Thanksgiving.


New Music's Overton Window

I was downright excited to see the title of this review!

Young Composers' Style, Form Make Good Match
Lynn Green, Columbus Dispatch, 10/8/2010

Young composers, eh? Good to see new art being encouraged in Ohio.

The prodigiousness of young composers took the stage Saturday as violinist Vadim Gluzman joined the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra...

That's a pretty big name to bring in to play new music by young, relatively unknown composers. Good show.

...for the "Mostly Mendelssohn" concert at the Southern Theatre.

Oh. Mostly Mendelssohn. Okay.

Well, that's fair; programming unfamiliar works on concerts with well-established repertoire is a time-honored strategy for keeping the blue-hairs and curmudgeons happy while simultaneously promoting more adventurous fare.

The bulk of the concert's length went to Mendelssohn's works,

Right; as implied. And?

...but the program also included works by Alfred Schnittke.


Don't get me wrong, I love me some Schnittke. (He's awesome.)

Figure 1: Alfred Schnittke

But I was promised young composers. Who else was on the program? Someone...young? Or, I don't know...not dead?

Although nearly 100 years separate the two, their innovative styles and use of traditional forms and harmonies makes them an interesting match.

So...nobody? What's up with that?


Gluzman and the orchestra performed Schnittke's Fugue for Violin Solo and Mendelssohn's Concerto in D minor for Violin and String Orchestra as a single unit. These pieces were composed, respectively, at age 19 and 14.

Wait. The concert was music by "young" composers only insofar as both dead men's works were written while they were young?


The soloist and the orchestra played cohesively, combining artistry with technical prowess, and adeptly demonstrated the youthful sophistication of these two well-known composers.

Yeah, that cold sucks. I mean it sounds like a good concert and all; cheers for programming the relatively little-heard Mendelssohn d minor concerto (instead of the ubiquitous e minor warhorse).

But "new music" seems today to mean "written since 1900," and now "young composers" doesn't mean "people writing music who are young right now" either.

At a certain point, the bar is set so low that one isn't worried about hitting one's head so much as banging one's shins.


Compelling Backstory Explains Everything

I personally believe that music can (and most likely should) be enjoyed simply as a musical experience. However, I understand that some people get great enjoyment from extra-musical information. The life of the composer, the circumstances or inspiration for a particular piece can indeed provide a context that enhance our enjoyment of a musical performance. There's no doubting that...but it's not everything, right?

Review: Grand Rapids Symphony's Classical Series concert features glowing performances, low notes
Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk, The Grand Rapids Press, October 30, 2010

Sometimes knowing the backstory means everything.

Sometimes not. I guess it depends on what you mean by "everything". Or by "knowing".

The Grand Rapids Symphony's Classical Series concerts this weekend in DeVos Performance Hall has several.

Backstories? Can't wait!

For openers, the titles to the pieces can be misleading.

Misleading titles? You're suggesting that composers misled audiences?

figure misleading: Not me.

Plus, how much of a backstory is a misleading title anyway?

But you've got my attention...I'm racking my brain to think of a title I consider misleading. Maybe...Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson (which contains some 20 saints in four acts).

What egregious examples of misleadingly titled compositions did the Grand Rapids Symphony perform?

There's nothing pathetic about Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony.

[smacks forehead]

Its composer dubbed it "passionate," which the French translated as "pathetique," and there it stuck.

Seriously, you don't have to speak French to know that is a pathetic translation.

"Pathetique", in French, denotes a feeling of passion and sorrow, and while sharing the same root (and being a literalistic translation), is not really a direct equivalent to the English concept of pathetic as "miserably or contemptibly inadequate". Context people. Context.

By the way: Great. Backstory.

Richard Strauss took his title "Also sprach Zarathustra" from a philosophical treatise by Friedrich Nietzsche, and thankfully little else.

Well, other than the inspiration, the movement titles, and the general narrative of the piece.

In a letter to Otto Florsheim (I assume of Florsheim Shoes fame), Strauss wrote:

“I did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray in music Nietzsche’s great work. I meant to convey by means of music an idea of the development of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of its development, religious and scientific, up to Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman. The whole symphonic poem is intended as my homage to Nietzsche’s genius, which found its greatest exemplification in his book, Thus Spake Zarathustra.”

But what I want to know is why this is "thankfully" so? It's a difficult read, yet Nietzsche created an original and radical philosophical which sent shockwaves throughout religious communities. Not to mention it's the book which contains the famous maxim, "God is dead." Whether or not you subscribe to any of the philosophies of Nietzsche, he is significant figure in literature and philosophy. How weak must one's beliefs be to feel threatened by a book written over a 120 years ago.

figure same name: They share the same name, but little else...thankfully.

But again, I guess the title's misleading. I guess.

Actually, no...wait, it's not misleading at all, since it tell us exactly (with no room for mistake) the source/impetus for it's composition.

Great backstory, though. I really feel like I know everything about the piece.

Tchaikovsky conducted his premiere 117 years ago last Thursday; Strauss conducted his premiere 114 years ago next month.

You're right. The titles don't give any reference to when the premieres took place. That is misleading.

For an audience of 1,048 on Friday, music director David Lockington led glowing performances of both major works, performed this month in part to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the opening of DeVos Hall in October 1980. Both were part of the orchestra's first season in the 2,400-seat auditorium.

Seems fitting. By the way...another great backstory. I wonder what tragedy befell those of the 1048 in attendance who were not aware of this important backstory.

figure backstory: Wait, is this the right backstory?

But thinking of misleading titles...your review title suggested something about "low notes". Did something go wrong at the concert?

No guest stars were on the program, apart from a lot of extra players and plenty of very, very low notes.


Strauss' tone poem, famous from the opening minutes used for Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," is an expansive, imaginative portrayal of the evolution of man.

As opposed to the text by Nietzsche?

And the obligatory reference to 2001 here...really? Does that count as backstory, or just a pointless aside?

Where Strauss' audience was fascinated by the technological advances allowing man to overcome nature, today's audiences are more interested in the technological advances allowing them to reach out and touch someone else, nature be damned.

O-kay. Where are you going with this?

Thus, the importance of the nine or so themes don't always resonate.

Not sure I follow. We have facebook instead of electric light, and therefore, the musical themes don't resonate? Are you sure?

Nor does the dichotomy of two different keys, B-flat for humanity, C major for the universe, seem as jarring.

Because of technology? Cellphones are the reason B-flat and C don't seem jarring?

Wow. You totally understand the last 100 years of music. Not to mention the advent of radio and television. I mean I just love how NBC has always insisted that every jingle used in advertisements be in the key of G to avoid any cosmic disharmony.

Timing and balance is everything in the famous introduction. The former was elusive, the latter better.

The balance was better than elusive? That's quite the compliment.

But I thought knowing the backstory was everything? And if the timing and balance are everything, can both things be true at the same time?

I'm going to chalk up this last one to hyperbole...for now...

"The Great Yearning" theme expanded lushly. The conclusion of "The Convalescent" shook mortar loose in the walls. The solo in "The Dance Song" was deftly handled by concertmaster James Crawford.

So, what's the backstory here? If not the Nietzsche text, then what??? It is everything you know.

The "Song of the Night Wanderer" at end floated away unresolved, as intended.

So, the performance was apt? By the way, how misleading were these thematic titles. The image of "The Convalescent" doesn't usually bring to mind building code violations. And "The Dance Song" doesn't even begin to tell me it's for a soloist. Maybe you were on to something.

Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony was a tale of unrequited love, and the power of that theme hasn't dimmed a bit.

Yes, unrequited love could never be thought of as "pathetic" or sorrowful...or the sixth.

It's also a well-known war-horse that demands attention to detail.

As opposed to new, unfamiliar music which, well, no one knows what the hell it's supposed to sound like, and therefore deserves no attention to detail.

Lockington took the long view, not giving overt attention to the big moments, but leaving himself elbow room for later.

Sounds rather unsatisfying. Aren't the big moments, you know, the climactic moments of which the rest of the piece is constantly building? And "later"? Big moments mostly come at the end, no?

Also, "long view"? It's a symphony, not policies to avoid the complete collapse of civilization. Any view that looks at least an hour into the future should be adequate. One might even suggest you take it in four smaller parts.

figure long view: Taking the long view to parking at the airport. The hourly lot just doesn't make a lot of sense for my week long trip.

Somber at the outset, the famous second theme unfolded as a sunrise of its own, Lockington moving it along nicely, the orchestra responding rapturously.

Rapturous sunrise...sounds like a fabulous second theme indeed. But since we're saving elbow room for later, it's only a sunrise and not a supernova, right?

Some syncopated passages were slippery,...

No worries...it's a common problem. I've found that a little pine tar, or at least some rosin, goes a long way.

...but Lockington drew powerful sonorities from the strings, ending the long opening with a satisfying sigh.

Slippery, but powerful sonorities, ending in a sigh. Are any of these things "everything"?

But before you answer that...it's time for some Detritus Review Madlibs!

Tonight's entry comes to us from the home box office in Grand Rapid, Michigan -- discussing the third movement of the Tchaikovsky 6th Symphony, Mr. Kaczmarczyk wrote:

The _____ third movement was a(n) _____ moment of _____, _____ wrapped around _____, all on the road to a(n) _____, _____ conclusion.



I'm liking these options...so let's try...

The upbeat third movement was a magical moment of fluidity, lovingly wrapped around precision, all on the road to a triumphant, brassy conclusion.

Ooh. That's nice. But...it could be...

The brassy third movement was triumphant moment of precision, lovingly wrapped around fluidity, all on the road to a magical, upbeat conclusion.

It's tough call...let's just say they both work.

If some of the audiences don't applaud here, you know you've done it wrong.

Or perhaps those audiences who didn't clap are just stupid...did you ever consider that?

Friday's certainly did, and they were right.

Did what? Right?

Oh, they clapped. At least we know they're not stupid -- who doesn't know that you're not not suppose to clap between movements during certain symphonies?

Anguish poured out in the heartbreaking finale with its despondent chorale in the lower brass.

Again, I think just how right you are that the title "Pathetique" is just so misleading. And how that backstory was everything.

Lockington on the podium was visibly distraught afterward.

Really...but why?

It helps to know the backstory.

Yes, that may help, given that I can't divine the why from that one sentence.

Nine days after conducting the premiere, Tchaikovsky was dead.

I see. The symphony killed Tchaikovsky, and therefore Lockington feared for his own life. You're totally right...cholera couldn't have possibly been the culprit. If titles of popular novels tell me anything of the world, it's that cholera is a time of love, not death.

figure cholera: I've always thought that cholera would make a great backdrop for a love story.

He was 53.

Ahem. He was 53 and a half.

figure knowing: And now we know!


Symphony Saves Civilization from Complete Collapse!

In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men and women promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Minneapolis underground. Today, still wanted by the government they survive as musicians of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them....maybe you can hire The Minnesota Orchestra.


Times are tough. Socialists are taking over the country, and people, against all logic, continue to insist that Tom Bergeron is funny. I think we've all thought that culture was burning to the ground, and civilization was teetering on the brink of complete collapse at some point during our daily routines. For me, it's during The View, and every time the Duggars have another kid.

But sure enough, at the end of each day I still sit down and watch high quality entertainment, like Dancing with the Stars and The Real Housewives of New Jersey, that reassures me that society and culture are doing just fine. For now...

But, if you're like me, you never give a second thought to the brave men and women who risk their lives 3 nights a week, and often a Sunday matinee as well, to keep culture safe. Here is their story.

Skrowaczewski is enduring, vital and free of artificiality
Larry Fuchsberg, Star Tribune, October 21, 2010

Free of artificiality? Hey, just like Snapple. Is Skrowaczewski made from the best stuff on earth, too?

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who this week makes his annual appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra, can seem to belong to another age.

He is indeed a Spalding Gray in a Rick Dees world.

Although, I imagine you probably mean 'era'. Whatever.

(Don't ask him what's on his iPod.)

Whoa. Who said anything about asking him what's on his iPod? I'm not some sort of animal.

But now that you bring it up, why shouldn't we ask? You know it sounds very suspicious to just bring that up out of the blue like that. What's he hiding on that iPod anyway? Is that he really loves Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, or that he doesn't?!

Or gasp, does he not even own an iPod! How could that be? Doesn't he know that once something becomes popular, you must partake or civilization will collapse. And conversely, that our culture burns to the ground even faster through the advent of technology which replaces traditional values!

If I'm reading you right, and I'm certain I am, you're suggesting that we're all going to die, right?

But I've gotten ahead of myself.

The Minnesota-based composer/conductor, who celebrated his 87th birthday this month, has led the orchestra in each of the past 51 seasons, overtaking Willem Mengelberg and Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra, the previous record holders.

Consecutive seasons streak? And the experts said that Mendgelberg's record would never be broken.

Although, count me among the people who think Skrowaczewski's record should have an asterisk, given the extra 8 concerts added to schedule in 1979.

But the years haven't dimmed his musicianship or his message.

It's not the years, it's the mileage.

He is an artist of utter seriousness, with little time for fluff;...

figure fluff: Who doesn't have time for fluff...especially with peanut butter for the classic Fluffernutter sandwich?

So, this Skrowaczewski sounds like a pretty busy guy. No fluff, but what about entertainment or relaxation?

...if you're seeking entertainment or relaxation, look elsewhere.

What an incredibly odd thing to say. He's guest conducting the Minneapolis Symphony not saving civilization from the brink of collapse. Geez.

For Skrowaczewski, if I'm hearing him right, our civilization is on the brink, our culture is burning and musicians are called to bear witness (and, if possible, to douse the flames).


Just going to throw this out there, but...you're not hearing him right.

However, it's a good thing the music appreciation course I took in college had me read How to Survive the Collapse of Civilization.

figure guide: It's so important to be able to find low-cost solutions, because money will be even more valuable after civilization collapses.

His music-making has taken on something of the life-and-death urgency one hears in the wartime recordings of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, or in Stalin-era recordings of music by Shostakovich.

Life-and-death urgency, huh? Really? I guess most things at 87 have a life-and-death urgency to them.

And with civilization hanging precariously in the balance, urgency seems like the way to go.

I am hesitant to interrupt further lest the communists were to invade. So which works did Skrowaczewski call upon to save humanity? I assume Beethoven...but I'm thinking, maybe some Brahms too. Schumann, of course, would be right out.

Skrowaczewski's current program, thoroughly characteristic of the man, frames his 1995 "Passacaglia immaginaria," in a new revision,...

Interesting call. Saving culture with a performance of one of his own works.

It's ballsy to be sure, but I'd like to see where he's going with this.

...with major works by Beethoven ("Leonore" Overture No. 2) and Brahms (Symphony No. 1).

No two better composers to fight the specters of evil.

It may not be an accident that all three pieces were reworked after their premieres.

But it could be, right?

I wouldn't want to mistakenly attribute this programming thread to the concert, and possibly allow civilization to smolder to the ground. That would be most non-triumphant.

"Passacaglia immaginaria," in Skrowaczewski's words, rises to a "terrifying climax," which is followed by feelings of "desperation" and "desolation."

So, this is more a piece for after the fall of civilization?

figure Minnesota Orchestra: The Minnesota Orchestra: musicians; scientists. Searching for a way to tap into the hidden music that all humans have. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters their body chemistry. And now when the Minnesota Orchestra (as conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski) plays Brahms or Beethoven, a startling metamorphosis occurs. The orchestra is driven by rage to save civilization and douse the flames burning our culture, and are pursued by an investigative reporter, Larry Fuchsberg.

His description is apt.

Glad to hear it. Apt descriptions are often appropriate.

Like his benignly titled but deeply tragic "Music for Winds," premiered in February, the piece offers no false comfort.

I don't know, with civilization about to collapse, I could probably go for some false comfort (and maybe a fluffernutter sandwich as well -- surviving collapsing societies does work up an appetite).

Drawing on a vast palette of instrumental colors, the composer conjures sounds that range from eerie to spasmodic.

That actually doesn't sound too big a range. I would have gone with "...from apparitional to zesty" for that nice A to Z effect.

The tone is often anguished; the ending -- celesta floating over quiet strings -- is inconclusive, yet somehow wrenching.

I don't know what that means, but it sounds apparitional.

But with an inconclusive ending, perhaps civilization still has a chance.

Numeral notwithstanding, "Leonore No. 2" was the first (and longest) of the four overtures Beethoven wrote for the opera ultimately known as "Fidelio." Skrowaczewski's conducting, a mix of angularity and grace, balanced the music's classic and romantic elements;...

Just guessing here, but angular=classical and grace=romantic?

...the climactic surge was breathtaking.

Breathtaking, huh?

figure breathtaking: Maybe he just said it because the conductor was in the room.

But what about civilization?!

In Thursday's account, the Brahms was a drama of ideas,...

This account was a "drama of ideas"? Oh, how I wish I knew what that meant...but I must say it does sound impressive.

I guess if Skrowaczewski is going to save civilization from burning to the ground, it's going to take a few ideas here and there. Even if they were Brahms' ideas...or maybe they were Skrowaczewski's, that's not entirely clear.

So which ideas were necessary to save culture?

...with tempos slightly more deliberate than the norm...

Yes, I like it. Deliberate tempos...the villains of culture will surely find no answer to that. A good start to be sure!

...and unusual weight given to the middle movements.

Brilliant. Unusual weight to the inner movements. I'm not sure how one redistributes weights in an already completed symphony, but with civilization on the line, it does sound like the right call.

The closing pages of the Andante, with their veiled reference to Wagner's "Tristan," have never been more moving;...

Wagner?! Which side of this battle for civilization on you on? Everyone knows that Brahms' First Symphony is an homage to Beethoven and, by the laws of music criticism, can be nothing more.

Plus, as is often the argument, Brahms' orchestral music was reactionary to the likes of the Wagner with his emphatic use of the four-movement symphonic structure and rigid sonata forms.

...the wonderful "calando" section of the finale (in which, as one writer puts it, the music seems to experience "a blissful death") made me shiver.

And...?! What happened to civilization?!

figure collapse: It turns out that all civilization is just an effort to impress the opposite sex.


Wait, did we ever discover why Skrowaczewski thinks culture is burning to the ground? And just how Brahms is going to douse the flames?

No matter. Stupid Gustav! When will you learn that music criticism speaks in poetic non-arguments. So, for no other reason than because this music review said so, I must say thank you Skrowaczewski for saving civilization. Good form, old chap. Good form indeed!

Next time I enjoy an episode of the delightfully funny Two and a Half Men, with that rascally scamp Charlie Sheen, I'll say a little prayer in your honor.

figure sheen: Really, what more could you ask from culture? Keep up the good work!