Friday Quickie: Tales of Not-Quite New Music

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra Review
Iain Gilmour, EdinbourghGuide.com, September 5, 2011

The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra is well-remembered from its five-concert residency at the 2003 Edinburgh International Festival.

Excellent. Sounds like repeat engagement would bring about a wonderful reunion.

Neither memories nor growing repute from widespread touring were sufficient to draw a reasonable-sized audience to the first of its two concerts closing the Usher Hall run in the 2011 Festival.

Hmm. I wonder what the problem was? Also, what's a reasonable-sized audience? How unreasonable could it have been -- was the fire marshal called?

figure reasonably-sized: Seems to fit nicely.

The choice of programme could have been a determining factor.

Really...the choice of programme? I've never heard such an accusation before.

Did they program symphonic U2? Because, there's no way I'd miss that!

embeddence U2: Note the presence of a singable tune.

An evening devoted solely to Messaien and Bartok is not a sure crowd-puller.

Oh, of course. Composers who, despite being dead (a major plus), had the misfortune of writing music after the era of good music had ended.

That is no criticism of the orchestra or its English conductor Jonathan Nott,...

Of course not. It's not their fault that music after 1900 is awful.

...who has just extended until 2015 a tenure as principal conductor begun in 2000. Nott encouraged and controlled the players admirably in the opening item, Messiaen’s Chronochromie.

Encouragement and mind-control are indeed good tactics, but really, you'll catch larger audiences with Beethoven than you will with Messiaen.

Conventional wisdom, I know, but playing the Messiaen well will never mean as much as not playing it at all.

But since the orchestra has lost their minds, and are probably only performing in front of the cleaning crew and student composers, tell us a little about this piece.

The work encapsulates two ideas – time and colour...

Hence the name.

... – and demands a big orchestra, with the usual percussion section enlarged by gongs, bells, glockenspiel, marimba, cymbals and xylophone.

Wait. Gongs, bells, cymbals, and xylophone are unusual percussion?

figure futuristic instrument: Observe the unusual shape and strange bends in this seemingly normal hunk of metal.

For Messiaen sounds had colour and time was expressed by rhythm and duration.

Wait...time was expressed by duration?! That's clearly some freaky shit.


The orchestra produced every twist and turn in the score,...

Against their better judgment, I'm sure.

...from “twittering” sections – reflecting the composer’s lifelong interest in bird song -- to “off-key” combinations with accurate sound and precise timing.

Just think how much better this piece would have been had it been "on-key".

Messiaen was a complex character – composer, ornithologist, church organist (for 60 years at Holy Trinity in Paris) and teacher. His spell as Professor of Harmony at the Paris Conservatoire may have had more influence on the development of modern music than his compositions – his students included Stockhausen, Boulez, Goehr, and Kurtag – though he was the first composer to use an early version of an electronic keyboard.

And this is all very important and interesting, of course, providing that no orchestra ever play their music.


Sator Arepo said...

shorter review:

"If we just keep telling people they don't like this music, they're sure to like it eventually!"