9/29/11

Complementary work deserves compliments

Review: Harrell finds many subtleties in Dvorak
Bruce R. Miller, Sioux City Journal, September 23, 2011

In great contrast to me, I suppose.

Antonin Dvorak wasn't interested in writing any works for cellos -- ...

He wasn't?

... he didn't think they were good solo instruments.


He didn't?

Thankfully, wiser heads convinced him otherwise and he produced the Cello Concerto in B Minor -- ...

Ah yes, the masterful op. 104. The first and only piece for solo cello that Dvorak ever wrote, not counting the first Cello Concerto in A major, B. 10, his Cello Sonata in F minor, the Polonaise in A major for cello and piano, the Rondo in G minor (which he later orchestrated), the arrangements he made of his Slavonic Dances for cello and piano, or the transcription of Silent Woods for cello and piano, and later for cello and orchestra.

Wiser heads truly did prevail.


...a piece that Lynn Harrell owned Saturday night performing with the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra.


Don't you mean pwned?

Bopping along...

Bopping along? ...in his little red wagon?

...with the orchestra's parts, he practically made the music seem as if it was one of classical music's Top 10.

Which, of course, it's not. Pssh.

To even suggest that this piece belongs in the same esteem as Eine kleine nachtmusik or the William Tell Overture (just the Lone Ranger part, not the rest, of course) is blasphemy.
Classical music's Top 10 is a sacred, unalterable law of nature. I mean, would you really have Time Life Recordings remake all those cds?

He got his cello to sing, too, mimicking Lori Benton's superior flute work and justifying the brass section's noble fanfares.


The cello sang, copying the flute and justifying the brass? Sure, that sounds like orchestration 101 to me.

The piece -- part of a Dvorak night -- wasn't one you'd go home humming, but it did have plenty of work for everyone to do.

So, the Dvorak was more like Bill Lumbergh?

figure superfluous Office Space reference, loosely tied to Dvorak: "Hello Peter, whats happening? Ummm, I'm gonna need you to go ahead come in tomorrow. So if you could be here around 9 that would be great, mmmk... oh oh! and I almost forgot ahh, I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, kay. We ahh lost some people this week and ah, we sorta need to play catch up."

Harrell, in fact, gave his fingers such a deft workout you frequently wanted a camera on them to see just how he was able to zip from the melodramatic to the sublime.

Precisely, a giant scoreboard with closeups, replays, and the 'kiss cam' in between pieces. Whatever I can do not to listen to the music.

Harrell played well with all sections of the orchestra (even those that had some timing snags) but he was particularly chummy with the woodwinds.

figure chummy: Lynn and the woodwinds reenacting the battle of Antietam. As I assume most woodwind sections do.

The adagio showed they were willing to step up to their guest's level and compete. The horns did nicely, too.

I'm sure the horns will appreciate the shout-out.


And that chilling fanfare in the end? It may have been Dvorak's way of putting a button on a request,...

A button?


...but it certainly gave Harrell the rest he needed before launching into a more familar [sic] encore.


Just as Dvorak intended. Subtly, of course.

The rest of the program was filled with other Dvorak works...

As all-Dvorak programs tend to do, from time to time.

... -- the rather passive "In Nature's Realm," the more familiar Symphony No. 7 in D minor.


"Passive", "familiar"...sounds like a Dvorak concert to me.

Still, it was the Lynn and Lori show that impressed.

I love that show.

figure Lynn and Lori: Thank you, pop culture.

While the rest of the orchestra got a chance to shine in the third number, it was Benton's complementary work that deserved the compliments.


Are we still talking about the concerto?

Harrell may not have the flash of friends Itzhak Perman and Pinchas Zukerman, but he more than has the skills.

Itzhak Perman?! I realy ove that guy. Seriousy.

Saturday night, he was willing to share them with the Siouxland musicians.

Wait. Itzhak Perman and Pinchas Zukerman were there?

And the result? The result was good, very good.


Gabby Hayes good?

Even better?

Even better than Gabby Hayes, the cello concerto that almost wasn't, and the unrestrained irreverence of the Lynn and Lori Smile-Time Variety Hour!?

If it isn't a complete and utter non-sequitur, and extremely patriotic, I'm not sure it could be any better.

The orchestra started the season with a rousing version of the Star Spangled Banner. While this was probably a given decades ago, it was nice to see it back -- a good way to start what could be a great season.

I know, I was totally in danger forgetting that piece.


Wait...what did you say about subtleties?

9/9/11

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.

[snip]

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.

9/5/11

Writing about Music Still as Awesome as Last Time I Checked

Diamond season off to brilliant start
D.S. Crafts, Albuquerque Journal, 9/2/2011

Don't bother clicking the link; the Journal is, apparently, so awesome – one hopes this is due to its expensive and, ergo, excellent staff of wordsmiths – that they don't just give their advertising-soaked content away for nothing. You can sit through an ad for a trial version if you really want to.

I find this patently fucking offensive. Let's just say I'll be getting my local arts coverage somewhere else from now on.

I guess I could take the print version, but (as a friend of mine always replies when offered a subscription to the Austin American-Statesman) I have neither a bird nor a puppy.

---Begin Digression---

A few words are in order. Yes, it has been a long time; life intervenes. Sue us. Also, the Austin-based percentage of Detritus Review writers went from 50% to 66% to 33% to 0% in the short space of a year.* Doings, as they say, are afoot.

*I was going to make a graph of this, but I didn't.

Clever readers will have already surmised that I have relocated to Albuquerque, along with Mrs Arepo and the cat. (Yes, all bloggers really do have cats. No, you cannot see a picture.) All is well and the chile is excellent and near-daily.

Figure 1: Chiles rellenos

Enough.

---End Digression---

My first and only sojourn into the Albuquerque Journal's Pay-to-Read Arts Coverage was rewarded with the requisite Hacky Classical Music Review Title.

Diamond season off to brilliant start

Oh, well played, sirs. Way to not fall into the dreaded let's-at-least-use-the-second-stupid-thing-that-pops-into-our-collective-head trap.

The Santa Fe Concert Association commenced its 75th anniversary season in grand style, bringing to the stage of the Lensic Performing Arts Center soprano Susanna Phillips among others.

If I were the arts director, I'd bring her to the stage by herself — as befits the featured artist — and leave the “others” sort of in the background. What? It was just a missing comma? Oh, never mind, then, newspaper-that-thinks-I-should-pay-for-its-awesome-online-content.

Phillips, seen in August on public television’s Mozart concert, is quickly and rightfully becoming one of the most celebrated singers in the country. A veteran of three Mozart leads at the Santa Fe Opera, she sings two primary roles at the Metropolitan Opera this season.

She does and/or will?

Conducted by Joseph Illick, she opened the program with the “Four Last Songs” by Strauss.

I'm a little confused about agency here; I admit that this might be my own problem.


Figure 2: The crumbling ruins represent sentences

Somber songs about death are not exactly the most festive work to begin a gala opening concert, but from a performance of such radiant beauty there were anything but objections.

Okay; no. It's not just me. Prepositions aren't interchangeable and/or to be omitted ad libitum. The first phrase, which has a prepositional deficiency so severe it likely has scurvy, gives way to a second clause implying that the performance was so exquisite it didn't even object to itself.

With long, warm phrasing she gave heartfelt meaning to each of the poems. Illick carefully gauged the tempos of the predominantly string sonority to allow her a maximum of expression.

One notes with interest that the author of the review is himself a composer; this is a nice insight.

Phillips then returned for selections from Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2, “Lobgesang,” which includes chorus, soprano and mezzo-soprano.

Selections? They didn't play the whole symphony? You stay classy, Santa Fe Concert Association.

Here in contrast to the introspective Strauss, she let loose the full power and luster of her voice and shone brilliantly above the orchestral textures.

Still working on that “diamond” thing, eh? Was that with or without conspiring with the title-writing editor to keep up the lame, lame joke?

Linda Raney’s chorus too sang with an unbridled optimism, creating a “joyful noise” most appropriate to the occasion.

The scare quotes lead me to believe that the reviewer thinks that the chorus was awful—but enthusiastic!

Figure 3: Requisite pop culture reference

Pro Tip: Do not use fucking scare quotes in your writing.


Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sang two small roles with the Santa Fe Opera this summer, both, unfortunately, too short to give us anything but a glimpse of her outstanding talent.

“Both” is not the same as “each.” That difficulty is overcome, however; even though each [sic] of her small roles was too short to allow an accurate assessment of her talent, said assessment is nevertheless undertaken.

Here too, frustratingly, we heard only one or two short solo passages other than the voice in duet with Phillips.

One or two? Lost count, did we? Wait; maybe I'm confused. There were two singers. What was that last bit again?

...other than the voice in duet with Phillips.

Now I'm more confused than ever. I don't know what that means. The addition or subtraction of a comma and/or preposition (if I have understood the rules of the column-game so far) won't even help.

I, for one, hope to hear more of her rich, hearty mezzo in future.

I, for one, hate clich├ęd stock phrases. I, for one, will also not be referring to the Albuquerque Journal for information about future local arts events. I, for one, will, further, not address the rest of this review.

I would, however, be remiss if I didn't mention the end of the article.

Appreciative congratulations to the SFCA in this most auspicious 75th season. 1937 had to be a good year. It heralded, as the program notes reminded, the introduction of Spam.

Points for the delightful non sequitur, even if it was cribbed from the program notes.