You're Doing It Wrong

Similes are not that hard.

One thing is equated, figuratively rather than literally, to another. Their meta-qualities are put into a kind of ratio, if you will. The reader is asked to find the similarities between objects that are, perhaps, not usually, or only tangentially, related.

Lawrence A. Johnson of the Miami Herald demonstrates the concept for us in this article.

By now, the Cleveland Orchestra's vaunted refinement and virtuosity are known quantities locally after two Miami residency seasons.


Still, while owning a Rolls-Royce is nice, someone with skilled hands still needs to operate the controls.

Um. Okay, that is a metaphor, and not a simile, but…well…really? Normal drivers cannot operate a Rolls? Hmm. Continue.

Music director Franz Welser-Most's Miami concerts have been uneven to date, which increases the interest on those programs directed by guest conductors.


Now 36, Midori has been before the public since she was 10 and her artistry has only deepened, as was made clear in the Japanese violinist's revisionist take on Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto.


The Russian war horse is performed so often as a vehicle for surface fireworks and ego-driven solo display that one can forget the depths in the score.


Like centuries of grime removed from ancient paintings, Midori's refined poetic sensibility made one appreciate this music anew.


Reading. Writing? Comprehending…

The sentence above insinuates that “Midori’s refined poetic sensibility” is like, in some way, “grime removed from ancient paintings”.


Midori's sensibility is...like...grime?

I don't think that's what was intended here.

Let me take a crack at that failed sentence.

“Like ancient paintings from which ancient grime has been removed, Midori’s refined poetic sensibility…”

No. That equates the ancient paintings to Midori’s poetic sensibility. Which is similarly nonsensical.

The apparent meaning is that Midori’s sensibility reveals intricacies in the score that have been obscured (by centuries of War-horse-ness) somewhat like the removal of grime from ancient paintings reveals hidden details, or whatnot.

I think?

Reader challenge! Make it make sense, dammit!

Fast Eddie Reappears!

Fast Eddie owns the now-accredited School of Music Criticism somewhere in Queens, where he has been able to shape the minds of those who shape ours about classical music. I recently had a chance to sit down with the famed and elusive grammarian for a brief interview. We discussed one former student in particular.

Empiricus: Thanks for taking the time to talk to the Detritus Review, Eddie.

Fast Eddie: Yeah. Make it quick. I don’t like stayin put for too long. Know what I’m sayin?

E: One of your former students, who now writes for the Seattle Times, wrote this on Friday:

Nothing can shiver the timbers of Benaroya Hall quite like the “Organ Symphony” of Saint-Saens, who combined the “king of instruments” with full orchestra to thrilling effect.

FE: Now that’s got pizzazz! It sets the tone right away, see—shiver the timbers, king of instruments, thrilling effect? Just vague enough, yet excitin enough to keep ya interested.

E: I see.

FE: Ya gots t’understand. When ya got a deadline, ya gotta get it out quick, see? Ya gotta leave something out, then give it to em, right away. Fills in the words quick, and doesn’t make a point. Now, I haven’t read this review of which you speaked, but I’ll bet the favorite that the next sentence goes somethin like this: This performance was thrilling, cause the performers played this piece. Am I right? Or am I right?

E: Pretty close. In fact this is what was written:

Thrilling, at least, when the performance is as satisfying as was the Seattle Symphony’s on Thursday evening, with guest maestro Jun Markl rushing about on the podium.

FE: Can I teach good or what? There’s even some extra bang in there—satisfying, maestro (gotta keep the upper-class thing going, see? Gotta make it sound expensive and luxuriant.)—and rushin about. That’s damn catchy, a splendid counterpoint, if I may gratitude myself.

E: You mentioned that the idea is to fill in the words without making a point?

FE: Yeah. Ya got better things ta do than write a review, right? I always say, “just type until ya finish fillin the space.” Now, if this review’s worth its salt, it it’ll go on about the conductor, kind of stream-of-conscious-like.

E: Again, sir, you’re right.

The 48-year-old German-born conductor has always made a good impression in his visits to Seattle, and the current program is no exception; his crisp energy, spot-on cueing and precise baton drew an unusually pointed performance from the orchestra.

To me this one sounds a little more compact, with the semi-colon.

FE: Well we can’t all be perfect, see. But it’s still good. If ya break it down, ya still got nothin.

E: What do you mean?

FE: It coulda said, “the conductor made a good impression, again.” See? By addin the “48-year-old,” the “always made a good impression,” and the “current program is no exception,” the reviewer extended the thought from 7 words to 25. But it got even better and longer. Am I right? The semi-colon thought that followed that one said nothing. See? It’s more bang, more snap. I mean, no one knows what “crisp energy” is. Nobody worth conductin a symphony could do it without “spot-on cueing and precise baton.” See? Combine em and ya get what? An “unusually pointed performance?” What the fuck? Right? Coulda just said that they all played good. But it paints a picture. It keeps ya readin.

E: I see your point. Nobody reading this would say, “Hey, look! ‘Crisp energy.’ I want to go to this concert!”

FE: Zing! Ya got it!

E: So when the reviewer said this,

Joseph Adam was the organist, and in the finale—when the mighty chords poured out of the hall’s Watjen Concert Organ with the rumble of a departing jet—he delivered perfectly judged thunderbolts of sound.

the reviewer didn’t intend that the chords that “poured” and rumbled like a departing jet to be correlated with thunderbolts (because thunderbolts are quick and sharp, right?) Instead, the reviewer just paints a picture. And it doesn’t matter how convoluted the picture becomes, it’s merely to make the performance seem evocative.

FE: Now you’re on to it! Might I suggest a particular school to go to, for only $1,500 a semester?

E: Well, I don’t think....

(somebody knocks at the door)

FE: What else ya got? I’m on borrowed time, if ya know what I mean?

E: I’ll try to be fast. So this also goes for a statement like this?

Among the many fine solo passages were those of Susan Carroll, whose horn solos were exemplary.

FE: Coulda said, “Susan Carroll’s horn solos were good.” See?

E: And what about this?

The opener, Liszt's Symphonic Poem No. 5 ("Prometheus"), is the sort of work that makes one wish Liszt had stuck to the piano. But that didn't matter, because up next was the evening's featured soloist: pianist Horacio Gutiérrez, always one of those artists you look forward to with pleasure. Gutiérrez, who returned to the stage earlier this year after several months' absence (while he underwent treatment for primary gastric lymphoma), is definitely in top form. He played one of the great warhorses of the repertoire, the Tchaikovsky First, with the grand romantic style for which he is known, but also with a poetic sensibility to go along with the big-moment technical prowess.

FE: Does as little as Derek Jeter at short. But it’s flashy. “Great warhorses” is in my textbook, which ya could buy right now for a modest fee of 65 big ones. You’ll get numerous others, like “romantic arc,” “romantic arch” and “accelerating like a Porsche.”

E: No thanks, I’ll...

(knocking at door grows louder)

...make this my last question. How about the ending?

FE: What about it? Like the beginning, ya gotta give em some zing! Down on the pedal, I gotta go.

E: Like this ending?

If you think you're bored with the Tchaikovsky, here is an artist to show you otherwise.

FE: Yeah. Ya got another exit?

E: Down the hall to the left.

*at this point Fast Eddie collects his leather jacket, fedora, and numerous miscellany and rushes out the back exit.


Wait, is this something I've heard before?

Wait, is that a melody?

No, I’m mistaken.

No, just a fleeting fragment.

Hey, I heard that before, right?

Didn’t we hear that figure before?



Well, not that exact phraseology.

But not in that exact form.

I remember now. Didn’t everyone who ever reviewed Elliott Carter say as much? That’s consistent, at least.

The sound world of Elliott Carter is not the most obvious one to navigate, but his aesthetic at least is consistent.

If you’re going for consistency, where’s the dissonance? The anger? The intellectual rigor? The violence? The punchiness? The lack of tonality? The necessity of repeated listening? The legendary inscrutability? The 100 years? The worn-out clichés and lazy interpretation?

It’s right here.

All provided for you by Peter Dorbin of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Addendum: Here's a really, really cool link to a video interview with the 99-year old Elliott Carter in celebration of his centenary. What a sweety.


Does the NY Times know that 300-year old Bernard Holland still writes for them?

In the 18th century the piano danced. In the 19th it sang.

What a beginning. Where could we be going next? I’m already bored.

The 20th century liked to use the piano as an assault weapon.

Of course. I didn’t expect anything otherwise.

This lovely review is about one concert of three produced by composer-pianist Joseph Rubenstein.

The choices may represent the tastes of the composer-pianist Joseph Rubenstein, curator of the event, but it may also tell us about current events in musical politics.

We know. Assault weapons, etc., etc.

It was interesting how so many of these items ended on simple Mozartian triads.

As his ears perked up in a way they haven’t since 1791.

I may have been imagining a collective sigh of relief,

It's called Alzheimers.

... but something seemed to be whispering in my ear that the Dark Ages of postwar atonality were over and tentative reconnections to the past were under way.

I had a conversation with co-conspirator Sator Arepo a few days ago where we discussed our blogger-tone. And well, sorry SA.

What the FUCK??! Seriously, does the NY Fucking Times know that 500-year old Bernard “Alzheimer” Holland, the fervent musical bigot, still writes for them? Why would THE leading daily give a 600-year old music hater free reign of a music column? Are they stupid? Do they edit? Do they suggest changes? Do they have fucking brains? Are their ethic sacks located in the politics department, instead? Apparently, no. They don't have ethic sacks, anywhere.

I hold the NY Times entirely responsible for this hateful dreck. Screw the crossword puzzles.

Give me Jerry Cantrell any day of the week.

By the way, what the fuck about “musical politics?” Huh? You don't have anything else to say about that? Nevermind, then.

This is how it happened

First, Richard Strauss (composer), with pen in hand: “I want this piece to be a telling expressive force.”

Second, Jose-Luis Novo (conductor), with baton in hand: “I want to conduct with a particular telling expressive force.”

Third, Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun Critic), with fingers on the qwerty keyboard:

“Novo shaped [Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration] with a particular telling expressive force.”

That’s how it happened, I swear.

Richard Strauss: Tod und Verklärung. A particular telling expressive force.

That’s what happened.


1/3 Review, 2/3 Farting on the Page with Words*

Here’s a classy title, too.


And an even classier epanalepsis.

Long live classical-music elitism

If Wikipedia is right, this cliché (appropriated from “the King is dead; long live the King!”) refers to the replacement or succession of one type of elitism with classical music elitism. Good premise for a review, don’t you think?

Recently the musical world has been discussing the impending death of classical music.

Oh good. Another cliché.

This chatter, often led by lovers of the genre, may in fact be hastening the demise, as various writers attempt to conjure up reasons classical music must exist.

(silent repulsion)

We, as a society, desire high art, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I have good bumper sticker idea. How about: Stop Making Generalizations About My Driving!**

I think it could be successful, like “Kerry/Edwards ‘04.”

Just look at the success of shows like Bravo’s Project Runway or Top Chef, which focus on extraordinarily talented artists competing to be the best before a panel of sophisticated judges.

This is not a successful pop culture reference. But go on, make your point.

These reality programs deliver to millions of Americans an accessible version of high art — and it’s working.

Pandering to an audience. Free market. Good point. I’ll think about it next time I pen a symphony.

Recently, the Norman Lear Center conducted a survey on the correlation between political party and entertainment.

Recently, I referenced a study that had little or no importance, too.

It was found that “all political types claimed they enjoy classical music”...

People enjoying music? How interesting. Political types, sure. What about income levels? No? No. Go on.

...and “classical music nudged ahead of rock as the most popular genre overall.”

The problem? Is classical music more popular than popular music? Good study. And good reference to show how elitism has been replaced by classical music elitism.

And now for something completely facetious.

If more Americans listen to classical music than watch football (according to the Lear Center survey), why does Eli Manning make millions of dollars while amazing pianist Ingrid Fliter drew a crowd of fewer than 500 to the Merrill Auditorium February 6?

Cogent rhetorical question (for a paraplegic Hygomenocite from the planet Groc). Wait. It’s not rhetorical? Sigh (that’s the facetious part).

A possible answer: elitism.

Weeeeeee! This is fun isn’t it? I swear, it gets even better.

Since the Baby Boomers condemned classical music as the despised genre of their parents, leaving those who remain fans labeled proprietors of an inaccessible art form incongruent with popular art.

Weeeeeeeeeeeee! Sentence fragment!

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Bumper stickers!

“If it is ‘elitist’ to create works over average people’s heads then why is it alright [sic] to have schools to educate them?” Portsmouth composer Roger Rudenstein asked recently in an essay in the e-zine NewMusicBox.

The disappointing thing here is that I think this was the grundgestalt, the originating idea/impetus, for the tone of the review. It’s neither here nor there, so I’ll leave it alone. But, don’t fret. We’ll return to this later.

There is nothing more elitist than suggesting a genre is over average people’s heads.

An important distinction to be made, Emily Parkhurst of the Phoenix, how big should we make your bumper sticker?

If a composer is composing art for the sake of art and a performer is interpreting that art for an audience there solely to bear witness to that art, elitism is utterly out of place.

I tried to make a reductive outline of this article, and I failed miserably, which is why I’m going sentence fragment by sentence. I apologize.

I mean, elitism is out of place? Where the F did that come from? Should I use a roman numeral or an arabic letter? Should I just make a new outline on a different page with a different pen in a different language?

Once the notes dissolve into the air, it is up to the audience to decide if the music was over their heads. And if many of them agree that it was, possibly the composer missed his mark (or will not be appreciated in his lifetime).

It’s certainly not popular, then, is it? Like popular music or Top Chef.

The rise and fall of Serialism is an example of elitist musicians’ willingness to alienate the very people they need to survive: their audience.

Didn’t you just say that it’s okay to write art music for art’s sake? That it is not elitist?

And by the way, what do you think serialism (not capitalized) is? Is it merely a technique? Or is it more akin to, say, facism? Facism is not populist, like Top Chef.

The casualties of this alienation, like waiters at a bad restaurant, are the musicians on the stage.

As a composer, and in lieu of tactful Top Chef references... I disagree.

New Hampshire pianist Paul Dykstra's new self-released album, An Ivory Winter, includes a number of what Dykstra calls “works that mean a lot to me.” These include Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata, two Chopin works, and an exquisite rendition of a Scarlatti sonata. Dykstra suggests this is “music to drink hot chocolate to,” a fitting description, considering that every work on the album is in a chilling minor key. But Dykstra keeps the metaphor going, showing a little bite: “the tone of this album is more like dark chocolate than milk chocolate.”

Wow, I almost forgot that this was a review.

While most of Dykstra’s dark-chocolate interpretations were smooth, they were disturbed by the bitter taste of the last two tracks: two movements from Roger Rudenstein’s Piano Sonata No. 7, an abrupt and inaccessible composition.

As promised, here we are again, at Roger Rudenstein, the elitist whose words apparently struck a shriveled nerve with our dear incomprehensible reviewer.

Of Rudenstein's method, Dykstra says, “he composes everything in a stream of consciousness. He’s a very intellectual composer who uses a very mechanical process.”

Elitists and intellectuals and processes! Oh My!

Dykstra’s interpretation of this mechanical work is worthy of note and Rudenstein is wise to keep working with him. His fluidity through the difficult atonal passages revealed unmistakable technical prowess.

Yes. Yes. The only way Rudenstein’s elitist music might sound good is if he continues to write for Dykstra. Explitive! Etc.

As I was listening to this piece with a friend...

Oh good God!

As I was listening to this piece with a friend who has little classical-music background, he turned to me and said, ...

“Reviewing is not your calling.” No? Okay.

...he turned to me and said, “I really like classical music, except when I hear something like this.”

Ooh, an informed opinion, something you’re supposed to have, Emily Parkhurst of the Phoenix.

Elitist indeed.

Elitist indeed.

*Literally, 1/3 of this was a review, the other 2/3 a brownish poop smear on the page.

** I have another idea for a bumper sticker: My Other Car is an Elitist POS

A Good Review (read Another Bad Review by David Hurwitz)

Considering Classicstoday.com’s review philosophy, which we’ve been over many times, how does this happen as often as it does? Here, David Hurwitz tackles a new recording of Vincent Persichetti’s 12 Piano Sonatas (for those who don’t know Persichetti, here’s a bio and some sound).

My beef today?

No. 11 is a spiky, very harmonically advanced (read atonal) essay in several linked sections that still somehow manages to preserve a sense of melodic flow.

Again, he manages to push his pointy-headed, ignorant opinions while maintaining a sense of compliment—“melody is the best measure of music and atonal music is melody-less, but this has some melody, which is surprising, because it goes against my outright dismissal and hatred of modernist harmony (read atonality); but this is good, because it has melody (read not atonal).”

It must be so difficult for him to include parenthetical qualifiers in a review that shouldn’t even be examining musical worth in the first place (see above review philosophy).

Oops. I spoke too soon.

This is in no small part thanks to [the pianist’s] extremely well-recorded and sympathetic performances, which capture the music's fundamentally lyrical inspiration in even the densest thickets of notes (and this music is packed with incident).

A period after “inspiration” would have sufficed (see above review philosophy). But noooo! Hurwitz can’t help but voice his anti-dense-thicket-of-notes (read atonal) fetish (see above review philosophy).

So, in Hurwitzian spirit, I would like to qualify my previous remarks: It must be so painful for him to exclude parenthetical qualifiers in a review that shouldn’t even be examining musical worth in the first place (read your review philosophy [see above review philosophy]).

*You'll all be happy to know that I scrapped my initial idea for this post: an awkward and extended metaphorical reference to Dead Poets Society and Mr. Prichard's essay on measuring the value of a poem. Something about a graph depicting melodic worth on the vertical and harmonic worth on the horizontal. You're welcome.


False Cognates = Outstanding!

Several problems from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Tangled problems, even.

Musician’s pleasing pluck has a hint of pique

The title is confusing. Pique?

No concert is more intimate than a classical guitar concert.

Always good to start with a bold, sweeping generalization!

The softness of the guitar focuses all attention on the player and the instrument.

The focus is on the player and instrument, not the music?

The short duration of each note crystallizes each moment of music.

The focus is on the music? Confused, again. But go on.

Sound envelops listeners like delicate perfume.

Um. Piquant perfume? Surely you’re not describing “spiciness” because the guitarist is Latin or South…

As [Chilean] guitarist Carlos Perez played Thursday evening, he elicited all those pleasant feelings.

…American. Crap.

The friendly warmth filled the auditorium of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

Friendly. Warm. Piquant?

That is lazy enough, but there’s still a problem.

“Pique” is not the root of “piquant”. [From Merriam-Webster Online:]

Piquant (n): agreeably stimulating to the palate, especially: spicy

Okay. But what you did in your title was not that.

“Musician’s pleasing pluck has a hint of pique”

Pique (n): a transient feeling of wounded vanity : resentment

Probably not what was intended, given the pleasant feelings and warmth and perfume.

Pique (transitive verb): 1: to arouse anger or resentment in : irritate

2 a: to excite or arouse especially by a provocation, challenge, or rebuff

b: pride

Clearly you weren’t trying to modify “pleasing pluck” with a transitive verb, right? Right? Right. Last option coming.

Pique (n): 1 : a durable ribbed clothing fabric of cotton, rayon, or silk

2 : decoration of a tortoiseshell or ivory object with inlaid fragments of gold or silver

Unless…unless the guitar was tortoiseshell and gold? No? Wood? I thought as much.

Summary: In the course of trying to invoke lazy Latin stereotypes of spiciness, you misunderstood the root of “piquant”, thus describing the warm pleasant perfume-y playing as a durable ribbed cloth of cotton, rayon, or silk.

Well done. At least I get to use the coveted "food metaphors" tag! Or should it be...failed food metaphors? Crap.

Composer of the Day!

Today’s Composer of the Day is David Rakowski!


David Rakowski blah blah blah blah.Blah blah blah blah blah. Blah. Blah, blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah, blah blah his wife Beth Wiemann, and exactly two cats named Sunset and Camden.

David Rakowski writes music that doesn’t suck that much.

David Rakowski, composer, lives in Massachusetts with his wife Beth. They own two red canoes.

[taken directly from his website]

He has male pattern baldness, high blood pressure, little hope of growing a real beard and a chin dimple.

[also from his website]

Here’s a funny, but darn cool piece.

You should all listen to his music.

A Staggeringly Clever Homonym

This has got to be one of the best titles ever.

Department of “D’oh”: American orchestras spend more than they earn

Get it? D’oh? Dough? Money? Stupid? Quotation marks? Department?

Regardless of the silly title, this column, by David Stabler of the Oregonian, is quite informative. You should read it. It details a study that inquired about U.S. orchestra spending versus revenue.

Did the free market kill the symphony?


Are you there God? It's me, Empiricus.

Let’s just get to this, shall we? Here’s Mark Swed.

There are many foolish attempts to change concert life, such as surveying young people who aren't interested in classical music about what bait would draw them in. Say we served pizza in cellphone-friendly concert halls, installed sofas and video screens, and guaranteed that no "song" would last more than five minutes? What if we made that gourmet pizza and supplied a fine Gewürztraminer to wash it down? Free iPhones to the first 50 who log on to our website?

Say we make a maximum age requirement for critics? Free copies of Aristotle’s Ethics to the first 50 who make absurd judgments based on wild opinion, then humorously attempt to satirize said judgment? Viagra?

But over the weekend, five serious young women gave two remarkable concerts here, and they weren't responding to surveys. These exceptional virtuosos have their own ideas about breaking down concert barriers.


Resourceful revolutionaries, they don't ask and don't pander but insist on change.


And by devising authentic new ways to concertize that feel right for them and their times, they proved magnets for the young.

New ways: magnetic for young.

Now that we know what these virtuosos are doing, let’s find out exactly how they accomplish it.

...QNG, as the recorder quartet calls itself, attacks tradition. The four women played nothing written for their period instruments Saturday, although they briefly acknowledged early music in arrangements of a John Dowland pavan and Hugh Ashton's Masque. Weirdly, they also arranged a short choral work by Bruckner for four recorders.

To me, this doesn’t sound all that revolutionary, nor weird.

But a whole lot more weirdly,

Wait. Wait. Wait. Hold on. “But a whole lot more weirdly,” !!!&^@%#^%$*!?????????? Yuck. Just Yuck.

But a whole lot more weirdly, they put on wigs and moved like robotic sex toys in Chiel Meijering's "Cybergirls Go Extreme."

Sex toys?

The confrontational Dutch composer, who has said that he likes to make these women sweat, is one of their favorites.

They enjoy getting sweaty, together?

Paul Moravec, a New York composer, heard QNG and immediately asked to write for them. They got "Mortal Flesh" two weeks ago and went through 20 different instruments in five minutes playing it Saturday.

Mortal Flesh

Kelly Garrison, the Chamber Music in Historic Sites general director, said during intermission that when he first offered some seats for a recorder quartet to SCI-Arc students, there were no takers. But a QNG sound check caught the kids' attention, and the seats were snapped up.

Hello? They were practicing Mortal Flesh and getting sweaty together like robotic sex toys.

Four attractive young women may be an obvious draw.

You think.

Their instruments -- some modern and made from organ pipes -- are striking and also a draw.

And how does one play a recorder? Click here (don’t worry, this link is safe for the kiddies)

By the way, I told you Fugue can be a four-letter word.

But the ensemble's music is modern, its attitude is with-it, and its virtuosity is mind-blowing,

It may be.

...all of which is the best youth bait of all.

Something bait.

Seriously, I have no doubt that these performers are top notch. However, Swed refuses to see what’s right in front of his face, sex. By doing so, he renders his thesis, well, stupid.


"...Winningly Sardonic..." -The Detritus Review

(In a deep, gruff, intense, whispering voice)

From the minds who brought you the Russian National Orchestra, comes an imposing pianist,

Click here

an electrifying star of staggering force.

Click here

A pianist so jaw dropping, so strong,

Click here

you’ll vociferously ovate. A pianist, six-foot four and from the cold of Siberia, who brings massive strength and seemingly effortless power

Click here

to Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3; a pianist who brings a full-metal assault to a spiky warhorse.

Click here

Accompanied by a symphony possessed of a dark, deep-pile sonority with balances dominated

Click here

by its ample strings, Prokofiev will be set on fire. Together, they laugh at landmines.

Click here

They laugh at nuclear bombs.

Click here

The Miami Herald calls it, “...one of the most thrilling edge-of-the-seat adrenaline rides of the season.”

Click here

You’ll be left... high. His name?

Click here

Denis Matsuev. Can. You. Top. This? Coming to a theater near you.


I... You... Wait, What? History???

1. Kurt Weill studied with Busoni, who studied with Wilhelm Keinzl, who studied with Franz Lizst, who studied with Anton Reicha, who studied with Antonio Salieri, who studied with Geovanni Battista Pescetti, who studied with Antonio Lotti, who studied with Giovanni Legrenzi... in 1660-ish.

2. Weill’s Violin Concerto is, decidedly, a modernist work, yet with an inclination towards neoclassicism and romanticism. It is not and cannot be a blank slate. Can any music ever be?

3. It is true that Weill’s idealism, as exemplified in his comic-operas Die Bürgschaft (1931) and Der Silbersee (1932), made the Nazis mad, forcing him to “relocate,” as it were. Thus, being a political progressive (and a Jew) was not particularly beneficial to his personhood.

Now, since we have facts, why say this about Brahms?

But the connection to Weill? By contrast, Brahms was a composer steeped in history:

Just like Weill, who borrowed from Busoni, who borrowed from Keinzl, who borrowed from Lizst, who... wait.. contrast?

The "Requiem" purposefully borrows Bach's fugues and Beethoven's escalating climaxes...

Why not purposefully imitate Ludwig? Right? He goes down with the most ardor. Ladies.

...in its effort to render its vision of divine comfort universal and timeless.

“My name is Johannes. I like to fugue* and climax. That makes my piece timeless. But you’ll never find that in a history book, because I never said that.”

The group's generous performance ennobled the sentiment, but Weill's brash tabula rasa was a reminder that Brahms's idealism, however well-intentioned, was part of a societal worldview that ultimately led to the trenches of the Great War.

But... but... I... you... wait, what??? He’s a lover not a fighter.

These are the actual causes of World War I: the HMS Dreadnought, Karl Marx, revanchism, irredentism and the Franco-Prussian War, not fugue-ing nor climaxing, nor musical history-having.

Also, Weill's music is not a blank slate (tabula rasa).

For Weill, looking forward was automatically a better view than looking back.

Except that he had to defect from Germany, because he looked forward.

Implied, perhaps: the Nazi’s liked Brahms? Did you know that Schoenberg liked Brahms?

Matthew, I think it would be of great advantage to read one of Arnold's articles, especially the one titled Brahms the Progressive, written in 1947. You can find it in Style and Idea. It’s really good, and progressive, which is awesome, but only in some cases, unlike Weill’s, who had to flee Germany, because he borrowed from Busoni (a socialist), who borrowed from Keinzl, who borrowed from Lizst, who borrowed from Reicha, who borrowed from Salieri, who borrowed from Pescetti, who borrowed from Lotti, who borrowed from Legrenzi.

* In some languages fugue is a four-letter word.


Kindred Spirits (from Canada!)

[Or: Blogging while cooking.]

I found this lament about the demise of the classical CBC station ("Radio 2") in the Toronto Globe & Mail. It also laments the state of the arts, and the label "classical". Truly a kindred spirit.

I am almost too depressed about the panned "overhaul" of CBC's Radio 2 to even write about it. What's the point? We've all seen the writing on the wall for some time now, and resistence is futile: The CBC no longer feels there is any point to devoting an entire radio station to the more musically and intellectually complex style of music colloquially, though entirely inappropriately, known as "classical" (more on that tendentious terminology in a moment), because, according to its mysterious studies, no one is interested in that any more.

Go read the rest, it's great.


Same Review, Reviewed Again

How’s this for cliché—the new music piece was difficult; Schumann is no Beethoven; Beethoven was the highlight of the concert? More specifically, how about this—John Adams’ music is more fun than Schoenberg’s, but it isn’t great; Robert Schumann’s orchestration and thematic development is not very imaginative; Beethoven’s worst is still better than most?

Sound familiar? Thought so.

Here’s another rehashing of the same outline, this time filled in by James McQuillen of the Oregonian. At least thesauri abusers make the review sound original.

Enjoy Your Symptom!


Composer of the Day!

Today's Composer of the Day! is Ralph Shapey.


Shapey was an individualist. His music drifted and transcended styles, from serial to romantic, from atonal to lyrical. He was well-regarded as a composer, conductor, and teacher for most of his life.

Originally from Philadelphia, he landed at the University of Chicago, where he taught for 30 years until his death.

He is still relatively unknown, but I think he is one of the great American composers of the latter part of the 20th century.

His personal credo follows:

  • All great music is a miracle.
  • The music must speak for itself.
  • Great art is a mystery and creates - is - magic.
  • That which the mind of mankind can conceive will be done, to paraphrase sentiments in the Talmund.
  • A work of art must transcend in order to be art.
  • Artist: He [God] filled him with the breath and spirit of God - of the Creative Force - with wisdom,knowledge, discerning insight, and physical knowing, to paraphrase sentiments found in the Torah, in b'reshit (Genesis).
He called himself a "radical traditionalist". He is a unique figure. Sorry, but I could not find any good examples of his music to post. (Any help, Empiricus?)

You should listen to his music.


Crazy Motherfucking Shit on the Internets!

This has been around the musicblogosphere a bit, but I can’t let it go.

The Epoch Times is an independent newspaper from New York. They specialize in China coverage, and, apparently, unabashed wingnuttery.

The article in question is an interview with a German doctor/oboist with the Western-Eastern fusion Divine Performing Arts Orchestra. Excerpts follow:

Even though he played piano and oboe for six hours a day during high school, he was still the best in his class academically.

Even though?

Dr. Trey's first professional choice would have been to become a conductor, but he later decided to go into medicine.

Probably wise, if you like money. But go on…

Since his youth, Dr. Trey has had a deep interest in the history and development of music believing that "music is a major contributor in building societies. It creates a direction in societies."

I would argue, rather, that music (and the arts in general) are a reflection of society. Symptom, not cause. No?

Dr. Trey notes that music has lost its way since the nineteenth century. It has changed from earlier eras—the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic epochs (1600-1900)—to trends starting in early 1900's.

Lost its way? Where were we headed? Utopia?

These earlier eras spanning 300 years represent the pinnacle of classical music in the West and are based on higher principles and values.

Higher principles…values? Counterpoint?

Composers such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Stockhausen composed music from a listener's perspective as if experimenting with noise.

First of all, this sentence sucks. Second, those are all great composers. Right? No? Uh-oh...

When this chaotic music appeared, atomic bombs, communism and cold war also surfaced.

Whoah. We have a serious cause-effect problem. Well, maybe not. It could be that this is utter fucking nonsense. Because: seriously? That is the stupidest fucking bullshit ever written. And I read Atlas Shrugged!

He believes this chaotic music in no small way contributes to the chaos in modern times. Destructive political movements, such as communism, thrived by killing people in its own society.

New Music = Communism? Communism was invented in the mid-1800s. It must have influenced Brahms. Wait...no. Brahms influenced Marx. Is that right?

Europe boasted excellent philosophers and scholars when classical principles were followed. When music lost its classical values, chaos developed in societies and so for 100 years, music has been struggling to find direction.

I guess this is all anti-communist rhetoric? Because it sure isn’t music history. The teleological view espoused is complete nonsense. Where was music going before it got “derailed”? How did Rwanda’s indigineous music promote genecide? What was so violent about Roman music that made them so warlike?

If we all just listened to Mozart all the time, we’d live in paradise!

Whee! Motherfucking crazy shit on the internets!

The Good Fodder

Melinda Bargreen of the Seattle Times breaks down for us the national classical-music summit held in Seattle last month. The focus was on revitalizing and securing classical music’s future. The conclusion: education.

It’s a good column. You should read it.

I have a bunch of convoluted opinions, but I’d rather hear yours, because this concerns us all. Cheers.


911. Is this an emergency?

I’m not sure.

What is the nature of your problem?

There’s this couple at Weill Recital Hall. They’re fighting, again. The man seems to be instigating the fight.

I’ll send the police, sir. Can you stay on the line?

Yeah, sure.

Can you describe what the man is doing?

It’s difficult to describe. I’ve seen them do this before. The woman has a temper, but she usually keeps it in check. But this guy, he just seems to have "brought out the worst in her." And what’s more, she takes it out on everyone there.

How do you mean, sir?

Well. She’s a pianist.

Excuse me, sir. Did you say pianist?

Yes. Hold on! (ducks from hard-flung tritone, followed by a minor second)

Can you describe what the pianist is doing?

She’s playing.

Playing what, sir?

Elliott Carter’s Piano Sonata from 1946.

Can you describe the pianist, sir?

Uh, If this pianist has a principal trait, it is a big, hearty and sometimes brutal relationship with her instrument.

Can you describe her relationship with the instrument, sir?

It’s like she seemed to play the piece with fluency and enjoyment. I mean, she just snapped.

Can you please describe the man?

He’s not actually here.

Can you repeat that for me, sir?

He’s not actually here. His name is Elliott Carter, though. He's a composer. I’ve seen him before. He’s "pugnacious" and "invites the performer's aggression."

Can you describe what he looks like?

He has white hair. He’s a little slow. Oh! And he’s 99.

99 what, sir?

Years old.

(911 operator hangs up. End of recording/transcription)

Tom Hanks, We Need You!

If Tom Hanks could decipher Da Vinci’s puzzles, he could surely solve this riddle, penned by Chicago Sun-Times critic Andrew Patner.

Brendel [...] plays these works as he hears them and as he imagines the authors themselves heard them...

But this is how they hear/heard them, which is the reason why I’d like to employ Tom Hanks:

--clear expressions of direct lines made mobile, regardless of complexity, by an animating, forward-moving spirit.

Just let that soak in, Tom. Get back to me in a week or two when you’ve figured this out. I’ll even pay for your therapy afterwards.


Gather Around the Campfire!

Empiricus: Okay kids. Who would like Grandpa Empiricus to tell you a scary story?

Kids (in unison): Me!

E: Then gather around the fire. This one is particularly scary. No one’s gonna wet their pants, right?

K (still in unison): No!

E: Promise?

K: Yes!

E: Okay. This one comes from the Tales of Kosman. It’s called

Review: ‘Tyrant’ illustrates power as prison

You haven’t wet your pants yet, right?

K: No!

E: Good. Get a little closer.


“Once upon a time, Little Red Riding-Kosman was walking through the dark and mysterious forest of Saint Francis on his way to his grandmother’s house to take her to the market. Being from the city, and being that it was a long walk, he kept himself in good spirits by singing a song. It went something like this:

Political power is very serious business, urban survival somewhat less so.

He sang this over and over to his heart’s delight, when suddenly, he came across an enchanted building called the Project Artaud Theatre. He had been to his Grandmother’s house many times, but never before did he encounter this strange theatre. It seemed to have just magically appeared. He could hear that inside there was music—odd sounds like none ever before heard. Being a lover of music, this piqued his interest. But remembering that his Grandmother expected him soon, he decided only to take a quick look inside.

The entrance was guarded by a tall, skinny man with acne, who would let him pass for a small price—two apples and one diet soda, which he eagerly handed over. But the tall, skinny man wouldn’t let Little Red Riding-Kosman inside without accepting two gifts in return. First, the guardian of the theatre handed him, with all seriousness, a thin, rectangular object, covered in numbers. The second, a collection of larger and thinner rectangles. He thought it was best not to offend the guardian, so he accepted them both. Grateful, Little Red Riding-Kosman looked them over well. The first gift was incomprehensible. The second seemed to be a booklet, full of advertisements. Yet, some of the words were unfamiliar. No doubt some magic spells to be cast if in danger.

Dismissing the possible peril of what lurked inside, Little Red Riding-Kosman eagerly ventured inside. The music was much louder than before. He noticed a few people roaming around, mostly with white hair and wrinkled scowls, but few others. They seemed to be searching for something, perhaps the music. So he concluded that he, too, should continue on. With a sharp poking sensation, he noticed someone trying to get his attention.

When Little Red Riding-Kosman turned around, there was a short, fat girl with acne, dressed in the same clothes as the entrance guard, tapping his shoulder. ‘Seet?’ she said. Not understanding her request, he shrugged. ‘Seet?’ she repeated. Not knowing what to do, Little Red Riding-Kosman showed her both of the gifts he had received from the tall, skinny guard. To his astonishment, she immediately took the small rectangle covered in numbers. Why? he thought to himself. After a few moments, the short, fat girl whisked him by the hand and lead him through a large door, which opened to an even larger room with a plethora of chairs facing towards a stage from where the music was coming.

Many of the same wrinkled faces he had seen earlier were already in chairs, looking at the music. But when the short, fat girl brought him in, all of them simultaneously turned their heads towards Little Red Riding-Kosman, as if interrupted. And as quickly as they had turned around, they turned back towards the music.

For what seemed to be more than 70 minutes, he sat there watching and listening to the music, which was

a dark meditation—sometimes, riveting, sometimes merely diffuse—on power and paranoia.

When it ended, he was startled. ‘How could I have been kept here so long! I need to get to Grandma’s!’ He sprinted out of the theatre with an urgent ferociousness that seemed to scare some of the people with white hair. He even knocked over the theatre guard by accident. Once back in the dark Saint Francis forest, he realized he had only an half-hour to get to Grandma’s, otherwise she’d go to the market without him.

So he ran and ran and ran, downhill and uphill, through the curviest roads in all the kingdom. When he finally arrived, he was relieved to find Grandma waiting for him. He made it there on time!

She was only mildly irritated. ‘What took you so long Little Red Riding-Kosman?’

‘I went to a concert.’

‘A concert?’

‘Yes. A mysterious theatre appeared in the dark forest and there was music playing. I couldn’t help myself.’

‘That’s hard to believe. Anyway. Let’s go to the market.’

On their way, Little Red Riding-Kosman described the magical experience in great detail. He described the entrance guardian's gifts and the fat girl's taps and the people with wrinkled scowls. Then he described the music.

‘The headliner was "The Tyrant," Dresher's one-act solo chamber opera about an unnamed despot imprisoned by the very throne that gives him his authority.

"The Tyrant," [...] takes its literary inspiration from the works of Italo Calvino and its format from Peter Maxwell Davies' landmark "Eight Songs for a Mad King." Like Davies' George III, the main character spends most of his time in a large cage, dividing his time among reveries, frenzied outbursts and occasional interactions with the six-member instrumental ensemble.

Jim Lewis' libretto includes moments of mordant wit and compelling tenderness, but neither he nor director Melissa Weaver quite manage to give the piece a clear dramatic shape. Instead, it meanders from one segment to the next as through driven by the whims of the tyrant's unhinged mental processes.

That leaves it up to Dresher and Duykers to keep things in focus.’

‘I suppose it does, Little Red Riding-Kosman,’ Grandma said, with very big eyes.

‘Drescher’s score moves assuredly from ominous paroxysms of anguish”


Kids (interrupting): What are ominous paroxysms of anguish?

Empiricus: Uh... They’re a bad feeling that you’ll get violent suffering.

K: ?

E: Got it? Where was I? Oh.


“I suppose it does, Little Red Riding-Kosman,’ Grandma said, with very big eyes.

‘Drescher’s score moves assuredly from ominous paroxysms of anguish—there are several passages in which silence alternates with brusque skittering to produce a haunting depiction of the tyrant’s paranoia”


Kids: How does brusk skittering and silence show the tyrant’s paranoya?

Empiricus: Do you want me to finish the story, or not?

K: Yes.

E: Okay then. So... “ominous paroxysms of anguish to...


“to shapely, lyrical set pieces.”


Kids: What are lyrical set pieces?

Empiricus: You’ve got the internets at home, right? Why don’t you just Wiki-dictionary it, then?

K: ...

E: Moving on.

K: How does assuredly going from ominous paroxysms to lyrical set pieces keep things in focus?

E: Just listen to the rest of the story!


“And Duykers, a performer of considerable vocal and theatrical virtuosity, drove each point home definitively."


Kids: How does a score move?

Empiricus: For the last time, it goes like this: the libretto meanders, so the performer has to have virtuosity in order to drive home the two points—ominous paroxysms of anguish and lyrical set pieces—which are found in the assuredly moving score (ostensibly the music therein), composed by Paul Drescher. Got it?

K: Why isn’t urban survival serious business?

E: It was just the song Little Red Riding-Kosman was singing. I give up. The story ends like this: Little Red Riding-Kosman’s grandmother isn’t really his grandmother at all, but an egg who falls off a wall, breaks and can’t be put together again. Little Red Riding-Kosman goes back to the magical theatre and is devoured by Detritus, the mythical pack of wolves that has internet access.

Now go to bed! No s'mores!


Give Em a Shot Across the Bow

When you say shit like this,

So much nontonal music contradicts itself by grafting a new language onto old sentence structure, creating Brahms with wrong notes.

...you had better be prepared to back it up, because I’ll come after you like stink on a cadaver.

So, my little scholar, back it up!

Not so Webern, whose musical grammar is as innovative as its vocabulary. The Variations here took on the shape of spoken conversation: question and answer, proposition and response, and the silences in between.

No. Bad. (rolls up the newspaper, swats) No.

Don’t think that I’ll let you evade responsibility, even if you praise Webern. Defend your stupid statement!

You might call him the Janacek of outer space.

As humorous as this may be, you don’t get a free pass. Give me examples, proof, anything that might convince me, the reader, that nontonal music contradicts anything; that Brahms is inherently complex; that the metaphor of music as language is apt; that wrong notes are bad!

Critics, you can’t just say shit and not be held responsible. If this was on the front page, Bernard Holland would be fired! As a reader, I have no sympathy for word counts or deadlines. No excuses, this is plain awful.


Someone Please Help Me Understand This

This is not really a criticism. It’s a... I don’t know what it is.

Here’s some context.

The Bach Society of St. Louis brought several fine soloists and a welcome innovation — surtitles — to its performance of J.S. Bach's "St. John Passion" on Sunday night.

Here’s also a clip of the piece. F-ing cool piece, by the way.

What I don’t get, however, is this concluding thought:

Performing the Passion in German was a good move; Sparger has said was an "experiment." It's one that should be repeated.

Whoa. First, I’ve never heard a version of the St. John Passion performed in a language other than the original German. I suppose back in the day it happened, but not recently. Right? So performing it in German is most definitely a good move. Compositional authority, that kind of thing.

On the other hand, you have the conductor and musical director of the Bach Society of St. Louis, A. Dennis Sparger, who says that performing the piece in German was an experiment. Huh? Has he never heard the piece before? Does he, the conductor and musical director of the Bach Society of St. Louis, know that Bach was German? Or is it that St. Louis is not socially prepared for a German text? Does St. Louis hate the Germans and their consonant-heavy language?

Wait. No! No! No! I get it! I get it. How could I have been so stupid?

You may have caught the missing subject of the second statement, which, in all probability and in retrospect, was “the surtitles.” I had assumed that it was “it.”

Sparger has said the surtitles was an “experiment.”

Thus! Thus, I would put money on this: that Sparger was referring to the surtitles as experimental, not that the piece was experimentally performed in German. We’ll chalk that one up to bad editing.

Still, the propositions aren’t dependent enough (to my taste, I suppose) to warrant a semicolon. That’s like saying, “Stopping at the red light was a good move; Sparger said the light was recently erected. It’s one that should be repeated.” The stopping at the light or erecting one? Or in our case, singing the Passion in German or the surtitles?

That was roundabout, but now I understand perfectly. Bad editing and bad writing. Thanks for your help, Empiricus. You’re welcome.

The Seven Trumpets are Sounding!

Bernard Holland singing the praises of Iannis Xenakis, the ultra-modern French/Greek mathematician/architect/composer who had one eye? Why yes it is.

Iannis Xenakis’s “Rebonds B,” with its alternating bass drum and woodblocks, was the evening’s shortest yet most substantial moment, offering a sobriety and studied imagination that made a lot of the music around it seem not very important at all.

I don’t mind rivers and seas of blood, too much. I just hope we can skip the plague of locusts.


Metaphors like Giant Bouncing Balls

Thanks for the title Mr. Kosman. But alas, I am not poking fun at you. Instead, I would like to turn to Mark Swed, who has chronic metaphor and coherence spasms, a perfectly common neurological disorder (see here).

Mark reviewed a solo concert by Lang Lang, at L.A.’s Disney Hall.

The audience was antsy, wanting fireworks, and Lang Lang eventually delivered. First, though, he had to prove he was a poet.

By reciting, in Greek, an original poem on the subject of nuclear love.

He is a poet.


But he is an immature poet with a nuclear arsenal, and that makes him a very dangerous poet.


Would you care to clear this one up for us, Mark?

The nuclear part of the weaponry is a killer technique.

Uh, and...?

The threat is in the delivery system.


He has the charisma to hold an audience in his power.

This is still part of the same paragraph, and he is still qualifying “immature poet,” I think.

Responsibility, though, is another matter.

Yes. Yes, I suppose it is.

Yeah! New paragraph!

The first half of Tuesday's recital was refined, elegant and verged on the eloquent. It began with Mozart's B-flat Sonata, K. 333, played with delicacy. Then Schumann's large Fantasy in C brought out ardor. In both pieces, Lang Lang skimmed the surface. But the surfaces he created were flawless.

I think Swed is insinuating that Lang lacked depth. Fine.

Not every lake is best appreciated by jumping in.


But it’s okay Lang doesn’t have depth, because he’s a nuclear threat, which trumps charisma and responsibility, at least for poet-pianists.

I have no idea what he’s saying. In fact, I have no idea what I’m saying anymore. So, I give up. I’m done.


I lied. I would like to point out that this was printed in the L.A. Times. Thank you.

No, really. Thank you. I mean it. Thank you. Thank you so much. I am a better person, now. Because of the article. And how good it was. Seriously. It was good. Thanks. Poets. Wow. I'm amazed at how much I learned. Really. It was good. Very good. So good I am a better person. Thanks a lot. I super-really mean it, tools.

No. Big rubber balls.

Composer of the Day!

Today's Composer of the Day! is Charles Amirkhanian.

(b. 1945-)

Amirkhanian's music is mostly electro-acoustic, focusing on recordings of him speaking. He manipulates the spoken words, repeated in various guises, and overlays them. Basically, he composes auditory collages created from words. This has been called several things like sound-poetry.

I find it remarkable that he creates the illusion of space with his recording techniques. Also, the words become so decontextualized that they lose meaning and become only sound-objects.

Here is a link to some pieces. Scroll down to number 10, "Just". (It opens in Windows Media Player.)

The entire composition is made of 4 words, "rainbow, chug, bandit, bomb". Notice the layering and overlapping techniques he uses to change textures and create a sense of growth and decay, building up textures, then collapsing them. Listen to the whole thing!...Neat!

Here is a link to a video (that I can't figure out how to embed) with a piece called "Radii" which is composed of words that have the root "radio". I have no idea what the video has to do with anything, but the piece is cool.

Cool stuff. You should check out his music!


From the Dallas Morning News, this caught my attention. First, because Schütz, while awesome is seldom performed. Lent or whatever, I guess. But then the awesomeness that is Scott Cantrell’s prose...no verb suffices.

All right, I've gone and done it, done my Lenten penance, mortified my flesh and, in one brief hour, washed away my sins.

You…you’ve…been absolved? What? The hour was brief?

It happened during Saturday night's performance of Heinrich Schütz' Passion According to St. Matthew.

Schütz washed away your sins? Good, I guess… So, you liked it? You didn’t like it?

After this hour of musical water-boarding, administered by the Dallas Bach Society, the fires of hell hold no terrors.

Holy fuck!

“Musical water-boarding”?

You’ve just compared doing your job, which is, for some reason I cannot comprehend, sitting and listening to music (and later writing dubiously about it), to being tortured. Wow.

Now, I’m as non-PC as the next guy. If you had written this a decade ago, it might have passed as mere hyperbole.

However, given the current topical nature of torture, and waterboarding in particular, that is fucking rude as hell. Yesterday, YESTERDAY, our president vetoed a bill making this particular form of torture illegal.

This is in such incredibly poor fucking taste that I am totally at a loss.

Congratulations, Cantrell. You’ve rendered me speechless.

No Title Can Accurately Describe the Awesomeness!

And the Band Played Badly

I found this delightful piece hiding in plain view in the New York times. It hilariously undermines many of the trappings of classical music we regularly chide and deride here at Detritus. In fact, I’d argue that this is detritus of the highest order. And the lack of humor of the critics is also hilarious. Excerpts and commentary below, the entire piece can be read via the link above. Or, you know, at nytimes.com.

WHY should real musicians - the ones who can actually play their instruments - have all the fun?


Some years ago, a group of frustrated people in Scotland decided that the pleasure of playing in an orchestra should not be limited to those who are good enough to do so, but should be available to the rankest of amateurs. So we founded the Really Terrible Orchestra, an inclusive orchestra for those who really want to play, but who cannot do so very well. Or cannot do so at all, in some cases.

Excellent. That reminds me of the old Portsmouth Sinfonia from the 1960s and 70s.

The announcement of the orchestra’s founding led to a great wave of applications to join. Our suspicion that there were many people yearning to play in an orchestra but who were too frightened or too ashamed to do anything about it, proved correct. There was no audition, of course, although we had toyed with the idea of a negative audition in which those who were too good would be excluded. This proved to be unnecessary. Nobody like that applied to join.

Some of the members were very marginal musicians, indeed. One of the clarinet players, now retired from the orchestra for a period of re-evaluation, stopped at the middle B-flat, before the instrument’s natural break. He could go no higher, which was awkward, as that left him very few notes down below. Another, a cellist, was unfortunately very hard of hearing and was also hazy on the tuning of the strings. As an aide-mémoire, he had very sensibly written the names of the notes in pencil on the bridge. This did not appear to help.

This had me laughing heartily. Next, they hire a conductor (!) and begin rehearsing.

Our initial efforts were dire, but we were not discouraged. Once we had mastered a few pieces - if mastered is the word - we staged a public concert. We debated whether to charge for admission, but wisely decided against this. That would be going too far.


So should we go to the other extreme and pay people to come? There was some support for this, but we decided against it. Instead, we would give the audience several free glasses of wine before the concert. That, it transpired, helped a great deal.

I bet! However, it would have been ludicrously aweseome to give each patron a ticket and two dollars, or something.

Anyway, it turned out that people were more than willing to come see the Really Terrible Orchestra. Wouldn’t you? Just the refreshing idea is enough to make me want to go. The critics, however, didn’t get the joke. Or the idea that music can be inclusive!

“How these people presume to play in public is quite beyond me,” wrote one critic in The Scotsman newspaper. And another one simply said “dire.” Well, that may be so, but we never claimed to be anything other than what we are. And we know that we are dire; there’s no need to state the obvious. How jejune these critics can be!

Predictable. Humorless. Critic-like. I can only imagine what our favorite critics on this side of the pond would have written.

There is now no stopping us. We have become no better, but we plow on regardless. This is music as therapy, and many of us feel the better for trying. We remain really terrible, but what fun it is. It does not matter, in our view, that we sound irretrievably out of tune. It does not matter that on more than one occasion members of the orchestra have actually been discovered to be playing different pieces of music, by different composers, at the same time.

That is unquestionably awesome. I can’t wait for the CD!


Composer of the Day!

Today’s Composer of the Day is Milton Babbitt.

(b. 1916)

Yep, that’s right. He’s almost 92! Though, I won't hold my breath for the same fanfare that Elliott Carter is receiving.

Perhaps the most serial of serialists, Milton Babbitt was born a mathematician in Philadelphia, where he learned to love the hometown A’s when they still had Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove. Milton even saw Ty Cobb at the end of his career.

His music is often the recipient of the most belligerent critical attacks. Superficially, he embodies the stereotypical image of the all-white, elitist, academic, born-into-prosperity modern composer living in an ivory tower. He is white; his music is not for everyone; he taught at Princeton and Julliard; and lives in a cream-colored high-rise in Queens.* One of his essays, Who Cares if You Listen, still evokes strong anti-serial, anti-rational thinking sentiments.

Even Bernard Holland once surprisingly took the high road when describing his music.

Perhaps if we could solve the puzzles and answer the riddles, a secret drama of powerful symmetry would be revealed. Joyce's whimsical dictum that he was due the reader's undivided and enduring attention might apply here, and so I respectfully leave it to Mr. Babbitt's devotees to go about their work.

Now that’s restraint!

But I’ll let Babbitt speak for himself. This comes from a speech that appeared in the Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, in 1976.

Ours was an upheaval within a cosmic cataclysm, and there were the inevitable mutual shocks of new cognitions, of old oppositions only slowly and slightly reconciled, but the frictions paled beside the stimulations. If we [American composers], trying to come of musical age, sinned on the side of anxiety, oversusceptibility unto naivete, even gullibility, it was with a voracious enthusiasm and energy born of the unnatural suddenness of our new situation.

You can listen to his music here at New Music Box—his pieces usually have goofy titles, like Around the Horn, or Three Cultivated Choruses.

Milton is also a connoisseur of beer! Elitist beer, like Long Trail Ale.

You should read his stuff and listen to his music.

*May not be true.

A Stunning Bit of Pandering (and Originality!)

One of our favorites checks in with a report from Houston. It turns out that the Houston Symphony is having a festival! Surely the subject(s) will be original, fresh, and innovative. Right?

Thankfully, the Houston Symphony didn't opt to present just another Beethoven festival.

Oh. Oh. Okay. Wait, what?

Mr. Ward goes on for a while. Here is my favorite excerpt.

In between, in various parts of Jones Hall, will be short piano recitals, panels, a rehearsal-like exploration of the first movement of the Fifth Symphony (with its famous motto theme, da-da-da DUM),

Did you really just type that? Because if I ever typed that I’d lose all self-respect. And possibly do bodily harm to myself. Jesus.

and an evening concert including the delightful but slightly trashy Choral Fantasy with pianist Orion Weiss and the Houston Symphony Chorus.

Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy is…slightly trashy? She’s a nice girl, sure, but some weekends she dresses slutty? What the fuck?!

Read the rest at your own peril. I'm off to commit seppuku.


Help Wanted: Only Schenker Students Need Apply

This is how “classical” music gets its reputation: through subtle sublimation couched in amusing puff pieces like this one.

Classical music helps soothe stressed dogs

Fantastic! Why don’t we put our kids in front of the TV so we can go out and catch some dinner at a nice $30 per person restaurant, where we’ll figure out how to anaesthetize the dog?


Bay Area researcher-pianist team produces book, CD for dogs.

If only they had thumbs. And the dogs an ability to read. Drum kit: pah-dum, tss!

With dog treats spilling out of her black canvas bag, Maria Skorobogatov proceeded through one of the Peninsula Humane Society’s kennels as classical music played from overhead speakers.

The occupants barked their hellos and stood on their hind legs to be noticed.

Is it just me, or is the personification of animals tiring?

But the animal behaviorist walked passed the chatty ones Tuesday and rewarded those who remained quiet and still.

“Hello sweetheart,” Skorobogatov said softly to one well-behaved dog.

Throughout her brief visit, music played.

“We want to see if it’s having any type of effect,” Skorobogatov said of the music. “We use sounds and visual aids to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. It also helps them relax and that gets them adopted.”

I don’t have a problem with this. We’ve seen before that classical music dissuades panhandlers from panhandling, crack dealers from dealing crack, and prostitutes from Dirty Sanchez-ing. Whatever does the job, right?

(Also, whew. I don’t have to spell that name again!)

So why bring this up?

The music played that morning originated on the other side of San Mateo County with Half Moon Bay resident Lisa Spector. The Julliard School graduate

Because we all know the only legitimate musicians are cultivated at Julliard.

and concert pianist collaborated with Joshua Leeds, a sound researcher in Marin, to study the impact of classical music has on dogs.

Because dogs need classical gas, too.

Two years of research and clinical demonstrations

“Demonstrations,” in case you’re taking note, is the scientific equivalent of Brian, from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, asking, “Why don’t women go to stonings?” With a staunch reply, his mother answers, “Because it’s written that way.” I would prefer our scientists, even if they’re testing the effects of classical music on dogs, to perform experiments. Go control groups!

[the research] produced a book, “Though a Dog’s Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health & Behavior of your Canine Companion,” written by Leeds and Susan Wagner, a board-certified veterinary neurologist.

Spector is the pianist on a 45-minute CD that Leeds produced to go with the book.

At this point, I’m thinking hippie bull, parental transference, guilt and gross puppy love—the wrong, wrong kind of puppy love. But what is your point, Empiricus? Be patient, my young apprentice.

It’s been Spector’s experience that when she tickled the ivories,

I hope we can all agree that clichés are fun, in the wrong, wrong kind of way.

dogs she took care of would move closer to her and fall asleep.

Take note that dogs fall asleep.

No more doggy angst—just peace and quiet.

Are we anaesthetizing or euthanizing Old Yeller?

“What calms people, calms dogs,” Spector said as her dog Sanchez slept at her feet.

This shit not only calms them down, it makes them fall asleep.

On the CD, she plays music of Bach, Chopin and Rachmaninoff, among other composers.

Rachmaninoff I get. But here we get to another point to be noted. She plays music. Sure, we could go in semantic circles all day and night if we tried to define music, but, BUT keep that in mind.

[...] she simplified the compositions and slowed the tempos to between 40 and 60 beats per minute to create simpler sounds.

Hear that Schenkerites? “Simplified.” Get your reduction goggles on. Be ready.

Still I would like to point out a couple more things.

Our sound researcher, Joshua Leeds asserts that

“There’s too much noise and too much input,” he said. “Our dogs are indicators of the stressed environment we live in.”

Emphasis mine.

Four different CDs were cut and tested on 150 dogs in homes and shelters. The one that had an overwhelming response was the simplified classical music performed on piano.

Seventy percent of dogs in kennels showed a reduction in stress, while 85 percent in households were calmed.

He goes on:

“We live in (a) world that is pretty over-the-top with all kinds of environmental stressors,” Leeds said. “We have to be conscious with what we are surrounding ourselves with.”

In other words, dogs are subjected to stressful environments, like us; dogs are calmed by classical music, like us.

Sweet. Now we’re primed for the $30 meat and potatoes.


What we’ve seen above and here is that “classical” music can used as a tool to achieve certain tasks. Above, classical music is used to calm dogs. In the later, Beethoven et al were piped over loudspeakers at convenient stores to dissuade undesirables from loitering. What both “experiments” have in common is that music can be used as a depressant and deterrent, demonstrating that music, specifically “classical,” has extra-enjoyment properties, stuffs that reach beyond the Detritus’s normal range of analytic critique. That is, “classical” music is not just for enjoyment or to provoke serious and deep thought—it has other properties, too. Musical therapy is one that comes to mind.

I whole-heartedly accept this. What I find irritating, and more on point to the Detritus’s goal, however, is hidden between the lines.

First, this experiment, or as so aptly described above as a “demonstration,” plays with parallel narratives—one, of the problems concerning dogs, the other about us and our problems. Because Joshua Leeds closely connects environmental stress between dogs and humans, the implication is that “classical” music may have the same anaesthetizing properties between species, whereas rock and pop music does not. This made painfully clear by Sanchez falling asleep at the faintest hint of “classical” music. What can we conclude? That “classical” music can be a powerful depressant for us, too. As if “classical” music didn’t already suffer from the stigma of potentially boring people, here’s a pseudo-scientific “demonstration” informing Average Joe that it is, in fact, boring.

Do you want to know exactly how boring? Near the top of the page of the article, there’s a couple of mp3 links of excerpts from the CD. They’re on the right-hand side. Go ahead, give ‘em a listen.


Now go listen to the originals. Here’s Beethoven Op. 13, Second Movement. And here is Bach’s Prelude in C Major, BWV 1096.

Even for those of you who haven’t had 30 grueling years of Kostka and Payne (blecht), you’ll be able to recognize that the pieces on the doggie CD are... well... very simplified, or reduced, compared to the originals. Rhythm has been eliminated for the most part. What’s left is merely the harmony, like a class exercise—not so much musical but technically proficient.

Granted, these class exercises are of the highest quality (I’d give ‘em an A+)—that’s why they’re Bach and Beethoven—but, nevertheless, they are reductions of the masterpieces, not the pieces themselves. This is where I find another problem. At what point of reduction (yeah I’m asking you, you Schenkerites) can we still attach the names Bach and Beethoven to these increasingly nondescript chorales? I know I’m inching very close to the question of intellectual property, but that’s not where I’m going.

What I am saying is that the doggie pianist still attaches Beethoven and Bach’s names to these rather non-musical reductions (insert discussion about what is or isn’t musical here). By doing so, and at the same time trying to anaesthetize dogs, which is given some measure of credibility by a scientist’s research (?), Beethoven and Bach, specifically, are taking one on the chin. They are boring. Two masters whose names are entrenched in the collective consciousness are boring!

On the brighter side, if you’ve kept your harmony exercises and Schenkerian reductions, I know a field ripe for exploitation.

For someone who read this article with little or no interest in classical music but loved dogs, what might he or she come away with? Beethoven and Bach are boring? Classical music is boring? So boring you can put dogs to sleep with it? So boring it can be researched and studied? If I listened to classical music, I can relieve my stress through boredom?

It comes as no surprise that the San Francisco/Bay Area classical music radio station 102.1 KDFC, every weekday at 2PM and 7PM, air a program titled the “Island of Sanity.” It’s their

signature midday getaway—three pieces of calm, comfortable, KDFC classical.

It’s designed to mitigate your stressful workday. Like I said above, I don’t have a problem with using classical music as a tool for something else, like stress relief. I take issue with our media outlets who refuse to engage their audiences with lively discussion or adventurous and stimulating programming.

What really kills me is that every day an article is written about how shitty modern music is—it’s academic, it’s elitist, it’s emotionless, etc.—and how “tonal” music is much better. In fact, I bet tonal composers receive four to five times the number of qualifying adjectives than those under Schoenberg’s evil, serialist, tonal-center-hating regime, even though they can, and have been, elitist and academic. But when poorly conceived doggie CDs are written about in a major newspaper, ones that equate classical music, in general, with stress-relief through boredom, I have an even greater bone to pick. It blindly condemns all classical music, tonal, modern, what have you, to an existence solely as a background for meditation. I ain’t cool with that.

Compound the crappy articles about music and dogs with rabid connoisseurship and hefty prices at the symphony, and I might as well quit this music thing altogether!

Is anyone out there who has a problem with all of this dreck? Is there anything to be done about it? Does the free market really have the final say? Am I insane? Is my dog insane?

(Tired of ranting. Commits suicide, again.)