Midgette's Wang: A Freaky 'Favorite'

It’s true that Yuja Wang made an appearance at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, but this isn’t about that. This is about something else. In fact, this is about this:

It was amusing, or bemusing, that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's most recent program (heard Friday night) was part of the orchestra's series called "Favorites," an attempt to label some greatest hits for the benefit of new concertgoers.

Concert programmer: “In my attempt to figure out how we can make more money, I’ve come up with several ideas. Let’s pander to the lowest common denominator. Let’s turn our concert hall into a dead museum. Let’s lease advertising space and rename ourselves the ‘Wal-Mart Symphony Orchestra.’ How’s that sound?”

Board members (in unison): “Huzzah!”

What a joke, right?

The piece that earned it this designation was Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" -- a greatest hit, true enough.

I know. It’s like the most famousest piece ever, ever.

But it is also a comment on what the orchestral repertory has become that a piece this weird and warty,

Well... back in 1830. Yes. It was weird and warty.

so category-defying,

In 1830. Today, we call it a tone-poem or a programmatic symphony.


Sure, in 1830.

and altogether uncomfortable

But it’s the most famousest piece ever, ever. How can it be uncomfortable if it’s so familiar?

But it is also a comment on what the orchestral repertory has become that a piece this weird and warty, so category-defying, revolutionary and altogether uncomfortable [...], should be presented under a rubric that seems to connote tame respectability.

[It. mine] The first version of the piece is 178 years-old! It is the most famousest piece. Ever. Ever! How can you say that Berlioz is not representative of the canon after nearly two centuries of fame-having-ness? How can you think that it’s weird, even today?


Hello? Anne? Are you still there?

The other two works on the program certainly fit nobody's definition of "favorites": Prokofiev's First Piano Concerto, a piece that's young, brash and short, and...

Whoa. Stop right there.

Let me get this right. So you’re saying that the Prokofiev is young?

When was this review written again? (checks date) April 28, 2008. I was right. It was written today.

And the Prokofiev Concerto was written when? 1910? And it’s young? Huh...?


Oh. I get it. Some people or critics have selective amnesia. They block out anything that’s younger than Elliott Carter. There’s a black void where musical modernism used to be. So, in that light, the Symphonie Fantastique is only roughly 80 years-old and the Prokofiev is a spring chickadee.


Sator Arepo said...

Your point is well taken. The 20th century, did, indeed, actually happen. Sheesh.

However, and in direct opposition to the notion of "favorites" they did program:

"and an "Armenian Suite" by Richard Yardumian that I would bet no one in the audience had ever heard before."

Heard--or heard of. New one on me, and good on them for going there. But that hardly qualifies as a favorite. Prokofiev's concerto? Easily falls under that rubric, unless the only piece one knows is Pachabel's Canon or Eine Kleine.

Or maybe I'm wrong, and there's a bizarre niche following of obscure Armenian composers in Baltimore. Stranger things have surely happened.

anzu said...

Regarding Prokofiev, I think he wrote that concerto when he was 23, so it might be a reference to his age. Also, I believe that the initial reviews that it (the pc) got echoed the sentiment that Mme. Midgette describes-- brash, harsh, short, etc. If you do a search on that piano concerto and Huneker (sp? The then-NYT critic), you'll get a list of hilarious negative reviews of its first performance.

Huneker wrote, "The first Piano Concerto of Prokofiev was in one movement, but compounded of many rhythms and recondite noises... The composer handled the keyboard--handled is the right word--and the duel that ensued between his 10 flail-like fingers [and the piano was a battle] to the death; the death of euphony... the piano all the while shrieking, groaning, howling, fighting back, and in several instances it seemed to rear and bite the hand that chastised it... There were moments when the piano and orchestra made sounds that evoked not only the downfall of empires, but also of fine crockery, the fragments flying in all directions...The Concerto will never be played by anyone on earth ..." And this was one of the "kinder" reviews. . ..

Empiricus said...

Good work anzu. I might have jumped the gun with the "young" thing. But, I think my gripe still stands: there's no way in heck that Berlioz can sound weird, today, unless you dismiss the entire 20th century or you don't know anything other than Pachelbel's Ground Bass.

And good research! Wow. I have a strange feeling, though, that Huneker might be going under a new name these days over in NY.

Anonymous said...

Emp, by that math, we haven't even been born yet!

I hope my parents have sex soon...