Poop is Always Brown

Apparently Jeremy Eichler and Matthew Guerrieri are on assignment, covering the intrigues of Julian Tavarez’s conspicuous iPod playlists, because the Boston Globe instead instructed David Perkins, correspondent, to cover Dubravka Tomsic’s piano concert at Jordan Hall.

This turned out to be an epic failure. Not because of awkward grammar, like this:

She played generously, long and beautifully.

but because of... how do I say this? Romantic arching? No. Sweeping arcs? No, but closer.

I know! Sweeping assumptions. Yes, that’s it. This is an epic failure, because of Perkins’s sweeping assumptions.

Here’s what I mean:

Often one wished for more imagination and searching.

Taken by itself, this is a perfectly fine thing to say—a criticism, or, if you prefer, an opinion. Unfortunately, it goes downhill from here, to put it lightly.

The Adagio in B minor, K. 540, of Mozart, for example, had everything one loves in great Mozart playing - a singing line, graceful phrasing, and the ability to weigh chords beautifully –

How can David wish for more imagination and searching—by the way, I find “searching” to be terribly ambiguous; on the other hand, I can define imagination with some accuracy—how can he wish for more imagination and searching when Tomsic’s playing “had everything one loves in great Mozart playing?” It is not possible. But...

...but it is a strangely repetitive work, and she did not vary the color or emphasis with each return of the main subject.

So. Because Tomsic “did not vary the color or emphasis with each return of the main subject,” David finds himself wishing for more imagination and searching.

The problem, here, is that... well here’s a definition of imagination:

The faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts (OAD)

She didn’t vary Mozart’s material, right? Right. That doesn’t sound imaginative at all.

But! But, David, by assuming what could have made her performance better, i.e., variation, he renders himself blind to other possibilities, such as no variation. Thus, his viewpoint is unimaginative, not Tomsic’s. In other words, by idealizing a performance of Mozart, he denies the existence, or possibility, of new interpretations, like little or no variation, which could be considered imaginative. See?

This is probably the most boring subject, I know. But we’re not entirely done with the sweeping. So wake up!

[In the Scarlatti] she did not underline, with artful rubato, the suspense of the wonderful harmonic shifts.

Similarly, David expects rubato in Scarlatti as if he formed himself an image of an idealized performance. Thus, again, he closed himself to the possibility of other, imaginative, interpretations.

Just saying, no one should make sweeping assumptions then immediately negate them.

And “wonderful harmonic shifts?” How about “imaginative harmonic shifts?”

Anyway, levity!

She fudged only a few notes, and there were a lot of notes.

Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata is a favorite work she played on her first Boston recital 17 years ago.

It's a half-crazy piece, and Tomsic, while a great pianist, is not good at suffering.

Please come back soon, Jeremy and Matthew! We miss you.


Anonymous said...

An interesting post, Empiricus. You bring up some good points about effective criticism of the performance of well-known canonic works. It seems to me that you are accusing David Perkins of prejudging the performance, or at least, coming in with preconceived notions about how he prefers these works to be played. Perhaps.

However, I think you can read these critiques as judging the performance (not pre-judging). He does have the benefit of having just heard the recital, and I certainly think that upon hearing a performance of a work saying, "she did not vary the color or emphasis with each return of the main subject" seems like an appropriate, even fair response. Regardless of whether or not he is was familiar with the piece, noting that a performace sounded repetitive sounds like a valid criticism (although, I still accept your point that me may have been close-minded to other approaches).

If he had added the phrase "having heard her interpretation of the Mozart I noticed that...(his line)," I think that his statement can be understood in the context of what he enjoys in the work (or in performance), something that should be fair game in a review.

Empiricus said...

You're right. What he says would be fair, if put in another context, or at least qualified in some way.

However, I maintain that he, in fact, did have a preconceived bias, because he makes frequent use of the indefinite pronoun "one" (e.g., "one wished," "everything one loves"), a generalization, instead of the definite "I." I mean, is one really supposed to artfully underline harmonies with rubato? Is that unique to Scarlatti? From where did he pluck that road apple, if not from preconceived notions?

Either way, I'm nitpicky; so good work! But, the article is still a piece of poo on a hot grill.

By the way you might all enjoy this, from Soho the Dog, especially you Gustav.

Strauss and Mahler

Anonymous said...

Ha! Das ist nicht schlecht, indeed. Ich werde unterhalten.

(BTW, I half-heartedly apologize to anyone who actually knows something about the german language.)

Sator Arepo said...

That random video link was fun...to look at. Heh.

Aaron said...

Isn't part of the problem that he starts by saying that her performance "had everything one loves in great Mozart playing" - and then spends a lot of time showing that, in fact, there were a number of things that she didn't do that she could have done that would have made the performance better?

I don't know whether he came to the performance with preconceptions about what the performance should be, but I don't think he did himself any favors by undercutting his thesis with the rest of his review of the performance.

Empiricus said...

Hey Aaron! I've got A'd tix for the upcoming Yanks series. Oakland is da bomb...(wink)? But most importantly, critics should be held high standards, like musicians and composers.

Empiricus said...

A's, not A'd

Empiricus said...

and held "to" high standards. (i) wish we had editors. Real ones.