Today, I Heart Tom Strini

Today, I heart Tom Strini, because he wrote intelligently about music, an incredibly difficult thing to do.

I must admit that I was expecting some new music hating after reading this title.

Chamber series conquers diverse mid-century pieces

One of our biggest problems with music criticism is that, often, critic X (e.g., Bernard Holland) paints the performance as overcoming the difficulties, or the stink, of new music. I dare any critic to do the same with Beethoven—by the way, fuck Beethoven. And this is what today’s title suggests.

Tom’s review thus begins. And unfortunately, it begins with a grand, sweeping generalization.

Repetition defines musical structure and allows us to comprehend it.

Holy shit! The grand, sweeping generalization...makes sense! Congratulations, Tom. This is a significant first. Too bad it can only go downhill from here, right?

Verses and choruses repeat. Recapitulation follows development, so we can locate ourselves in sonata form. On the creative side, recurrence frees composers from the burden of constant invention.

I am beside myself. An entire paragraph that works: ideas are related (another first); you have correct, educated information. Wow. Just, wow.

It can’t get better, I keep telling myself.

Carlos Chavez's 1966 "Soli IV" for brass trio, heard Thursday on a 20th-century program at the Chamber Music Milwaukee series, is so radical because it takes on that burden explicitly. "Soli IV" has no past and implies no future. It does not ask the listener to remember what happened and relate it to the present moment. The immediate sonic neighborhood - the gestural cluster of notes in front of your ear at a given moment - is all that counts.

Tears of joy are running down my usually disgusted scowl. What a beautiful description! And exactly (relatively) what was happening at that moment in time—Tom’s not a guy who’s afraid to show that he’s read a few books.

Normally, we’d get something like this, instead:

Think of a street with moving traffic and traffic signals, with one composer showing red and the other green. Mr. Stockhausen's music was telling us that if the Chopin tradition had carried piano playing from 1840 deep into the 20th century, "Klavierst├╝cke X" was determined it would go no further. Here the instrument is taught a lesson it will not soon forget.

Instruction came in the form of assault: blows to the keyboard with elbows, forearms and palms, episodes violent to the point that [pianist], the evening's intrepid pianist, wore cut-off gloves as a kind of body armor. Fingers were, however, left free for the shrill glissandos and racing stepwise movement.

Usually, this is what we get (from Bernard Holland), a condemnatory, dismissive verbal whipping.

Tom, on the other hand, gives us a colorful description of what happens in the piece, the philosophy of its aesthetic and a sound strategy for listening to it. And, my favorite part, he doesn’t outright dismiss it as junk. Nor does he resolve to not understand it.

Plus, the title now makes sense. It's simply conveying the notion that these pieces are diverse not crappy. Amazing! My bad; I'm used to assuming the worst. You go, Tom!

He does have an opinion, though.

That's a peculiar way to put a piece together, and I wouldn't recommend it.

You’ve earned your opinion today, Tom. You didn't have to follow that up with:


“But?” That’s wonderful! Admitting that your opinion is yours, alone. Can I send you a Christmas card?

But "Soli IV" is a fascinating and gallant experiment in musical perception, especially with Kevin Hartman (trumpet), Gregory Flint (horn) and Megumi Kanda (trombone) fully investing in every note in every fleeting gesture. I'm glad I heard it, even if can can't remember any of its particulars.

Beautiful (smile cracking through the leather-like frown, tears still streaming). Simply beautiful. And the rest is pure gold, too.

Good work, Tom!


I am hoping that we, at the Detritus, have more opportunities to depart from our usual snarky/rude rants and praise praise-worthy critics.


Sator Arepo said...

Me, too. And nicely done. What a nice article.

Tom Strini said...

Gee, thanks guys. I do try. Still, I'm sitting here with my catcher's mask on, waiting for the punch line. -- Strini

Anonymous said...

I thought I felt the seas were boiling, and this totally explains all of the frogs in my backyard...

A happy day on Detritus.

Empiricus said...

RE: Strini

That's what I'd like to think Brewers fans are thinking about Kendall, right about now.

In other words, no frills attached, good job.

Aaron said...

"That’s wonderful! Admitting that your opinion is yours, alone."

I think this is the key to helpful reviews, really. A good reviewer probably has a better-informed opinion than most people, and that's what gives him or her the authority to tell his or her readers whether X is something they should check out. Still, at some level it's just his or her opinion, and it's nice when the reviewer keeps that in mind.

For example, the problem with B. Holland isn't that he's ignorant or stupid or whatever; it's that he just doesn't like a lot of the music he's asked to review, and he has a hard time keeping in mind that his own anti-serialist biases aren't dispositive of the real value of that music.

Jamie Johns said...

yea, tom strini!