Today's Special!

What is today's special?

Wait...why is today special?

Thanks to symphony and guests, ‘Rite of Spring’ is breath of fresh air
Mark Kanny, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 4/29/2010


I mean, sure, Le sacre is totally like "a breath of fresh air"...a rude, disssonant, primal breath to chase out the stuffy stink of stolid Biedermeier conert-going sensibilities. Which is, I'm sure, what the title-writer intended.

Ah, good times. Anyway; Mark?

The three pieces of music being performed at Heinz Hall this week add up to a special concert experience,…

A sufficiently generic, pleasant article opening that provides little information. Cleverly, this motif is spun out by the author to include the description-less descriptor “special.” This is at best an empty signifier, and at worst makes the concert sound vaguely poor—or perhaps differently-abled.

"Special," moreover, makes no actual claims or demands; it is literally everyone's grandmother or grandchild.

Figure 1: "Stay tuned for a special Grey's Anatomy."

…even by the standards of Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Man. That does sound special! More special than usual!

He's shown mastery of diverse styles right from his debut,…

[blank stare]

…but this week's program was tasty in fresh ways.

Astounding! After an opening layer of carefully constructed information-free blandness, pow! Zing!

…tasty in fresh ways.

That’s…awesome. I don’t even know where to begin.

Figure : A...salmon martini? Maybe?

Figure 3 : Pondering another aspect.

Composer Richard Danielpour concludes his term as composer of the year with weekend performances of his new…

[calls Gustav]

[Gustav is not there. It is 2 A.M. Did I think he would pick up?]

[Gustav would have had something nice to say about Danielpour’s music, I bet.]



The second movement [of the Danielpour-ed.], "In Memory of the Innocent," is beautiful in special ways.

Well, that’s pretty faint prai…wait.


...beautiful in special ways.

No. Way.

You did not. That is spectacularly amazingly hysterically funny. I am quite literally Laughing Out Loud.

...tasty in fresh ways.

...beautiful in special ways.

Man. There must be an adverb shortage in Pittsburgh.

Figure 4: Both Ways and Means


Music Critic Alan Rich Dies at 85

Noted music critic Alan Rich has died.

He was a famous music critic in New York and Los Angeles for decades. We almost never mentioned him here, mostly because he was usually really good. It didn't hurt, however, that he retired from--er, make that was retired by--the L.A. Weekly in early 2008 (soon after the construction of Detritus Towers).

I don't have too much to say that you can't find anywhere else.

I've lifted this excerpt/quote from the New York Times article:

When a reader wrote to him at LA Weekly to admonish him about a harsh review and asserted that “there is no composition of any era” that should be described as “trash” or “abomination,” Mr. Rich responded in a 1993 column that dealt with the complaint head on:

“Ah, if only it were true,” he wrote, “the post of music critic could then be abolished, and we professional listeners could spend our days eating lotos and wallowing in the trashy abominations of the Scharwenka Fourth Piano Concerto or the Rach 3,” the last a reference to the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto.

Heh. Good one, Mr. Rich. Rachmaninoff's Third is musical onanism.

[Edit: fixed mis-typed publication name.]


It's been a long concert season...very long.

Summer is right around the corner and it's beautiful outside. You've been going to concerts every weekend for nearly 7 months now...season opening spectaculars, patriotic tributes, that obligatory performance of the Nutcracker, the unfortunate pops concert when Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels played with the orchestra. I know you're tired and that writing a concert review is the last thing you want to be doing right now. I understand.

But the finish line is so close. Don't give up yet!

First up, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's season is coming to an end, and William R. Wineke is on the case for Channel 3000.

Review: WCO Ends 50th Season In Triumph

Johann Hummel's 1816 "Piano Concerto in A Minor" provided a thrilling end to a brilliant season.

Hummel did that? I'm pretty sure that nothing that Hummel did was "thrilling", but okay.

As always, the performance was enhanced by Norman Gilliland's "Grace Notes" commentary.

Yes, program notes can provide useful historical information and context for works far removed from modern day. What historical gems did Mr. Gilliland uncover about Hummel, an obscure-ish composer largely unknown to those who didn't play trumpet in high school?

Gilliland noted the composer was such a gifted artist that he was invited to live in Mozart when he was seven years old, went on to study with Haydn and Salieri and was a friend of Beethoven.

Who knew that Mozart was such a hospitable guy.

[F]ollowing the intermission, the WCO played Franz Schubert's "Symphony No. 9 in C Major," nicknamed the "Great" symphony, partially because it takes the better part of an hour to perform.

Well, not really. The moniker was meant to distinguish the work from his "Little C Major" Symphony...but you know, whatever.

So, how well did the WCO perform the "Great"?

It's a powerful symphony and was performed very ably by the very able WCO,...

I'm not going to lie, that's a very able description.

...but after the excitement of the Goodyear piece [the Hummel concerto, which is strangely being referenced by the soloist], it seemed almost anti-climactic.

The Hummel concerto made the "Great" Symphony seem anti-climatic?

It has been a very long concert season indeed.


Down the road in Indiana, Ivy Farguheson, of the Star Press, thinks Orff is a musical genius (and Tchaikovsky too).

REVIEW: "Carmina Burana' was a live masterpiece to behold

Symphonies are meant to perform Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and luckily the Muncie Symphony Orchestra met with their fate Saturday evening in Emens Auditorium.

Okay, a bit ridiculous, but it's actually a pretty clever opening sentence. Good start, Ivy.

Most musical productions are meant to be listened to in person. Rarely is a live performance worse than a studio-backed recording and Carl Orff’s epic work is no exception.

A clumsily written thought, but point well-taken. On to the review...

That’s not to say there aren’t recordings,...

No, no, you don't need to explain yourself. Live performances better than the recording...we're with you.

Just move on and don't waste time backtracking, or you might get into some convoluted explanation comparing Orff's Carmina Burara to some random recording artist...like, say, Prince. That would be bad.

That’s not to say there aren’t recordings, even live recordings, that transfer the various emotions from the masterpiece on the stage or in a recording studio into your living room with passion. There clearly are.

Great. I was wrong. We made it out the other side unscathed.

But in much the same way seeing Prince...

I thought we had an understanding?

...live in concert can change the way you understand the guitar,...

figure prince: Changing the way I understand the guitar.

...compared to that nice CD in your car, listening to Orff’s music can open your ears to things you’ve never heard before.

Where are you going with this?

That’s why in both cases, with Prince and Orff, you choose the live option over the recording. You want to be in the presence of genius.

We are very liberal with our use of 'genius', aren't we?

And you want to be exhausted when they’re finished gracing you with their presence.

I suppose.

figure exhausted: Just heard Carmina Burana performed live.

Because Prince is great live, CDs should never have been invented? I like your logic.

So, how about the actual concert?

With the help of the Ball State University Chamber Choir, Concert Choir and the University Choral Union, the orchestra began the production with the most popular piece from “Carmina,” “O, Fortuna.”

I think most "productions" of this piece start with that part, seeing that it comes first in the score.

There isn’t an American who has ever seen a television commercial or watched the NBA playoffs during the last 20 years who has not heard the beginning measures of “O, Fortuna.”

Americans do love the arts!

embeddence orff: Wait, they have Orff in Canada, too?

And, sadly, maybe people’s experience with “Carmina” ends there.

Oh. You mean there's more to the piece than just the "O, Fortuna" part?


So, the piece embodies the genius of Prince and the popularity of promo music for the NBA playoffs...what conclusions can we draw?

“Carmina Burana” is one of the most powerful musical pieces ever written and listening to it in any fashion will make you wonder why symphonies across the world don’t simply perform this production and maybe Tchaikovsky, another musical genius.

Carmina Burana is awesome and should be performed by every orchestra, "and maybe Tchaikovsky, another musical genius,"too.

This is quite possibly one of the greatest sentences I've ever read.

Listening to this epic live will make you wonder why musical recordings were ever created, period.

That's quite the side effect of attending this concert. Perhaps the surgeon general should slap a warning on this concert: May make you question why musical recordings were ever created.

And make you search for other live symphonic productions in another town near you.

Just a second...did you say that Prince can change the way I understand the guitar?


It's been a very, very long concert season.


Friday Quickie: Jet Lag edition

Dawn Harms to play with Vallejo Symphony

Rich Freedman has the story for the Times-Herald, "serving Solano and Napa counties since 1875".

Dawn Harms loved her 10-day stay in Japan.

Loved? Really? Surely there must have been at least one problem.

One problem.


While the San Franciscan is mentally ready for her May 1 concert with the Vallejo Symphony, her body's still on Tokyo time.

Unfortunate. A rare condition that I believe is called desynchronosis. Those circadian rhythms can be a bitch.

"I get up every morning at 3," Harms said, laughing that "even though my name is 'Dawn,' I'm not a morning person. I wish I was named 'Dusk.' But not many people are named 'Dusk.'"

Har har har.


"Not a morning person."

[wipes tear from eye]

"I'm not a stiff 'prom dress' playing," she said.


"I love to do characters. Maybe I'll have a surprise for the encore" in Vallejo.

Ooh ooh. Can you do Arnold Schwarzenegger? I just love that crazy accent!

No cardboard violinist is this honored musician.

Oh, she does Yoda?

figure yoda: When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good, you will not, hrm?

Wait...not a cardboard violinist?

[checks photo on article website again]

figure dusk: Dawn with what appears to be a...cello? Or maybe she just has a really tiny head?

That's enough introduction...how about you randomly change topics?

"My goal is that people learn something and, at some point, be entertained," Harms said. "Often people think, 'Classical music? I don't want to go.'

That's exactly what I think, too. Classical music is soooo boring.

They think they'll get a good nap.' My goal is to keep people awake."

That's a good goal. Keep the bar low, and you're sure to find success.

Also, apostrophe fail?

As of earlier this week, that was a personal problem.


Wait, her goal was a personal problem?

Harms had been back in the Bay Area six days yet still adjusted to the 16 hour difference -- and the food that never found an oven.


figure confused: Look, now you've gone and confused this otter.

Harms had been back in the Bay Area six days yet still adjusted to the 16 hour difference...

Wait. Her goal is to keep bored audience members awake, but that was a personal problem. And having been back 6 days, she still adjusted?

Sorry, Rich. I tried. But you've lost me.

And since we're already mid-sentence, how about another random topic change?

-- and the food that never found an oven.


"Raw everything. You had to catch them to eat," Harms said.

Them what?

For an classical concert preview, this article is taking a strange turn.

"There was this big snail-looking that that was looking at me. I wanted the 'old-style experience' and we got it."


"That that"?

And, though she knows little Japanese and her audience knew very little English, "you understand each other when you
just play music," Harms said. "That was a bridge. They knew Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi and loved it all. It was a real fun experience."

Yep. Music is the universal language...or something like that.

figure universality of music: Those headphones must be nearly 10000 miles in diameter! And how come only Japan and Europe get to listen?

Harms joked that her career goal "is to play every English-speaking country in the world" and that her Japanese concert 'was not a good place to start.

Strange career goal...and yes, Japan would be an odd place to start that goal.

Wait, are you sure you're from California, and not, say, Texas?

Also, another apostrophe fail? Really?

They didn't speak a word of English. I heard they all started English in the seventh grade. They must have all failed."

Stupid Japanese people speaking only...Japanese. Education fail.

Seriously...you're not from Alabama?


Though admitting violinists "break strings all the time," the Hogan concert surely can't be as terrorizing as those dreaded moments as a 12-year-old musician when Harms' violin strap fell into the toilet right before competing.

In the toilet?

"As nerve-wracking as the competition was, I had to use the restroom," Harms said. "And when my strap fell in the toilet, I was mortified."

Clearly suicide was the only option left to you, right?

It was almost 10 years later that Harms made her Carnegie Hall debut as part of a violin-cello-piano trio.

Interesting segue. Strap in the toilet led her to Carnegie Hall...truly a great American rags to riches story.

"Everyone came from everywhere, my dentist sent me 12 roses and there was a great review in the New York Times," recalled Harms.

Your dentist?

She was about the age of her Stanford students, most of whom will go on to become engineers, biologists and doctors.

They don't have sociology majors at Stanford?

"They don't necessarily go on to a career in music," Harms said. "But one goal I have is that when they do go on, they donate money to an orchestra."


You played a concert at Carnegie Hall while you were at the same age as students at Stanford who will become doctors. And those doctors won't have a career in music, but that's fine as long as they donate to an orchestra?

Fuck me. This is going to be a great concert!


Boston Herald writer shoots editor in the face, then publishes article.

figure cut and paste: Yeah, I digg it!

Hurricane Gustavo rocks MIT Symphony Orchestra

Can conductors really be compared to hurricanes? He's conducting Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakov's tame Capriccio Espagnol...a hurricane might be stretching the credulity of this hyperbole. This seems more like a low pressure area creating some morning fog and slight chance of rain.


At a time when the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s conductors are ailing or injured,...

Much like a certain Boston area bases ball team...

figure what $13 million buys you: .158/.238/.289

...the energetic Gustavo Dudamel, the toast of Caracas and the current music director of the Gustavo Dudamel conducting, Friday evening at Kresge Auditorium.

Gustavo Dudamel, current music director of the Gustavo Dudamel conducting.

Yep. Got it.

Los Angeles Philharmonic, jetted into town this weekend to scoop up $75,000 and impart his wisdom on student musicians.

I love that you've masculinized the LA Phil. You just don't get enough of that subtle sexism in modern newspapers anymore.

figure subtle sexism: Thank you once again, failblog.


Composer of the Day! - Pulitzer Prize Edition

In honor of the recent announcement of her Pulitzer Prize for Music, today's Composer of the Day is Jennifer Higdon (b. December 31, 1962).

Higdon is a highly visible American composer whose music seems to have shown up in every major orchestra's programming in the past few years. Actually, according to the League of American Resources (a fun resource if you hadn't visited their site before), Jennifer's Higdon's blue cathedral (easily her most famous work) was the most performed contemporary work in America. She also had more scheduled performances than John Williams, who wrote the music for popular films like Always and SpaceCamp! The only living composers with more total performances were John Adams and John Corigliano.

Her music is largely tonal, and is fairly representative of a neoromantic style. Her propensity for highly charged dynamics and textures, supported by a wonderful variety of orchestral colors are also likely responsible for her success with audiences.

As already mentioned, her most famous work is blue cathedral (1999), which was composed as a monument to her younger brother who had recently died of cancer. Listen to it here:

The Pulitzer Prize was awarded for her Violin Concerto, commissioned for superstar violinist Hilary Hahn and premiered in February 2009 by the Indianapolis Symphony. The Pulitzer announcement (which is already cited on Wikipedia) lauded the work as "a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity." David Patrick Stearns, of the Philadelphia Inquirer (Higdon's hometown paper), had this highly positive, yet cryptic remark that the soloist's high violin sounds were "colored lights flashing out of darkness with playful, peekaboo randomness."

You can listen to Hilary Hahn and Jennifer Higdon talk about the composition of the piece here:

Higdon is known primarily for her orchestral works and has a number of often performed works, which include her Concerto for Orchestra, City Scape, Concerto 4-3, and Percussion Concerto (which, proving this must truly be the Year of Higdon, won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition a couple of months ago). All of these have been recorded and are worth a listen.

figure cd: Very nice recording of Higdon's music.

And you can listen to clips of most of her compositions at her website. Good stuff, to say the least.


And, while I happen to personally enjoy her music and am enthusiastically recommending her in this post, I do want to leave you with this rather amusing criticism she received from Rowena Smith, of The Guardian, referring to blue cathedral:

"In terms of content, it is pure new-age fluff; undemanding, unadventurous tonality dressed up as a quasi-mystical experience by the addition of bells and chimes."

Although I disagree...that's still very funny.



When describing unfamiliar music to readers—say, for instance, a Czech composer who fell victim to the holocaust and isn’t frequently played or well-known—critics often invoke other, more familiar music to give the sense of the general style or sound world of the piece.

This approach, by invoking a known quantity as a model, has the virtue of at once explicating features of the music while simultaneously, by exclusion, eliminating some of the features of the referent.

Thus juxtaposition is a neater, all-in-one version of the old “compare and contrast” strategy.

Figure 1: When used properly, juxtaposition can be informative or even humorous.

This I associate with pointless papers dating back to high school English class.

Figure 2: Your assignment for Monday is to compare and contrast the modes of realism in Madame Bovary and The Scarlet Letter. For extra credit, contemplate the ennui of the bourgeoisie.

(This invariably involved books that at the time were Really Boring but turned out later to be Really Awesome.)

Juxtaposition was elevated to High Concept status by the Surrealists* vis-à-vis their notion of collage…

Figure 3: Max Ernst, Murdering Airplane (1920)

…but that’s not really the point. The jarring, poignant effect/affect of this kind is not of interest to us, here. Er, right now.

In a music review, however, juxtaposition can be quite useful because it communicates a great deal of information with little prose.

Witness with me now the awesome power of juxtaposition at work!

Ah. But first, a little light reading for context.

Navigating a course among 4 composers
(Allan Kozinn, New York Times, 4/12/2010)

The Henschel Quartet,

(String Quartet, that is.)

…from Germany,

You don’t say.

…made news last month when it performed for Pope Benedict XVI at his residence in Vatican City.

That's not news.

Well, wait. At his residence?

What, is it an all-male pre-pubescent string quartet?


[In New York] Its musicians performed early-20th-century scores by Erwin Schulhoff and Samuel Barber, and standard repertory works by Haydn and Schumann.

Schulhoff, eh? What was his deal?

The quartet began with the least familiar of its four works, Schulhoff’s Quartet No. 1 (1924) and made a powerful case for it.

It didn’t come in its own case?

Schulhoff, a Czech composer who died at the Wülzburg concentration camp in 1942, was an eclectic,

Here we go, this is good stuff. A little historical background, and then boom! with the juxtaposition:

…and in this quartet, chunky Stravinskian rhythms…

Embeddence 1: Schulhoff: String Quartet No. 1 (1st movement)

Okay. Fair enough, I guess. Juxtaposition! See?

…and acidic figures that would have been at home in Bartok…

Interesting; I think I’m still in agreement.

…are offset by unabashedly tonal, folksy dance themes.

Unlike, say, in Bartók, who never used tonal, folksy dance themes?

Is that the same Bartók who sort of pretty much invented ethnomusicology?


I hate to be all internet-y, but: Juxtaposition fail.

Figure 4: Pretty much. (failblog.org)

[Coda: Bonus Snark]

The Barber had the most inconsistent performance here: its opening movement sounded slightly shrill at times, and more Ivesian than it should have.

Translation: The Barber wasn’t boring enough. Hey-o!

*And Dadaists, yes, yes.


...and thickets of violins, it could hardly fail to be!

David Williams, of the Charleston Gazette, reviews the National Symphony and shows off some mad musicology skills.

Review: National Symphony delights in Bernstein, Mozart and Dvorak

The National Symphony Orchestra became the first professional orchestra other than the local West Virginia Symphony to play a concert in the Clay Center on Monday.

Wow! Sounds like the Clay Center was a busy place Monday.

Also, commas are your friend.

figure the comma: Mr. Williams, the comma. The comma, Mr. Williams. I know you two will soon be the best of friends.

The National Symphony delivered.

I just like the power in this statement. I don't even want to know what they delivered...but they delivered and that's all that matters.

The principal conductor, Ivan Fischer, led a scintillating performance of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 in G Major.

Scintillating is nice.

figure scintillating grid: No, really.

The strings were particularly muscular and vibrant sounding.

Muscular and vibrant. And particularly! A magical combination indeed.

With eight basses and a dozen cellos along with 10 violas and thickets of violins, it could hardly fail to be,...

Wait. ...?... How many violins in a thicket?

Also, what's "it"? And "fail to be" what? And again, with the, misuse of, commas.

I assume that you mean "with eight basses and a dozen cellos...the strings could hardly fail to be muscular and vibrant", but...yikes!

This is definitely a sentence construction fail. But I didn't let you finish your sentence...perhaps we'll be saved by a final thought tying it all together.

...but Fischer held them in cohesive precision and the Dvorak was draped in tonal warmth.

Okay, I have no idea what you're referencing, but continuing with my previous logic I think you're saying:

With eight basses and a dozen cellos...the strings could hardly fail to be muscular and vibrant, but Fischer held them in cohesive precision and the Dvorak was draped in tonal warmth.

Something like that, yes? You do realize that this sounds like "muscular and vibrant" playing is in opposition to "cohesive precision" and "tonal warmth"?

Fischer and the orchestra seemed so comfortable in the music that it all seemed spontaneous, as if every moment was new and different. That would be high praise for a work as familiar as the Eighth Symphony.

It would be, but obviously isn't?

You know what, let's just move on. I mean, this is the National Symphony at the historic Clay Center. Surely they'll play something for which they have a knack.

The National Symphony has a knack for American music, and with its name, it had better.

Damn. Did commas steal your lunch money as a child?

May I suggest that you seek the help from one of those people who check your writing for mistakes and comprehension problems.

But back to the comma. Just to review, the comma can be used to:
1. Separate elements in a series
2. Connect two independent clauses
3. Set off parenthetical (or introductory) elements

Your sentence attempts the third of these functions. Which means that the sentence should make sense withOUT the parenthetical information. Let's check, shall we?

The National Symphony has a knack for American music it had better.

Nope. That sentence makes absolutely no sense.

Now, there are several easy ways to fix that sentence, but I'll save you some time and say, "don't". It's just a terrible sentence and not worth saving. Do the honorable thing and just put it out of its misery.

But enough grammar, I promised everyone a sample of your music history chops.

Bernstein's "Three Dance Episodes" from "On the Town" showed that knack agreeably.

Oh, yes, you had set up something about knacks. So Bernstein's "Three Dance Episodes" was agreeably knacked by the National Symphony, but I'm just your average NPR/PBS classical music lover, so I don't know anything about 20th century music. Help me out some will you, Mr. Williams.

The piece is from 1944,...

Hate to cut you off already, but this piece is from 1947. The music for the musical On the Town is from 1944. A small distinction, but an important one I think.

So sorry, do continue.

...when Bernstein was putting together his eclectic style.

I love the word choices here. "Putting together" uniquely illuminates the subtleties of the compositional process. You see, it's a lot like working a puzzle.

So, what were the pieces of the puzzle to Bernstein's "eclectic style"?

So it sounds a bit like Stravinsky ("Petrushka") and Gershwin, The Next Generation,...

I used to love that show...

figure Gershwin: In many ways it's superior but will never be as recognized as the original.

...along with Resphigi (minus the gladiatorial combat)...

Uh huh. [nods in agreement]

Wait. Who?


Never heard of him. This is quite the lesson.

...and Copland's wide prairies of Broadway.

"Wide prairies of Broadway"? This is quite the assortment of obscure references. I guess I need to do some serious research after I finish this post.

Thanks, Mr. Williams. Without you I never would have known that Bernstein put together his style by using pieces of Stravinsky, Patrick Stewart, Resphigi, and Copland's oxymoronic music.

That doesn't detract from the fun.

No, that doesn't.

What? "That"?


Boulez Serves up Imperialism

Came across this little arts brief for an upcoming concert featuring Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maître.

The highlight is a performance of Pierre Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maitre [sic]…



The highlight is a performance of Pierre Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maitre [sic] which encompasses the sound worlds of modern jazz, the Balinese Gamelan, and traditional African and Japanese music.

Okay. Here’s the deal—and I think it’s important, or at least it says a lot about our author's care for attention to detail:

Just for argument’s sake, let’s start from scratch. Let’s assume I have no idea what this piece is about, what it sounds like, whether the composer was still alive or not (or what a composer actually does, for that matter), and that he was also a famous conductor (you know, one of those guys who does an interpretive dance in front of a classical band). Let’s assume I’m a targeted reader.

Now, from the above sentence, I’m thinking to myself, perhaps, this kind of stuff. Not bad. Part Allman Brothers, part Ennappadam Venkatarama Bhagavatar. Suffices to say (etymology link), I’m thinking fusion of some sort or another. Or if I were a tad more classical savvy, maybe I’m thinking this fashion of fusion. Not exactly my bag, but certainly fusiony, to be sure.

My point is that it’s to everyone’s benefit, especially the layperson’s, that the description matches the product. But here’s what this description did:

…because this is the product (Movement IX, Bel édifice et les presentiments).

At this point I'm asking myself, how did this go so wrong, so quickly?

I bet I know; and I bet, deep down, you know, too.



The instrumentation was quite novel for Western music at the time [1955], lacking any kind of bass instrument, and drew some influence from the sound of “non-European” instruments, the Xylorimba recalls the African Balafon, the Vibraphone [the] Balinese Gamelan, and the Guitar the Japanese Koto…

I guess a guitar is like a koto; they both utilize plectrums of one kind or another. (Wiki Disclaimer)

Figure 1. A koto (left) and a guitar (right) Wait! Sorry. Koto right, guitar left. Or…dammit Boulez!

Unfortunately, whoever pilfered the Wiki entry and, subsequently, wrote the little concert blurb must not have finished reading the entire sentence.

…though “neither the style nor the actual use of these instruments has any connection with these different musical civilizations” (“Speaking, Playing, Singing” (1963) in Boulez 1986, 341).

What’s that you say? A quote from Boulez, himself! Cited, even! (At least an attempt at a citation. To be sure, I double-checked its veracity.)

Now, exactly where "modern jazz" came from is still a mystery.


Friday quickie: Portrait of an NPR/PBS Classical Music Lover

Kate Coleman covers the Maryland Symphony for the Herald-Mail.

Kate Coleman enjoys the beat of music.

Kate Coleman: Enjoying the beat of music

Kate Coleman wants to uncover why music gives her "goosebumps".

figure why goosebumps?: Because music is magic!

I'm not sure what inspired me a couple of months ago to hunt down a YouTube video of Luciano Pavarotti singing "Nessun Dorma," an aria from Puccini's "Turandot."

It was probably this performance ("Nessun dorma" as performed by heavy metal group Manowar):

[And, oh, it's also that song that every classically trained singer uses to sell records, was the theme song to the 1990 World Cup, the finale to the Opening Ceremony of the Torino Winter Olympics, used significantly in popular films like The Killing Fields, The Sum of All Fears, and Bend It Like Beckham, famously performed by Aretha Franklin at the 1998 Grammys, covered endlessly by pop artists like Russell Watson, Sarah Brightman, Neal E. Boyd, and so on...]

A phrase of the music from I don't know where was stuck in my mind.

Kate Coleman doesn't know where that phrase of the music comes from?

Kate Coleman doesn't like commas. Or comprehension.

I am not a huge opera fan.

Kate Colemen doesn't like opera.

I've attended exactly one opera performance in my life.

Kate Coleman doesn't like opera having seen just one opera.

Admittedly, because at the time I was a high school student...

She was in high school.

...and the venue was Convention Hall on the Asbury Park, N.J., boardwalk, my experience of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" was far from ideal.

It was Donizetti performed on the boardwalk in New Jersey.

But Kate Coleman wants to know what's going on?

What's going on?

Good question, because how could someone with so many well-established reasons for not liking opera find herself liking a random aria that's become the epicenter of the pop-classical crossover genre?

For the record, I conducted my own little science experiment...

Ooh. I like science. I even listen to Science Friday with Ira Flatow every Monday.

Kate Coleman's experiment presumably used double-blind trials with controls for experimenter's bias and the placebo effect.

...and watched those performances again. My physical and emotional reactions were the same.

...as evidenced by her use of technical mumbo jumbo.

Kate Coleman came to two conclusions:

There are two possible explanations:

1. I'm even more emotionally on-the-edge or crazier than I thought.

Kate Coleman thinks she might be crazy.

2. There is a scientific basis for music's power over me.

Kate Coleman thinks her "scientific" experiment proves that there is a "scientific" basis for music's power.

Perhaps I'll find the answer in books I just got from the library.

Kate Coleman realizes that there are answers available in books, but knows that books are for losers.

Meanwhile, I'll stick with my own theory: Music is magic.

"Music is magic."

figure scientific evidence: I think we have confirmation of her findings!

Read more about Kate Coleman's experiment in next month's issue of Nature Magazine.


In Which Is Awarded A MacArthur Genius Grant*

*May not be true.

Why even try?

Orchestra's work was "Fantastique"
(Rick Rogers, newsok.com [The Oklahoman online], 3/2/2010)

I wonder what was on...that...concert.

The second half was devoted entirely to Berlioz’s "Symphonie fantastique,” one of the repertoire’s epic masterpieces.


Good job, title-writer. You are a fucking genius.

Figure 1: Your mom.

Another clear-cut case of title-writing malfeasance. Obviously a journalist who, you know, wrote the actual article would never

...this "Fantastique” concert provided a fine opportunity for Levine to showcase the orchestra’s many strengths...


I am very sorry, title-writing person.

Wherein A Grand Metaphor Is Inferred

Anne Midgette didn't really care for the program that MTT and the San Francisco Symphony...

Figure 1: You down with MTT? Yeah, you know me.

brought to D.C. a couple of weeks ago.

("San Francisco Symphony at the Kennedy Center, "Washington Post, 3/26/2010)

In particular, she had some harsh words about the Lizst tone poem Tasso. This I read as a metaphor, a sort of grand critical summary of our entire communal endeavor--this thing we call "classical" music.

Liszt's "Tasso: Lament and Triumph"...was less bad-boy than simply bad,


...a big, sprawling, self-important piece of pseudonarrative...

Hey! That's just like the entire Western canon!

with some wonderful playing from the orchestra...

Yup, that's the one.

...but not much, at the end, to show for it.



This Post Is Not About Film (Criticism)

It isn't in [up?] our alley, but I think I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this:

Is There A Future for Arts Criticism? (A Critic's Place, Thumbs and All)

A. O. Scott, New York Times, 3/31/2010

...because it all applies, in parallel, to classical [sic] music criticism as well.

Also, the article opens with this:

Two weeks ago I went to Atlanta to give a talk at a conference devoted, in part, to “The Future of Criticism.”

And I wasn't invited? Seriously? What the fuck?


Stockhausen is from planet Sirius, well, unless you know how to read...

Reuters reporter Michael Roddy recently interviewed the diacritically-gifted Péter Eötvös.

Composer Peter Eotvos makes modern opera "angelic"

It's actually quite a nicely written, intelligent article, and Eötvös has some interesting thoughts on contemporary opera. However, as the first law of music journalism states, no discussion of any new music can commence without a few flippant comments and/or disclaimers about how new music is so typically awful.

Cue the cliche opening sentence:

"Contemporary" and "opera" are scary words, but when Hungarian composer Peter Eotvos writes one that includes the sound of car horns and slide guitars, his aim is to engage his audience from the minute the curtain goes up.

Har har har...opera is boring!

figure point proven: It's funny because it's true.

Now I'm not a fancy big city lawyer [insert gasp], but even I know that all contemporary arts deserve our immediate contempt. Things that are new and unusual threaten my intelligence and are therefore stupid and wrong. Sorry opera.

But for the uninitiated Detritusites out there, what we have here is a standard music journalism construction. Always start with the assumption that new music is something that deserves our mockery, until [insert subject of the article] comes along as the exception to the rule.

This, however, is so incredibly common that it hardly deserves mentioning, but Michael Roddy goes one step further when he writes this unnecessary aside about Stockhausen seen here:

It was one of six of his operas that will be staged by major companies this year, which puts the shy, professorial Eotvos, a onetime protege of the completely out-there composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who believed he had come from the planet Sirius, in league with the likes of Philip Glass, John Adams or Kaija Saariaho for getting their operas staged and heard.

Okay, granted -- Stockhausen is generally known as an eccentric person.

I mean, just look at him:
figure Stockhausen: Sometimes goes by the alias Gordon Shumway.

But this is a sentence about the popularity of the contemporary operas of Eötvös, right?

I can see that while you're name dropping to lend credibility to your subject you might mention Stockhausen due to his widespread cultural familiarity. But what purpose does implying that Stockhausen thinks he's an alien serve?

And before you ridicule, may I suggest that you watch K-Pax.

figure compelling argument: When will doctors and scientists finally realize that those fancy degrees, years of practical experience, and reliance upon the scientific method and tested methods of effective treatment, don't mean they know anything about anything. Geez.

Now, I'm far from an expert on this subject, but I have heard this story before. John O'Mahony, of the British newspaper the Guardian, famously included this tidbit in an article on the composer. However, Stockhausen is on record having denied this, and as far as I am aware (and I'm scouring the googles as I write), there is no other corroboration of this story.

But why don't I let wikipedia handle this one (since I assume that this Reuter's reporter has heard of that site):

When Stockhausen's daughter, Julika (aged 5 or 6 at the time), asked for a dog, he obtained one for her and named it Sirius, after the star in the constellation Canis Major, which was in his mind because he had just finished composing Sternklang ("Star-sound", 1971). Shortly afterward, he chanced upon a passage in a book by Jakob Lorber describing Sirius as the sun at the center of our universe, and this fired his imagination:

Other snippets of vitally important information then came to me through a couple of revelatory dreams. Crazy dreams, from which it emerged that not only did I come from Sirius itself, but that, in fact, I completed my musical education there.

(Tannenbaum, Mya. 1987. Conversations with Stockhausen, translated from the Italian by David Butchart, 34–35)

Plus, and I don't know if this important, but he did compose a nearly 2-hour long musical drama titled...wait for it...Sirius.

Now, I hate to be the journalism nazi, but seriously, this is just so fucking lazy.

But Roddy doesn't stop there. At the end of the interview, he asks one last question:

Q: You worked with Stockhausen for 40 years. Did you ever think he was from Sirius?

Hehe...thanks for reminding me. Stockhausen is weird.

But seriously, what a great use of space in article about a composer who isn't Stockhausen.

What do you think, Mr. Eötvös?

A: "He told us this....but it is not important. It was not in reality that he was from Sirius, but in his mind and everything he created was in this sense. ...I know his music well because I created many pieces by him, I know every note. So this is not a good question -- because I am 'in' this music."

Even Eötvös seems slightly annoyed by the question.

"So this is not a good question" indeed!


Looks Like It's Time to Bring Fluxus Back

Normally I steer clear of student newspapers (for reasons that I think are obvious). However, occasionally an issue arises that’s too interesting to pass up.

An American classical music fest

(Bogdan Fedeles, The Tech (the MIT Paper)

[excerpted from a very long review]

MITWE demonstrates Ives


…[T]he MITWE [MIT Wind Ensemble-ed.] concert featured several full-ensemble openers and a collection of three works by Charles Ives.

I don’t know what a “full-ensemble opener” is, but I think I need one. It's freaking hard to get the lid off of those things!

The first piece in the program, Frank Ticheli’s “Postcard”…

…turned out to be excessively contemporary and aimless.


Figure 1: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

So. Two things, I guess.

First: No. That’s silly.

It’s mildly adventurous by (what are pretty conservative) concert band repertoire standards (which is not a knock on it at all).

It sort of sounds like Bernstein (Leonard, not Elmer).

Figure 2: This guy...

Figure 3: ...not this guy.

It has some chewy harmonies and playful rhythmic oddities (and lots of cymbal roll-accented arrival points). Five bucks says it has a key signature.

It’s only excessively contemporary in the way that, say, the Long Playing Record is a new-fangled contrivance.

Second, and more importantly (and more interestingly): What is an acceptable level of contemporary-ness?

No more than ten percent avant-garde content? (By weight or volume?)

Subtle hints of modernism on the finish?

Culturally enforced faux-bohemian bourgeois-friendly middlebrow PBS fodder?


Oh...sorry. I was, uh, thinking about something else for a second.

Because, I mean, one expects a little of that sort of thing from, you know, these artiste types, but syncopated clarinets...that's just uncalled for! Good heavens!

Figure 4: Nam June Paik being excessively contemporary in 1963.

Okay, so you didn't really like the Ticheli. Fair enough, fair enough.

Anything else about that?

Its main redeeming quality was its succinctness.

Yeah. Gonna go ahead and let that one go, since it's in the middle of a 2200 word review.

The performance sounded uncomfortable, but it successfully pushed through the overly-ambitious rhythmic profile of the piece.

Well, good then. As long as it pushed through the profile, everything’s going to be okay.


Figure 5: The happy burbling syncopated clarinets were a little too edgy.

Aah, got you!

April Fools!

That actually totally made sense.