Brahms Concerto Assulted; Charges Pending

Concert review: Encore undercuts Brahms at Bowdoin
Christopher Hyde, Portland Press Herald, 7/20/2010

An encore at the end of a [classical] music concert isn’t that rare, especially when a soloist is involved. In this case—indeed, in most cases nowadays—“encore” means “more stuff!” instead of “again!” This is widely regarded by the paying concert-attending public as something between More Art-Stuff for My Money = Value! and A Gift from the Artist to the Audience.

Not all encores, of course, are good, or well-performed, or well-composed, or even in good taste. However, never, in my experience, has anyone complained about an encore as such.

Young violinist Ray Chen, one of the new class of virtuosi at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, drove a stake through the heart of a brilliant performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major (Op. 77) at Crooker Theater on Friday…

He drove a stake through the heart…of a performance…of the concerto? Really? Or is it just Overwrought Prose Day in the Maine newspaper community?

…by choosing to play an encore.

Yeah. First, being a “young” artist [of unspecified age], he probably didn’t “choose” to play jack shit. Second, what the fuck is your problem?

Chen may be too young to know better,

But not, I take it, too young to be publicly excoriated for it. In the Springfield Shopper. I mean Portland Press Herald. Whatever.

Figure 1: Journamalism.

…but I felt sorry for festival co-founder Lewis Kaplan, who conducted orchestra and soloist in one of the outstanding performances in the festival's history.

An historic moment: the 35,457,221th performance of the Brahms concerto. And pity the poor festival organizer/conductor, who probably absolutely had no hand in the planning and execution of an encore showpiece to showcase his featured young artist.

All of a sudden it seems like Bowdoin isn’t about the critics anymore. What happened, man?

There are all kinds of reasons not to play an encore after any concerto,

Not really. This is a made-up objection articulated by means of a weak appeal to an unnamed authority.

There is, however, a long-standing tradition of critics not reviewing or completely ignoring encores which has been tossed out the window here.

…but after the Brahms, one of the towering masterpieces of Western civilization, it is little short of sacrilege.

This comes across like a supply-sider jerking off while writing about the awesome power and fragility of the free market. “It’s huge and powerful and towering and majestic and awesome—but don’t touch it! It breaks easily!”

Brahms has withstood worse injustices than suffering through an encore by some prodigious young artist at a summer music festival concert. For fuck’s sake; what are we even talking about?

The work is a unity.

Yikes. I hope you have your Schenker diagrams ready to prove that shit. Also, how’s that discredited, anachronistic, 19th-century faux-organicist teleological view of art working out for you? Good?

It should send the audience home with a feeling of awe, perhaps a little euphoria, and fond memories.

Also nostalgia, a unicorn, and full employment. Since when is it the critic’s job to assert what you should be feeling when you go home after hearing a particular piece? That’s some Palin-esque batshittery right there.

Figure 2: Palin 2012.

To puncture that mood with anything gratuitous -- like the Bach andante for unaccompanied violin that Chen played –

Yes, showy-ass Bach and his unaccompanied andante [sic]. Talk about empty showpieces!

While researching this article, I happened upon this great thread (at violinist.com) discussing Joshua Bell’s recent practice of playing Vieutemps' set of variations on “Yankee Doodle” (Variations burlesques sur "Yankee Doodle", op. 17)…after performing the Brahms concerto (among other pieces). Most of their commentariat (made up, one surmises, mostly of violinists) are fine with it, and with encores after concerti in general.

So what are we on about again?

…no matter how good, calls into question the musicality and even the integrity of the performer.

Oh jesus shit. Says you.

Does he consider Brahms merely a vehicle to show off?

Brahms is dead, and his concerto is solidly ensconced in the canon. What are you whining about? Who are you trying to protect? Because your protestations are about as weak as your rhetoric, and it’s kind of sad.

Chen is better than that.

We think? You assert? Was it on his website? Press release? Over lunch?

He seemed to have a feeling for the music and its intimate orchestration, blending the timbre of the violin with the French horns in a way I had not heard before.

Seeming to have a feeling, as reported secondhand, is like blowing your nose in a lace doily.

Figure 3: Decorative, or effective? Mmm, yeah.

His double-stop work sounded like two equally angelic voices, his tone was the acme of purity…

Ooh aah ohh gush overcompensate-for-criticism blah blah squee!

…and his dynamics were the way Brahms wrote them.

That…no. That is a terrible ending to a bad sentence.

After the final cadenza, he should have quit while he was ahead.

After the last cadenza…he should have stopped playing before the piece was over? I guess that’d make a great, if vague, political statement of some kind. Or something.

It may be objected that the first work on the program, the Beethoven String Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 ("Rasoumovsky"), included what might be considered an encore by the Ying Quartet. It was not an encore at all but a recapitulation of (part of) the exciting final movement, actually reinforcing the impression of the whole.


That’s exactly what an encore is. It’s “more.”

Furthermore: that’s a bunch of bullshit and you know it. Oh, but it’s okay, because it wasn’t after a concerto, specifically the Brahms concerto, which is such a powerful, towering monument of Western civilization that it has all of the constitutional integrity of a syphilitic mayfly.

So spare me. Or better: kill me now, but spare the Brahms concerto! It's too young to die!


Danny Liss said...

An encore after the Beethoven violin concerto killed my father.

At best, Ray Chen is an attempted murderer; at worst, the inappropriate encore claimed another victim.

Sator Arepo said...

Danny, I think we all know the terrifying truth.

That encore IS your father.

John Kurman said...

"Also nostalgia, a unicorn, and full employment".

Well, shit, is that all it takes to end a recession? And a deformed pony thrown in for fucking free?

Barkeep, Brahms for everyone!

Anonymous said...

An encore after a concerto is awkward. It thumbs the nose at the orchestra which participated in the previous 20-30 minutes. As if the violinist was the only one playing!

My favorite encore story:
"At ten years of age, Saint-Saëns gave his debut public recital at the Salle Pleyel, with a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-flat major (K. 450), and various pieces by Handel, Kalkbrenner, Hummel, and Bach. As an encore, Saint-Saëns offered to play any of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas from memory."

This is from Wikipedia so it must be true!