Critic Is Large; Contains Multitudes, or "Masters Are Masterful"

Exploring Bartok's Legacy With Plenty of Energy
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 11/1/2011

Let's leave aside (by which I mean: let's don't) that the title editor made the random choice to capitalize one of the prepositions and not the other. In virtually every style format exactly zero percent of prepositions in titles should be thusly treated, but maybe it's some new quirk in Chicago 16 of which I'm not yet aware; because, hey: if you didn't change a bunch of shit, why would you need to issue a new edition? It's not like every editor in the world is basically required to buy one every time you...oh, right.

Figure 1: The University of Chicago, publisher of the aforementioned eponymous ubiquitous style guide. So that's how they fund their insanely wacky devastatingly influential school of economics.

Master is a term applied too loosely in classical music.

This is, unedited [by me: ed.] and verbatim, the opening sentence in this review; no words have been manipulated to make it appear more prominent than it is.

To declare someone a master makes it sound as if an artist had reached some benchmark of skill and insight, and every performance said master gave would automatically be masterly.

I'm not sure that "mastery" necessarily equates to "consistency," but, yes, that word is thrown around pretty casually.

In fact great musicians work constantly and continually challenge themselves.

Wow. Good thing I read the New York Times, because I just popped into existence about 45 seconds ago and thought that great musicians were, generally, incompetent but insanely fucking lucky.

But: fine. Overused designator. Too-oft typed moniker.

Maybe the definition of a master is elusive.

Wow; that's award-winning stuff right there. You think you can find insights like that in the Post?

Figure 2: The Post, winner of the "Miss Congeniality" award in the 2010 Best Partisan Rag Pageant.

But somehow you know one when you hear one, as was clear on Monday night when the pianist Andras Schiff played a recital before a full house of rapt listeners at Carnegie Hall.

Really? Let me get this straight, paraphrase-style:*

"Man, people sure throw "master" around a lot; it's vague to begin with and overuse just makes it kind of meaningless and trite. But man! You should've seen this concert! Dude was a master."

Know what? I got your master right here. Self-proclaimed is the way to go, unless you're going to wait for the Times to come around and, finally, declare you to be such.

Figure 3: True mastery is characterized by subtlety.

Become the ruling body.

*We are aware of all internet traditions.


Thank God! Orchestra Doesn't Play Strauss

Review: ISO's guest artists cast spells with enchanting classics
Jay Harvey, Indianapolis Star, Oct. 15, 2011

I love "guest artists"! And who doesn't love magic.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...if only classical music would resort to black magic...

Music associated with enchantment begins and ends this weekend's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concerts, but the way the program's other major work was performed Friday was no less enchanting.

Perfect.  Enchantment associated music, other major works that are enchanting too...and to think some people think orchestra programming has become stale.

But this makes me wonder...what is 'enchanting' music? Google images knows everything, let's ask them!

figure enchanting: Oh, dear God. No!

Jonathan Biss, Bloomington-born and on his way to becoming world-renowned, played the solo part in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat...

Okay, so was this the enchantment asscoiated music, or the enchanting music? I actually thought this would be more obvious. Silly me.

...with an elegance that didn't get too lofty to convey emotional engagement.

It's a tough balancing act, all that elegance muddying up the emotional engagement.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, just leave the elegance at the door. It's just so damn elitist.

His generally crisp, even articulation never overcame his focus on tone, which had a rounded, singing quality even in leaping passage work.

Wait, crisp articulations and rounded, singing tone in the same performance!?  And an elegance that didn't screw up all that emotional stuff? Get the fuck out!

But why, oh why, must two positive attributes of piano-playing (good articulation and focused tone) be mutually exclusive? Thank god for players like Jonathan Biss, who defy the laws of music criticism and are the exception that proves the rule.

I wonder what makes him such a great pianist.

A thoughtful artist with lots of individuality to bring to the classic repertoire, Biss crafted a first-movement cadenza that blended youthful vigor and studied reflection, its resonant climax aided by abundant pedal.

If I've said it once...more youthful vigor and abundant pedal, please!

The slow movement had just enough reserve as its delicate song poured forth,...

Yes...er...uh? Wait...reserved what?

...with the piano's quiet, single-line outburst near the end filling the hall. The consistent brio and polish Biss applied to the finale...

I know, seriously. Someone really should edit those changes into Beethoven's score. I know he's the "greatest composer of all-time", but he really should know better than to leave the brio and polish out of this finale.

I mean, how else is he going to produce an ovation?

...produced a slow-building but insistent ovation...

See. Were they standing?! I sure as heck hope so if they expected to cause a spontaneous (completely unplanned) encore.

...that resulted in an encore: the fifth of Beethoven's Six Bagatelles, op. 126.

If I've said it once...audiences love brio and polish!

figure Brio plaster polish: Who knew.

In the concerto, guest conductor Gilbert Varga kept the balance and coordination of the orchestra keenly matched to the soloist.

I should hope so.

This was no surprise,...

Oh really? Why?

...given the controlled grandeur and sweep of the program-opener: Mozart's Overture to "The Magic Flute."

Of course! If I've said it once, I've said it thousand times. If you can control the grandeur of Die Zauberflöte Overture, then you are more than ready for the balance and coordination of pre-19th century Beethoven.

But that opera, from which they performed just the famous overture, is so unconventional, what possibly could they pair it with on this concert? A conundrum that has plagued orchestras for centuries.

The unconventionality of that opera from Mozart's last year is nothing compared to the bizarre pantomime scenario for which Bela Bartok supplied a bristling score in the early 1920s.

Really? To which bizarre pantomime scenario are you referring?

Friday's concert ended spectacularly with the suite from "The Miraculous Mandarin."

Hmmm...now I'm a classical music lover, and I've heard of Beethoven and Mozart, and I've even seen Amadeus. So I consider myself an expert on The Magic Flute, and that opera has a guy dressed up as a bird. That's pretty crazy.

figure adult man dressed as bird: See. That opera is pretty silly. Wait...is that a...nipple?!

What's this Mandarin guy got?

In the story line, some roughnecks commandeer a young woman as sexual bait, forcing her to lure visitors to a seedy apartment.

I'm pretty sure most of Mozart's opera are about the same thing. Basically.

Two hapless men are ejected for insufficient funds, and then the title character proves too much to handle, in ways the complete score details.

Two men kidnap a woman into sexual slavery, but their plans are thwarted when the their home is foreclosed on?

Banks...always screwing the little guy!

Wait...this story sounds familiar.

Are these two hapless men the Tim Conway and Don Knotts to the Miraculous Mandarin's orphaned kids from The Apple Dumpling Gang?

figure two hapless men: "You know something, Amos? The Lord poured your brains in with a teaspoon, and somebody joggled His arm. I keep trying to tell you we ain't got no lead to throw, and no powder to throw it with. "

The suite is graphic enough so that it would be inaccurate to say the music transcends the sordid plot.

Uh.... Okay, so I totally agree that the music in a ballet should transcend the plot, although I'm certain I have no idea what that means. But how could you even tell if
the music is transcending the plot since you're only hearing the suite (without the whole ballet part)?

Or are you suggesting the music is too accurately depicting the graphic storyline? ...a concept I'm having a difficult time actually visualizing.

Oh bother.

Still, it's one of the milestones of symphonic modernism and received a brilliant performance Friday, with Varga and the ISO conveying every snarling or spooky twist and turn.

Sexual slavery aside, it's still a great piece. But "magic" flutes have nipples.

Obscure, early music by Varga's Hungarian countryman Bartok showcased principal guest concertmaster Alexander Kerr.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...I love obscure, early music.

The first of "Two Portraits" features a ceaseless, impassioned violin solo that Kerr sustained beautifully.

He sustained the solo? Is this sustained as in maintained, or as in ratified?

The second one is mocking and vehement; it discards the solo violin -- the composer's payback for a love affair gone awry -- in a performance both idiomatic and picturesque.

I like my vehement mockingly picturesque, too!

Wait...what pieces were associated with enchantment?

figure concert: Whoa. Wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?


Complementary work deserves compliments

Review: Harrell finds many subtleties in Dvorak
Bruce R. Miller, Sioux City Journal, September 23, 2011

In great contrast to me, I suppose.

Antonin Dvorak wasn't interested in writing any works for cellos -- ...

He wasn't?

... he didn't think they were good solo instruments.

He didn't?

Thankfully, wiser heads convinced him otherwise and he produced the Cello Concerto in B Minor -- ...

Ah yes, the masterful op. 104. The first and only piece for solo cello that Dvorak ever wrote, not counting the first Cello Concerto in A major, B. 10, his Cello Sonata in F minor, the Polonaise in A major for cello and piano, the Rondo in G minor (which he later orchestrated), the arrangements he made of his Slavonic Dances for cello and piano, or the transcription of Silent Woods for cello and piano, and later for cello and orchestra.

Wiser heads truly did prevail.

...a piece that Lynn Harrell owned Saturday night performing with the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra.

Don't you mean pwned?

Bopping along...

Bopping along? ...in his little red wagon?

...with the orchestra's parts, he practically made the music seem as if it was one of classical music's Top 10.

Which, of course, it's not. Pssh.

To even suggest that this piece belongs in the same esteem as Eine kleine nachtmusik or the William Tell Overture (just the Lone Ranger part, not the rest, of course) is blasphemy.
Classical music's Top 10 is a sacred, unalterable law of nature. I mean, would you really have Time Life Recordings remake all those cds?

He got his cello to sing, too, mimicking Lori Benton's superior flute work and justifying the brass section's noble fanfares.

The cello sang, copying the flute and justifying the brass? Sure, that sounds like orchestration 101 to me.

The piece -- part of a Dvorak night -- wasn't one you'd go home humming, but it did have plenty of work for everyone to do.

So, the Dvorak was more like Bill Lumbergh?

figure superfluous Office Space reference, loosely tied to Dvorak: "Hello Peter, whats happening? Ummm, I'm gonna need you to go ahead come in tomorrow. So if you could be here around 9 that would be great, mmmk... oh oh! and I almost forgot ahh, I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, kay. We ahh lost some people this week and ah, we sorta need to play catch up."

Harrell, in fact, gave his fingers such a deft workout you frequently wanted a camera on them to see just how he was able to zip from the melodramatic to the sublime.

Precisely, a giant scoreboard with closeups, replays, and the 'kiss cam' in between pieces. Whatever I can do not to listen to the music.

Harrell played well with all sections of the orchestra (even those that had some timing snags) but he was particularly chummy with the woodwinds.

figure chummy: Lynn and the woodwinds reenacting the battle of Antietam. As I assume most woodwind sections do.

The adagio showed they were willing to step up to their guest's level and compete. The horns did nicely, too.

I'm sure the horns will appreciate the shout-out.

And that chilling fanfare in the end? It may have been Dvorak's way of putting a button on a request,...

A button?

...but it certainly gave Harrell the rest he needed before launching into a more familar [sic] encore.

Just as Dvorak intended. Subtly, of course.

The rest of the program was filled with other Dvorak works...

As all-Dvorak programs tend to do, from time to time.

... -- the rather passive "In Nature's Realm," the more familiar Symphony No. 7 in D minor.

"Passive", "familiar"...sounds like a Dvorak concert to me.

Still, it was the Lynn and Lori show that impressed.

I love that show.

figure Lynn and Lori: Thank you, pop culture.

While the rest of the orchestra got a chance to shine in the third number, it was Benton's complementary work that deserved the compliments.

Are we still talking about the concerto?

Harrell may not have the flash of friends Itzhak Perman and Pinchas Zukerman, but he more than has the skills.

Itzhak Perman?! I realy ove that guy. Seriousy.

Saturday night, he was willing to share them with the Siouxland musicians.

Wait. Itzhak Perman and Pinchas Zukerman were there?

And the result? The result was good, very good.

Gabby Hayes good?

Even better?

Even better than Gabby Hayes, the cello concerto that almost wasn't, and the unrestrained irreverence of the Lynn and Lori Smile-Time Variety Hour!?

If it isn't a complete and utter non-sequitur, and extremely patriotic, I'm not sure it could be any better.

The orchestra started the season with a rousing version of the Star Spangled Banner. While this was probably a given decades ago, it was nice to see it back -- a good way to start what could be a great season.

I know, I was totally in danger forgetting that piece.

Wait...what did you say about subtleties?


Friday Quickie: Tales of Not-Quite New Music

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra Review
Iain Gilmour, EdinbourghGuide.com, September 5, 2011

The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra is well-remembered from its five-concert residency at the 2003 Edinburgh International Festival.

Excellent. Sounds like repeat engagement would bring about a wonderful reunion.

Neither memories nor growing repute from widespread touring were sufficient to draw a reasonable-sized audience to the first of its two concerts closing the Usher Hall run in the 2011 Festival.

Hmm. I wonder what the problem was? Also, what's a reasonable-sized audience? How unreasonable could it have been -- was the fire marshal called?

figure reasonably-sized: Seems to fit nicely.

The choice of programme could have been a determining factor.

Really...the choice of programme? I've never heard such an accusation before.

Did they program symphonic U2? Because, there's no way I'd miss that!

embeddence U2: Note the presence of a singable tune.

An evening devoted solely to Messaien and Bartok is not a sure crowd-puller.

Oh, of course. Composers who, despite being dead (a major plus), had the misfortune of writing music after the era of good music had ended.

That is no criticism of the orchestra or its English conductor Jonathan Nott,...

Of course not. It's not their fault that music after 1900 is awful.

...who has just extended until 2015 a tenure as principal conductor begun in 2000. Nott encouraged and controlled the players admirably in the opening item, Messiaen’s Chronochromie.

Encouragement and mind-control are indeed good tactics, but really, you'll catch larger audiences with Beethoven than you will with Messiaen.

Conventional wisdom, I know, but playing the Messiaen well will never mean as much as not playing it at all.

But since the orchestra has lost their minds, and are probably only performing in front of the cleaning crew and student composers, tell us a little about this piece.

The work encapsulates two ideas – time and colour...

Hence the name.

... – and demands a big orchestra, with the usual percussion section enlarged by gongs, bells, glockenspiel, marimba, cymbals and xylophone.

Wait. Gongs, bells, cymbals, and xylophone are unusual percussion?

figure futuristic instrument: Observe the unusual shape and strange bends in this seemingly normal hunk of metal.

For Messiaen sounds had colour and time was expressed by rhythm and duration.

Wait...time was expressed by duration?! That's clearly some freaky shit.


The orchestra produced every twist and turn in the score,...

Against their better judgment, I'm sure.

...from “twittering” sections – reflecting the composer’s lifelong interest in bird song -- to “off-key” combinations with accurate sound and precise timing.

Just think how much better this piece would have been had it been "on-key".

Messiaen was a complex character – composer, ornithologist, church organist (for 60 years at Holy Trinity in Paris) and teacher. His spell as Professor of Harmony at the Paris Conservatoire may have had more influence on the development of modern music than his compositions – his students included Stockhausen, Boulez, Goehr, and Kurtag – though he was the first composer to use an early version of an electronic keyboard.

And this is all very important and interesting, of course, providing that no orchestra ever play their music.


Writing about Music Still as Awesome as Last Time I Checked

Diamond season off to brilliant start
D.S. Crafts, Albuquerque Journal, 9/2/2011

Don't bother clicking the link; the Journal is, apparently, so awesome – one hopes this is due to its expensive and, ergo, excellent staff of wordsmiths – that they don't just give their advertising-soaked content away for nothing. You can sit through an ad for a trial version if you really want to.

I find this patently fucking offensive. Let's just say I'll be getting my local arts coverage somewhere else from now on.

I guess I could take the print version, but (as a friend of mine always replies when offered a subscription to the Austin American-Statesman) I have neither a bird nor a puppy.

---Begin Digression---

A few words are in order. Yes, it has been a long time; life intervenes. Sue us. Also, the Austin-based percentage of Detritus Review writers went from 50% to 66% to 33% to 0% in the short space of a year.* Doings, as they say, are afoot.

*I was going to make a graph of this, but I didn't.

Clever readers will have already surmised that I have relocated to Albuquerque, along with Mrs Arepo and the cat. (Yes, all bloggers really do have cats. No, you cannot see a picture.) All is well and the chile is excellent and near-daily.

Figure 1: Chiles rellenos


---End Digression---

My first and only sojourn into the Albuquerque Journal's Pay-to-Read Arts Coverage was rewarded with the requisite Hacky Classical Music Review Title.

Diamond season off to brilliant start

Oh, well played, sirs. Way to not fall into the dreaded let's-at-least-use-the-second-stupid-thing-that-pops-into-our-collective-head trap.

The Santa Fe Concert Association commenced its 75th anniversary season in grand style, bringing to the stage of the Lensic Performing Arts Center soprano Susanna Phillips among others.

If I were the arts director, I'd bring her to the stage by herself — as befits the featured artist — and leave the “others” sort of in the background. What? It was just a missing comma? Oh, never mind, then, newspaper-that-thinks-I-should-pay-for-its-awesome-online-content.

Phillips, seen in August on public television’s Mozart concert, is quickly and rightfully becoming one of the most celebrated singers in the country. A veteran of three Mozart leads at the Santa Fe Opera, she sings two primary roles at the Metropolitan Opera this season.

She does and/or will?

Conducted by Joseph Illick, she opened the program with the “Four Last Songs” by Strauss.

I'm a little confused about agency here; I admit that this might be my own problem.

Figure 2: The crumbling ruins represent sentences

Somber songs about death are not exactly the most festive work to begin a gala opening concert, but from a performance of such radiant beauty there were anything but objections.

Okay; no. It's not just me. Prepositions aren't interchangeable and/or to be omitted ad libitum. The first phrase, which has a prepositional deficiency so severe it likely has scurvy, gives way to a second clause implying that the performance was so exquisite it didn't even object to itself.

With long, warm phrasing she gave heartfelt meaning to each of the poems. Illick carefully gauged the tempos of the predominantly string sonority to allow her a maximum of expression.

One notes with interest that the author of the review is himself a composer; this is a nice insight.

Phillips then returned for selections from Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2, “Lobgesang,” which includes chorus, soprano and mezzo-soprano.

Selections? They didn't play the whole symphony? You stay classy, Santa Fe Concert Association.

Here in contrast to the introspective Strauss, she let loose the full power and luster of her voice and shone brilliantly above the orchestral textures.

Still working on that “diamond” thing, eh? Was that with or without conspiring with the title-writing editor to keep up the lame, lame joke?

Linda Raney’s chorus too sang with an unbridled optimism, creating a “joyful noise” most appropriate to the occasion.

The scare quotes lead me to believe that the reviewer thinks that the chorus was awful—but enthusiastic!

Figure 3: Requisite pop culture reference

Pro Tip: Do not use fucking scare quotes in your writing.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sang two small roles with the Santa Fe Opera this summer, both, unfortunately, too short to give us anything but a glimpse of her outstanding talent.

“Both” is not the same as “each.” That difficulty is overcome, however; even though each [sic] of her small roles was too short to allow an accurate assessment of her talent, said assessment is nevertheless undertaken.

Here too, frustratingly, we heard only one or two short solo passages other than the voice in duet with Phillips.

One or two? Lost count, did we? Wait; maybe I'm confused. There were two singers. What was that last bit again?

...other than the voice in duet with Phillips.

Now I'm more confused than ever. I don't know what that means. The addition or subtraction of a comma and/or preposition (if I have understood the rules of the column-game so far) won't even help.

I, for one, hope to hear more of her rich, hearty mezzo in future.

I, for one, hate clichéd stock phrases. I, for one, will also not be referring to the Albuquerque Journal for information about future local arts events. I, for one, will, further, not address the rest of this review.

I would, however, be remiss if I didn't mention the end of the article.

Appreciative congratulations to the SFCA in this most auspicious 75th season. 1937 had to be a good year. It heralded, as the program notes reminded, the introduction of Spam.

Points for the delightful non sequitur, even if it was cribbed from the program notes.


Concert ruined by programming Schumann

The following article really isn't a bad article. I really should say that it is indeed a good review. This is the Anne Midgette I enjoy reading. She is a fine writer with an attention to argument and word choice that appeals to my particular tastes. But despite my favorable opinion of this review, it left me with a couple of observations I thought needed making.

Music review: ‘Juggler in Paradise’ at NSO
Anne Midgette, Washington Post, June 10, 2011

Even in an article primarily dedicated to the work of a living composer, it appears that the relative dissonance is still the defining criteria of whether a piece is good or not.

Augusta Read Thomas writes music that is dense and smart but also listenable.

Oh, the false dichotomy...could there be a Detritus Review without you.

So...only dumb music is listenable? And therefore, all smart music is unlistenable?

Thick with complex rhythms, bright with textures, dappled with particular shades of dissonance alternating with snatches of melody, it doesn’t blatantly try to seduce the hearer, but it doesn’t want to be off-putting, either.

This is an interesting comment. In the hands of a lesser writer, I'm not sure this could be read in any other way than to say, "this piece is dissonant, but not too dissonant".

However, more intelligently written, I still think Midgette's point is simply to alleviate the dismissals of those who would, well, dismiss the music of living composers.

There are melodies, but not pretty ones. Got it.

Hers is emphatic music, making its points with a care that approaches the finicky, but it’s always looking over its shoulder to make sure that you’re following.

Sure, why not. Although, I'm not sure I'd ever call finicky music emphatic.

Its blend of intellect and accessibility makes her music very popular with orchestra programmers and conductors.

Okay, so here's that sentiment again, of her music's smartness/intellect. Doesn't this immediately beg the question, what makes her music "smart"?

Rather than immediately starting in with an assessment of her music's dissonance levels, why not explain the very opening sentence -- "
Augusta Read Thomas writes music that is dense and smart but also listenable." You have three adjectives here...why must listenable be our only focus?

And in this case, listenable seems to ultimately equal levels of dissonance and consonance.

Of course, smart and dense in music are not as easily defined as I think is assumed here. I know I'm nitpicking Midgette here somewhat, but it seems especially frustrating when she has so many good things to say in her review.

Also, I don't want to disregard this matter of a piece being "listenable". However, I do find that very word to an uninviting place to start. Are there really unlistenable pieces out there?

It's an absurd sort of phrasing -- pieces of music whose sounds cannot be perceived by human ears, or cause so much pain to be safe for aural consumption?

Fine, I'm being too literal. Like I said, I don't wish to ignore listenability. All music must grapple with it's accessibility and it's popular appeal, even if it wishes to disregard them.

And this leads me back to Ms. Midgette's review of Thomas' concerto...


The music, though, might not be so popular with audiences.

Interesting. Her smart but listenable music isn't popular with audiences? Any thoughts?

Eight pieces in two decades by one orchestra is an excellent track record for a composer in her 40s, yet it’s hardly enough to breed familiarity among the public.

So, this isn't her fault? Is it that by new music standards, popular still equals rarely performed?

Despite Eschenbach’s presence and the work’s presentation between two slices of Schumann (the “Braut von Messina” overture on one side, the second symphony on the other), Thursday’s audience was sparse.

See, I would blame Schumann for that.

And the crowd seemed oddly untouched by the piece,...

Really? How did you come to this conclusion?

As our lawyer friends might point, are you really testifying as to how some 1000 other people felt on the night of June 9th?

But, I guess I get it, the piece must not be listenable enough.

...a 20-minute arc in which the violin trails through the orchestra and accumulates sounds, like a strand of string picking up sugar crystals to form rock candy.

Ugh. Say no more. I hate rock candy. As I assume everyone in attendance did as well.

Thomas makes emphatic gestures built of sometimes unperceived subtleties, repeating them, with a kind of stuttering effect, to make sure you’ve got it.

Unperceived subtleties repeated until I get them?

If not prefaced with this idea that the audience was untouched, or didn't like the piece, I'm mostly happy with these interesting, if not poetic observations. Perfectly in line with your standard review, however...what does this have to do with your line of argument regarding listenability?

“Juggler in Paradise” — its epithet perhaps one of the less successful of Thomas’s signature poetic titles — is a Harlequin-like piece spangled with bells and wood blocks, in which the violin solos are often joined by bongo drums, or lead into passages of big-band jazziness. At one point, the orchestra held its breath for a solo bongo cadenza, then pounced with a quick powerful chord, like a cat leaping on a mouse.

Sounds like a cool piece. So what in the hell is the problem?

In short, it’s a piece shot through with antic humor, and yet it’s a little too self-conscious to be truly funny.

Oh. You thought the piece was supposed to be funny?


Friday Quickie: That's not something you see everyday

It's a slow news cycle here in the detritus world of music criticism. And as such...

Symphony in A minor a minor disappointment

Oh. Dear. God.

This week's Minnesota Orchestra concerts, heard Thursday at Orchestra Hall, mark the climax of its season-long Rachmaninoff symphony cycle.

I think the story here is that the Minnesota Orchestra has completely given up on programming good music.

Har har har...see what I did there?

Sorry, I'm sure some of you out there just love Rachmaninoff...but just admit it, you're totally wrong. Right?

Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3 in A minor is the composer's final symphony and one of the last of his orchestral works.

In fact that the only other orchestral work he composed (Symphonic Dances) was the only other piece he wrote at all until his death seven years after this symphony. Just saying.

As such, it is a nice pairing with the contrastingly youthful "Firebird."

Sure, what the hell.

The first movement opens in deep melancholy, perhaps expressing Rachmaninoff's sense of loss and of time passing.

Perhaps. But if you're basing this on the fact that you heard the Dies Irae, you should note that every piece Rachmaninoff ever wrote has the Dies Irae in it...or something like that.

So, how was this symphony "a minor" disappointment?

Wigglesworth missed the depth of emotion, stressing orchestral precision over passion, the result feeling somewhat cerebral and cold.

Well, that's not something you read everyday. Rachmaninoff -- "cerebral"? Surely you jest.

figure don't see that everyday: It is just as true today as it was in his day. Amen.


Actually, Rachmaninoff's music isn't not cerebral. It's just so much more common for his music to be inundated with superlatives extolling the emotional genius of his music. I mean, it's not like he's Bruckner or something.


Friday Quickie: Comparison wasn't not apt

Making an analogy, or even a direct comparison, can be an illuminating device when talking about abstract concepts. Of course, some people use them in place of an actual point, but Richard Nilsen has a point...just not a good comparison.

Symphony review: Singer Addis punks out on Mahler songs
Richard Nilsen, Arizona Republic, Apr. 22, 2011

“Punks out”?

Okay, how did Addis punk out on Mahler?

Phillip Addis wasn't no Sinatra.

Wait. Phillip Addis was not no Sinatra?

So… Phillip Addis is Sinatra?

The baritone sang Gustav Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer" with the Phoenix Symphony this week…

Wait…the singer who's not no Sinatra sang Mahler?

How’d he do?

…and the performance was a major letdown.

Well, Sinatra wasn’t known for his Mahler performances.

Sometimes you wait a whole season for a particular concert, because the music scheduled isn't merely beautiful or entertaining, but promises emotional transport.

I wish I had something clever to say here, but really, this is something unique that a symphony orchestra has the power to do but so rarely does. And this seems especially true since they rely so consistently upon the same pieces that have already emotionally transported me many times before.

After all, that is why we who love classical music persist in a love for a dying art form: It can take us out of ourselves and leave us feeling the radiance of the universe.

The art form isn’t dying, it’s just that people always insist on performing pieces that people already know they love.

The classical music universe is definitely not expanding the way most orchestras program.

It is almost a drug and we crave it.

Exactly. But we digress.

So, I’m assuming you love the Mahler “Songs of a Wayfarer” and you wished Sinatra were singing them? …

And when something like the Mahler sits there on the calendar all year, beckoning us to wait for its April date, we hope once again for that emotional and spiritual fix.

Oh, come on, Mahler’s on the calendar every year. But, I guess I know what you mean.

Well, perhaps you can expect too much.

If you expected Sinatra to sing your Mahler, perhaps you did expect too much.

It wasn't that Addis sang badly.

Oh. Was his diction good?

Certainly his diction was good.

Good. Music is all about diction.

As if music were about diction.

Wait? Music’s not about diction?

But the Sinatra comparison is dead on:…

Are you sure, because I can’t even begin to imagine why you’d compare this singer to Sinatra.

…When you heard Frank Sinatra sing, you knew - or felt you knew - that he had lived every word of the song he sang.

And there’s never been a classical singer who you felt this about before? Perhaps even someone who has sang the Mahler before?

The emotional intelligence he brought to lyrics meant that even as his voice declined, his ability to put across a song never wavered.

Exactly. Like when he sang:
Come fly with me, let's float down to Peru
In llama land there's a one-man band
And he'll toot his flute for you

I totally feel like he’s been to Peru, in a way no other artist could.

And the emotional content in lyrics like:
She'll have no crap games with sharpies and frauds
And she won't go to Harlem in Lincolns or Fords
And she won't dish the dirt with the rest of the broads
That's why the lady is a tramp

When he sang that, I could feel that this woman really eschewed the cultured, high-society conventions of her day...like not driving domestic automobiles.

It was what was missing from Addis' performance: He never convinced us - never even tried to convince us - that the words actually mean anything.

This seems fair. But did you really need Sinatra to make this point?

The styles of singing (and the songs themselves) really don't have a lot in common.

He sang as if he had memorized the words, not internalized them. It is at such times that you realize that mere musicality isn't enough: Great art isn't about pretty.

Couldn’t agree with this more… Wait, are you saying Sinatra wasn’t a good singer?


But you're making what I would a consider a valid and important observation about the performance...are you sure there isn't a more apt comparison you could provide to help us understand your argument?

If you have ever heard Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing these songs, you know how far we have fallen.

Thank you.

See, I don’t know that recording, but this seems like a much better comparison. You've now created a workable reference point for people who know the Mahler songs. Plus, I’m actually likely to seek out this recording to understand better your frame of reference.

Maybe it's just me, but I find this far more illustrative.


The Greatest Review You've Ever Read?

We here at the Detritus have come to learn that great music is great because it's aesthetically and technically stunning, makes money, makes people happy, is liked by more than 216 people, can run 40 yards in 4.2 seconds, and is written by someone famous and dead.

However, these common criteria leave out, arguably, the most important factor...what's in here. [I'm pointing to my gut]

Concert review: Blomstedt, PSO create a Brahms experience
Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 09, 2011

We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to define greatness,…

So true. And from what I can tell, it's pretty much an exact science nowadays...

Like when Mel Kiper said of JaMarcus Russell, "Three years from now you could be looking at a guy that's certainly one of the elite top five quarterbacks in this league. Look out because the skill level that he has is certainly John Elway-like."

figure greatest JaMarcus: The epitome of spending an inordinate amount of time defining greatness.

JaMarcus Russell is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, right?

…and classical music is particularly obsessed with it.

Well, when you only listen to the same 10 or 15 composers who all died over 100 years ago, might as well rank them between sessions of masturbating over which conductor's phrasing of Mahler 4 was ejaculatory enough.

Was that harsh? It felt harsh. Anywho...

But so often it is a debate made away from the music in question…

What do you mean “away”?

… -- in a coffee shop or a classroom, in an article or a book.

And you prefer that debate be made inside the music? Words are my tool of choice when I wish to communicate specific thoughts and ideas. Do you want me to make an argument that Beethoven's music is great with music? I’m not sure I follow.

But what role does experience play?

I’m going to guess that most of the people debating this have experienced classical music before. No?

So Mr. Smarty-pants, how do you define greatness in music?

As of late I have come to define greatness in music as any composition or song that, when listening to it, seems the best work I have ever heard.

Like I said, defining greatness is pretty much down to science these days.

When I am listening to a Beethoven Symphony, I can't imagine another that's "better."

I’m not sure you’re actually familiar with the concept of a definition.

But now that I think about it, our imaginations should be the first criterion for any good definition of the greatness of music.

Same with Chopin's nocturnes and Wagner's operas, Schubert's lieder or Radiohead's albums.

Radiohead does make the best Radiohead albums…although Muse releases pretty good Radiohead albums, too.

No wait...neither of them releases very good Radiohead albums.

But, hey, wait a minute.

What if I can’t imagine a better piece, but I feel like there must be one. Is it necessarily so that imagination is greater than feelings?

I don’t know, because I imagine that you have no idea what you’re talking about, but my gut feeling is that you’re absolutely right.

figure greatest method of transportation: I can't imagine a more seaworthy vessel.

Never mind…


Moving along, Brahms' First Symphony was on the program (clearly the greatest symphony ever), as was his First Piano Concerto...

I am happy to report that pianist Garrick Ohlsson is human.

This was in doubt?

He missed a note in his brilliant performance of the First Piano Concerto,...

I really hoped you pointed this out to him after the concert. However, in his defense...

figure concerto: Garrick Ohlsson won't let a little thing like the greatest piano concerto ever get in the way of sweet, sweet vengeance.

…and it actually made me appreciate his amazing virtuosity all the more.

That's exactly how I feel about JaMarcus Russell.

You just had to be there.

Exactly. How else could you experience imagining this was the greatest music ever?

figure greatest present: I can't imagine a more innocent looking gift. How thoughtful.


And once again, a day-time talk show has shown us the way...

It's tricky business commenting on and critiquing the work of others, and I'm speaking of our work here at the Detritus and not just the role of the critic in general. I've read a lot of reviews in the past couple years and I'm starting to wonder if I can ever be satisfied.

With that...

Music Review: Richmond Symphony Orchestra
Devorah Ben-David, Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 6, 2011

The Richmond Symphony Orchestra wowed classical music aficionados during its Masterworks performance at the Carpenter Theatre.

Well, surely this review will break the trend.

However, I’m curious why classical music aficionados were singled out here. I guess the obvious implication is that regular music aficionados and general classical music patrons were un-wowed by the performance at the Carpenter Theatre.

Intriguing, indeed.

"Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents for Orchestra," written by Haitian-American contemporary composer…

I like what I see here. New music...and one and a half sentences without the need to snark.

But yes, that contemporary music does tend to scare of those classical music novices.

…Daniel Bernard Roumain, launched the energetic opening piece.

A rough turn of phrase, to be sure, but you still have me. New music wows classical music lovers -- good news indeed!

So, can I hope for more than a one sentence review? Some in depth history or analysis? And more importantly, that this contemporary composition isn't just viewed through the lens of some gimmick, and be allowed to exist by itself as a work of art?

It was inspired by a 21-second dance shared by then-Sen. Barack Obama and Ellen DeGeneres on her TV show in 2007.

Hmmm… er. I hope this piece isn't as lame as it already sounds. Sorry, Daniel. I’m sure it’s a great piece and all (I mean, it did wow classical music aficionados), but just because it’s contemporary doesn’t make it not cheesy.

Remember, how we discuss music colors the reactions of others...and I'm not just alluding to critics. Contemporary music cannot just be another scavenger of the trash-heap of pop culture.

But, how about alleviating some of my concerns that this is just some trite gimmick about “hope” and what not?

His message is one of hope that the road to peace might be better served by dancing together than haggling over our differences.

figure misunderstood: "It's trying to bringing love! Don't let it get away! Break its legs!"

Who knew that the road to world peace went through a moderately amusing segment on a morning talk show.

I guess I shouldn't talk since I did write my Will it Float? Symphony.

And I do love when music is about all that hope-y, change-y stuff. It’s a powerful message, no doubt. One I’m not sure many composers have the courage to put out there.

The composition, which was commissioned by the Sphinx Commissioning Consortium, is fundamentally a dance piece.

Meaning people are intended to dance to it? How many dance halls employ full symphony orchestras nowadays?

It appears to include a part of everything Roumain has met in his musical life in terms of the classical and pop world.

Oh boy, a piece about world peace that bridges the divide (once again) between classical music and pop music.

I’m sorry. I love new music.

Snap out of it, Gustav.

As the three movements of the piece unveil, the element of surprise is intriguing. "Dancers" begins with a banging solo…

Is that “banging” as in awesome, or “banging” as in whacking stuff with sticks?

…for the timpani and drum kit, so reminiscent of Afro-Caribbean melodies.

I’m not sure which part that sentence is extraneous…the “so” or the comma, but we definitely need to lose one. And I think you mean rhythms and not melodies here. But, what do I know.

In "Dreamers," the contrabass section makes its dramatic entry, while another incarnation of musical vignette unfolds.

Really, is there any part of the music that doesn’t “unfold”, or isn’t “musical”?

Chordal patterns again repeat in "Presidents"…

Chordal patterns do tend to do that, from time to time.

…but quickly morph into hip-hop beats creating a crowded score.

And this too, although, I would wager with slightly less frequency.

figure presidential dignity: The Ellen Show quickly morphing into hip-hop beats with an actual presidential candidate.

Here Roumain's musical interpretation comes off as fragmented. But this may be purely intentional, as discontent ultimately breeds fragmentation in our world.

You're theorizing that his fragmented musical interpretation was intention. Wait, his music interpretation of what...hip-hop? And whose discontent are we talking about?

What we have here is a failure to communicate. Now, this seems to be an interesting analysis of the eclectic juxtapositions being made in this piece, but if you think about it for a second, I have no idea what the author is talking about. It may very well be that his fragmented musical interpretation was intentional. But, his music interpretation of what...hip-hop? And whose discontent are we talking about?

I should slow down though. For all my grousing, I do laud the author for taking the time to discuss this piece in such detail…especially when most critics would save their column inches for these next two works.

Tomasi's Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra

Ah, the Tomasi Trumpet Concerto...I have been known to partake of this particular concerto from time to time. It is a striking piece, and as Philip Ramey writes in the liner notes to Wynton Marsalis' recording of this piece:

"Perhaps the most striking elements of this brittle yet lyric piece are the opening movement's trumpet cadenza with quiet snare-drum background and the jaunty cartoon-music finale."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

The trumpet, which dates to at least 1,500 B.C., has been a victim of musical snobbery in history.

Snobbery, eh? Do you have any particular composer in mind? Mozart was rumored to be a trumpet-ist.

But certainly not when Thomas Hooten is playing "Concerto for Trumpet" by French composer Henri Tomasi.

Wait, the trumpet players were the snobs?

The lyrical piece is neo-classic in texture, melody and rhythm and has three of the maestro's signature trademarks. The music is structured, concise and clear.

How convenient that three of Tomasi’s trademarks are completely consistent with all neo-classical music.

While some may regard this particular work as slightly brittle,…


Huh. I wonder who "some" might be.

…Hooten breathes life into the opening movement of the trumpet cadenza.

Cadenza = concerto?

While he appears to fatigue a bit during the cartoon-music finale, he nonetheless leaves the stage with a standing ovation.

Is it normal that only players who don’t get tired during a concerto get standing ovations?

And that's so funny that you called it a "cartoon-music finale"? I guess it didn't realize how clearly that finale sounds like cartoon music.

figure unoriginal: Hey, who's your favorite player?

Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Opus 74, "Pathétique"

One of the great classical music composers is Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky.

Are you writing a report for your high school music appreciation course? Here, let me save you some time by giving you part of a report I wrote on Tchaikovsky.

Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840 and died of suicidal cholera on November 6, 1893. Although, he was Russian, Tchaikovsky was no communist as attested to by his pro-American anthem, the “1812 Overture”, written in honor of the glorious victory of America over the forces of evil (France) for a 4th of July celebration. Equally famous for his symphonic, ballet and operatic output, he strongly resented the trumpet.

And while Symphony No. 6 in B Minor was meant to be a celebration of life, he died nine days after its premiere.

How pathetic. But it’s a good thing that his death couldn’t actually rewrite the music, which should still sound like a celebration of life, right?

It begins with the somber voice of the double basses and is punctuated by the violas' mournful voice.

That’s not how I’d compose a piece celebrating life, but I’m not one of the great classical music composers either.

Listening carefully, one instinctively feels that something is haunting the composer's mind.

Aren’t the concepts of “listening carefully” and “instinctively” sort of at odds with each other?

Can I find fault with any sentence? Are all my comments in the form of questions? Never mind.

If only Tchaikovsky had called 555-2368, maybe the music wouldn’t have retroactively been rewritten. And maybe he might still be alive today.

The Richmond Symphony Orchestra does a flawless job of interpreting this agitation. All that was left in its wake was thunderous applause.

They applauded Tchaikovsky’s inner turmoil and utter demise? That seems like a bit of a jerk move don’t you think?


Anything written in A minor is bad-tempered gnashing of teeth*

I know critics must hate it when we take them literally, but seriously, is there any other way to read this?

Georges Bizet’s only complete symphony was a breeze for Sitkovetsky. All he had to do was conduct,...

Is that all? Pssh, I could have done that.

figure bizet: Compositional facial hair of the week.

...and he did it well, as in the other pieces.

But the Bizet, unlike the other pieces, was a breeze...what would you say made it so easy for Sitkovetsky?

He styled the melodies just right, marked effective, brisk tempos...

Well, that sounds like it might have taken years of training, not to mention a unique aptitude to style melodies "just right". So, that's not it...

...and shaped the structure so that it was just as much fun and enjoyable as the composer’s masterpiece, “Carmen.”

He made it as much fun as Bizet's opera "Carmen"? What an incredibly odd thing to say about his symphony. But still, that doesn't sound very easy at all.

Anything written in C major is always happy and spring-like.

So very true. But, is the Bizet Symphony in C in C major...? [checks the internets]

Why, yes, it is in C major!

So, therefore no matter what
Sitkovetsky did, the music would always be happy and spring-like, leaving him ample time to mark effective tempos. That Sitkovetsky is one clever SOB.

Sitkovetsky didn’t hold any of that back.

Wait, what kind of asshole would hold back C major awesomeness?


*Find out what emotions are for all the keys here.


Friday Quickie: Performance took the miraculousness to a new level

I'm pretty sure there are rational explanations for most of the review that follows. But just in case, I think we need to set some ground rules. Some simple guidelines to help us get through the perfunctory introduction and description of standard works of music: 1) They aren't miracles, and 2) orchestras do more than "offer accounts" of said music, but less than rewrite the emotional content of the music.

Yes, I think that's a pretty good start.

Review: Young Spaniard leads ISO through a fine program
Jay Harvey, Indianapolis Star, March 5, 2011

A young conductor with an adventurous…

Ooh… “adventurous”. I am a fan of adventure, so consider me very excited.

…resume is on the Hilbert Circle Theatre podium this weekend, putting the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to the test with a couple of challenging American works.

Challenging? American? Hmmm....

No worries...still excited.

But there is more than just the bracing novelty of hearing John Adams' "Lollapalooza" and Aaron Copland's "Short Symphony" to commend this program to the public's attention.

I object to the classification of either of those works as novelty. Especially the Copland…I mean it has the word symphony in the title – how much of a novelty could it be?

figure Lollapalooza Warning: Who knew Lollapalooza was written in Pakistan.

I’m pretty sure that no offense is meant to either composer (I think), but I really am not sure what to make of calling American compositions novelties.

But, that’s actually not while we’re looking in on this review…


After the orchestra “presented a cohesive performance” of Lollapalooza

The 1933 Copland work, composed just past the crest of his high modernist period,…

Okay, I’m not sure Copland ever had a “high” modernist period (well at least in the 20s or 30s). But whatever...

…is less calculated to provide fun for either an orchestra or its audience.

“Calculated to provide fun”? That’s an odd turn of phrase when reviewing a symphony.

figure calculated fun: Modernism at its most fun.

Are any of the Brahms or Beethoven (for example) symphonies calculated to provide fun, or do we just reserve that qualification for novelty works?

It contains some elements of the popular appeal that would soon come to the fore in major ballets such as "Appalachian Spring" and "Billy the Kid."

Yes, that’s kind of true. What exactly are those "popular" elements? And what makes up the rest of the elements in the piece? It’s post-“high modernist”, not very fun, and preceded his populist music, and...?

But playing it may tend to reflect a love of labor more than a labor of love.

Har har. That’s some good word play, but I have no idea what would make you say that. Do you have some reason to conflate his politics with this particular piece of music, or were you just looking for something topical, yet relevant to Copland to say?

If so, nicely done.

figure love of labor: Just as upset at all these fat cat teachers and their fancy 1993 Nissan Sentras as I am!

So, now that we've fully established the history of this great, yet novelty work...what kind of performance did the orchestra offer?

Despite some tentativeness in the fast outer movements, Friday's performance offered an admirable account, with some nicely pointed lyrical contrast in the second movement.

An admirable account. Excellent. This seems like a great program so far, offering us a cohesive performance, then an admirable account…what else does the ISO have to offer us?

Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter, in a return ISO engagement, offered a pert, frolicsome account of Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor.

Offering a frolicsome account is a nice contrast to cohesive and admirable accounts.

She gave the homage-to-Bach opening music just enough seriousness,…

Because it’s not a novelty, right?

…then quickly focused on flair and agility, with stylish support in the accompaniment. The substance of the finale is spun out to tissue-paper thinness, but Fliter rendered it all with conviction. For an encore, she treated Chopin's "Minute" Waltz to a tempo massage that had it purring.

Tempo massage? Does that mean it went faster or slower?

Did the piece have a happy ending?

"La Mer" is always a miracle,…

Oh, I know I'm going to like where this sentence is going...a miracle you say? How so?

…in that audiences love it because of its reassuring picturesqueness, despite the radical nature of Debussy's harmonic and melodic language.

Radical? Are you sure? Perhaps (and that’s a big perhaps) it was radical to the audiences around when it was first premiered, but the piece begins quite convincingly in b minor and spends most of the first movement in some variation of 5 flats.

In fact the whole piece is anchored in some tonal center.

The music does drift harmonically quite a bit at times, but radical…I think might be overstating it just a tad.

But more importantly, it's a miracle if someone likes music with "radical" harmonic and melodic languages?!

Friday's performance took the miraculousness to a new level.

This might be my favorite sentence I’ve read in a review in a long time.

So, did they perform the piece with extra radical-ness in the harmonic language?

Heras-Casado drew from the ISO an incredible suppleness of response. He isolated certain details with crystalline clarity, but the piece's momentum wasn't disturbed by anything too finicky. Tempos were flexible and related logically to one another.

See, I thank Debussy for this, and more thank the conductor more for the gentle massage.

And the performance was emotionally moving to a surprising degree.

That is a miracle.

figure my breakfast: Also a miracle.


And Yet Another Orchestra Shows Incredible Balance

Another harmless review...but I'm not sure why I have to say this, but composers write the music, not the conductor, or the soloist, or the players. At a certain level of musicianship, the music isn't demonstrably more sad or powerful or jubilant. Tempos change, and articulations can vary...but these alterations are often slight. This isn't to say that the Berlin Philharmonic doesn't perform Beethoven 5th Symphony better than the Albuquerque Community Orchestra...they most certainly do. But the music...it's just as fateful in the beginning, and as triumphantly C major at the end. And it's been that way for 200 years.

So there.

Young pianist Yuja Wang conquers Rachmaninoff in terrific Oregon Symphony concert – orchestra at the top of its game
James Bash, OregonMusicNews.com, February 7, 2011

Ah, good, a sports cliche...now I know this will be thoughtful review.

Guest artist Yuja Wang brought her A game…

I’m going to admit it up front, that this I’m probably only bringing my C+ game to this critique.

But of course, you should still read on…

…to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday evening (February 5) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall…

They have an Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall now? That’s convenient.

…and created an impressive debut with the Oregon Symphony in her performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto.

If only print newspapers had editors as attentive and fastidious as online editors…oh, wait.

Wang played this demanding work with incredible precision and artistic panache.

Panache is good. Precision…meh.

Her opening statement showed right away that she had power and finesse,…

Convenient then that Rachmaninoff put some powerful, yet finesseable music right up front.


My favorite part about the "but" construction in most of these reviews is the unnecessary juxtaposition of two usually positive things.

She was pretty but smart too.

….she excelled in creating the lush, rhapsodic atmosphere with a singing tone.

Her performance sounds dreamy…do you have a favorite part?

One of the most memorable passages…


…came in the second movement when she evoked a series of cascading waterfalls that opened onto a high plateau with an expansive vista.

She did what now? She evoked a waterfall? On a high plateau? With an expansive vista?!

Also, you said 'she'? Did the music not naturally evoke this image? If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that her interpretation added waterfalls to the music?

She drew you a picture, right?

Maybe she could’ve lingered a little more here or there,…

‘Here’ or ‘there’? Are these real places, or are you making a sweeping generalization about the performance and hoping we just wouldn't care?

…but she is only 23 years old, and I’m sure that her interpretation will change in the future.

You're right. 23 year-olds don't linger as long as they should.

In support of Wang’s performance, the orchestra brought its A game as well.

So, we’re not grading on a curve then?

Any chance there’ll be extra credit on this concert?

figure bringing it: Joey Chestnut brought his A game when he downed 68 hot dogs and buns at the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The series of duets in the first movement (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon)…

Yes, duets. Can I just pick any two instruments from the list above for the duet? Or were there duets of every possible combination (not permutations, since order does not matter)? Meaning there were…(remembering 11th grade pre-calculus)…

figure combinations: How the fuck do you solve an equation with no numbers?!

10 duets!? That’s kind of a lot…at least for just the first movement.

… had balance and grace.

Can you really have grace without balance? Think about it.

At one point in the second movement, the orchestra snuck in…

Ooh. Nice imagery. I wonder how they snuck in.

…as if they were all wearing really thick socks.

Well, that is an effective way of sneaking. And I’m assuming they took their shoes off first, because, you know, that would totally negate the benefits of really thick socks.

figure snuck in: Hey! Wait a minute...how did all you people get on this train?

The then…

“The then”...

…played in a way that made a very gradual crescendo that showed incredible control.

Really? You must be shitting me.

And they did this in the second movement?!

The brass flared impressively in the third movement when the music went off to the races,…

Dog or horse races? There is a difference you know.

Oh, or were they people races? If so, did the music also take in the high jump and javelin competitions as well?

Or...and I dare to ask...were they...?

figure man vs beast: Stupid giraffe.

…and the overall effect at the end of the piece was jubilation from all corners of the nearly sold-out hall.

Four for four, huh? And what about the center of the auditorium, was there jubilation there too?

Wang responded with an encore, Rachmaninoff Vocalise (Op.34 n. 14).

No way an encore was preplanned. Way to go audience, your jubilation spontaneously created an encore.

The orchestra opened the concert with a superb performance of Johannes Brahms’ Tragic Overture. Again, the orchestra demonstrated incredible balance and articulate phrasing.

I’m just wondering to myself if balance is the sort of thing that I could ever describe as “incredible”.

Two of the horns and principal bass trombonist Charles Reneau made the sound magically decay during an exposed section,…

Magically? Did you expect the sound to extend forever?

…and the lower strings marvelously created a wistful mood towards the end of the piece.

A wistful mood not indicated in the score?

Under the direction of Kalmar, this piece became a real gem.

Otherwise it’s a pile of shit.

The orchestra also made a very strong case for Carl Nielsen’s rarely heard Symphony No. 6, aka the Sinfonia semplice.

A “strong case”? What an incredibly odd thing to say.

Are the Brahms and Nielsen generally accepted as crappy pieces of works, and the Oregon Symphony disagrees, bravely standing in direct opposition to common wisdom?

The music in this piece seemed to travel in numerous directions in a fascinating way.

I'll bet it was hard to keep track of all the places you were going.

figure traveling in numerous directions: A little free advice from Deliverance Unto The Lord, Inc.

In the first movement alone, the orchestra went from suspenseful super quiet state to an agitated, fast and loud one before settling into a soothing ending.

Wow. Sounds like some super calls from the orchestra. Why Nielsen composed that first movement without a soothing ending is beyond me.

The second movement had an eclectic, disjointed feel (in his introduction, Kalmar told the audience to picture a group of children waking up from a nap)…

Yes…okay. Children waking from a nap…I’m thinking some portamento in the strings…no, glissandi in the trombones!

In fact, no strings at all…for a short…no, extended period.

…that was punctuated here and there by glissandos from principal trombonist Aaron LaVere, and for an extended period only the woodwinds, brass, and percussion played.

Thought so.

The strings got things going in the third movement with tight ensemble playing.

What “things” specifically did they get going?

After principal flutist Rose Lombardo played a beautiful solo, the mood of the music became strident before downshifting to a solemn and slow close.

With all those "things going", I bet it was a quite a relief when the music downshifted.

The fourth movement featured a waltz that the cellos and double basses usurped for a while until other themes developed and were exchanged seamlessly between sections.

You might say that the cellos and basses usurped that melody like Ahaz usurped the throne of Judah from his father Jotham, if I might be allowed a bit of biblical humor.

Gordon Rencher played a charming passage on the xylophone before the violins launched into a series of skipping phrases.

Where are you going with this? Are you under the impression that there are people for whom charming passages and skipping phrases might make them come to the concert? Or do just prefer to give anecdotal snippets instead of any substantive review?

The piece ended with the bassoons getting the last word, and that accented the overall whimsical nature of the piece.

Oh, those bassoons – can they not be whimsical?

I hope that the orchestra plays some more Nielsen in the near future.

Me too. But you’re not assuming that all of Nielsen’s music features whimsical bassoons, authoritarian lower strings, and manic mood changes, are you?

[Note to readers: I added the word "magically" to this review -- in a vain attempt to describe the decayed sound that Charles Reneau made.]

Well, why don’t you at least try, because, I’m not sure magical even begins to add to our understanding of how his decay might have differed from your standard decaying sound.