Audiences Pleased By Audience-Pleasing Music

Recently, the San Antonio Symphony introduced a new music director. Let's check in and see how things are doing so far.

FIRST TAKE: So this is how it is going to be with new Music Director Lang-Lessing — …

…let’s say…yes?

…programs of bold, vivid, purpose-driven and audience-pleasing music.

I know, depressing prospect isn’t it.

figure purpose-driven: Rick Warren knows why I'm here on Earth. I'm guessing to help get more tax cuts for rich people. Really, is there any other purpose in life?

Though, it does beg the question what “purpose-driven” music is exactly.

It is one thing to schedule such music,…

Yes, that is “one thing”.

But, is it difficult to schedule programs of audience-pleasing music? In my experience, it takes some real cojones to schedule music that isn’t audience-pleasing.

…but another matter to deliver it with authentic, crisp precision and emotion like Lang-Lessing did in his first regular subscription concert.

Wow, sounds like you guys are really lucky getting the authentic performances of audience-pleasing music while all the rest of us suckers are stuck with disingenuous concerts of meandering, inexact music.

So what was this music so in need of some authentic crispness?

The two Franz Liszt tone poems, “Mazzepa” and “Les Préludes,” sizzled with electricity at every turn of their musical stories.

You guys got bold, vivid and authentic versions of the Liszt tone poems?! I’m so freaking jealous!

But I thought you mentioned something about “audience-pleasing”?

The performance of Antonin Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,”…


…nailed every emotion from tender nostalgia and spirituality to triumph.

Every emotion? Really? Now, I know that you must be exaggerating.

Everyone knows that it’s not humanly possible to nail every emotion in the New World Symphony.

figure care bears: Also nailed every emotion, and learned a valuable lesson at the end of each episode too!

Sure, most orchestras get the nostalgia and triumph. But what about the submissive contempt of the Poco sostenuto in the third movement? Most orchestras cop out with no more than amenable condescension.

OF NOTE: The solo star in the Dvorák symphony was English horn player Stephanie Shapiro, who performed the “Going Home” theme...

Seriously, people, the spiritual is based on Dvorak’s theme, not the other way around.

…performed the “Going Home” theme as if singing in a human voice.

See, I like my English horn sounding like an English horn. I guess I’m just funny that way.

Lang-Lessing extended the concert with a sparkling encore, leading the orchestra in one of the Slavonic Dances from Dvorák’s Opus 46.

Truly purpose-driven...or was that audience-pleasing?

And, in other news:

Citing "budget constraints" but no red ink, Vallejo Symphony leaders have canceled the second half of the critically acclaimed orchestra's four-concert season and promised "rebuilding" on firmer financial footing in the months to come.

That’s unfortunate. What happened?

[T]he orchestra's board of directors on Jan. 13 voted to "cease operations for the balance of the season," a decision that came just days after the symphony's recent concert featuring several pieces of new contemporary music.

Oh. I see.


And, thank you to our loyal readers for your patience. We apologize for the lack of updates in the recent months, and hope to post more often soon. Who knew that newborns needed so much attention?


A New Year Quickie - Emphasis on structure robs music of forward pulse...Again!

I am becoming more and more convinced that some critics just don't read their reviews before they publish them. Seriously, I'm pretty sure what follows doesn't actually mean anything.

Although, when you take into consideration current day practices of music criticism...

NY String Orchestra @ Carnegie Hall
Eugene Chan, Queens Examiner, Dec. 31, 2010

Current day performance practice of Beethoven symphonies...

Okay, let me stop here and add that Eugene never once tell us which symphony the orchestra is playing.
I guess I should be glad that he mentioned it was by Beethoven, because really, do you need to know anything else?

However, I'm more interested in learning about current day performance practices of Beethoven symphonies...

figure current day performance practices: Beethoven as performed by my iPhone.

It's all yours, Eugene.

Current day performance practice of Beethoven symphonies often emphasize fleet of tempo and attack.

A couple of things, and I hate to be picky, but your subject and verb really should agree. Also, I think you mean fleetness (a noun), since it's sort of difficult to emphasize an adjective in this context -- or you have a superfluous "of" before tempo. And, I'm not quite sure what a fleet attack in music is.

figure fleet: A clever play on words?

But never mind, we're learning something here.

Laredo's [the conductor] interpretation was slower and emphasized string playing that was plush in texture.

Plush? The string playing was "a fabric, as of silk, cotton, or wool, whose pile is more than 1/8 inch (0.3 cm) high"? Plus, isn't "in texture" sort of redundant?

Of course, we kid. Okay, his interpretation of the unnamed symphony was slower than you're used to, and featured a richer string sound. Sure, why not.

An audience member could often hear Beethoven's orchestration,...

...and the rest of the time?

...which sometimes was illuminating--...

Illuminating is good. So what was illuminated by the sometimes heard orchestration (in this version that was slower and had sumptuous strings)?

...for example about a minute into the fourth movement the interplay between first violins, violas and second violins.

Good call. That is totally an awesome moment. And please, don't waste your time explaining further, because we all know exactly where you're talking about in this unnamed Beethoven symphony.

At other times the emphasis on structure robbed the music of its forward pulse.

Precisely. If only Beethoven had... . What's that again?

[Rereads sentence] Okay?

figure confused?: Just try and figure out my logic.

"The emphasis on structure" -- I know what structure is, although I'm not quite sure how a performance emphasizes it. Extra loud accents when themes begin and end?

"...robbed the music of its forward pulse." -- So you're saying that music slowed down? Or is this a metaphorical pulse, as in the music lost your attention.

Fuck me, this isn't clear at all.

Maybe your conclusion will help clarify things.

However, after an entire concert of chamber-like balances...

Uh-huh. Symphonic music is always so inappropriately balanced?

...and volume restraint,...

Yes, the orchestra was too quiet, until...

...Laredo removed the reins off the orchestra at the very end.

I'm a big fan of the orchestra is a horse metaphor. Really, it's just such a contemporary, accurate comparison.

figure horse: See, a horse isn't a metaphor, it's a piece of art by Maurizio Cattelan.

The symphony closed with crackling horns and sizzling strings as the music hurtled to its close.

Well, that certainly cleared everything up.

After a slow performance that made that one section with the violins and violas audible, but robbed the forward pulse through emphasis on structure, the conductor flung the music to its close on a metaphorical horse.

Praise to the principal flute Adrienne Kantor for her graceful adornment in the slow movement of the Brahms Double and the rapid fluttering passage work in the finale of the Beethoven.

Yes, praise be to Adrienne.