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?