Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cutting Costs at the Met

A friend just sent me this article from The Strad: "Metropolitan Opera must cut orchestra and chorus wages to avoid bankruptcy, says manager." Here is the gist of it:
Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb has warned the New York company could face bankruptcy in two or three years if it does not cut the cost of orchestra and chorus wages. Speaking on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters programme, he suggested cutting 16 per cent of the Met’s $200m labour costs by changing work rules; orchestra and chorus members are currently paid for at least four performances per week when they often perform less.
He adds:
‘Putting on productions is expensive,’ he said. ‘What we have to do is make it less expensive – not by going back to the stone ages of opera theatre and having productions that no one will want to see, but by cutting down on the labour costs. The box office has not increased, it’s been flat which represents a shrinking playing field for opera – it’s not a secret in the US that the frequency of opera going is going down. We are getting a newer audience, a younger audience, but there aren’t enough new audience members to replace the old audience members who are dying off.’
I'm not sure how the typical reader might respond to this. I suspect that Norman Lebrecht over at Slipped Disc, based on past comments, would tend to blame it on Peter Gelb's being incompetent. Ordinary readers might think that the musicians are being greedy or why bother paying so much for a genre that no-one goes to anyway.

The truth is that opera, despite its enormous popularity with many listeners, is a form threatened by cultural trends. In some ways opera is the genre of classical music most likely to appeal to today's audiences because it is the only genre that incorporates the visual element as an inherent part of the art form. New and creative stagings of opera, while certainly attracting a certain amount of criticism, are often stunningly effective as I witnessed with the Teatro Real's production of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron last month in Madrid. But the flip side of that is that opera, especially elaborate modern productions, is extremely expensive. That production must have involved rebuilding much of the stage to incorporate a modest swimming pool. And then removing it for the next production, of course.

What the ordinary listener may not realize is that opera is an enormously complex undertaking involving the highly involved skills not only of the composer, the conductor, the leader of the chorus, the orchestral musicians, singers of the chorus and the stars, the soloists, but also the skills of a host of other workers behind the scenes. These include electricians, carpenters, plumbers, painters and all those who build and maintain the sets. Oh, and the designers of the production as well. Hearing that the annual labour costs for the Met are $200 million a year, you almost want to say, "is that all?" After all, $200 million dollars is the cost of one or two upmarket apartments in Manhattan.

Opera houses in Europe are very highly subsidized and always have been. Opera, from its birth in Italy in the late 16th century, was a highly sophisticated entertainment for the nobility. In the 19th century it became popular with the middle class as well, but it has never at any time been feasible economically. Unless you charge a thousand dollars a seat or perhaps more, no opera is going to break even. Opera in Europe has often been connected with national pride, one opera even started a revolution. So while there are certainly economic pressures there, the governments still seem willing to fund operas to a high level of quality. If the European Union succeeds in quashing the nation states still further, one wonders if this will finally abate.

But the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the jewel of American opera houses, has mostly thrived on private patronage. Are Peter Gelb's comments meant to imply that the fabulously wealthy opera-lovers of New York are less willing to donate or that they are dying out? It would seem so. But New York is continually attracting new hosts of wealthy people. Is it that they are less fond of opera? Seems so.

So it comes back, as always, to taste. If the population has little taste for classical music, they won't attend performances and won't support the art form. Educational outreach is important. In the past young people encountered classical music at home. Their parents played instruments or sang. They listened to recordings or the radio. They experienced live performances and listened to, studied or performed classical music in school. A lot of this has faded away leaving a core audience of enthusiasts. But until the culture changes course a bit, I suspect that times will be tough for classical music.

Here is an aria from Act I of Bizet's "Carmen." Elina Garanca (Carmen). Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Production: Richard Eyre (2009). From the 2010 Live in HD transmission of the Metropolitan Opera:


 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Canons, Rules and Repertoire

A lot of the criticism of classical music turns on the characterization of its core repertoire as a "canon" in the sense that Harold Bloom uses the word in his fine book The Western Canon.

Wikipedia has an article on the Western Canon that has a good summary of the idea:
The Western canon is the body of books, music and art that scholars generally accept as the most important and influential in shaping Western culture. It includes works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, music, art and sculpture generally perceived as being of major artistic merit and representing the high culture of Europe. Philosopher John Searle suggests that the Western canon can be roughly defined as "a certain Western intellectual tradition that goes from, say, Socrates to Wittgenstein in philosophy, and from Homer to James Joyce in literature".
The canon of books, including Western literature and Western philosophy, has perhaps been most stable, although expanding to include more women and minorities, while the canons of music and the visual arts have greatly expanded to cover the Middle Ages and other periods, once largely overlooked. Some examples of newer media such as cinema have attained a precarious position in the canon.
There has been an ongoing debate over the nature and status of the canon since at least the 1960s, much of which is rooted in critical theory, feminism, critical race theory, and Marxism. In particular postmodern studies has argued that the body of scholarship is biased, because the main focus traditionally of the academic studies of history and Western culture, has only been on works produced by European men.
But I come more and more to think that it is a poor word to use with regard to music, however accurate it may be in literature. This is prompted by getting back to, after a long hiatus, the excellent book Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism by Monroe C. Beardsley. In his chapter on Critical Evaluation he uses two useful terms: "Specific Canons" and "General Canons". These are specific and general principles about defects and merits in art. The word "canon" has two meanings, one used in music since the Middle Ages and one used in Biblical scholarship. The musical one is "a general law, rule, principle, or criterion by which something is judged." The other one is "a collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine."

An example of the use of the word "canon" in music is the contrapuntal technique known as "canon". "Row, row, row your boat" is an example and the canon or rule there is that the second voice enters after the first phrase of the first voice, on the same pitch. In music there are all sorts of different canons. In the Goldberg Variations, every third variation is a canon. The first one is at the interval of a second, the second at the interval of a third and so on. The "rule" or structural principle changes with each canon.

But it should be clear already that the post-modern critique of the Classical canon in music, like so many other of their critiques, is based on an intellectual sleight of hand: music has never really had a "canon" in the sense of a "list of sacred works". Mind you, this is not for lack of trying for all sorts of purposes: to create an unchanging curriculum for music students, as an aid to marketing artists and performances, in order to simplify the repertoire for teaching purposes or in order to sell books and educational materials to the general public, for ideological reasons, and so on. But all this has always been in considerable tension with the reality which is that there is no canon and never was.

I can't speak for literature in which Shakespeare seems to rule absolutely as Harold Bloom thinks, but in music this kind of synoptic focus is hardly possible. First of all, our repertoire is huge and we have a great number of great composers. There are at least two or three candidates for the position of "Shakespeare" in music: J. S. Bach, W. A. Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Arguments over which one of these is greater have been going on for centuries.

Richard Taruskin, in his Oxford History of Western Music, talked about the difference between the repertory and the canon and how they began to diverge, for ideological reasons, in the 19th century (see pp 665 passim in vol. 3, op. cit.). I'll leave you to investigate his discussion which is quite illuminating as regards why this divergence became so marked in the 20th century. Basically, a "narrative history" concentrates on change, i.e. innovation, so it tends to neglect music written for the "repertoire", that is, simply to be listened to, not to fulfill some historical purpose. One interesting problem with this kind of "narrative history" is that it not only focuses on innovation, but it only focuses on certain kinds of innovation. Schoenberg, because of his twelve-tone theory, was a hugely important figure because his kind of innovations seems almost to have been made specifically to advance the narrative whereas the music of Steve Reich, even though it is perhaps even more innovative, is barely acknowledged because his innovations were mostly in the area of rhythm and meter, aspects of music that were not considered to be of historical importance.

Getting back to Beardsley, restricting the use of the word "canon" to just its meaning as a kind of counterpoint and to specific and general principles about defects and merits in works of art removes the problem of there being an inherent bias in its current use referring to a list of works that are "sacred" or "genuine". That was never a very accurate use in any case.

The repertory is always in flux, composers are growing or declining in popularity, new composers are coming along and fighting for performances, the market and performing conditions are constantly changing as well as are the kinds of ensembles finding work and what they choose to play. For all these reasons, while there is some stability to the repertoire--after all, great pieces of music and the appreciation of them does not change radically from one generation to the next, not usually--it is not a list of Works That Are Sacred, but just the repertoire that is chosen most frequently. Why? Well, not because it was written by Dead White Guys, but simply because it is good.

Therefore, all those pinched post-modern critiques about how the "canon" must be radically changed to include exactly the correct demographic numbers of women composers or simply done away with entirely, are really rather irrelevant, aren't they?

Let's listen to a nice piece from the repertory. Here is a lovely Sonata in D major for violin and continuo by Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre. The performers are Riccardo Masahide Minasi, violin and Salvatore Carchiolo, harpsichord:


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Violence and Music

Alex Ross has a new article up for the July 4 issue of the New Yorker, which has this stunningly absurd cover:


Which reminds me of this one from 1976:


Except that the second one was meant to be a joke. I think. Ironically, John Cleese, the most famous of the Monty Python silly walkers, was very much in favor of Brexit.

But on to the Alex Ross piece. The New Yorker, never hesitant to tell us when we don't quite live up to their standards, seems to have changed the headline from "The Sound of Hate" (which still appears as the title on the browser tab) to the more neutral "When Music is Violence."

Alex Ross is a fine writer and a good critic with just one fateful flaw: he is a faithful foot soldier in the Gramscian March Through the Institutions, meaning that he always has to take the official Party position on issues. Of course, if he were a dissident he would not have the job he has. One aspect of the ideology is that civilization in all its manifestations always contains terrible flaws that oppress the innocent and this, rather than the benefits, must always be the focus. Let's see how that plays out in this article:
When music is applied to warlike ends, we tend to believe that it has been turned against its innocent nature. To quote the standard platitudes, it has charms to soothe a savage breast; it is the food of love; it brings us together and sets us free. We resist evidence suggesting that music can cloud reason, stir rage, cause pain, even kill. Footnoted treatises on the dark side of music are unlikely to sell as well as the cheery pop-science books that tout music’s ability to make us smarter, happier, and more productive. Yet they probably bring us closer to the true function of music in the evolution of human civilization.
Yep, there it is in a nutshell. He adroitly opposes "standard platitudes" against the Marxist critique. I believe this is the Straw Man argument so beloved of so many public commentators? Well, yes, it does make one's job rather easier. But the worst is yet to come. It turns out that, for Alex' purposes, music can be equated with the sounds of war itself:
Daughtry underscores something crucial about the nature of sound and, by extension, of music: we listen not only with our ears but also with our body. We flinch against loud sounds before the conscious brain begins to try to understand them. It is therefore a mistake to place “music” and “violence” in separate categories; as Daugh­try writes, sound itself can be a form of violence. Detonating shells set off supersonic blast waves that slow down and become sound waves; such waves have been linked to traumatic brain injury, once known as shell shock. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are often triggered by sonic signals; New York residents experienced this after September 11th, when a popped tire would make everyone jump.
But Alex Ross is certainly no hack and alongside The Narrative, he does cover some basic truths as well:
Humans react with particular revulsion to musical signals that are not of their choice or to their liking. Many neuroscientific theories about how music acts on the brain—such as Steven Pinker’s notion that music is “auditory cheesecake,” a biologically useless pleasure—ignore how personal tastes affect our processing of musical information. A genre that enrages one person may have a placebo effect on another. A 2006 study by the psychologist Laura Mitchell, testing how music-therapy sessions can alleviate pain, found that a suffering person was better served by his or her “preferred music” than by a piece that was assumed to have innately calming qualities. In other words, music therapy for a heavy-metal fan should involve heavy metal, not Enya.
Having to stick to a strict ideological position means that Alex Ross can only select as examples of musical torture acts by the USA and its allies:
Jane Mayer, a staff writer at this maga­zine, and other journalists have shown that the idea of punishing someone with music also emerged from Cold War-era research into the concept of “no-touch torture”—leaving no marks on victims’ bodies. Researchers of the period demonstrated that sensory deprivation and manipulation, including extended bouts of noise, could bring about the disintegration of a subject’s personality. Beginning in the nineteen-fifties, programs that trained American soldiers and intelligence operatives to withstand torture had a musical component; at one point, the playlist reportedly included the industrial band Throbbing Gristle and the avant-garde vocalist Diamanda Galás. The concept spread to military and police units in other countries, where it was applied not to trainees but to prisoners. In Israel, Palestinian detainees were tied to kindergarten chairs, cuffed, hooded, and immersed in modernist classical music. In Pinochet’s Chile, interrogators employed, among other selections, the soundtrack to “A Clockwork Orange,” whose notorious aversion-therapy sequence, scored to Beethoven, may have encouraged similar real-life experiments.
The fact that the true masters of torture during the Cold War were the Vietnamese, the Russians and the North Koreans is passed over entirely. The masters of the disintegration of a subject's personality were the Communists, who invented "brain-washing".

I am not in any way advocating the use of music to torture, by the way. It seems both absurd and ineffective. I wonder though if its use weren't a clumsy attempt to forestall criticism? After all, strapping someone to a steel grid and torturing them with electricity (an ever-popular scene in Rambo movies) seems rather in a different class of cruelty than forcing them to listen to Christina Aguilera.

Here is a criticism that certainly seems well-founded:
Pop music in the American tradition is now held to be the all-encompassing, world-redeeming force. Many consumers prefer to see only the positive side of pop: they cherish it as a culturally and spiritually liberating influence, somehow free of the rapacity of capitalism even as it overwhelms the marketplace.
Alex Ross concludes that:
What to do with these dire ruminations? Renouncing music is not an option—not even Quignard can bring himself to do that. Rather, we can renounce the fiction of music’s innocence. To discard that illusion is not to diminish music’s importance; rather, it lets us register the uncanny power of the medium. To admit that music can become an instrument of evil is to take it seriously as a form of hu­man expression.
 There is a very clever technique being used here that I call the "argument from hidden agency". Can you see what it is? He talks about the "fiction of music's innocence" which seems very wise and progressive. But the basic moral error is that music in itself has no moral agency. Music can no more be innocent or guilty than can a sunset or a chair or electricity. Only persons with the capacity for moral judgement have moral agency. A person can be innocent or guilty, not music. The use of the Rosamunde march in Nazi concentration camps does not condemn the march as guilty, but only the persons who used it for a vile purpose. Marxist cultural theory makes a specialty of hiding the real moral agents and this paragraph is an excellent example. Of course music can be used for evil purposes, but the agency does not belong to the music, but to the persons who use it. Just as another person can use the same music for a good and useful purpose.

Marxist cultural theory, in its need to smear all the accumulated fruits of civilization so that it can blame the establishment for oppressing the people, has to avoid the real moral question. Instead, moral clarity is replaced with confusion, which is why the writing is so often tortured.

Let's listen to some music. How guilty is this music, the Symphony no. 29 in A major of Mozart performed by The English Concert conducted by Trevor Pinnock:


Monday, June 27, 2016

Bestselling Classical

Amazon sent me an email linking to Bestselling Classical Music so I went to see what was on the top:


The cover doesn't list the contents, but I bet we can guess: Pachelbel's Canon, Mozart's Eine Kleine, Debussy's Claire de Lune, Albinoni's Adagio, Bach's Air on a G string and so on. Classical music has its own Top Forty and they don't change that much from year to year. If you want to see the whole list, which has no real surprises, here is the link. Hardly any composer has more than one piece on the list: just Bach, Beethoven and Mozart.

Let's give credit where credit is due: for most people it really is relaxing to listen to this music, in which they perceive the gentle beauty that is conspicuously lacking from a lot of pop music.

Speaking of Mozart, he is number two on the list:


Less easy to guess because a whole album of Mozart's greatest hits is going to go far beyond the usual suspects and once you do that, with Mozart at least, there are a host of possibilities. The list is on the back:

Click to enlarge
Lots of concerto movements, plus a movement from the "Paris" Symphony and a Fantasia for piano. Nothing really hackneyed here. They avoid the Eine Kleine and the "Elvira Madigan" concerto movement. You could put out dozens of albums of "Mozart for Meditation", all different. You know, the only objection I have to collections like this is that they are like eating a meal consisting of nothing but a whole bunch of different desserts, or salads, or vegetables. What Mozart always strove to do was offer a balanced diet: each multi-movement work had a vigorous quick movement, a touching slow movement and a rollicking dancing last movement with often a graceful minuet as well. Virtually every movement here is an andante, adagio or larghetto.

Here is the third best-selling:


Oh god, is Windham Hill still around? I thought they had disappeared long ago like the Passenger Pigeon or the Packard sedan. But no, alas. This is really miscategorized because there is nothing classical whatsoever about it. There is a lot of Jim Brickman, with a little Ludovico Einaudi at the end:


Shall I mercifully refuse to comment? Yes, I shall.

The next one is another "classics for relaxation" collection followed by the ubiquitous Vivaldi Four Seasons, but the next one is a surprise:


Wow, not only Shostakovich, but three serious symphonies on Deutsche Grammophon with an entirely respectable conductor and orchestra. The only gesture towards marketing I can discern is the album title: "Under Stalin's Shadow". And it is sixth on the list. Pretty good.

I'm still wondering why the Windham Hill is there. Is it simply because it doesn't have enough backbeat to fit comfortably in the pop section? Plus, tinkling piano?

I guess if I wanted to put out an album that "sells" I would pick the most soothing tracks and label it "Relaxing Classical Guitar". The question is, why would I not do that? Here is a piece that would definitely find its way into that collection:

video


UPDATE: Hey, I've figured out the secret. The most important thing is that the dominant color on the cover has to be blue!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

In Memoriam Ken Basman

This is a post I really don't want to write. I think I have mentioned before that all my recent recordings, the Four Pieces for violin and guitar, the Suite No. 1 for guitar and the Songs from the Poets, have all been recorded by Ken Basman.

Ken, who originally hails from Toronto, has been a major figure in the music scene in San Miguel. You see his name everywhere there is jazz being played and I have always been very impressed with his guitar playing. He was also an excellent recording engineer and taught me a lot about recording, once I learned to trust his opinion! He had really acute ears and a vast technical knowledge, not to mention one of the best collections of microphones I have ever seen. The last project we did was at the end of September and beginning of October last year. With Hannah Pagenkopf, an excellent singer from Calgary, we recorded all twelve of my Songs from the Poets. This has yet to be released for various reasons, but I would like to post one of the songs here. This is "Music" on a poem by Anna Akhmatova recorded by Ken Basman:

video


The very sad news I have to impart is that Ken died this past week of complications ensuing from a massive heart attack he suffered a few weeks ago. We will miss him greatly. He was a consummate professional and always a pleasure to work with. He was always patient with his artists and always helpful in achieving your aesthetic ends.

Here he is in a characteristic pose:


That's Ken slaving over a hot iMac recording my Suite No. 1 for guitar. And here he is with one of his temperamental artists:


Friday, June 24, 2016

Urban Planning for Classical Musicians

There are few places in the world where one does get the sense that significant efforts have been made to accommodate classical musicians: Salzburg, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London, parts of New York. But in most places, one has the feeling that little or no attempt has been made to create a wholesome environment for those of us who are music lovers and musicians. I mean, Mexico City? Have you been to Mexico City? Apart from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, it is a pretty harsh environment. In fact, a lot of places show distressing signs of being not very congenial environments for classical music and its lovers. Here are some of the major issues:

  • barking dogs
  • braying burros
  • macaws!
  • loud motorcycles
  • boom-box cars
  • fireworks
  • marching bands
  • brass bands
  • barking dogs
  • drum circles
  • Muzak
  • loud inappropriate music in restaurants chosen by the twenty-something staff but immensely irritating to the fifty-something diners
  • traffic
  • busses
  • barking dogs
  • EDM
  • sirens
and so on.

And, conversely, there is a shocking lack of these kinds of essential features that are so important to classical music and its lovers:
  • recording studios, an extremely important feature that should be available in all residences, schools, colleges, universities, office buildings and everywhere else people are apt to find themselves. You never know when you might need to record something.
  • sound-proofing in all the above locations so that you can do whatever it is you are doing, practicing Bach probably, without having to contend with the disruptive sound of someone next door chewing loudly or something
  • of course, there should be concert and recital spaces in various sizes available anywhere there are people. One small recital space for every area with 500 population, one medium concert hall for every area with 1000 population and one opera house for every area with 10,000 population should be sufficient.
  • instrument maintenance and repair people available on a 24 hour basis everywhere--for obvious reasons! Also, for guitarists, personnel specially trained in the emergency repair of broken nails.
  • special flights on specially-designed aircraft to all important destinations with accommodations specifically for musicians travelling with violins, cellos, guitars, tubas, double basses or any other musical instruments up to and including large gongs, timpani and gamelans. White-gloved baggage assistants will be available to help stow safely large and awkward instruments.
  • of course, there will need to be appropriate refreshments available anywhere musicians are working, such as concert halls, recording studios and street corners in the case of busking musicians. These should include a mixed selection of Norwegian smoked salmon, Dom Pérignon, brioche, Perrier, M&Ms with the brown ones taken out, etc.
Honestly, wouldn't all of society be so much better off, and with lower blood pressure according to recent research, if happy, contented classical musicians were encouraged to be happy and productive all over the place? I know I would feel better.

And now for an appropriate envoi, look what cool things could be happening all over the place:


I mean, talk about transforming society?

Friday Miscellanea

The Wall Street Journal has a review by Norman Lebrecht of a recent book on female composers by Anna Beer. Lebrecht, who runs the site Slipped Disc, typically manages to appear aggressive and angry at someone about something, though sometimes it is hard to tell whom or what:
When the Metropolitan Opera announced that is would be performing “L’amour de loin” by Finland’s Kaija Saariaho in its coming season, headlines blared that this work was the first by a woman composer to be performed at the Met in more than a century. The last, forgettably, was “ Der Wald” by Ethel Smyth in 1903.
I’m not sure which detail was the more regrettable—the inexcusable hiatus or the bad journalism that zoned in on a composer’s gender. A woman may, in 2016, direct the Large Hadron Collider or serve as chief operating officer at Facebook without undue comment, but if she composes an opera it’s front-page news in New York. A further sign, perhaps, that opera is out of tune with our times.
So if it is bad journalism to zone in on a composer's gender what is it to devote a whole book to it? But if it is an inexcusable hiatus to not have a premier of an opera by a woman composer for over a century, then surely it is not bad journalism to zone in on gender? It's all very confusing. Here is his take on the problem of women composers:
Lutyens, the first Englishwoman to adopt Schoenberg’s serialism, encapsulated their struggle in a memorable comparison. “If Britten wrote a bad score,” she told an interviewer, “they’d say, ‘he’s had a bad day.’ If I had written one, it was because I was a woman.” That inequality has not gone away. When Judith Weir, now Master (sic) of the Queen’s Musick, staged a dreadful opera, “Miss Fortune,” at Covent Garden in 2012, critics turned to sexual derogation. “We’re stuck in a situation where the barriers to women becoming composers have been removed,” wrote one right-wing polemicist, “but they’re still honoured for being women.”
Lebrecht is an odd sort of booster as he does not hesitate to describe an opera by a woman as being dreadful, but he does stick to the narrative pretty well by labeling another critic as a "right-wing polemicist" and therefore, wrong, of course.

The Music Salon discussed this book back in April.

* * *

A very interesting interview with a very capable music administrator: David Stull, the president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Yes, there is a greater need now than ever for classical music in the culture. I found Mr. Stull's grasp of what is truly important and what is less important one of the best things in the interview. At the back of my mind I am wondering why is it that someone of this clarity of thought and eloquence in expressing it is not involved in high-level politics. He seems an order of magnitude wiser and smarter and better-informed than just about every presidential candidate. And he was speaking without a teleprompter!

* * *

This counts as one of the most nightmarish concert experiences ever. There you are, ripping through the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto when the conductor knocks the violin out of your hands and it crashes to the floor, cracking the soundboard.


I just have the feeling that violinist Rómulo Assis is going to be standing a good distance away from the conductor the next time he plays a concerto...

* * *

From the Annuls of the Obvious Department this earth-shaking news: Mozart is better for your blood-pressure than ABBA: "Mamma Mia! listening to Mozart lowers blood pressure…but ABBA has no impact."
“It has been known for centuries that music has an effect on human beings. In antiquity, music was used to improve performance in athletes during the Olympic Games,” said Lead author Hans-Joachim Trappe, of Ruhr University, Germany.
“In our study, listening to classical music resulted in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. These drops in blood pressure were clearly expressed for the music of Mozart and Strauss.
“The music of ABBA did not show any or only very small effects on blood pressure and heart rate. This may be due to emotional factors, but on the other hand the use of spoken words may have a negative role.”
* * *

Canadian Cultural News: "Rebranding of Alberta’s Banff Centre to include new look, strategic plan." There is always something dispiriting about Canadian cultural news. Perhaps it is because it is always about everything but actual culture. The Banff Centre, which I attended with great pleasure a few decades ago, has been a nexus of creative activity for quite some time. Violinist Tom Rolston had an important role in developing the music program which has provided advanced instruction for performers and a stimulating environment for composers. With all this creativity and talent, one would expect the centre to have generated some interesting cultural artifacts and perhaps it has. But in this story, as in discussion of culture generally in Canada, we discover nothing about the culture itself, but just the policies, programs, funding and marketing. It is as if the culture, the reason for all this activity, is almost non-existent:
Alberta’s Banff Centre has a new name. Effective Thursday, it is Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
The name change is part of a rebranding endeavour that includes a new look (a monochrome colour spectrum inspired by snow and accented by red; the capital “A” in Banff resembling a mountain peak) and strategic plan. Among other things, the plan will see a heightened emphasis on public access, indigenous programs and training for cultural leaders.
Cultural activity in Canada, instead of being driven by the creative choices of artists, seems to be always driven by the bureaucratic needs of government. Which perhaps explains why Canada has so little cultural influence outside its borders.

* * *

On that copyright case with Led Zeppelin and Spirit, the jury found Led Zeppelin not guilty of stealing the lick from the Spirit song.

* * *

Promoting an upcoming concert by violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the Guardian devotes an article so surveying different kinds of minimalism in music. Here is a sample:
Less can be more. Arguments do not get more convincing by using more words or by shouting, and a woman does not get more beautiful by hanging lots of jewellery around her. Art forms that make their statements with a minimum of means carry a strong attraction, especially in music. And minimalism is far from a 20th-century invention.
This is what I call the principle of aesthetic parsimony: don't overdo just because you can.

* * *

Taking a cue from that concert for our envoi today, here is the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Galina Ustvolskaya: