Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Miscellanea

Occasionally we get a bit of data that supports the idea of objective aesthetic judgment. Here's one, underlining the importance of the song "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan. The story is about how a lyric sheet for the song just sold for over $2 million. Now ask yourself, would an ABBA lyric sheet sell for as much, or the original lyric sheet for "Whole Lotta Love"? I think not! Here's the song:

Sorry, couldn't find the original version. This is live from 1978.

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Here is an interesting piece on orchestral payscales. American musicians are paid much more than their British counterparts. I think in Canada it is closer to the British levels than the American ones. But we have the same union. I remember one intriguing little incident. I was playing mandolin in the pit for a production of Don Giovanni and at the setzprobe (the last rehearsal  before the dress rehearsal and the first time you play the whole opera through) after two and half hours the principal violist (who was also the union representative) stood up, halting the rehearsal and formally inquired of the conductor "do you wish to extend the rehearsal?" The conductor started to say "yes" because we hadn't even got to the finale yet, but then hesitated and said, "I have to consult a board member." Luckily, there was one listening in the back of the hall. You have to understand that asking to extend rehearsal time past the 2 and one half hour standard service means a minimum of 30 minutes overtime to every member of the orchestra. This is thousands and thousands of dollars. So we went ahead and finished the run through. But as we came in to set up for the dress rehearsal the next night, every stand had a sheet on it of sections to be cut from the opera. There were several cuts and we were going to be playing the dress rehearsal, at which there were hundreds of school kids, making the cuts on the fly. Amazing how resilient orchestral players are...

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For those of you wanting to pick up one of those rare Stradivarius violas, here you go. So the question is, who in their right mind would pay $45 million dollars for a viola, even one by Stradivarius?

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Here an article posing the misconceived question "are the barriers between pop and 'serious' music finally crumbling?" Actually worth reading. Here is a sample:
 Even when bands like Emerson Lake & Palmer and Yes pioneered their own brand of “symphonic rock” in the 1970s, it would never have occurred to them that they could make albums for Deutsche Grammophon, perhaps history’s most illustrious classical label. But times have changed, and this month DG released Music for Heart and Breath, the debut classical album by Richard Reed Parry of the Canadian band Arcade Fire.
In stark contrast to Arcade Fire’s widescreen rock anthems and jittery dance beats, the solo Parry has created a set of fragile instrumental compositions in which tempos and rhythms are dictated by the heartbeats and breathing rates of the performers. The music is minimalist and introspective (Parry describes it as musical “pointillism”), and by its nature can never be played exactly the same way twice.
Parry follows in the footsteps of Radiohead’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood and The National’s guitarist Bryce Dessner, whose classically inspired pieces were paired on a Deutsche Grammophon disc earlier this year. Greenwood’s vivid and full-blooded suite from the film There Will Be Blood radiates confidence and authority. Meanwhile Dessner has found a convincing way to integrate electric guitar into his orchestral compositions, but this music belongs in a different universe than his work with The National.
However, these releases aren’t an illustration of the way classical and rock music are merging, so much as evidence of the way that musicians are increasingly able to work in a variety of styles and genres that would have been unthinkable a couple of generations ago. Music, like much else, has become globalised, drawing from different times and places. As Bryce Dessner puts it, “You can’t really say, that’s a guy from a rock band who writes classical music. You should say the opposite: Jonny Greenwood was a classical violist who became a guitarist with Radiohead.”
I suppose the thing to notice is that classical music which, for most of the 20th century was still reeling drunkenly from the heady days of 19th century idealism when it, music, was accounted to be the transcendent truth of all reality, has become far more open to influences from outside itself. Something that was true for most of music history, by the way. Composers in the 14th century had at least two modes of composition: serious music, often for the church, and fun, bouncy secular dance music. So if there is a lot more crossover between pop and classical these days, it can be seen as a reversion to a more typical state of affairs.

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Alex Ross has a skillful discussion of the "Klinghoffer" controversy up at the New Yorker. The only thing I would add to it is that this precise event, as part of the general fabric of history in the Middle East as it relates to Israel over the last century, is one that cannot reasonably and morally be treated as ambivalently as it is in the opera:
an abiding problem at the heart of “Klinghoffer”: its pensive, ambivalent attitude toward present-day issues about which a great many people feel no ambivalence whatsoever.
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Here is an article about the battle between YouTube and independent labels over revenue.
anxiety about competition and fairness in the digital marketplace runs deep in the independent sector of the music industry. Small labels complain that consolidation by the major record companies has left them squeezed in negotiations with the online music services that now account for a majority of their revenue.
 Here is my little beef about YouTube. I have put up a number of my own performances on the blog from time to time. Here is a link to one. I won't repost the video, but please go have a look at it. This is a recording I made a number of years ago in a studio in North Vancouver. Some of these recordings were commercially released in Canada, but that copyright has long since reverted to me. This was even demonstrated in a suit I filed against the label when they released a compilation recording using some of my tracks. They settled out of court. Now here is what is very, very odd. I took my original recording and using iMovie, added some images to it. Then I saved it as a Quicktime video file suitable for uploading to my blog. It has never been uploaded to YouTube. So tell me, why is it that there is the YouTube logo on the file? How did that get added? Do I have grounds for a legal proceeding? Is this just because Blogger is owned by Google who also own YouTube? Can I get them to stop doing this?

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Now what would be a suitable piece to end this post? Not "Klinghoffer" again. How about "Don Giovanni"?

Nothing like a little music by "Volfgango Mozart"!


Rickard Dahl said...

All this crossover stuff/trying to appeal to a broader audience is just a waste of time. Classical music is what is and people should be presented with what it is rather than what the presenters think the audience needs to be presented with (i.e. some kind of dishonest simplifications). Yes, it does take some time to get used to classical music (even for me in the beginning) but there is a lot of classical music that isn't "hard" to listen to even for a "beginner". Needless to say an obvious example is Mozart, for instance: And besides classical music is very wide and people can get into it from many sides whether it is chant, medieval or renaissance counterpoint, Vivaldi, baroque alla Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, early romantics, late romantics, early 20th century (impressionists for instance), minimalism or even extreme-modernism (more doubtful case but can certainly spark an interest to why it turned out that way). The reality is of course that many don't even go beyond radio (and we all know what's on the radio...).

Bryan Townsend said...

The thing is that classical music is both an artform and a business. As a business there is obviously money to be made by simplifying and prettying up the music and selling it with lots of sex and glitz. I think the paragon of this approach is Vanessa Mae doing her version of the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Tacky and tasteless? Yes. Pandering to the audience? You bet! Selling music with sex? Of course. But she got a big audience, sold a lot of records and made a lot of money (I assume). So as a business, it was successful.

The problem seems to be that at a time when the mass media are so dominant, the most commercial forms of music tend to dominate. The financial rewards to even as successful a composer as Philip Glass are so miniscule that he had to work at other jobs until he was in his forties (or so I recall).

The upside to this is that classical musicians for the most part do it out of love, which is kind of a good thing in itself...