Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Canadian Music Critic

It must be a Montreal thing, but in my very informal survey of current music criticism I had a look at some pieces by Arthur Kaptainis, the occasional music critic for the Montreal Gazette and found some excellent writing--which of course means that his opinions and mine concur (I was long a resident of Montreal). Here is the link to a piece in two parts. The first is about the recent Valentina Lisitsa controversy and the second is about John Luther Adams' award-winning piece Become Ocean, which Mr. Kaptainis doesn't like very much:
It is my sad duty to report that this monumental exercise in nothingness for full orchestra goes on for 42 minutes in this fashion. You might upbraid me for my uncoolness and explain earnestly that for nothing to happen on a vast scale is the aesthetic point of this score and others like it. My response is that the point, if this is indeed the point, is pointless. I could make the same point in less time with fewer forces, or more time with more.
The acclaim that has greeted this silly exercise (as performed by the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot, not that this really matters) is a sad comment on the state of both American music and American music criticism.
Not that we are expected to approach the piece solely as music. Adams (a former environmental officer from Alaska who is not to be confused with his compatriot John Adams of The Death of Klinghoffer fame) has supplied a pretentious “environmental” program having to do with rising sea levels, which both adds spurious relevance to his music while buttressing it against the assaults of the linear-minded fuddy-duddies who expect music of any style or genre to do something. Hey, man, glaciers don’t melt fast.  Nor is it particularly edifying to watch them melt.
Heh! I wish I had said that. I hope that he has given Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer equally stiff treatment as he has an environmental schtick as well. I guess we really need to put up a performance of Become Ocean, don't we? But we can't because it isn't on YouTube. We can however listen to the rather similar exercise, Dark Waves:


Marc said...

I listened to probably fifteen minutes of Become Ocean (same orchestra, same conductor) altogether, also, and the same four to six note series was being repeated in each excerpt: it was like wanting to go to sleep but feeling the pulse at your temple, keeping you awake. Am not going to chance any Shafer tonight.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think you will find Schafer quite different. He is more high modernist than minimalist. But he does tend to ride on the environmentalist bandwagon.

As far as repetition goes, it is all in how you do it. Sometimes Philip Glass is really intolerable and sometimes it seems to work. I find that Steve Reich works for me most of the time. John Luther Adams, not so much. But for an interesting example of 18th century minimalism have a listen to "La sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève du Mont à Paris" by Marin Marais.

Marc said...

I knew I knew that name from somewhere, ha: a Gérard Depardieu flick seen on Netflix, years ago, Tous les matins du monde. The Marais is perfectly listenable to for its seven or eight minutes. 40+ for Become Ocean, eh. No luck with finding a recording of his Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille at Spotify, though. One of the markings is, "icy l’on perd quasi la voix"-- 'here, it's as if one loses his voice', i.e., after the incision: I wonder if there are one or two measures of silence there? :-)


Bryan Townsend said...

I haven't seen the score to the Marais kidney operation piece--talk about program music! But it was recorded back in the 70s by an early music group. It is available in various performances on YouTube, some even with excerpts from the score: