Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

I post this item simply to prove that I'm not the only curmudgeon in the world of music: even pop music has them! "Spin magazine founder: Today's music isn't any good."
“The commodification of music is so complete that artists these days create songs thinking they would make a good car commercial,” Guccione says. “And they’re more fixated on their social-media strategy than they are on their music.”
Or as I have said: today's classical artists would love to sell out, but nobody's buying!

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Something we have occasionally discussed is the digital music world and how well it handles classical music. Here is an article on managing classical music in iTunes 12 from Macworld.

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I have a generally critical attitude towards a lot of the most characteristic art of post-war modernism. I'm not alone in this view as demonstrated by this rather thorough debunking of one of the leading post-modern artists of Britain, Tracey Emin, who managed to parley a lack of ability and a lot of cheek into a nice career in the modern art world:
When quality and accomplishment are no longer factors in who receives institutional support, it becomes a scramble for notice. It’s a matter of who can most offend the disdained others, make the most noise, kiss the most rings and/or asses; a game for those most willing to do whatever it takes to win the lottery of who the self-proclaimed gate keepers wave through to join the privileged circle. Emin, with her toilet stall quality doodles and screeds, is now a Royal Academy Professor of Drawing and on her way to knighthood. This is a clear demonstration that those in charge have lost all perspective of what is meaningful in art and life.
The music world is, thankfully, rather different as, for most composers, traditional craft and aesthetics still govern a lot of what is done, at least in abstract instrumental composition. Music theater and opera are a different story.

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This is an entirely unexpected and mildly amusing article about "The strange and surprising musical histories of the GOP presidential candidates."
Before heading off to UCLA law school, Carly Fiorina once toyed with the idea of becoming a concert pianist. She eventually landed at another keyboard, settling in tech and rising to become the CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
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Over at the Guardian they have the Devil's Advocate interviewing András Schiff about his upcoming performance of the Goldberg Variations at the Royal Albert Hall. It's an amusing effort, but could have been a tad funnier:
TDA: Are you going to play all the repeats?
AS: Yes.
TDA: Why? It’s going to be terribly long and boring.
AS: I beg to differ. Bach has specifically asked for the repeats, and this is a must. It is not a matter of choice. The structure is symmetrical, the Aria is in two halves, both 16 bars long, and each half is to be repeated. All the variations follow this pattern. The music is of such complexity that a second hearing is required; it gives the listener a second opportunity to hear the material again, and the player another chance to correct certain shortcomings. In tennis terms this is our “second service”.
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Also at the Guardian is a longer piece by Ed Vulliamy that offers a rather frothy argument, stuffed with anecdote and light on analysis, to the effect that:
We should be sick and tired of the ubiquitous partition of “classical” from “pop”, in schedules and among audiences and fans; in some cases the bigotry – and ignorance of the other – is entirely mutual, and always tedious. After all, Jimi Hendrix cited Handel and Mahler among his major influences, while Dmitri Shostakovich – who outlived Hendrix by five years – loved (and composed) jazz and comic operetta. He even wrote a ballet about football.
Ed reveals his basic assumptions with phrases like these:
Not much good art ever came from conservatives or conservatism
He is thoroughly convinced that the fundamental nature of art is to be revolutionary, political and shocking--and certainly some art has been. To his credit, he admits that sometimes producers go too far and that not all artistic "gambles" pay off.

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This is a bit out there: a tenor has brain surgery and sings Schubert during the operation:


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Via Slipped Disc we find this article on the disappearance of music critics in America:
Both guests estimate that there are currently about a dozen classical music critics at U.S. newspapers, down from about 65 only two decades ago.
There's even a map, though I notice that they leave out Canada entirely. I wonder how many are left up North? Two or three in Montreal, one or two in Toronto, one in Vancouver? The piece at Slipped Disc has some entertaining comments.

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 At the New Yorker, Alex Ross weighs in on the opera scene in the new Tom Cruise thriller, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation:
The tendency to associate classical music with murderous insanity is a curious neurosis of the American pop-cultural psyche. There is little evidence of such a predilection among real-life serial killers, who seem to prefer Black Sabbath, AC/DC, REO Speedwagon, and, of course, the Beatles.
But, thankfully, the new movie goes against all those stereotypes. Read the whole article.

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Over at Sinfini Music there is a surprisingly interesting article about piano performance then and now that delves into the subtleties of technique and interpretation:
Hough cites Friedman’s 1933 recording of Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat, No.2, Op.55, as an example. Fortunately, there’s little of the thin, scratchy brittleness common to old records. The instrument glows with a warm bass and a singing treble. More importantly, Friedman’s playing is tender, unhurried and lovingly detailed; you can trace the music’s multiple inner lines. Notes perfectly match the decay of preceding ones, so there’s little harshness or false accenting. The whole performance is so perfectly paced and proportioned, it feels like one, long breath. Yet: ‘This style of playing is no longer sought after,’ says Hough. ‘Audiences – and pianists – don’t know it’s there.’
There are also some excellent clips by way of example. (I don't think, by the way, that the same might be said of guitarists. Early recordings of guitarists in the early 20th century like Andrés Segovia do not reveal wonderful subtleties so much as rhythmic waywardness.)

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For our envoi today, let's listen to that 1933 recording of Ignaz Friedman:


11 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

Kept wondering, during the brain surgery video, how do they make sure his head remains immobilised during the singing? but I guess because I always see singers' heads moving during their singing doesn't necessarily mean that singing requires movement of the skull etc.

Rickard Dahl said...

Ugh. Reading Alex Ross' writing is like reading feminist or more generally SJW (Social Justice Warrior) literature. Sometimes the supposed friends of classical music are the worst enemies (as you've stated numerous times). There's the mention of his book where he argues that classical music lost its' credibility because Hitler liked Wagner's music. And then he goes into typical feminist (although a slightly higher level) rhetoric: "but it undoubtedly goes deeper than that, down into murky old anxieties about masculine identity and the supposedly feminizing influence of what Theodore Roosevelt called “overcivilized” European culture." I'm not sure what that means but probably some nonsense about how men need to soften up and get more emotional. Men are emotional, just in different ways compared to women. Besides men tend to do what women desire and women don't get attracted to men showing emotions in most cases (at least if you observe the men they prefer and they often outright state they want dominant men). If women would want emotional men (in a hypothetical scenario) then men would show more emotions. But I guess he's also referring to that men shouldn't complain about feminism despite the many flaws found within it. Then there's: "Homophobia is out of fashion in modern Hollywood, but xenophobia is not, as the enduring vogue for the Euro-villain testifies." That is a ridiculous statement once again. So, having white European villains is somehow bad despite that the movies are produced in Europe or North America where the majority is white? It makes sense that the villains are white especially if they live in Europe or North America where whites are the majority. I bet there would be lots of complaints of how Asians, latinos, arabs etc. are negatively portrayed in movies as villains if it would be the other way around. You can't win either way (nothing will ever be good enough for identity politicians). Also, the link to xenophobia is probably based on his own biases. He also calls first person shooter games "hyper-masculine" which is another nonsense phrase. It's true that most first person shooter heroes are strong men but that is just realistic. Doing army-related stuff in real life requires quite a bit of strength and endurance. Either way, that doesn't prevent anyone from playing the game/s. It's probably an accusation akin to Anita Sarkeesian saying that school shootings are caused by toxic masculinity.

Marc Puckett said...

The comments thread on the critics post at Slipped Disc is interesting, as you wrote. As one of the commenters asks-- and as you have pointed out-- why should I pay any attention to so and so who pretty much writes as a "fan boy" (you can write 'fanboi' for greater rhetorical effect, ahem) even if he is a professional critic?

While I'm inclined to believe that Stephen Hough knows what he is talking about-- in the John Evans article at Sinfini Music-- and am unfamiliar with Michael Roll, I don't know about Trifonov and Grosvenor. I mean, I know superficially that they are celebrity pianists and have listened to this or that without paying much attention. The 'unmatched yearning quality' in the Friedman, eh. It's lovely, certainly; will have to listen to it together with my current Chopin nocturnes performer, Maria Joao Pires.

Marc Puckett said...

By the way, on Performance Today this morning there was a luteni... no, no, a mandolin player (mandolinist?) named Thile going on about the unrighteousness of expecting people to sit still and listen. He performs, evidently, in both classical and folk/pop venues so if he had made just the slightest effort to distinguish them but, oh no, of course he didn't, presumably because he really doesn't see that any distinction ought to be made. Tsk.

Rickard Dahl said...

@Marc, Bryan did a review of Chris Thile's Bach playing: http://themusicsalon.blogspot.se/2013/08/really-horrible-bach-playing.html

Marc Puckett said...

Thanks, Rickard, thank you, Bryan. I had seen that comment in the sidebar, about being outraged at Bryan's Thile's Bach and never knew who was being defended; how amusing!

"The interviewer asks Chris if he gets much pushback from the 'purists' and he responds that in his experience the people that would "begrudge" anyone any sort of music are "few and far between". Well, sure. But that's a straw man, of course."

Yes, yes, as if anyone wants to force anyone else to listen to or not to listen to anything. Gosh. There's a reason I used "unrighteousness" in my comment this morning-- Thile's admittedly charming persona uses a peculiar moralising tone when it comes to admonishing us to not 'begrudge' the free the indulgences of their creativity.

What I heard during Thile's Bach this morning was the mandolin rather than Bach: but of course I don't know and have never spent more than five minutes here or there listening to mandolins, so of course it was a bit disconcerting or unusual. Fred Childs (I hope they pay him well!) even commented about the bluegrass he could hear in what Thile played (I don't recall the specific piece), ha, and of course Thile took that as fulsome Childsean praise. But I hadn't realised then that he is famous! for his Bach.

Marc Puckett said...

Rickard, I don't know that this is the place but, because I'm sometimes curious (not because I play the video games), I spent not a little effort trying to figure out what Gamergate was/is: anyway, I know enough to recognise your reference to Anita Sarkeesian and her penchant for throwing around accustions of 'toxic masculinity' and so forth; I don't doubt but that Alex Ross has probably swallowed that pill. I read @Nero-- cannot think of his real name at the moment-- occasionally and he wrote a maliciously clever mockery of Dr Sarkeesian at... Breitbart, it probably was.

Rickard Dahl said...

Yeah, @Nero is Milo Yiannopoulous and he supports Gamergate. Basically Gamergate is a movement against the Social Justice Warriors who try to insert their own political agenda (far left/marxist agenda) into video game journalism and who also do breaches of journalist ethics. Gamergate is in its' purest sense about getting (better) standards of ethics in video game journalism. Of course, the opponents paint it as a harassment campaign against women despite that the majority of the people who sent hurtful tweets to certain women involved in video games somehow (such as Anita Sarkeesian who claims that video games are sexist against women) are not from Gamergate (and the people who send harassment tweets are a small minority of the people who send tweets to Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu or whoever else who is supposedly targeted).

Bryan Townsend said...

Gee, I go away for an evening and my comment section takes on a life of its own! Good show!

Marc, all I know about medicine I learned from watching House MD, but I think that when they are doing any kind of brain surgery they completely immobilize the head with clamps.

Rickard, you can always count on Alex Ross to declaim the litany as it is promulgated in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Marc, I've recently been really enjoying Maria Joao Pires' Bach suites. Lovely, lyrical playing. But yes, the mandolin is not a very ideal instrument for Bach!

Marc Puckett said...

Finished that Vulliamy article. Frothy, indeed. I think that he is so much in bondage to the modern and post-modern style that he really cannot see that creativity is not the same as revolution, and I'll bet he sees revolution as creativity, too. When someone can endorse glam-rock's "mighty roar", it's an effective signal to the rest of us that his judgment is impaired, although even I feel it needful, based on his books on the Bosnian carnage, to acknowledge that he must be well-intentioned and so forth.

Bryan Townsend said...

A genuine, well-argued essay dealing with aesthetics is so rare in the mass media these days that I suspect the ability to construct one has nearly reached the status of occult knowledge!