Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

Do concert programmes cheat the public? As you can tell from the spelling, this is from a British newspaper and in Europe, you typically have to pay a significant sum to get a program.

In this, the final week of the Proms, I had the pleasure of seeing the great German violin virtuoso Julia Fischer. She not only played brilliantly, but unlike some of her peers, had commanding stage presence. So, in the interval I paid my £4, and bought an official programme to find out more about her. 
It was a mine of information. Useless information. It listed all the orchestras she had performed with “in recent seasons.” There they all were, from the Cleveland Orchestra to the Leipzig Gewandhaus and many others. But wait, there’s more. The next paragraph listed the orchestras she had played with “this season.” And in case you were wondering – I wasn’t – these included the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra to name but two.
I have written about this problem before, but I can't find the post. The biographies of musicians are so hilariously bad that I wrote a parody of them. Just as David Lister says in the article, the information we really want to know, where is the artist from and where did she study and with whom, is always omitted in favour of a dreary list of competitions won and orchestras and conductors with whom she has played. We don't care!

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The Weekly Standard is an odd place to find an article on Bartók, but this one by musicologist George B. Stauffer is pretty good. One very interesting comment from my point of view is this one, describing Bartók as:
one of the world’s first systematic ethnomusicologists, collecting, transcribing, and publishing vast amounts of traditional music that was soon to be lost to the industrial and technological onslaught of the 20th century
As I am coming more and more around to describing myself as a traditionalist, someone who is always trying to reconnect with the foundations of music, this is an important clue as to the source of some of the aesthetic quality in Bartók's music: it wasn't just sterile abstraction because it drew inspiration from the foundation of traditional musics.

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Here is an interesting look into an historical moment: the rise of psychedelia:
In 1969, the story goes, the ‘alternative snake-oil salesman’ Leary telephoned Huxley’s widow to say that the Grateful Dead had arrived in Los Angeles and would she put the band up? A concert violinist, Laura Huxley had never heard of the freaky rock‘n’rollers. (‘We should be grateful to be alive, not dead,’ she told Leary.) The Dead were set to descend with their fuzzboxes and feedback, but Mrs Huxley shooed them away. Her husband would not have cared for the Dead’s weird sound, preferring instead Renaissance madrigals.
Between 1953 and his death in 1963, Huxley took acid some ten or 12 times only. The psycho-chemical expeditions were self-experiment in the name of science, yet Huxley was credited with setting in motion an international psychedelic movement causing the mental derangement of millions of people. Jim Morrison and his humourless California band the Doors named themselves after The Doors of Perception; the Beatles included Huxley’s photograph on their Sergeant Pepper album sleeve. Whether he liked it or not, Huxley was hip.
Sadly, this is true. During the 60s the dangers of psychedelic drugs were not yet evident, but their hipness was. So many people, like myself, who probably should not have experimented with them, did, and the world became a much wackier place.

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You may have noticed that I take great pleasure in poking holes in sacred cows (sorry for the mixed metaphor!). It is a particular trait of a certain kind of philosopher as we see in this delightful tribute to Frank Cioffi, professor of philosophy at the University of Essex. Apart from the kind of clarity we see in this quotation, the essay offers a brilliant elucidation of the problem of scientism and the true nature of philosophy. Be sure to read the whole thing!
I was studying English and European literature in my first year at college, but my friend Will and I were considering switching to philosophy, partly because of Frank. We went to see him in his office for advice. I don’t remember him giving any ... Some years later, I went back into his office to ask permission to switch from one course to another. “Which courses?” he said indifferently. “I’m meant to be reading Foucault, but I want to do a course on Derrida.” “Man” he replied “that’s like going from horseshit to bullshit.” In fact, as others can confirm, the latter word was his most common term of reference and it also expresses his approach to philosophy: No BS.
No BS. Let's take that as our polestar in navigating the dangerous waters of music aesthetics as well.

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This goes out to all those people who deny there are objective aesthetic standards in music. This is Miss Mississippi Hannah Roberts playing some kind of zapateado in the talent part of the Miss America competition:

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I know this is going to upset the Music Salon readers who are 2Cellos fans and/or Lang Lang fans. But this video presents such a long list of aesthetic mishaps, excesses and clichés that it really is a classic:

Let's list a few:
  • excessive head-banging
  • redundant arm-waving
  • farcical piano-lid shutting
  • shock mood changes with no musical reason
  • pointless piano glissandi
  • truck-driver modulation towards the end
  • a panoply of arpeggiation with lots of diversity but little musical sense
Yes, some music can be performed as if it is a circus or vaudeville act, but does poor Paul McCartney deserve this?
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Here is a little tune from one of my favorite bands, Spinal Tap:

And you thought they just did satires of heavy metal!

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Unexpectedly! Sometimes we hear classical music in the oddest places as this item from Slipped Disc shows us:
This just in from Morris Robinson, principal artist at Houston Grand Opera:
Walking to the store here in Uptown NYC, I see a young brother halfway leaning out the window of his massively tinted, new model Nissan, sittin on them shiny thangs (Rims). He has on a black wife beater, tattoo’d throughout his neck, shoulders and arms … baseball cap on slightly tilted … chillin.
His radio is blasting, and I remove my ear buds because I THINK I hear something, but I’m really not sure.
Me, being the bold brother that I am, walked right up to his car door and asked, “Is that the Lacrymosa from the Mozart Requiem?” He turns down the radio, and asks “What you say?”
“Lacrymosa, Mozart Requiem?”
He says, “Oh. Yeah dawg!”
I smiled, put my ear buds back in, and walked off.
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 That gives us our envoi for today. The Lacrimosa from the Requiem of Mozart. Performed at the Lucerne Festival in 2012. Claudio Abbado, conductor, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Swedish Radio Choir.


cnb said...

That zapateado is really something. The dress doesn't hurt either.

Marc Puckett said...

The Robert Sherlaw Johnson biography of Messiaen I'm reading is decidedly not worthy of your parody! which alas is (mostly) why I am going as slowly as I am-- I discovered the other day, taking an online test, that I can't pass a UK grade 5 music exam, tsk.

Marc Puckett said...

Would Paul McCartney approve or disapprove-- I am thinking about your comment to the effect that 'he doesn't deserve 2CLL' (or should it be LL2C?)-- of that performance, I wonder.

Marc Puckett said...

Laura ('we should be grateful to be alive') Huxley, from my perspective far outside her relationship with AH, I mean, seems to have flourished after his death.

I was born in '57 and tried LSD once, in the throes of Romance; just don't 'get' the romanticising of those decades, the 60s and 70s. Only thing good to come of the 60s is that I don't have to wear a suit every time I go out of the house.

Christine Lacroix said...

That was a great Friday Miscellanea Bryan,

The Spinal Tap video is a hoot and I feel guilty laughing at the Miss America contestant. (Did you know she came in first runner up?) I watched several times because it seemed to get funnier and funnier. At the beginning I thought she said that she had composed the piece herself then after reading the comments realized it's Vittorio Monti. Since you seem to like him (I don't) you might enjoy this:

And then your 2CELLOS commentary. No you didn't offend me. I guess having your three favorite musicians sitting together on the same piano bench was too much for you to resist. I thought you did do a rather good impersonation of that stern music teacher the 2CELLOS so successfully escaped from in the Wake Me Up video. I don't know why I have to keep reminding you of this but these YouTube videos are just for fun. We could discuss the artistic merits forever but I think one thing is absolutely certain. Paul McCartney is not losing any sleep over this. And if I remember correctly he and his band made some pretty silly videos themselves. But we were much younger when we watched them, weren't we, so maybe more tolerant?

Oh and the hallucinogens. Those were the days weren't they? I hope I didn't do any permanent damage to my brain but I sometimes wonder. I hope it's just old age.

Thanks for the glorious Lacrimosa.

All in all it was a very entertaining Friday Miscellanea.Thanks for your efforts.

Bryan Townsend said...

What makes you think I like Vittorio Monti?

I certainly had fun watching the 2Cellos/Lang Lang video, but it was the kind of fun you have watching the Three Stooges.

There are a couple of things that I think you can count on the Music Salon to provide: we take music seriously and we don't bow to conventional wisdom.

But we also have fun. Especially on Fridays!

Marc Puckett said...

I saw-- the DG management presented the Pope with a recording, a 'first' apparently, of the Sistine Choir performing Victoria and Allegri in the Sistine Chapel-- commenters at Slipped Disc lamenting the decline and fall of Deutsche Grammophon etc etc. Is there some common knowledge aspect about some specific event or events (did Rupert Murdoch buy DG?) that I've missed, or is this just ordinary everyday regret for the old days when life was good and Music was Music...?

Bryan Townsend said...

I had a look at the Slipped Disc item and read the comments bemoaning the decline of DGG. I don't know what that is about either. Perhaps the decline is quite recent and I just haven't caught up or something. But I can't think of many companies with such a superb back catalogue. Bear in mind that Slipped Disc is renowned for going to any lengths to create cheap sensationalism.