Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

One of the last serious classical music critics around is Arthur Kaptainis at the Montreal Gazette. In his latest column, "Beethoven and Coldplay, together at last" he waxes doubtful about the steady popization of classical concerts. Regarding the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra he says:
Fire up the PSO website and you are besieged by banners flogging FUSE@PSO; the Fiddlesticks Family Concerts; the comedy duo Igudesman & Joo (“Scary Concert at Heinz Hall”); Disney in Concert (The Nightmare Before Christmas with live accompaniment); Sinatra and Beyond with Tony DeSare; Wow! It’s the Pops; and, as a concession to all those artsy-fartsies in Steel City, the Spanish guitarist Pablo Villegas.
FUSE@PSO, according to the documentation, is “a mash-up of Beethoven’s famous Eroica Symphony with songs from the Coldplay catalogue, from A Rush of Blood to the Head to Mylo Xyloto.” Once again, it is best to render judgment after the experience, not before, but I suspect my reaction to this concert would involve a mash-up of what I had for lunch.

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Speaking of Pablo Villegas, who I am hearing about for the first time, his website is a pretty accurate picture of what an aspiring soloist needs to project these days.

Male model looks:
Celebrity appearance in major magazine:

Pablo is a “New New Yorker” in Departures Magazine


“My mission is to connect people through music. New York is an environment where I find all the inspiration I need. It’s the whole world in a small city,” Pablo tells Departures in the May/June issue. The Spanish guitarist is featured in the magazine’s article, “The New New York: A Fashion Portfolio by Bjorn Iooss”. Model and actress Chanel Iman, Principal Dancer from New York City Ballet Sara Mearns, soprano Ailyn Perez, and actress Caitlin Gerard are just a few of the influential New Yorkers that join Pablo in this feature styled by Kareem Rashed and Ahnna Lee.
Hangin' with the Dalai Lama:


And I'm sure that he plays well too. But that doesn't seem to be the priority...

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Here is an account of how one flutist was treated at Chicago's O'Hare airport by TSA agents. Is there no way to make people like this accountable? Immunity for government employees and officials is long overdue to be revoked, in my view.

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Here is a very long essay on Olivier Messiaen that begins with a discussion of Pierre Boulez' attitude towards his teacher:
At what point did Pierre Boulez say his teacher’s music made him want to vomit? The teacher, of course, was the great French composer Olivier Messiaen, and Boulez was his ex-student. Scholars have been trying to track down that unkind cut for decades but details remain clouded. Boulez has denied that he ever used the word. Others say he did. It’s one of those tantalizing puzzles in music history that may never be solved
At Slipped Disc, where this essay was linked, the first comment is this:
What was it about Messiaen that made Boulez want to vomit?
Envy. Forgotten as a composer within his own lifetime, it must have come hard to little Pierre that his career has ground to a halt as a second-rate conductor of the music of others. Meanwhile Messiaen’s reputation continues to grow.
Remember the time you left a Boulez concert with the melodies coarsing through your mind? No, nor does anyone else either.
What most people remember about this vengeful little man was how he abused his position to skewer the careers of others. He’ll go down in history as France’s Khrennikov – rather than for his output.
Nice!
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Pop music always seems to have a host of advocates who are ever ready to rave about every new band as being newer, cooler and better than ever. Oddly enough, when you listen to them, they pretty much sound like all the other pop music: bland and formulaic. But have a listen and hear for yourself. It's the Newbury Park Sound!


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Apparently highly-educated young people are getting more and more idiotic when it comes to music. At least that's my conclusion after reading "What the Music You Hate Says About You":
"The most obvious change (over the 20 years) consists of the steep declines in the probability of younger persons to reject rap and heavy metal," Lizardo and Skiles write. "Only about one-fifth of young Americans reject rap and hip-hop, a figure that is lower than that observed for country, bluegrass, gospel or opera for this age group."
The biggest shift in this regard came from young people with the highest education levels. This suggests they are using rap and hip-hop to differentiate themselves from the older generation of well-to-do Americans.
These same "high-status newcomers" were more likely than their counterparts of 20 years ago to declare their distaste for classical music and jazz, as well as rock 'n' roll. "While in 1993, a college-educated person between the ages of 25 and 29 had an 8 percent chance of disliking classical (music), in 2012, a respondent in that same age-education group had a 15 percent chance (of doing so)," the researchers write.

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Aha! Now we know who to blame. Most successful pop songs are written by a small group of middle-aged Scandinavians. Huh? No, really. The Atlantic has the story: Hit Charade: Meet the bald Norwegians and other unknowns who actually create the songs that top the charts. Here it is in a nutshell:
Sonically, the template has remained remarkably consistent since the Backstreet Boys, whose sound was created by Max Martin and his mentor, Denniz PoP, at PoP’s Cheiron Studios, in Stockholm. It was at Cheiron in the late ’90s that they developed the modern hit formula, a formula nearly as valuable as Coca-Cola’s. But it’s not a secret formula. Seabrook describes the pop sound this way: “ABBA’s pop chords and textures, Denniz PoP’s song structure and dynamics, ’80s arena rock’s big choruses, and early ’90s American R&B grooves.” The production quality is crucial, too. The music is manufactured to fill not headphones and home stereo systems but malls and football stadiums. It is a synthetic, mechanical sound “more captivating than the virtuosity of the musicians.” This is a metaphor, of course—there are no musicians anymore, at least not human ones. Every instrument is automated. Session musicians have gone extinct, and studio mixing boards remain only as retro, semi-ironic furniture.
Yep, and that's exactly what it sounds like, too.

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One of my commentators was giving me a hard time because I chose anthropogenic climate change as an example of ideology in a post this week. His point was that I am not an expert on climate science, which is certainly true enough. But if that is the operating principle, then can we get Neil deGrasse Tyson to shut up about art? He is an astrophysicist, after all.


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Another side of music education in France, offered without comment.


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Courtesy of Slipped Disc is this comedy of errors. In under two minutes both the violinist and the pianist suffer page-turning mishaps:


Before watching I was sure this had to be wind-related and I was going to say the solution is clothespins, the standard method of coping with the wind blowing your music around when playing out-of-doors. But no, in this indoor concert both the violinist and the pianist manage to throw their own music on the floor to be rescued by the calmest person on stage, the page-turner Anna Reszniak. Let's have a round of applause for Anna!

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And that brings us to our envoi for today. Let's listen to Pablo Villegas play the Prelude No. 1 by Villa-Lobos:


Now that I see this, I realize that I have heard of him before. Just looking at the clips on YouTube tells quite a lot about him: Gran Jota by Tarrega, Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Tarrega, Tango en Skaï by Dyens and Las Bodas de Luis Alonso. If you really know your guitar repertoire then you would guess that the guitarist who chose this repertoire would be heavy on the technique and, well, a little light on the musicality. And you would be correct. Musically this sounds like an average grad student in performance. Also, the rhythms of the middle section are tossed off with fervor rather than accuracy.

15 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

No idea who the violinist and pianist [well, I do now since I went to SD] are, but they had the graciousness (and presence of mind, ahem) to bring Anna R. forward immediately at the end to receive the audience's applause: kudos for that.

Bryan Townsend said...

You bet! In fact, I think that is the first time I have seen a page-turner take a bow.

Marc Puckett said...

While all I know about l'affaire Ducros is in the comment at that Boulez vomited post--

"...In the recent ‘affaire Ducros’, it was PB who advised the conventional, half-modernist composer Pascal Dusapin to publish his angry letter to the College de France, attacking the pianist Jerome Ducros for daring to undermine the credibility of modernism in a public lecture, an attack entirely in line with quasi-Sovietic party-line politics which always have been at the heart of modernism. Only ONE of the numerous examples of the negative nature of modernism, of which PB was one of the postwar founding fathers...."--

That made me think about what may be the 'positive nature of modernism', or how one would describe that. Too large a subject for a comments thread, I suppose. Did listen to some Pascal Dusapin a while back; one or two string quartets, pleasant enough but nothing too gripping or challenging, in that broad category of music 'I'm happy to hear it but am not going much out of my way to do so'.

Marc Puckett said...

Watched a concert of Prokofiev and Servais, performed by Sol Gabetta and Ilya Yakushev on 5th August, part of the Mostly Mozart Festival,, and I'm pretty sure that they had the page turner take a bow-- perhaps they are just very warm and pleasant people, perhaps it is the same sort of symptom as the fashion according to which every child in the classroom has to receive an award, or be invited to the birthday party.

Bryan Townsend said...

Since I became an apostate of modernism in music I have noticed a suspiciously consistent ideology that seems to have governed who was considered to be acceptable and who was to be considered beyond the pale. One element that reminds one of Soviet politics is the idea that music history is to be restarted from zero. All references to the music of the past and, indeed, traditional aesthetics, are to be abhorred. So in one motion you get rid of all your competition: people like Shostakovich, Britten, Dutilleux.

Christine Lacroix said...

Concerning the other side of French music education: In the early nineties I drove with my now ex-husband for four hours up and through some French mountains to reach one of his friends he hadn’t seen in 20 years. At nightfall when we got there we saw robed and veiled women and men wearing djellabas standing around the house. Turned out his old friend had converted to Islam. There were a number of muslim families staying there and one of the little boys came up to me and asked me if I was a muslim. When I said no he jumped up and made a gesture across my neck saying that in that case he could cut my throat. "Abdel, that’s not polite!!!" his mother remonstrated. "I don’t know what that Imam is teaching you!!" Well, well, it wasn’t too hard to figure out what that Imam was teaching him was it? It was an enlightening weekend!

Bryan Townsend said...

And that was 20 years ago! Things are considerably worse now, are they not?

Christine Lacroix said...

Yes things are worse because that little boy has become a man and is probably fighting with ISIS in Syria right now. What I did learn during that uncomfortable weekend however was that the majority of muslims there were very moderate in their views.Whether from Iran, Morocco, Algeria they openly didn't agree with my ex's French friend and his wife who were clearly extremists. I was given a book to read when I left "Women's rights in Islam'. It was very short and purely a justification for why women in Islam have no rights!

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh yes! I sometimes wonder why Western feminists don't comment more on the appalling treatment of women in Muslim countries.

Christine Lacroix said...

Perhaps the reason women don't comment more on the appalling treatment of women in Muslim countries is for the same reason people in general don't seem overly concerned with appalling conditions of disadvantaged people all over the world. Humans are able to block out the suffering of other humans unless they happen to be right under our noses, and we feel directly concerned, and even then....

Marc Puckett said...

Here in the United States, because they are more concerned about trigger warnings viz. consolidating their place of influence in (US) society, and are so immensely privileged, compared to women in e.g. Kenya and Pakistan, that they can't see beyond their positions of affluence. And they many of them subscribe to the awful Marxism-derived nonsense.

Marc Puckett said...

But I do agree also with Christine's points... our posts crossed. :-) Am away now to do the Saturday morning marketing.

Christine Lacroix said...

Marc I don't understand your comment. What is 'a trigger warning viz.'?And how does Marxism fit into the picture?

Marc Puckett said...

Christine, A 'trigger warning', defined at the Urban Dictionary, ahem: "A phrase posted at the beginning of various posts, articles, or blogs. Its purpose is to warn weak minded people who are easily offended that they might find what is being posted offensive in some way due to its content, causing them to overreact or otherwise start acting like a dips--t." Granted, that's not by any means an 'objective' or sympathetic definition but you'll have gotten the idea. It is a burgeoning fashion (in the US, anyway), specially amongst so-called 'progressive' academics, that has been unfortunately spilling over into more'mainstream' discourse.

By 'awful Marxism-derived nonsense' I was alluding chiefly, I guess, to the abdication of personal responsibility to the State's presumptively beneficent offices-- which isn't (from my point of view, of course) a problem limited to women (that was simply the context here).

Almost bought at market a Galeux d'Eysines squash, just because it was so beautiful and odd.

Marc Puckett said...

NL at Slipped Disc going on about bloody keyboards, ha; http://goo.gl/xZ5Mjh. Talk about inspiration! Which of the divine spirits requires a performer to offer his blood on the altar of his instrument?