Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

I haven't hesitated to kick around the classical music online magazine Sinfini whenever it seemed appropriate, but I can't actually claim credit for its demise: "A Farewell note from sweet Sinfini." Due to its determinedly dull presentation and its unfortunate slogan "Cutting through classical" I can't say it will be missed in the slightest.

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This is what happens when you try to perform an early Steve Reich piece on harpsichord for a very conservative audience: "Noisy dissent disrupts a harpsichord recital."

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Here is a Guardian review of a new recording on period instruments (we used to say "original instruments") of some middle-period Haydn symphonies. The review mentions that they do not use a harpsichord continuo, but the accompanying photo prominently shows an archlute or theorbo, so obviously from a different session. I have been very happy with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra's complete Haydn symphonies, who do use a harpsichord continuo, but do not claim to use "period instruments" though they adopt the basic tenets of Classical period performance.

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With the exception of Amadeus I have successfully avoided most films about music and musicians. But maybe I was wrong to do so. Here is a fascinating article about eight films about music that sound pretty good: "David Lang's 8 Favorite Movies about Music." The one by Fellini sounds really interesting:
"Orchestra Rehearsal"
"This is a very funny movie — it’s like Fellini’s version of "Spinal Tap." During a rehearsal, the orchestra gets in a fight with the conductor and then it all goes to hell. There’s a union shutdown in the middle and they discuss what society should be. We always think that an orchestra is made up of a group of people who play together. But they are all individuals and they don’t agree on everything."

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Anne Midgette has an excellent piece in the Washington Post about the need for classical soloists to take the occasional sabbatical: "Give me a break: classical musicians who step away."
Hitting the big time as a soloist is supposed to be the pinnacle of a musician’s achievement. You earn top dollar; you play in the great halls of the world; you live on a daily basis with some of the greatest achievements of Western culture. But in the jet age, it’s often a grind – for pianists, for violinists, for singers. You get locked into complicated webs of commitments and repeating cycles of the same music, while subjugated to constant pressure to be excellent at every appearance – or risk hearing about it, from the press, afterwards.
A detail from an interview I did with the pianist Yefim Bronfman in 2007 has stuck in my mind. In order to learn a new piece that the composer was late delivering, he matter-of-factly said, he had to stay in the hall after his recitals and practice until two or three in the morning. (The composer is virtually always late delivering a new piece.)
Hey, wait a minute, don't blame it on us! Delivering a new composition isn't exactly equivalent to changing the oil in your car!

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The motto at the top of the page here mentions philosophy so I make no apologies for mentioning a new biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement here. Mind you, music was an ever-present element in his life:
Wittgenstein was born in 1889 into one of Austria’s richest families. His father was a self-made industrialist who built his fortune in iron and steel; his mother came from a Prague Jewish family. Ludwig was the youngest of eight siblings – he had three sisters and four brothers. Tragedy hit the family again and again. Three of Ludwig’s brothers committed suicide. The fourth, Paul, was a concert pianist who lost his right arm in the First World War and later commissioned works for the left hand from Ravel, Prokofiev, Paul Hindemith and Erich Korngold. (Music figured significantly in the family’s life: Brahms, Mahler and Richard Strauss were among the composers who heard their works performed at the Wittgenstein house in Vienna.)
Those years around the turn of the century and just before the First World War were almost surrealistic in their forboding. Three of his brothers committed suicide?

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Here is a good piece about the uneasy relationship between the arts and academia: "When Critics Become Professors." A quote from poet Yvor Winters on the problem:
"The professors have made a living by what they have regarded as the serious study of literature; but the men who have composed the literature were not serious, in the professors’ opinion and sometimes in fact, and hence have been considered unfit to study or teach it. Each group has traditionally held the other in contempt."
Composers have done rather better in universities, though they are no longer allowed to teach theory courses as they used to--too quirky!

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And that brings us to our envoi for today, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 4, op 53, for the left hand, commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein. The pianist is Alexi Volodin with the Symphony Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, Valery Gergiev - musical director:


6 comments:

David said...

Bryan, the Anne Midgette piece brought to mind the career path of Glenn Gould who was an "early adopter" of the sabbatical (extended as it turns out) from public performing. Gould's concert stage career spanned 18 years from his first appearance at age 14 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1946) to his last performance in Los Angeles in 1964. In 1957 at age 25, he was the first north american pianist to perform in the Soviet Union after WW II. Over the course of his 18 years on the public stage he performed 200 concerts. I avoided saying "just" 200 concerts because in the 50's and 60's it still took 13 hours to fly across the Atlantic (and I believe, Gould insisted on his own piano following him to his performances). Today's musicians have trouble with violins, violas, cellos and guitars on airlines! Gould's absence from the stage gave him opportunity to spend the last 16 years of his life pursuing his muse in the recording studio with results that included his Grammy winning 1981 Goldberg Variations. Sabbaticals seem like "no-brainers" for today's performing elite.

Bryan Townsend said...

Wow, David, I had no idea that Glenn Gould only played 200 concerts in his career! I haven't added them up, but at just a rough estimate, I think I probably played over five hundred concerts in my career, which spanned about 20 years of concertising. And I probably went through something like 500 sets of strings!


David said...

I may be over-romanticizing the concert experience, but it seems to me that the best/most memorable/true concert experience is one of sharing rather than selling. That is, the musician(s)share and communicate their artistry/performance/interpretation/feel for the music, with the audience. Without the time-outs afforded by the sabbatical, I can see that the concert events could become more "selling" than "sharing".

Thanks again for your sharing through this blog.

It's too bad there isn't a good use for used guitar strings. Metal art perhaps?

Bryan Townsend said...

I think that you just put your finger on precisely what is wrong with most of the advice young musicians are getting these days about "branding" and marketing themselves. The essential truth about the concert experience is, as you say, about sharing, not selling. Thanks for pointing that out.

Marc Puckett said...

David Lang, hmm, I wonder. But have never seen that Fellini so thanks for that, and it was clever how Lang plugged his upcoming movie, sure; perhaps I should watch Amadeus again after a quarter century. I don't myself see that either the Luchese or the von Trotta add any value to the music itself.

Were you able to get the Stutgartt Chamber Orchestra complete Haydn for $25? I see commenters at Amazon mentioning that price. I do wonder that they can ever have brought themselves to sell a 39 CD set for less than a dollar per CD-- doesn't that give the game away entirely?

Bryan Townsend said...

He missed mentioning Spinal Tap!

Yes, I paid about $25 for it--now I think it is twice that. They were probably just clearing inventory or something. Glad to see it is available again. One of my favorite recordings.