Friday, April 1, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Here is a short item to kick of this week's miscellanea: "New Study Finds Drumming Can Aid Anxiety and Depression." Well, they don't mean it, of course. Why would anyone want to aid anxiety and depression? What they mean is "alleviate" anxiety and depression.
“This study demonstrates the psychological benefits of group drumming, and also suggests underlying biological effects, supporting its therapeutic potential for mental health,” research lead Aaron Williamon has said.
I'm sure it does. On the other hand, it increases the anxiety and depression of everyone else within hearing distance.

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Allan Kozinn, one of the best critics writing today, has a piece on David del Tredici's "Child Alice" in a recent performance: "Listening to Alice's Thoughts."
When David Del Tredici abandoned atonal modernism in favor of brightly orchestrated, unabashedly melodic works based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There,” in the early 1970s, his forsaken modernist colleagues rounded on him swiftly, much as they had when George Rochberg left the Serialist fold around the same time. To hear the modernist faithful’s criticism, you would have thought that Mr. Del Tredici had taken up cheerful portraiture in a Jackson Pollack universe.
But it wasn’t that simple. Mr. Del Tredici’s “Alice” pieces are hardly Brahmsian throwbacks, a point that Gil Rose demonstrated on Friday evening at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, when he led the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the soprano Courtenay Budd in a stunning performance of “Child Alice,” the most ambitious work in the series.
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Composers have been finding inspiration in an unusual place: dead or dying languages. The New York Times article "Vanishing Languages, Reincarnated as Music" tells the story.
A growing number of [composers] are turning their attention to languages that are extinct, endangered or particular to tiny groups of speakers in far-flung places with the aim of weaving these enigmatic utterances into musical works that celebrate, memorialize or mourn the languages and the cultures that gave birth to them. On Saturday, April 9, at the Cologne Opera in Germany, the Australian composer Liza Lim unveils her opera “Tree of Codes,” which includes snippets of a Turkish whistling language from a small mountain village. On her most recent album, “The Stone People,” the pianist Lisa Moore sings and plays Martin Bresnick’s hypnotic “Ishi’s Song,” a setting of a chant by the last member of the Yahi, who died in 1916.
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Duke University was in the news a while back for their persecution of several members of their lacrosse team after a false accusation of rape. But enough of their history! Currently they have fired up the fMRI to scan the brain of violinist Jennifer Koh to see what's going on.
Scientists at Duke University put American violinist, Jennifer Koh under the microscope to help understand the science behind sound and the brain’s ability to process it.
Yep, that's pretty much it. Certain parts of the brain are active when a musician is listening to or thinking about music. Yawn. Well, that was an exciting revelation. It used to be that in order to tempt us to pay attention to these vacuous pronouncements from the World of Science they would make up some wildly implausible claim to stick in the headline. But I guess they don't even feel the need to bother anymore. Because Science!

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The Globe and Mail has an excellent interview with harpsichordist Benjamin Alard who is about to play the Goldberg Variations by J. S. Bach in Toronto this week. My favorite bit:
What reaction would you like from the audience at the end of this journey?
Silence. After this work, I hate applause.
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Slipped Disc has an interesting item about a rude audience member who was shamed into leaving a concert. As is usual at that site, the comments are even more interesting. Here is just one for example:
It is a behaviour issue with the young — they are so used to living at one remove, through screens of one sort or another, that they cannot fathom living in the moment (nor do they see why they have to adhere to such “old-fashioned” mores as manners). At the concerts they do go to –rock, etc.– they watch the people they have forked out serious coin for on large screens, and they stand with their phones raised, in hope (deletable pictures makes a mockery of yet another former art form, photography, where the artist actually had to see the subject to attempt a picture). Rubbish photos will illustrate their bragging tales of “being there” while there will never be any discussion of what the artist was actually like on the night. Live music, to be listened to sitting down and shutting up, classical or their preferred rock, is outside their comprehension. And in the same way I can tune out something dull on the radio, they tune out instructions before concerts about phones, etc. It is honestly beyond them.
Addictions used to be something to be treated, and eschewed. Why is this addiction to a technological tool encouraged and permitted? It needs intervention.
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Alex Ross has a new piece up at the New Yorker on new opera companies: "Opera Startups." In the first paragraph he mentions:
Last year, the British critic Philip Clark had a provocative response to the perennial question of how to save classical music from its so-called image problem—the perception that it is stuffy, √©litist, and irrelevant. He declared, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with classical music. It cannot pretend to be anything other than it is. And perhaps it’s the wider cultural environment . . . that has a problem.”
Well, actually, it is pretty often trying to pretend it is something else: pseudo-pop music, for example. The New Yorker doesn't actually bother with things as gauche as links, so here is the article Ross quotes: "What’s wrong with the classical concert experience in the 21st century?" Here are a couple of quotes:
...we live in a culture, I think, where visual stimuli are in the ascendant, sometimes at the cost of sound. Sound is no longer enough. That sound can be judged as sound – that music is a worthy pursuit in and of itself is, in the most extreme cases, being casually dismissed. Classical music now must aspire to offer spectacle – whether a particular piece can take it or not.
...classical music’s alleged image problem has become the mainstream media narrative – a misinformed opinion continually reported as fact. Classical music is elitist, stuffy, obscure and lacks relevance. But if classical music does indeed have an image problem, what image ought it adopt? What must classical music now pretend to be?
For a moment, I want you to suspend your disbelief as I flip the argument on its head. Try it this way round: there is absolutely nothing wrong with classical music. It cannot pretend to be anything other than it is. And perhaps it’s the wider cultural environment which surrounds classical music that has a problem.
 What I’ve called in my writings ‘pretendy’ classical music serves up the spectacle of classical music – you see an orchestra or an ensemble on stage, you see opera singers producing vaguely operatic sounds as they open their mouths. But invariably tepid cross-over projects exist precisely because musicians have failed to grapple with the big questions at play here. Fusions of minimalism, ambient electronica, pop structures drizzled with world music ‘flavas’ – Karl Jenkins, Max Richter, Ludovico Einaudi, Roxanna Panufnik – have become a ubiquitous sub-genre with relevance to the future of classical music only in the sense that EL James is relevant to the future of the novel. No boundaries are being pushed at all. Instead, this is a corporate, boardroom idea of music designed specifically to shift units of CDs.
That classical music ‘still has an image problem’ I find chillingly dystopian, the implication being that classical music will only stop having its image problem when it learns to conform to the fickle whims of fashion and of the market.
And that really would mark the death of classical music and of the classical concert. 
The whole piece is well worth your time to read.

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Just to round things off, another bit of psychological research into music. In this study they postulate two psychological types: empathizers and systemizers, and identify two kinds of music that they tend to like: mellow and intense. Doesn't seem like a terribly adventurous project. But the interesting thing is that classical music is completely unrepresented as all the musical samples in the test are of pop music ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Ray Charles. Are classical music lovers so insignificant that they are not even worth taking into account?

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I want to present as envoi today a performance by a violinist that Mr. Clark speaks favorably of in his essay: Baroque violinist Rachel Podger (I have her complete recording of the Bach solo works). Here she is playing a Ciacona by Antonio Bertali [1605-1669]:


9 comments:

Craig said...

Bryan, I'm not sure how to send you a note if not through a combox... A couple of things that might serve as fodder for future Friday Miscellaneae:

Roger Scruton has an interesting piece about what he calls "pop pollution". Actually it's a few months old, so you may have already read it (and maybe even remarked on it!).

An expanded edition of Robert Reilly's book Surprised by Beauty: A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music has been issued. I read the first edition of this book and enjoyed it (some remarks here), and I have a sneaking suspicion you'd enjoy it too. It's a kind of alternative history of twentieth-century music in which the focus falls on composers who did *not* abandon tonality.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Craig. No, I don't think I saw either of those so I will check them out! All comments are now moderated which means that they get sent to my email first and I have to approve publication on the blog. So if you want to contact me directly, just write a comment with your email and say "confidential" or something. I will reply to your email without posting it to the blog.

Marc Puckett said...

Rachel Podger is here in Eugene for two concerts (both in July) during the Bach Festival-- Bach, Telemann, Vivaldi, Tartini, and (at the second) she's performing Biber's Passacaglia!

Bryan Townsend said...

Lucky you!

Marc Puckett said...

Marin Alsop is conducting the ESO tonight, a program including Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine and the Adagio from Mahler's 10th. She stopped being music director here after '98-'99 season, so I've never seen her work. An event! don't much like 'galas' but this one's rationale is understandable enough, at least.

Marc Puckett said...

Craig, Thank you for the notice of Robert Reilly's book. I've seen the title in the IP catalogue but haven't read it: the new edition will be a good opportunity to do so.

Marc Puckett said...

Had never heard of David Del Tredici, so that was an instructive review of Kozinn's. Only thing I can find to listen to that I immediately like is Final Alice: Acrostic Song, which, at four minutes or so, surely isn't the entire Final Alice Kozinn mentioned, I think. Vintage Alice (Fantascene on a Mad Teaparty) features some lovely singing but I can't get too excited after one listening; using God Save the Queen repeatedly, eh. The term camp comes to mind. But listening did help me make my mind up to go ahead and give Mark Adamos's Little Women a chance next month: whatever of nonsense there may be, there's bound to be some beautiful singing, too. Only after listening to the Del Tredici Alice at Spotify did it occur to me to open YouTube, tsk; perhaps later.

Marc Puckett said...

That is an interesting article about musicians using languages that are on their last legs. Coincidentally, earlier this morning I was reading about Ishi in a comments thread at Just One Minute; one thing and another and it finally clicked that I had just seen the name in your post Friday, hence I went back and read the NYT piece (simply hadn't gotten to it before now). There is of course the fact that Ishi's words are sung within the first twelve seconds of Bresnicks's nine minute work, but lots of musical pieces are development or variations of a comparatively brief theme; more to the point, I don't know if Ishi sang those words, if that singing was recorded etc.

Liza Lim's Turkish whistling has to be a very small part of Tree of Codes... 'instruments are like prosthetics to the body.' An interview with her about Tree: [https://youtu.be/hh4JvsKh4Sc]. I'd go, myself, but the spectacle would be the thing, not so much the music. Couldn't find Mother Tongue anywhere; I imagine Diabolical Birds gives an intimation of it: [https://youtu.be/02gBGzuinXM]. Perhaps not, of course.

Can't find Kevin James's Counting in Quileute anywhere, either. But Vivian Fung (Edmonton-born) has a YouTube presence. This is Yi Songs: [https://youtu.be/d8u6iBy8m7Q].

I give Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim and all of 'em marks for creativity and so on but I don't 'get' it, "the goal [is] 'not to set them [these languages] to music, but set them as music'. The Yi are singing, after all, not reciting vanishing words.

Bryan Townsend said...

According to the publisher, Final Alice is over an hour long. It comprises a number of arias, of which the Acrostic Song is one. It really is a charming piece, isn't it?

I have not had the chance to explore the "language" composers as you have. I want to get to that in the next couple of days. In the meantime, thanks for the comments!