Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

The Wall Street Journal has a review by Norman Lebrecht of a recent book on female composers by Anna Beer. Lebrecht, who runs the site Slipped Disc, typically manages to appear aggressive and angry at someone about something, though sometimes it is hard to tell whom or what:
When the Metropolitan Opera announced that is would be performing “L’amour de loin” by Finland’s Kaija Saariaho in its coming season, headlines blared that this work was the first by a woman composer to be performed at the Met in more than a century. The last, forgettably, was “ Der Wald” by Ethel Smyth in 1903.
I’m not sure which detail was the more regrettable—the inexcusable hiatus or the bad journalism that zoned in on a composer’s gender. A woman may, in 2016, direct the Large Hadron Collider or serve as chief operating officer at Facebook without undue comment, but if she composes an opera it’s front-page news in New York. A further sign, perhaps, that opera is out of tune with our times.
So if it is bad journalism to zone in on a composer's gender what is it to devote a whole book to it? But if it is an inexcusable hiatus to not have a premier of an opera by a woman composer for over a century, then surely it is not bad journalism to zone in on gender? It's all very confusing. Here is his take on the problem of women composers:
Lutyens, the first Englishwoman to adopt Schoenberg’s serialism, encapsulated their struggle in a memorable comparison. “If Britten wrote a bad score,” she told an interviewer, “they’d say, ‘he’s had a bad day.’ If I had written one, it was because I was a woman.” That inequality has not gone away. When Judith Weir, now Master (sic) of the Queen’s Musick, staged a dreadful opera, “Miss Fortune,” at Covent Garden in 2012, critics turned to sexual derogation. “We’re stuck in a situation where the barriers to women becoming composers have been removed,” wrote one right-wing polemicist, “but they’re still honoured for being women.”
Lebrecht is an odd sort of booster as he does not hesitate to describe an opera by a woman as being dreadful, but he does stick to the narrative pretty well by labeling another critic as a "right-wing polemicist" and therefore, wrong, of course.

The Music Salon discussed this book back in April.

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A very interesting interview with a very capable music administrator: David Stull, the president of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Yes, there is a greater need now than ever for classical music in the culture. I found Mr. Stull's grasp of what is truly important and what is less important one of the best things in the interview. At the back of my mind I am wondering why is it that someone of this clarity of thought and eloquence in expressing it is not involved in high-level politics. He seems an order of magnitude wiser and smarter and better-informed than just about every presidential candidate. And he was speaking without a teleprompter!

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This counts as one of the most nightmarish concert experiences ever. There you are, ripping through the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto when the conductor knocks the violin out of your hands and it crashes to the floor, cracking the soundboard.


I just have the feeling that violinist Rómulo Assis is going to be standing a good distance away from the conductor the next time he plays a concerto...

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From the Annuls of the Obvious Department this earth-shaking news: Mozart is better for your blood-pressure than ABBA: "Mamma Mia! listening to Mozart lowers blood pressure…but ABBA has no impact."
“It has been known for centuries that music has an effect on human beings. In antiquity, music was used to improve performance in athletes during the Olympic Games,” said Lead author Hans-Joachim Trappe, of Ruhr University, Germany.
“In our study, listening to classical music resulted in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. These drops in blood pressure were clearly expressed for the music of Mozart and Strauss.
“The music of ABBA did not show any or only very small effects on blood pressure and heart rate. This may be due to emotional factors, but on the other hand the use of spoken words may have a negative role.”
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Canadian Cultural News: "Rebranding of Alberta’s Banff Centre to include new look, strategic plan." There is always something dispiriting about Canadian cultural news. Perhaps it is because it is always about everything but actual culture. The Banff Centre, which I attended with great pleasure a few decades ago, has been a nexus of creative activity for quite some time. Violinist Tom Rolston had an important role in developing the music program which has provided advanced instruction for performers and a stimulating environment for composers. With all this creativity and talent, one would expect the centre to have generated some interesting cultural artifacts and perhaps it has. But in this story, as in discussion of culture generally in Canada, we discover nothing about the culture itself, but just the policies, programs, funding and marketing. It is as if the culture, the reason for all this activity, is almost non-existent:
Alberta’s Banff Centre has a new name. Effective Thursday, it is Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
The name change is part of a rebranding endeavour that includes a new look (a monochrome colour spectrum inspired by snow and accented by red; the capital “A” in Banff resembling a mountain peak) and strategic plan. Among other things, the plan will see a heightened emphasis on public access, indigenous programs and training for cultural leaders.
Cultural activity in Canada, instead of being driven by the creative choices of artists, seems to be always driven by the bureaucratic needs of government. Which perhaps explains why Canada has so little cultural influence outside its borders.

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On that copyright case with Led Zeppelin and Spirit, the jury found Led Zeppelin not guilty of stealing the lick from the Spirit song.

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Promoting an upcoming concert by violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the Guardian devotes an article so surveying different kinds of minimalism in music. Here is a sample:
Less can be more. Arguments do not get more convincing by using more words or by shouting, and a woman does not get more beautiful by hanging lots of jewellery around her. Art forms that make their statements with a minimum of means carry a strong attraction, especially in music. And minimalism is far from a 20th-century invention.
This is what I call the principle of aesthetic parsimony: don't overdo just because you can.

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Taking a cue from that concert for our envoi today, here is the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Galina Ustvolskaya:


4 comments:

Jeph said...

I was encouraged by the Zeppelin decision. I get very nervous when juries are charged with this sort of thing. (The Robin Thicke-Farrell/Marvin Gaye case was a travesty to my mind.) There is a passing similarity in the songs, given they both have the first few chords in common. But these are ancient music formulae. Imagine Baroque composers suing each other for using the same ground bass in a Passacaglia or something.

Bryan Townsend said...

Hmm, yes, I think you are right. The Robin Thicke case seemed odd to me because it didn't seem very obvious. The Stairway to Heaven case seemed much more obvious, but still, this is the kind of motif that is found all over the place. Handel ripped off a bunch of ideas from Domenico Scarlatti, but that wasn't actionable in the 18th century.

Jeph said...

Handel was a perfectly fabulous thief, from himself most often.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh!