Friday, September 30, 2016

Composers of Quiet

Honestly, I wouldn't enjoy tweaking Alex Ross nearly so much if he weren't so damnably earnest about his rigorously progressive ideology. But there it is. So let's start off this post on his latest New Yorker article, "The Composers of Quiet" with a little hommage.























Was that enough space? Perhaps we need more...













These composers, you see, begin, metaphysically, with John Cage's 4'33. Which is about silence. Oh, heck, let's have some more.














Are you having fun yet? Just let me know. I could go on like this all day.











Ssshhhh...






So the basic fact about silence is that it is the absence of something. Music, in this case. If you live in a musically-rich environment, say, the apartment of Alex Ross, simply stuffed to the ceiling with free review copies of every CD released in the last decade, then some silence, or at least music with a lot of silence in it, might be the perfect palate-cleanser before your next excursion out to a Big Apple concert. So the Composers of Quiet, or as he and they delightfully refer to themselves, the Wandelweiser, are like a musical sorbet, light and refreshing if a bit low-cal. Let's let Alex tell us about it:
...the magic of the ending, in which the percussionist stands over a set of cymbals placed on the floor and pours grains of rice and millet on them. Stuart began with fistfuls of grains, creating a sound like a rainstorm or a chorus of crickets; later, following instructions in the score, he reduced the stream to a trickle, eliciting intermittent plinks. (Pisaro cherishes these rice noises, and also features them in a pair of pieces entitled “ricefall”; the International Contemporary Ensemble will perform the second at the Abrons Arts Center, on Grand Street, on September 16th.) Bush, meanwhile, played lone tones separated by huge intervals, ending on the lowest A on the piano. I imagined a bell ringing in a ruined cathedral and raindrops falling into a pool. This is the Wandelweiser illusion: from almost nothing, vast forms arise.
Or as I like to think of it: from almost nothing, even less arises.

There are quite a few pieces by Jürg Frey, one of the Wandelweiser, on YouTube. Let's have a listen. This is "Fragile Balance":


Friday Miscellanea

I guess we could file this in the category of "things you don't need to see or hear:" Lang Lang and Lindsey Stirling play the Spiderman theme.


Mind you, it does combine a pointless arrangement of a lackluster movie theme with a pseudo-film-noir video in a crossover illustrating the descent of Lang Lang's career into irrelevance, so there's that. (Was that too catty?)

* * *

DownBeat magazine (which was the first music magazine I read on a regular basis, in the late 60s) has a piece on the Monterey Jazz Festival. There is a photo of Clint Eastwood introducing Quincy Jones:


* * *

Norman Lebrecht is often good for a chuckle. Take for instance his feigned shock at finding out that much of the repertoire played by US orchestras consists of music by just four dead, white males:
A survey by New York singers’ agent Doug Schwalbe reveals that the leading North American orchestras are still desperately dependent on a tiny handful of dead white males.
Doug looks at performances by seven orchestras – NY Phil, LA Phil, Boston, San Fran, Toronto, Philadelphia and Dallas – since 2011.
He reports that Beethoven and Mozart accounted for over 15% of  the 9,676 pieces performed.
That proportion rises to 24% when he adds Tchaikovsky and Brahms.
And you wonder why people have stopped going.
Actually, people are still going to concerts and they particularly like Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. That's why their music is put in the program. There, that wasn't so hard to understand, was it?

* * *

Here is the very first example of computer-generated music from the University of Manchester in 1951, courtesy of Slipped Disc:

http://blogs.bl.uk/files/first-recorded-computer-music---copeland-long-restoration.mp3

What puzzles me is how you get a computer to play that badly out of tune?

* * *

No week would be complete without a performance of the theme from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain:


* * *

Yes, I know that I tend to lean to the sardonic, but here is a nice, sweet essay about a mother and daughter sharing the sweet magic of the Beatles. And what's wrong with that?
On a road trip together this summer, I played her some Beatle beauties: Norwegian Wood, A Day in the Life, Across the Universe. For me it was like those defining days of teaching her to ride a bike or swim. As we plunged through the monstrous Toronto rush hour, she played Yesterday 17 times in a row. There was a perfect connection between us. Yesterday is her first true experience of the melancholy arts.
 * * *

I see a theme developing here. This is a mandolin orchestra from Vishnyeva in what is now Belarus. That young fellow sitting in the middle of the front row is Shimon Peres who didn't continue in his career as a mandolinist but instead became Prime Minister and President of some Middle-Eastern country.


* * *

I didn't know that Donizetti's opera L'elisir d'amore had a shower scene, but it does in this new production by the Valencia opera:


And, wait, is that Kim Kardashian?

* * *

Here is quite a good article on a new book about Venezuela's El Sistema music education program by Anne Midgette in the Washington Post:
“Playing for Their Lives” is so besotted with El Sistema that it verges on cult literature. This is not to deny the achievements of the many people devoting time and energy to helping kids in programs around the world. But the authors, though they traveled to many of these programs, barely even try to give their efforts an objective framework. The outside sourcing is slender and seems not to have extended to corroborative interviews to back up what the subjects say. Over and over again, the book reports on people’s aspirations and the programs’ potential to do good, as if these results had already been realized. “El Sistema is a significant and genuine worldwide movement,” they write. “By the time you read that sentence, it will be true.” And their adulation of the El Sistema founder Abreu approaches hagiography. “Like Mahatma Gandhi, like Martin Luther King, Jr.,” they write, “he has shown the world new ways to think about social transformation.”
* * *

For our envoi today, what better piece than that excellent song by Paul McCartney, "Got to Get You Into My Life" which is the last cut on Revolver. Apparently I can't post the original, so get out your Revolver CD and turn it up! The best I can find on YouTube is this live performance:


Thursday, September 29, 2016

50 Years of Guitar-Playing

At some point in recent weeks was the 50th anniversary of when I took up the guitar. I'm not sure exactly when because it was so long ago I can't remember! But I have been playing guitar, in one form or another, for fifty years. My current guitar, built in Vancouver by Robert Holroyd, I have been playing for thirty-three years. My first guitar was a rented electric bass, but I soon added a six-string acoustic steel-string guitar and my very own electric bass. Added to that was a Yamaha amplifier, then a Shure microphone and stand and on and on. After a few years, I discovered classical music and switched to classical guitar. My first classical was a student Yamaha guitar:


The next year, 1974, I went to Spain to study and bought my first serious guitar, a Jose Ramirez 1ª Concierto. I don't have a good photo of me with that one, but here is what the shop looks like today:


After a few years I felt that the Ramirez was not entirely suitable for contemporary and early music so I bought a hand-made Japanese guitar by Masaru Kohno, built around '75 or '76:


I think that is what I am holding in this photo:


One day a friend of mine called me up and told me that a builder in Vancouver had just finished a guitar and I could try it out in the couple of days before the buyer picked it up. So I did. After fifteen minutes I said "Bob, I have to have your next guitar!" I actually got a bank loan to buy it. This was in 1983 and I'm still playing that same guitar!


It has a very unusual bridge, made from ebony, but without a loop in the strings:


Instead of the usual bridge of plastic or ivory, each string goes over its own tool steel post. The guitar has an immediacy of response, a clarity, a precision of tuning and a comfortable neck such as I have not encountered in any other guitar. Mind you, if I were still giving concerts, I would be on a plane to Australia right now, looking to buy a guitar by Greg Smallman.

But what I actually want to do in this post is talk about some of the things, large and small, I have learned from playing the guitar:

  • Change your strings when they wear out!
  • Practice slowly--very slowly
  • Practice what you want the result to be and never practice mistakes
  • Once you have decided you want to be a guitar player, buy the best guitar you can find
  • Everything, the sound, the precision, the expression, everything comes from the mind first of all and the fingers only discover how to do it later on
  • It all seems to come down to passion and discipline. These two things seem to be opposed, but really they are not. You only have the will and the patience to do the disciplined practice if you have the passion. And you can only express the passion if you have the will and patience to do the disciplined practice. I suspect this is true of every path in life.
  • First you get the chops, then you get the money, then you get the chicks? Wasn't that the line in Scarface?
  • Playing music is probably an end in itself: in other words it is not about the sales, the concert fees, the adulation or even the many wonderful friends you make. It is about playing well, the creation of beauty, even if ephemeral. The Good, the True, the Beautiful, these are the transcendentals. Everything else is, or should be, instrumental to these ends.
So let me end with a tiny fragment of beauty that I caused to happen. This is a little piece by Isaias Savio called Serões that I recorded quite a few years ago:

video

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Cultural Appropriation

The latest bit of neo-Gramscian post-modern lunacy is the idea of "cultural appropriation" which says that white people are not allowed to use memes from non-white cultures. So I guess it is ok if I start writing mazurkas, Poles being White Europeans, but totally wrong to be stealing ideas from mbira music from Zimbabwe. Steve Reich has to give back any ideas he got from Ghana master drummers or Balinese gamelan music. Sounds silly, doesn't it? But this is an actual thing in some places. This is the Wikipedia article. They simply define it as:
Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.
But of course it only applies to white people. Read the whole thing. They have some examples of appropriation that are from white to white, but the important issues all revolve around white appropriation of non-white cultural elements. Thou shalt not wear a Halloween costume of an Indian or Geisha or whatever. It is a form of colonialism.

It is a fundamentally silly idea, but when applied to music, even more silly. Yes, there are an awful lot of very interesting influences coming from world music and popular music, but the whole foundation of music, the harmony, the counterpoint, the very notation to write it down, comes almost entirely from France and Italy between eight hundred and a thousand years ago. Are we going to say, "no more triads, we want our harmony back!"

Of course an even more biting criticism has already been unleashed: if you think that cultural appropriation is wrong, then please stop using vaccines, antibiotics, the Internet, smartphones, computers, jets, the internal combustion engine and, heck, electricity. These are all the creation, invention and discovery of Western European and North American white people.

Our envoi almost has to be something by Léonin the composer, in the late 12th century, of the first written down polyphony:


Strings 'n Things

I read somewhere that Grigory Sokolov is very knowledgeable about piano technology. That puzzled me a bit: not that he is knowledgeable, but that it was worth mentioning. Then I realized that it might not be the norm among pianists, many of whom might rely on piano technicians to keep their instruments in proper working order. But apparently Sokolov is really involved with the pianos he plays on. This makes sense. As a guitarist I am very involved with the innards of my instrument and how it works acoustically and, most of all it seems, with the strings. I just changed my strings and it got me thinking about strings in general.

But before I get to that, let me just say that I would love to do an interview with Mr. Sokolov and ask him all about pianos: what does he look for, does he modify anything in the pianos he plays, how much time does he like with a piano before a concert and all those other gritty little details that never come up in interviews.

Strings are a big deal for guitar players because they wear out quickly--anywhere from between two weeks and a month if you practice a lot. In the throes of my performing career I went through from 20 to 25 sets a year. And the reason is this:

Click to enlarge

Yes, it's those darn frets. After sixty or seventy hours of playing the trebles (made of nylon) begin to get dented over each fret and the basses, especially the thinnest one, the 4th string, actually wear through the wire wrapping to the core (also nylon) on the second fret. The clarity of pitch begins to degrade and, for the basses, they start to sound dead. So if you basses are going thump thump and you are having trouble tuning: CHANGE YOUR STRINGS!

I have used just about every brand of strings there are over the years: Aranjuez (remember them?), Augustine (endorsed by Segovia), Savarez (the most elegant, made in France) and Pro Arte. These last are very reliable, well-priced strings and available locally, so I've been using them a lot:


Nothing wrong with them and I've been using them for several years. But when I was doing some recording last year I started wondering if there weren't some better options these days. Savarez has come out with a lot of new technology, but I have already tried them with mixed results. Savarez are wonderful strings, but no matter what they do, the basses always seem to go prematurely dead.

Pro Arte has some new and interesting strings out and I tried these out:


I'm not sure what the "composite core" refers to, presumably the core of the wound basses. These strings come with an extra third string. This one, the thickest treble, tends to be a bit pudgy sounding and this extra string, a kind of coffee-and-cream color, is supposed to help by being brighter and balancing better with the basses. It is described as a "monofilament composite." It does have a bit of a different feel and is a bit brighter. It felt to me a bit like a gut string (which I tried years ago). Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks, it started sounding quite crappy (just like a gut string!). So I took it off and put on the other 3rd. Bottom line: nice strings, the basses stood up really well, but I have my doubts about that extra 3rd. They have another type out called "Dynacore" and the back of the box refers to a "Blended Polymer Core", but I haven't tried them yet:


Instead, today I went back to some strings I was introduced to a few years ago and found very impressive: Hannabach, made in Germany:


Very nice strings! Clear, open sound. Funny thing though, when I ordered them through Amazon, they ended up coming from a distributor in Japan! We're so globalized now.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on strings today. Now to get back to the guitar and see how those Hannabach are sounding.

Here is a piece I recorded years ago, and I'm pretty sure I had a set of Pro Arte EJ46s on. This is the last movement of El Decameron negro by Leo Brouwer, Balada de la Doncella Enamorada:


video

And It's Over to You

I'll admit it, I can't think of a single thing to blog about this morning. I'm not ready to finish off my series of posts on Richard Wagner, a prospective post on amplifying classical music didn't seem quite interesting enough, I've probably written too much about up-and-coming pianists and their fashion choices and I don't have any musical analyses cued up and ready to go. Then I ran across this on YouTube:


I'll admit that one reason I looked at it was because it was a concert from Pollack Hall in the School of Music at McGill University in Montreal--I played a lot of concerts in that hall! This is a piece for four percussionists playing four drum kits by Julia Wolfe and it probably came up because I listened to parts of a couple of pieces by her the other day. She has just been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship which comes with a hefty grant and last year she won a Pulitzer Prize in music. So, a big new name. But I have to say that I didn't hear anything that kept me listening. This is Anthracite Fields, for which she won the Pulitzer:


Sorry, you have to follow the link because Blogger refuses to find the clip. It is very odd, because when I type Julia Wolfe Anthracite Fields into the search engine in Blogger, all it will turn up is various documentaries and trailers about the piece. But there it is, right there on YouTube. If it weren't for the fact that search engine results are being very obviously manipulated these days, I would think nothing of it. In any case, as I find documentaries tiresome and, in this case, pretty much a classic case of special pleading (you will like this piece because the composer is a nice person and has lots to say and the performers are enthusiastic and we went to a lot of trouble in the presentation and it uncovers some interesting American history). I am only interested in a documentary if I already find the music interesting. I really don't want to hear any special pleading. In this case, for example, the piece itself sounds remarkably dreary and musically uninteresting. Repetition yes, but without any of the magical energy that Steve Reich instills in his pieces. Anthracite Fields is pretty much unlistenable in my book.

But what do you think of the first piece, the one for four drum sets? Frankly, I'm completely perplexed. I found it hard to listen to straight through, so I skipped and browsed to see if anything interesting was going to happen. I mean, there must be some really good reason to write for four drum sets, right? Plus, Pollack Hall! Me, I really didn't find anything. It is as if you took the fundamental elements of Basic Rudiments for drummers and deconstructed them. Take each element, focus on it for a while, then move on to the next. That's it, really.

Am I right, am I wrong? I throw myself on the mercy of the court. What do my league of readers and commentators think?

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Aesthetics of Taste

I recently put up a post about crossover in which I said:
In order to believe that crossover really brings people into classical music you have to presume a theory of aesthetic taste that says that the same people who like unchallenging, formulaic and maudlin music will equally like demanding and emotionally profound music. You know anyone like that? Me neither.
I got one comment that disagreed:
I know plenty of people like that, and it would be easy for you to see the same, too. For years I have used Last.fm to keep a record of the music I listen to. Among classical fans whose listening is documented there, it’s extremely common to see a Bruckner symphony or a Beethoven concerto followed by, say, a Kylie Minogue, Mylene Farmer, or Lady Gaga track. Perhaps these listeners consider both of the same ultimate worth, perhaps the lighter bit of music is just a palate cleanser after the heavy stuff. Rarely do I see people who listen exclusively to “demanding and emotionally profound music”.
I responded with a "thanks" because I really do welcome disagreement as it usually leads to two things: either I change my mind about something based on additional evidence, or I deepen my understanding of something based on further discussion. I would like to take a page from my old philosophy professor and re-word the comment. I think that the theory implied here is that in the case of people who listen to both popular music and classical music, they do so either because they consider them both of equal aesthetic value or that they consider the lighter music as a kind of palate cleanser--the sorbet in between the heavier courses at the musical banquet.

Now, as a matter of fact, I do happen to listen to popular music (defined as everything that is neither classical nor world music), though I don't do so on a regular basis. I tend to listen to two kinds of popular music: either music that came out when I was in my late teens and early twenties or music I discovered later on. But in these two categories, I have narrowed it down to music that seems to have stood the test of time. I listen to the Beatles, but not Herman's Hermits, Bob Dylan, but not Joni Mitchell, Talking Heads, but not Madonna. So I would probably offer the argument that, even in pop music, it is possible to distinguish the lighter from the more profound. But at the end of the day I am going to say that while Bob Dylan is truly profound in his own way, the profundity comes more from the lyrics than the music. J. S. Bach is in no danger of being overshadowed by the harmonic richness of Bob Dylan. So I suppose that I might lean towards the idea the lighter music can act as a palate cleanser between heavier items. But I never listen that way! Do artists compose programs that way? Not to my knowledge, but I suppose it's possible. The question is, are there significant numbers of people who listen that way? Yes, that is very possible, but I might like to argue that they are passive, not active, listeners. As a passive listener, you go with the flow. But an active listener is more demanding and, at least as I see it, wants to delve more deeply, not take a musical break.

Am I all wet here? How do you listen?

Let's have some music to accompany your deliberations. This is Grigory Sokolov playing the Allegretto from Beethoven's "Tempest" Sonata at a concert in Cyprus in 2006:


Sunday, September 25, 2016

My Kind of Crazy!

I spent a good part of yesterday listening to a pianist I just discovered and reading some reviews going back a couple of years. The pianist is Igor Levit, born in Russia to Jewish parents (his mother headed the piano department at the conservatory) he grew up in Germany from an early age.


A while back I was trying to get a sense of the level of artistry of a couple of new pianists coming on the scene named Yuja Wang and Khatia Buniatishvili. They were both seeing a lot of publicity and interviews, but a lot of it focussed on their personal stories and image. Yuja Wang in particular got a lot of initial publicity for wearing very short skirts. So I went to YouTube to see what I could hear and got a lot of concertos and flashy repertoire. Yes, you can get a sense of the technique from that, but not much sense of the real artistry. Especially with the piano, which is a machine for producing a lot of notes quickly, you have to look for repertoire with more substance. So I searched around for some clips of Bach and Beethoven. Nothing. Nada. Hm, that's interesting. Of course, this year Yuja Wang has been touring with the Hammerklavier Sonata so that's something we can listen to. I compared hers and Grigory Sokolov's performances in this recent post.

But when it comes to Igor Levit, who is the same age as Yuja Wang, by the way, twenty-nine, there really is no difficulty trying to find him playing substantial repertoire: he plays nothing else! His debut album on Sony was two discs of the late Beethoven piano sonatas and already reviewers were saying "what can he do for an encore?" The answer was his second Sony album, also two discs, this time of all the Bach Partitas. His most recent, which just won the Gramophone Album of the Year for 2016, is three discs of the Bach Goldberg Variations, the Beethoven Diabelli Variations and the Rzewski The People United Will Never Be Defeated variations. Good lord! Now what will he do next?

I spent yesterday listening through this last album a couple of times. Honestly, I have not heard a musician with this level of intense and profound artistry since Grigory Sokolov. Levit is very different of course: he is a young man and often it is the sheer energy that impresses. These are not polite performances. The Diabelli Variations especially are played with such edgy intensity that they sound almost atonal in places. The Rzewski is manic to an extreme and in the next moment deliberate and restrained. The Bach is both lovely and haunting and even at times like riding in a Ferrari at full acceleration. There is no need to worry about the same old same old repertoire--Levit finds a great deal in these works to convey with new expression. Actually, that is precisely why these pieces (well, not the Rzewski yet) are so highly respected: they are bottomless wells of artistic truth.

In listening to Igor Levit you are listening to the pianist who really is the best of the younger generation (at least of the ones I have heard). And looking back at that fulsome tribute to Yuja Wang in the New Yorker just last week, you realize that they are talking about their local artist (she lives in Manhattan) who has made good and looks good while doing it. But Mr. Levit is in another ball park entirely. Here he is playing the Aria from the Goldbergs:


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Is "Crossover" a Gateway Drug?

Regular readers know how I feel about "crossover." What's that, the guy in back asks? Crossover is really a marketing niche where a classical musician might cross over some invisible line and play repertoire that you wouldn't expect: like the Spiderman Theme. Or it might equally be a popular vocalist taking a stab at some light classical repertoire. But that doesn't seem to happen much. There are also some musical groups that seem to live in the crossover zone like 2Cellos and ThePianoGuys. But for the most part it is simply a transparent attempt to jack up sales by pulling in some buyers that don't usually buy classical recordings. Here is our latest example:


Now don't get me wrong. Everyone should play the music they like and buy the music they like. Let a hundred flowers bloom. Usually I would make an aesthetic critique, but I want to take a different perspective on it. It is often claimed that one of the benefits of crossover is that it leads more people to become classical music lovers. This is one of the arguments used to convince classical musicians to play crossover and for symphony orchestra to add pops programs to their season. This is what I will call the "gateway drug" theory. Crossover is a gateway drug that leads to people listening to actual classical music. The "gateway drug theory" has been around for a while:
Gateway drug theory (alternatively, stepping-stone theory, escalation hypothesis, or progression hypothesis) is a comprehensive catchphrase for the medical theory that the use of a psychoactive drug can be coupled to an increased probability of the use of further drugs.
One day you are listening to Lang Lang and Lindsey Stirling hack their way through the Spiderman Theme:


and the next day you find yourself mysteriously attracted to performances of the Cavatina from the Beethoven Quartet op. 130:


Nah!

I don't think that the gateway drug theory has much going for it either. I'm pretty sure that if you go and look at everyone's shelves next to Lang Lang crossover you won't find serious Beethoven. You will probably find Nora Jones (as we see on Amazon: "Frequently bought together").

In order to believe that crossover really brings people into classical music you have to presume a theory of aesthetic taste that says that the same people who like unchallenging, formulaic and maudlin music will equally like demanding and emotionally profound music. You know anyone like that? Me neither.

Of course just about everything we read in the mass media tells us different. Every single interview with a classical musician in the Guardian prompts them to tell us what they listen to when they are relaxing--and it is always some unlikely pop music. Sure, sometimes I'm in the mood for a little Led Zeppelin. About a minute and a half. Every ten or fifteen years.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Apparently in the future, cows will be accorded the privacy that few humans possess today. Witness this photo from Google street view:


It is unknown why only the cow on the right has its face blurred out. Perhaps it is underage? Or an unindicted co-conspirator?

* * *

Winston Churchill won WWII on four hours sleep a night, Cuban cigars, and the consumption of significant amounts of alcohol. This latter was on the advice of his doctor:


* * *

Here is an item from Slipped Disc about the National Medal of Arts awards, to be presented by President Obama in an upcoming ceremony. Philip Glass gets one, but Steve Reich does not. As is very often the case, the comments are very amusing!

* * *

Somehow I missed this review by Norman Lebrecht of a new book on Venezuela's music education program "El Sistema":
From the results I have seen in the U.S. and Europe, the system has yielded a playing elite. Performing with Mr. Dudamel as the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, the young musicians display precision and enthusiasm along with a sense of mutual responsibility and an appetite for reckless fun. To watch them in the pit at La Scala last summer, playing the consumptive tragedy of “La Bohème” as if from real life, was to witness music’s redemptive potential.
Mr. Dudamel, a vibrant man who commands widespread respect and affection, is the world’s most sought-after conductor. Other Sistema alumni include the Ulster Orchestra conductor Rafael Payare, the Tucson Symphony music director José Luis Gomez and the Berlin Philharmonic double-bass player Edicson Ruiz. All learned their music from scratch under Mr. Abreu’s beady eye. “You have to treat children like artists,” says Mr. Dudamel. “If you don’t, the action of art doesn’t work.”
The puzzle is the relationship between this successful program and the reality of the failing state that Venezuela has become. The review mentions this without really coming to grips with it.

* * *

 The Gramophone's 2016 Recording of the Year has been won by Igor Levit for a CD of the Bach Goldberg Variations, the Beethoven Diabelli Variations and "The People United Will Never Be Defeated" by Frederic Rzewski. One out of those three seems out of place! But I may have just never given the Rzewski a chance for political reasons! It is a lot more interesting piece than the trite-sounding theme reveals. Here is the first part of a performance by the composer:


* * *

The cultural war goes on apace... You didn't know we were in a cultural war? That's probably because it has been overshadowed by the religious war, nuclear proliferation and the War on Women! But, for sure, there is a cultural war going on and an interesting recent skirmish comes from Staatsballett Berlin, a ballet company with a strong classical tradition. The New York Times has the story:
More than 5,000 signatures have been posted on a petition started by the dancers of the Staatsballett Berlin to protest the appointment of the contemporary dance choreographer Sasha Waltz as one of the company’s next artistic directors. The announcement that Ms. Waltz and Johannes Öhman, now the director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, would succeed the current director, Nacho Duato, in 2019, was announced last week by Michael Müller, the mayor of Berlin.
The petition, posted in German, English, Italian and Japanese, states that hiring Ms. Waltz “has to be compared to an appointment of a tennis trainer as a football coach or an art museum director as an orchestral director.” It adds: “We respect the work of Sacha Waltz but find her completely unsuitable to lead our company. Sasha Waltz is a choreographer of dance theater. This form of stage dance needs other artistic qualities than those which a classically educated ballet dancer has developed and is dedicated to.”
I think that what this illustrates is pushback from artists who are firmly based in classical traditions wanting them respected and not tossed into a contemporary meatgrinder. On another level, it shows the potential problems with government support of the arts: at some point the appointments start becoming politically influenced.

* * *

Here is an interesting article on move soundtracks: Why You Can't Remember What Modern Movies Sound Like.
...the problem has to do with temp tracks. Temp tracks are used by directors in early edits of a movie, as a replacement for the official soundtrack before it's made. However, a lot of temp tracks end up sounding a lot like the finished version.
Reusing old soundtracks is not new, but when all the new blockbusters borrow music from each other, it can end up repetitive and boring. Combine that with studios that refuse to take risks with the film score, and you end up with a soundtrack that's easily forgettable.
There is a fairly long video clip that analyzes Marvel soundtracks and illustrates quite well their formulaic lack of creativity. Dan Golding (who sounds Australian to me) has an interesting response titled A Theory of Film Music:



* * *

I'm afraid that over the years I have become more and more disenchanted with the cultural, academic and social elites. They seem to have become more and more condescending as they become less and less competent and knowledgeable. This article by Nassim Nicolas Taleb explains why: The Intellectual Yet Idiot:
Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They can't tell science from scientism — in fact in their eyes scientism looks more scientific than real science.
The IYI has been wrong, historically, on Stalinism, Maoism, GMOs, Iraq, Libya, Syria, lobotomies, urban planning, low carbohydrate diets, gym machines, behaviorism, transfats, freudianism, portfolio theory, linear regression, Gaussianism, Salafism, dynamic stochastic equilibrium modeling, housing projects, selfish gene, Bernie Madoff (pre-blowup) and p-values. But he is convinced that his current position is right.
Heh!

* * *

Here is an article about coming to love Mahler: Music That's Everything:
I never cared much for the music of Gustav Mahler. I tried to like it, but without success. The problem, for me, wasn’t that Mahler was modern or unapproachable or “difficult.” Somehow, and despite a natural predisposition against modernism of all kinds, I had learned to appreciate the music of Schoenberg and particularly Shostakovich. Mahler’s symphonies, though, which in one sense are much more approachable and “tonal” than that of modernist composers (he’s commonly categorized as “late Romantic” rather than modern) struck me as deliberately incoherent. Twenty years ago I bought recordings of all nine, listened to them dutifully, but with only the partial exception of the First Symphony, the “Titan,” couldn’t make anything of them. I’ve seen various ones performed on different occasions, but rarely with profit. His famous remark to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, endlessly recited in discussions of Mahler’s music—“The symphony is the world! The symphony must embrace everything!”—sounded to me like highfalutin hooey.
 Mind you, the reverse is also possible. Back when I was an undergraduate I loved Mahler. His lengthy melodramatic wallowing sounded Really Profound. But now I can't stand him. He just sounds neurotic and over-medicated.

* * *

Here is article number 1,257 in a never-ending series about how classical music is All Different Now as the Younger Generation of Artists are Changing Everything. It's from The Independent.
“What happens in the space where genres, sounds and ideas collide?” asked the Barbican when it invited the German pianist and composer Nils Frahm to put together a weekend of music in July.
Here’s what happened: Frahm’s show sold out in minutes. The event was heralded by BBC radio DJ Gilles Peterson, who invited Frahm to join him on his Saturday show. The Guardian printed a huge profile. Even Resident Advisor, the online electronic music community, went along to review, acknowledging Frahm’s crossover appeal among DJs and club devotees. 
One thing didn’t happen. “Not one reviewer from the classical press came,” said Harriet Moss, creative director of a new contemporary classical record label called Cognitive Shift. “Partly because they don’t know where to put it.”
Actually, I think they knew exactly where to put it! Based on the maudlin bit of repetitive sludge that accompanies the article, sounding just like the love-child of Pachelbel and John Luther Adams, I think that one's best option was to avoid the concert! Just a safety tip, one way to identify things to be avoided is to look for the tell-tale meaningless mixed metaphor: "What happens in the space where genres, sounds and ideas collide?" Nothing good, my friends, nothing good!

* * *

And that brings us to our envoi for today. We haven't put up a Sibelius symphony for a while and he is the perfect antidote to Mahler. Instead of confused, lengthy wallowing, we have crisp Northern symphonic goodness. This is the Symphony No. 6 in D minor, about as long as a single Mahler movement. Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, conductor. I think Sibelius said the opening was like the smell of new-fallen snow:


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Light Blogging

Sorry for the light blogging, but the last few days have been very busy. Still getting organized after my move. But there will be a nice Friday Miscellanea tomorrow and more good stuff on the weekend. In the meantime, here is a pianist I am just discovering: Igor Levit, playing Beethoven op. 109:


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Classical Music is a Round Peg

Everywhere you look, people in the classical music business are trying to find ways to make it appealing to 21st century people. Branding! Entrepreneurial training! More bums in seats! Popular programming! Take the music to the people (parking garages, pubs)! Re-branding! Social media! Naked opera! Diversity! Equality!

Whew! About all this is missing is climate change and LBGTQ.

All of these efforts, some successful, many not, have the result of distorting classical music into something it is not: a normal part of life in the 21st century. Face it, most people, even those who love music, see classical music as not being a comfortable fit with their lives. Concerts take too long and you have to be quiet and not be checking your phone. The performers dress in these old-fashioned costumes. The music doesn't seem relevant to The Way We Live Now. And what the heck is a "sonata" anyway?

Whenever we try to make classical music fit into today's scene, it is like trying to put a round peg in a square hole. You can try, but unless you do a lot of whittling, it ain't gonna work. So that's what is recommended: whittle off the bits that don't fit: out-dated concert garb, long programs, audience silence, special concert halls and most of all, that classical repertoire. If you whittle off enough, you get pretty close to the pop experience:


But you know what is truly great about classical music? It is not pop music and it doesn't fit very well into our contemporary monoculture. Classical music is like a fig in a bowl of fennel, a goat in amongst the sheep. It is valuable precisely because of what it is not: just another musical niche in with the hip hop and the alt-country and the indie folk. It is a voice from another world and, as such, it give us perspective on our world. It is like a whole series of time capsules from different times and peoples who thought and felt differently than we do. Now that's diversity! Our problem is that mass media, social media and all the rest of that technology that connects us, turns us into a giant echo chamber all reacting to the same things and thinking the same thoughts.

Classical music, like classical literature and art, is great because it is not another hue of popular culture. Just that is appealing and refreshing. But in addition to that, it also happens to be a wonderfully powerful aesthetic experience.

The clip I posted above, of ThePianoGuys doing a mashup of Mozart and Adele, should be contrasted with the original piece by Mozart, to see just how much was whittled away:


ThePianoGuys clip is lugubrious, sentimental and slightly vulgar. The Mozart original is, well, terrifying. Not the thing to put on something like an album of "The Most Relaxing Classical Music."

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pasta with Italian Sausage

I started to do the occasional post on food when I was vacationing in Madrid back in May. The food was just so wonderful that I had to tell you about it! Then, last month, I did a post on roasting a chicken with a new recipe I had discovered. So now I want to do another food post. This one is a recipe I have been making for a long, long time. It was originally inspired by a recipe from a book by Umberto Menghi, the Vancouver chef who had several Italian restaurants at one point. I really learned to cook Italian from his books. I am at the point where I almost never go to Italian restaurants because what I can do at home is better. So here is one of my most successful recipes. This is quite a simple recipe, but I have modified it considerably from the original.

Pasta with Italian Sausage


Ingredients:

One Italian sausage per person
One good-sized Roma tomato per person
Basil (I used dried, but use fresh, chopped up, if you have it)
Extra virgin olive oil
About a quarter pound of pasta per person, I like capelli, spaghettini, linguine or tagliatelle
salt
Sambal Oelek

Directions:

Put a large pot of water, with salt, on to boil for the pasta.
In a skillet or frypan, on medium-low, heat about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil per person.
Using the point of a knife, slit the casing of the Italian sausage and peel it off. Slice the sausage into rounds about a half-inch thick. Place these in the frying pan. After they have browned, turn them over. Sprinkle with the basil.
Slice the tomatoes in two lengthwise and remove the eye. Then slice each half into thin wedges. When the sausages have browned, add these to the pan. Salt to taste.
Finally, when the tomatoes are cooked (three or four minutes) add about a tablespoon of sambal oelek per person to the pan and mix together.
When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan. Toss everything together and put on serving plates.
Grate real Parmesan cheese (from Italy!) over each serving.
Enjoy!

Pick a robust wine to stand up to the pronounced flavors of the dish. Maybe a good California or Australian Shiraz.

In the original he used ground chiles, but I don't like them much as you are always picking out little dried bits from your teeth. The sambal oelek works much better.

No photo because it wasn't until I had eaten half the plate that I decided to do a post. Here's a picture of the jar of sambal oelek:


Personally, I think that one of the biggest secrets to Italian cooking, and one that no Italian restaurant in my area seems aware of, is the need to use real Parmesan cheese for grating. It comes in those big 50 lb rounds and it's not cheap. But it is so, so worth it. That rubbery, tasteless stuff that comes in a box or can, pre-grated, is awful. And so is the cheese from Uruguay that is also labeled "Parmesan". Parmesan cheese comes from Parma. In Italy. And it has a unique and irreplaceable flavor.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Oldest Melody: 1400 BC?

The oldest written music we supposedly have is of a melody transcribed from a Hurrian tablet in cuneiform. Here is a link with more information:
The hymn was discovered on a clay tablet in Ugarit, now part of modern-day Syria, and is dedicated the Hurrians’ goddess of the orchards Nikkal.
The clay tablet text, which was discovered alongside around 30 other tablet fragments, specifies 9 lyre strings and the intervals between those strings – kind of like an ancient guitar tab.
But this is the only hymn that could be reconstructed – although the name of the composer is now lost.
Here is a translation of the associated text:
‘Once I have endeared the deity, she will love me in her heart,
the offer I bring may wholly cover my sin,
bringing sesame oil may work on my behalf in awe may I'
And here is a performance on lyre:


Because I have studied old notations (Paleography, a doctoral seminar in musicology) I know how rudimentary musical notation was before the invention of the staff and rhythmic values around 1000 AD. So I tend to listen to these "reconstructions" with a jaundiced ear. A remarkable number of the more ambitious ones end up sounding a lot like Carl Orff because he wrote music that he wanted to suggest ancient music. In other words, we are not hearing or reconstructing anything with any authenticity, we are mostly just projecting.

This rendition is a little bit different. Frankly it sounds (and looks) exactly like what someone might have improvised at Burning Man! Modal improvisation given a few rudimentary notes may have remained pretty much the same throughout human history. Thank god we invented something better!

Here is another realization of, I think, the same melody. This one is more ambitious and manages to sound like an introduction to Kashmir by Led Zeppelin:


Bear in mind that everything you hear, apart from the single notes, everything else, the rhythms, the drones, the arpeggios, is the complete invention of the performer (s).

Mind you, it does make you want to rub sesame oil all over yourself, doesn't it?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Music Marketing Photos

Every time I see one of those absurdly hyped up photos of the latest classical virtuoso I want to write silly captions. So here goes.

Yuja Wang:

Oh god, oh god, oh god--I am so glad I got this "very special" piano bench!


Lang Lang:

No, I'm not here to give you the prostate exam, why do you ask?

Vanessa Mae:

Uh, Vanessa? Please tell me that is not what you are going to wear onstage!


Khatia Buniatishvili:

And that's why I didn't get the "tramp-stamp" tattoo. You know, the one on the lower back?

Simon Rattle and Lang Lang:

Lang Lang, if you rush those sixteenths one more time I'm going to pistol whip you with this baton!
Milos Karadaglic:

Well, yes, I did spend the summer working as a lumberjack. How did you guess?

Bond:

What's wrong with wearing flower diadems? We think they look very nice!

The Piano Guys:

Look, can we change the key on this one? Because if I hit that low F, this piano is going right over the edge!
And that's that for that! Please, this was all in good fun and I didn't want to offend anyone.


Much...

What is Best in Life, Conan?

It seems as if one of the few places that wisdom might be passed along these days is in popular culture rather than the traditional institutions of schools, churches and government. Wait, perhaps the churches are still in the game--I would be the last to know! Now why do I say such an outrageous thing? It seems as if instead of young people being given the riches of Western Civilization, they are instead being taught to revile them. Every significant figure in Western history, if he is white and male as most of them are (and why is that?) is condemned because of being a significant figure in Western history and white and male. As we are told over and over, the history of the West is a history of oppression, racism and colonialism. Oddly enough, while there are those things in Western history, the history of every other region and culture on earth has much more oppression, racism and colonialism! But magically, through some strange operation of multiculturalism, none of that counts, only Western culture has failings.

In order for this spectacularly massive lie to be sold to the younger generations, they first had to be made nearly completely ignorant of history. That was surprisingly easy and just took a few protests on campus while chanting "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ Has Got to Go!" Of course this was preceded by decades of Gramscian softening up.

The result is a vacuous progressive monoculture that dominates government, media and academia. It is pretty significant in popular culture too, but there are little cracks where the truth peeks through. Let me give you an example with a famous clip from the movie Conan the Barbarian (1982) where Arnold Schwarzenegger explains what is best in life:


Just in case the accent was deceiving, Conan says that what is best in life is "To crush your enemies -- See them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!" Sounds like fun! But there is actually an interesting point there. The question is "what is best in life" not what is most enjoyable or most pleasant in life and our tendency is to forget the difference. "Best" is a superlative deriving from "good", a normative term meaning what can or should be commended. It is not equivalent to the most pleasant or enjoyable. The truth of this is also in the film. Conan's most pleasant and enjoyable time is when he is reclining on fine furs, surrounded by bowls of precious stones, drinking wine and in the company of the very beautiful Valeria played by Sandahl Bergman. That doesn't end well, of course!! What is best in life is not to indulge in mere physical pleasure (I think Plato said something about that), but to be engaged, to be doing things, specifically, to be doing good things.

So if you ask me what I think is best in life, my answer is "To explore aesthetically strong and active music, to compose and play music, to write about music and to study through scores, recordings and books music of interest." Ok, it's a bit focussed, so sue me! One should add in a lot of other things like taking the opportunity to be kind, to spend time with friends and family and all sorts of other things that we commonly understand.

That idea, that I just put there, about "aesthetically active" is something that just occurred to me as I was listening to Grigory Sokolov the other day. What makes his performances so aesthetically energized? It is not that he plays faster or louder, it is that he activates the music in very profound ways. We hear all the different voices with great clarity, we hear the exact significant intensity of every harmony, we hear the acuity of the rhythm and we hear the notes and chords placed just where they should be aesthetically. And so on. Put into words, it is vague and fuzzy. But when you hear it done, it is perfectly clear and evident.


Friday Miscellanea

Let's kick off the miscellanea with a fling--a piano fling to be precise:


You don't see that every day. Wouldn't it have been even cooler if they had flung a 9' concert grand? I believe that the technology they are using is some version of the medieval trebuchet.

* * *

We seem to be in the Age of the Trivial. Ancient philosophers described history as a Golden Age, followed by some lesser ones. According to Wikipedia:
The term Golden Age (Greek: χρύσεον γένος chryseon genos) comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five (or more) Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, Heroic, and then the present (Iron), which is a period of decline, sometimes followed by the Leaden Age. By definition, one is never in the Golden Age.

Yes, the Leaden Age is fast approaching. One of the signs is the unashamed triviality of contemporary art. As example, the Wall Street Journal tells us about British artist David Schrigley's monumental sculpture just unveiled in Central Park, New York:

Click to enlarge
Yes, that's a 17 foot tall granite sculpture of a, wait for it, grocery list. He really wanted to remember to pick up a few things and that's why the sculpture is titled "Memorial". Sigh. "Nuts" I say.

* * *

Revisiting the topic of a post from way back that is still #6 on the list of my most popular posts (in the right hand column), here is a New Yorker article about Yuja Wang and how a fashionable young woman piano virtuoso dresses: Yuja Wang and the Art of Performance. The accompanying photo just makes me want to write silly captions! Here is the opening paragraph:
What is one to think of the clothes the twenty-nine-year-old pianist Yuja Wang wears when she performs—extremely short and tight dresses that ride up as she plays, so that she has to tug at them when she has a free hand, or clinging backless gowns that give an impression of near-nakedness (accompanied in all cases by four-inch-high stiletto heels)? In 2011, Mark Swed, the music critic of the L.A. Times, referring to the short and tight orange dress Yuja wore when she played Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl, wrote that “had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult.” Two years later, the New Criterion critic Jay Nordlinger characterized the “shorter-than-short red dress, barely covering her rear,” that Yuja wore for a Carnegie Hall recital as “stripper-wear.” Never has the relationship between what we see at a concert and what we hear come under such perplexing scrutiny. Is the seeing part a distraction (Glenn Gould thought it was) or is it—can it be—a heightening of the musical experience?
Thankfully, after that teaser, we are treated to a very long and in-depth article that talks about the music, career, how she lives, how she grew up and so on. The New Yorker seems to sense that Yuja Wang is going to be one of the leading pianists of our time. And they might be right. I squirmed a little bit at the direct comparisons between her and Murray Perahia, who is forty years older.


* * *

Somehow I missed this when it came out. Eric Clapton's autobiography was published in 2007.
“I found a pattern in my behavior that had been repeating itself for years, decades even. Bad choices were my specialty, and if something honest and decent came along, I would shun it or run the other way.”
With striking intimacy and candor, Eric Clapton tells the story of his eventful and inspiring life in this poignant and honest autobiography. More than a rock star, he is an icon, a living embodiment of the history of rock music. Well known for his reserve in a profession marked by self-promotion, flamboyance, and spin, he now chronicles, for the first time, his remarkable personal and professional journeys.
* * *

The latest on the trials and tribulations of traveling musicians comes from The Strad. Vueling Airlines forced violinist José Manuel Jiménez García to transport his violin between his knees on a recent flight:


Back in the 70s I actually took a flight with Iberia with my entire guitar, in its case, jammed between my knees. The thing is that it is supposed to be unsafe to have luggage just casually propped here and there: that's why they have the overhead racks--to keep luggage from flying around in case of turbulence!!!


* * *

Here is a quite interesting interview with opera producer David McVicar. Worth reading the whole thing, but here is a sample:
Mozart is like Shakespeare. Mozart is like the world. Every Mozartean character is seen in 360 degrees. Not every Verdian character is. Some Verdi characters are quite flat. You need to flesh them out to find other dimensions. But even Barbarina in [The Marriage of] Figaro is completely rounded and completely convincing as a character. Because I’ve done a lot of Mozart, and I’ve done a lot of the same titles in different productions, and the wealth of detail you can explore and the new things you can discover each time you come back to a piece like Figaro and [Don] Giovanni — it’s remarkable.
Yes, indeed, Mozart is an artist on the level of Shakespeare and the problem with the reception of classical music in today's culture is that the public conception of Mozart is that he wrote that pretty piece Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and made Salieri look silly in that movie. Shakespeare gets much better press--must have a better agent!

* * *

 And for our envoi today what could be more appropriate than to watch and listen to a Mozart opera with those 3D characters? Here ya go, three hours of the best; just like Shakespeare except with music:


Credits:

Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage Of Figaro)
Paris 1993 production
Figaro - Bryn Terfel
Il Conte d'Almaviva - Rodney Gilfry
Susanna - Alison Hagley
La Contessa d'Almaviva - Hillevi Martinpelto
Cherubino - Pamela Helen Stephen
Don Basilio/Don Curzio - Francis Egerton
Marcellina - Susan McCulloch
Dottor Bartolo - Carlos Feller
Antonio - Julian Clarkson
Barbarina - Constanze Backes
Music by: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by: Lorenzo Da Ponte
Director - Olivier Mille
Conductor - John Eliot Gardiner

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Battle of the Hammerklaviers!

Reminds me of an old joke: the English Baroque Concert Society played Vivaldi last night, Vivaldi lost! Yes, there is always the feeling that music and out-and-out competition do not quite go together. But after reading the New Yorker article on Yuja Wang and how splendiferous her Hammerklavier Sonata is, I thought maybe it was time to do some side by side listening. After all, they end the article by asserting Ms Wang's "incomparable musicality." Well, maybe it is not so incomparable after all. Let's see.

The piece in question, one of the great thorny challenges of the piano repertoire, is the Sonata in B flat, op 106 by Beethoven. Here is the original title page:


Now "Hammer-Klavier" in German just means "keyboard with hammers" as opposed to the older harpsichord which is a keyboard with plectra. Beethoven went through a nationalist phase where he began to use German tempo words instead of Italian ones. "Pianoforte" is, of course, an Italian word that points to the ability of the keyboard with hammers instead of plectra to play both soft and loud. In any case, the word "Hammer-Klavier" does not signify that this piece is particularly loud or fierce. It is just a handy nickname like "Moonlight" Sonata or "The Tempest".

In order that the comparisons be fair, you should listen to these clips with the score and NOT watching the videos.

This is quite a long sonata, between forty and fifty minutes depending, so I will just talk about the first movement. I have listened to two performances of the the first movement by each performer. Let's listen first to Yuja Wang at the Verbier Festival this year:


The first movement is about nine minutes long in this performance. Next is the performance at Carnegie Hall this year and the first movement is a little over eleven minutes long:


Then we have Grigory Sokolov in a performance at Munich in 1975. He also takes around eleven minutes for the first movement:


The final one I listened to is on this CD: Sokolov: Schubert/Beethoven and it is the longest of all; the first movement takes almost fourteen minutes. For some inexplicable reason, Blogger won't embed the clip, so just follow the link:


Trust me, it is worth it. This last clip, recorded in a concert in Salzburg in 2013, was just put up on Aug. 23 and so far has had only five views! It has been released on this CD, which I recommend (for the Schubert even more than the Beethoven):


What I would like to do at this point is nothing. I have taken away Yuja Wang's huge publicity advantage and just posted two of her performances followed by two of Grigory Sokolov's and all you have to do is listen to them. Preferably watching the score, not the video! Then you can simply come to your own conclusions! But I am happy to offer a couple of thoughts. It is actually very hard to put one's reactions into words. Often one musician will run into another coming out of a concert and one will simply shake their head while the other returns that with a smile. Yes, we both know what we think and no need to put it into words.

It is hard to put into words because, while I think it is quite clear who is the better performer of this sonata, exactly why is not so accessible in language. For example, while what Yuja Wang does is certainly very accomplished and quite correct: notes in the right places, dynamics tidily done, phrases phrased and so on, it never seems to amount to much. Whereas, Sokolov, even in the early performance which is full of fire and rhythm, always seems to be revealing something: inner voices, that bass line you never noticed, the whole of that odd harmony. And he is always with where the harmony is going. The last performance, the slowest of all, is also the finest. Things that don't make a lot of sense when they are rushed become clear and inevitable at the slower tempo. And yes, there is some controversy about Beethoven's tempo markings. 

But really, were you expecting anything else? Really? As a very seasoned Czech violinist said to me as we ran into one another leaving a concert by a young Canadian cellist, "what, you were expecting Rostropovich, maybe?"

Nope.