Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Sometimes you read a review and you just get the feeling that the reviewer is out of his depth. Let's read Andrew Clements' review of a recent Beethoven concert by Igor Levit:
Three years ago Levit chose to make his debut on disc with late Beethoven – performances of the last five sonatas, that made a bold artistic statement, and one that suggested he was already a fully mature and searching Beethoven interpreter. Here, however, his playing of the A major Op 101 and the B flat Op 106 was far less convincing. Unlike the recordings, these seemed like interpretations that were still to be finalised, or perhaps were being radically rethought.
That first CD of late Beethoven was followed by another of Bach Partitas and a third one, all of these double CDs, of variations by Bach, Beethoven and Rzewski. An artist as bold as that--who else would dare to record the late Beethoven sonatas as his debut disc?--is likely the kind of artist that would be always exploring the aesthetic possibilities. I am reminded of a story told me by a friend of mine who was a music reviewer. He attended a couple of concerts by Ivo Pogorelich with the Vancouver Symphony (back in the 80s when he was in his prime). After the first one the local reviewer wrote a review complaining that the performance was too...something. Honestly, I forget. But you know, too something! Obviously Pogorelich read the review because the next night he played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 in exactly the opposite way to the way he had the night before. Just to mess with the reviewer. Someone at that level of artistry can do that. Reviewers sometimes forget that some of the people that they review are on rather a higher plane than they are.

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I dunno, I just found the whole performance rather cold: Tim Linhart’s Amazing ‘ICEstrument’ Orchestra
In Lulea, Sweden, Linhart has made his own igloo concert hall where musicians perform with string and percussion instruments made of ice. One of the major problems with conducting an ice orchestra is that the instruments eventually fall out of tune due to body heat from the performers and audience. This has led Linhart to create a unique venting system in his ice theater that filters the body heat out of the igloo.
Here is a clip of the music:

Sure, the music is rather banal, but hey, it's "cool."

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There is an article at The Atlantic about "musical anhedonics" who are people who just don't have any kind of reaction to music. One of them says that for her, “music sits in an odd spot halfway between boring and distracting.” Well, that's weird, because that is often my reaction too! Could I be a musical anhedonic? I suspect not. I find most music either boring or distracting because, well, it is. The people I find really incomprehensible are those who say "I like all kinds of music!" Jeez, how is that possible? According to the article, people who have a high interest in music seem to be into all sorts of music:
As part of his research, Silvia found that some people were more prone to get chills and experience goosebumps when listening to music, and those people also tended to be more open to new experiences. “People with high openness to experience are much more creative and imaginative, and they get these kinds of awe-style experiences so much more often,” Silvia says. “They’re much more likely to play an instrument, they go to concerts, they listen to a wider range of music, they listen to more uncommon music. They just get more out of music.”
Seems to me that they are just avoiding even mentioning that people with highly-developed musical tastes are going to hate a lot of music. They probably have an ideological reason for this that involves denying the existence of taste and even that of different levels of musical quality.

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We should listen to the new and unfamiliar on a regular basis. Here is something from Alex Ross' blog: the Face the Music Quartet play "Death Valley Junction" by Missy Mazzoli:

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The great blues harmonica player James Cotton also passed away this week. I heard him and his band in concert in the mid-80s. Great, high-altitude blues harp playing!

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With the software available these days, it is pretty feasible to set up your own home recording studio. Here is an article on how one guy went about it.
Back in the early 2000s, I wrote a review of PC-based recording software, which I dubbed “Abbey Road in a Box.” In retrospect, that obviously hyperbolic phrase was slightly disingenuous. It’s true that the various flavors of Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) software are now so powerful, their ability to edit, process and manipulate sounds dwarfs what the Beatles and George Martin were capable of when they were recording Sgt. Pepper. However, that album still sounds timeless, because of the Beatles’ and Martin’s sheer talent, the material they were writing and performing, and not least because the rooms they were recorded inside EMI’s Abbey Road Studios sound so good. A DAW, a PC, the right audio interface and appropriate ancillary gear can take you far, but they really need a good-sounding room to get the most out of them.
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I've been a lot more interested in opera since I saw a terrific production of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron in Madrid last summer. The Wall Street Journal has a review by Heidi Waleson of three unusual productions in New York:
Benjamin Britten’s church parable “Curlew River” was inspired by a Japanese Noh play, and directors often take that theatrical style as their starting point, using black costumes and somber lighting. In the New York premiere of his production at BAM last week, Mark Morris took the opposite approach. He put everyone in white pajama-like outfits under bright light, and choreographed the movements of the all-male cast, taking both the suffering and the final miracle of this restrained work out of the shadows and making it a hypnotic and powerful ritual.
You know, I really don't know the Britten operas and he is one of the most successful 20th century opera composers.

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Ageism in the orchestra? You bet! Slipped Disc has the story:
The Indianapolis music director Krzysztof Urbanski has been named in an unfair dismissal suit by former principal bassoon John Wetherill, who claims he was ousted from the orchestra on grounds of his age.
Wetherill, 62, says he was ‘duped and ambushed’ in 2012 by the 29 year-old music director.
He argues that ‘the [ISO] is economically benefited by moving out older musicians and bringing in younger musicians below the protected age of 40… A number of older musicians resigned during the period from late 2012 and thereafter, as a result of Urbanski’s ‘move out and replace’ plan and action.’
As always, the comments add a lot of perspective. I can recall labor disputes in a Canadian orchestra I knew quite well (I played a couple of concertos with them and some principles were my colleagues at the university). The principal french horn and principal trumpet had an awkward breakup and afterwards these two sections refused to tune together. Some time later, the conductor went on a crusade against the trumpet player and assembled a bunch of audio clips from concerts of cacks and mistunings (a "cack" is when instead of going "ta-dah" the trumpet just goes "cack"). Up until then, every orchestra performance had been recorded. Afterwards, the union specifically prohibited any recording by the management. Heh!

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 For our envoi today, let's listen to the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, written for an early chromatic trumpet. The performers are Alison Balsom, trumpet and Xian Zhang, conductor:


Will Wilkin said...

It takes a long time to "know" much of the opera repertoire, especially because productions vary so much. I see probably 10 - 12 a year, many of them are Met Opera live in HD at a cinema, plus live operas staged very nicely by the Yale School of Music, and occasionally a local Connecticut company production too. Regarding Britten, I very much loved his Rape of Lucretia, a really cool mix of Christian chorus opening and closing (as in ancient Greek theater) sandwiching a classic episode of Livy's account of what led to the birth of the Roman republic. A haunting music, I always love Britten.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the James Cotton link. Wow!

Re. the ice concert, as someone who tends to be always cold, it sounds like hell, or rather, hell after it's frozen over... I guess I should just learn to chill and be cool with that.

Bryan Townsend said...

Until recently, almost the only time I saw an opera was when I was part of the orchestra in the pit. But I have been watching more productions lately on YouTube and am going to see a few live in Europe this summer.

Mind you, I have been familiar with and a fan of Orfeo by Monteverdi since the 70s!

Time to chill out on the puns!