Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Opening, unapologetically, with the most recent paean to the concert dress of Yuja Wang, this time in the Guardian. Just to get our attention, they offer this photo:

Click to enlarge, you know you want to!

I love the quote they chose for their headline: "if the music is beautiful and sensual, why not dress to fit?" And if the music is gnarly and tormented?

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It is fascinating to see creativity break loose. Here is an example from an all-star performance of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". This is one of George's best songs, and certainly his best title, and all-star memorial performances of it have been popular since he passed away. One really memorable one was on the Concert for George DVD with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and others. But all-star performances have a tendency to be, well, a bit over-stuffed and sometimes a bit mediocre--more sentiment than music. This clip features Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and some other folks and it trudges along, played well, but nothing special, that is, until around 3:45 when Prince steps out and solos to the end. This is the very incarnation of creativity. While the other guitar soloist contented himself with roughly reproducing Eric Clapton's excellent solo on the original, Prince just launches himself into new territory (and almost offstage in the middle). He ignites the whole performance and at the end throws his guitar somewhere, but who knows where? Remarkable...


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I've got another example for you. This is from Eric Clapton's tribute to Robert Johnson. He has just about the best blues session guys in the business including Billy Preston on organ. It's really pretty good, but we can see where all the real creative energy is coming from. After solos by Billy Preston and Doyle Bramhall II and later by Chris Stainton the music is marching dutifully along. Then Eric takes a solo and almost instantly it is as if a bunch of different guys took over. By the end of the solo and the song they are really cooking. It all happens with the first phrase of his solo at the 3:58 mark.


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Speaking of session musicians, there is a new documentary out called The Wrecking Crew that looks good. Here is the trailer:

And here is a review
Just about every popular musical group back then, from the Beach Boys to Elvis, relied on session musicians for their song recordings, the best of which was a group of 10-20 (depending on who you ask) session players known as The Wrecking Crew.
This band of industry legends was led by guitarist, Tommy Tedesco. His son, Denny, produced and directed the 2015 documentary, The Wrecking Crew, based mostly on past and recent interviews from its members. He began work on the film in 1995 after his father was diagnosed with cancer. It was a struggle for Denny Tedesco to secure the necessary music licensing for his film, but with help from a Kickstarter campaign, he was finally able to release it.
I met Tommy Tedesco in Toronto in 1978 at a guitar festival. Don't remember what we talked about! But it is sure true that there are a bunch of guys out in Los Angeles that can play, at sight, pretty much anything you can write. What wasn't widely known before this documentary was that they were the guys that played the instrumental tracks on just about everybody's recordings.

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Returning to Yuja Wang for a moment, I was listening to various things on YouTube last night and after several clips by Grigory Sokolov it occurred to me that I haven't listened to much by Yuja Wang lately. So I looked at what was there. Eliminating all the concerto recordings I saw some Chopin, Scriabin, Liszt, Prokofiev and so on. I discovered that I lost interest pretty early on in each clip. I'm not sure why. But there just didn't seem to be anything there other than the notes. But she has a zillion fans and the comments were full of praise--extremely fulsome praise along the lines that this is the greatest pianist who ever lived. I just don't hear it.


Nope.

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The latest volley in the war to preserve classical music comes in the form of a new book of classical music appreciation by Jan Swafford. He explains Wagner's career by asserting that he was a meaner son of a bitch than any of his critics. Hm, that wasn't exactly the way it was taught when I was in school...

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An interview with pianist Steven Osborne brings some interesting passages:
I don’t really know what to do with Chopin. The only thing I’ve played in the last 20 years by Chopin is the Cello Sonata. I enjoyed doing it, but it was hard work finding my way into the style: I worked out what gestures were going to work and did my best to make it organic. With the music I love playing I don’t have to think in those terms because the gestures come immediately from the feeling I have about the piece. Some day I might suddenly fall in love with Chopin—but the world doesn’t really need another Chopin pianist.
Now that is interesting. I think I would prefer it if a lot of the people playing Chopin would admit something similar and have done with it--Chopin the way it is often played is little more than a soppy audience-pleaser...

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For our envoi, let's listen to Steven Osborne play La Valse by Ravel:


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the piece by Stauffer. He's a topnotch Bach scholar. Good stuff. From what I've read, Wagner was indeed a true SOB. It's always bothered me that one of my favorite composers should have been an all-around bad human being.

Bryan Townsend said...

That would be George B. Stauffer, yes, a fine Bach scholar. But the author of the book is Jan Swafford a composer and writer. What always troubled me about Wagner is that he had twelve pink silk dressing gowns.

Anonymous said...

>> twelve pink silk dressing gowns

Maybe that's why Hitler loved him so much...

Bryan Townsend said...

That and the tubas, perhaps...

Marc Puckett said...

I watched a video or two yesterday that chronicled a traditional Good Friday procession in Chieti in Italy that features a composition by Saverio Selecchy/Sallecchia (m. 1788), who seems to be 'famous' regionally (in Abruzzo?) or, perhaps, simply remembered in Chieti. Was master of chapel in the metropolitan cathedral. Two or three 'musical dramas' or oratorios &c. Certainly I'd never heard of him before. Wondered at the mysteries of time and chance: were it not for the existence of global television/YouTube/Internet &c &c, aren't most contemporary musicians destined to a fate such as his? Pleasant enough for a certain audience in these few years and then, pft, forgotten. Althouse went to a concert last night given by a rock group the one song of which she mentions even I have heard, as it turns out, but, really, there won't be more than the one generation who know it, will there: whereas e.g. Chopin's Etudes are going to be performed so long as there are pianos. And I have no doubt that the Selecchy Miserere would be forgotten too were it not for its place in in the local religious tradition-- it isn't a great or even particularly noteworthy composition by any means.

Bryan Townsend said...

There is so much to be said for the preserving of these local traditions that encapsulate some bits of otherwise forgotten repertoire.