Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

This is, I guess, really good news. Canadian violinist Marc Djokic is awarded the $125,000 Prix Goyer, which is named after art patron Jean-Pierre Goyer of Montréal. What is really great about this is that it is a significant amount! Remember the last time I wrote about music prizes in Canada it was in reference to the insultingly tiny amounts for a competition in Vancouver? $800? Canadian? Now this one is worth winning. I know some of his collaborators as well, Jérôme Ducharme and Jaime Parker, both brilliant Canadian virtuosos. Djokic seems to be well-adapted for a career in today's media world. He won this, it seems, for the multitude of unusual collaborations which include marimba, piano, two guitars, dance and visual arts. Here is a short clip showing the diversity of his efforts:


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Make a joke with a friend and if it is overheard by a "useful idiot" then you can be fired from your prestigious job directing the Oregon Bach Festival. Read the Daily Mail for the details:
A British conductor has been fired from his job directing a prestigious American music festival after being branded racist over a joke, his friend says.
Matthew Halls, who was educated and taught at Oxford, was hired in 2014 as artistic director at the Oregon Bach Festival which is run by the University of Oregon.
But he has now been fired after a joke he made with African American friend and singer Reginald Mobley was overheard by a white woman and reported as racist.
Mr Mobley, who is from Florida, has since spoken out to defend his friend, saying Mr Halls was 'victimised' and the jibe had nothing to do with race.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: 'It was an innocent joke that has been entirely taken out of context.'
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This might be just a tad cruel, but I found this interview with pianist Yuja Wang and conductor Jaap van Zweden on the occasion of a concert in New York when, I believe, she was playing one of the Prokofiev concertos.



Ok, so what does she say when she does actually say something? Here, let's listen to her discuss the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3:


Well, actually, I think I prefer the first interview...

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Offered without comment is this remarkably articulate essay by a student in the UK about the sidelining of classical music:
Growing within our schools today is a disturbing trend; increasingly, music is viewed as an optional subject – something equivalent to a passion that merely runs parallel to ‘academic’ subjects – that leads to contempt for classical music borne out of an ignorance of all it contains. Maxwell Davies, speaking of his students at Cirencester Grammar School, said that 'It was extraordinary how the musical activities of those youngsters I taught influenced their whole attitude towards life inside the school, and outside. It was as if music were a catalyst or a trigger, which in so many instances sparked off a creative understanding in subjects which, on the surface, may not seem to be closely related - foreign languages, mathematics, religious studies.'
Read the whole thing.

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I'm always whining about how, in the absence of any really strong arguments from aesthetic value, the classical repertory will be swept away as if it never existed, replaced with ephemera. I say this because the process in literature is far advanced, English departments having long since been gutted by post-modernism. Witness this denouement in the Ontario school curriculum:
"There's probably a small minority who still believe that there is a literary canon that we need to hold onto. I think it's because it is the way we've always been taught," said Poleen Grewal, associate director of instructional and equity support services at the Peel board. "[But] if we are focusing on equity and inclusion as a school board, the work around inclusion must be visible at the student desk."
Ms. Grewal sent a memo to English department heads in June, asking them to explore culturally relevant texts after the school board heard from its students that their experiences were not being reflected in classroom literature. She attached a list of books, which includes A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and Richard Wagamese's Indian Horse. Students in Ontario are required to take an English course every year of high school.
The Globe and Mail allowed comments on this article and when I read it there were forty-three comments of which forty-two were strongly against this policy and one (1) was weakly for it.

The 60s idea of "relevancy" is now buttressed with "equity" and "diversity." Any arguments to the contrary are depicted in the news story as "backlash." Instead of any kind of aesthetic criteria, the idea is that literature, to find its place in the curriculum, has to reflect the "experience" of the students. What experience? The experience of being indoctrinated in the assumptions of post-modern identity politics? It would appear so. Music has been resisting this fairly well, but recent indications seem to show that it is being overwhelmed as well.

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This concert was a bit of a tour-de-force, but one that he has done before, Yo-Yo Ma does the impossible at the Hollywood Bowl: all six of the Bach cello suites in one concert with a tiny intermission in the middle.


Safety tip: don't drink a lot of coffee before the concert.

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Here is a follow-up to the Oregon Bach Festival story, UNIVERSITY PAYS SACKED MAESTRO $90,000 FOR HIS SILENCE. As always with items at Slipped Disc, the comments are fun reading.

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This item has a bit of a "pushing on a string" feel to it, Can City Hall Make a Music Scene?
If a city wants to cultivate its musical biome to boost quality of life, education, tourism, and the local music biz itself, then it has to get serious about it. “That means it needs a policy,” he says. “It needs assessment mechanisms. It needs to be discussed in public. It needs to be less reactive and more proactive.”
Truth be told, local governments can hinder local music more than help. Hot scenes often arise from illicit spaces in struggling neighborhoods—musicians gravitate to lightly regulated and low-rent environs. Witness the punk and hip-hop movements that emerged from Lower East Side and South Bronx, respectively, during the 1970s: That didn’t happen because nigh-bankrupt New York City was promoting them. Today, several cities wary of disasters like Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire last year have shuttered the kinds of underground ad-hoc live-work-performance spaces that can incubate local scenes.
I don't know how it plays out in the US, but what often seems to happen in Canada is that as soon as some government arts policy, meaning funding of some sort, is announced, a host of opportunists spring up to siphon away the money.

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The inevitable envoi for today will be Yo-Yo Ma playing the Cello Suite No. 1 from his 2015 performance at the Proms when he also played all six suites in one go. YouTube won't embed, so just follow the link:

14 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

Am waiting for the bus to go to the office. We here in Eugene who've been following the OBF debacle are waiting quietly for the next installment in the melodrama. 90K seems either too little or too much for Maestro Halls's silence.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh! It all seems to come back to the university. Is it just me or has the institutional prestige of universities fallen precipitously in the last few years?

Anonymous said...

I think of myself as rather open-minded about Bach. I once heard the Chaconne played on the accordeon and I loved it! But I wouldn't have gone to hear Yo-Yo Ma. It's not just that Bach never intended these pieces to be played in one go. (Same is true of the Goldbergs and the WTC.) But it's inherently wrong to do so. You may love caviar more than anything else, but what would you think of a meal consisting of 50 varieties of caviar and nothing else? The result is that most people will miss out on 90% of what's going. The Suites are hard to play and hard to listen to. Do the Passions, the Mass in Bm, the Magnificat, the Partitas, etc. Not the Suites.

Bryan Townsend said...

The Partitas, but not the Suites?

What do you think of Emerson playing all the Bartók quartets in one concert?

Anonymous said...

I meant the piano partitas. Quartets are fine. I wouldn't sit through the whole Bartok set myself, but not as a matter of principle, just personal taste. I have listened to the Suites many times (in recordings) but the purpose was to study them. The Suites were never meant for binge-listening. I think Bach would have laughed at the idea. But cellists are obsessed by them because it's the first serious piece ever written for the cello (assuming it was written for the cello, which is unsure).

Bryan Townsend said...

God, I'll binge listen/watch almost anything: Mozart (and I mean everything), Beethoven piano sonatas, Bach WTC, Sibelius symphonies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you name it.

But yeah, I would find all the Bartók quartets in a row a bit gloomy.

Re the Bach cello suites, this seems pretty clear:

/Users/bryantownsend/Desktop/Frontespizio_Cello_Suite.png

Bryan Townsend said...

Well, that didn't work. I was trying to paste in the front page of the manuscript of the cello suites where it says:

Suites a
Violoncello Solo
senza
Basso
composées
par
Sr. J. S. Bach
Maitre de Chapelle

David said...

Bryan, there is a saying that some people's mothers use in the context of binges: "Some's good. More's not better."
Does it apply to music? One might wonder given the proliferation of the mega boxes of CDs that have swamped music sellers of late.

Cheers.

Marc Puckett said...

Just today, the local daily newspaper published an editorial ("Bach Debacle") which called on the university board of trustees to investigate the entire mess connected with Matthew Halls's firing. I don't doubt that it is all down to UO administrators being their secretive and yet agenda-driven selves.

Anonymous said...

"senza Basso" means "without bass," which means it was not a cello. The Suites were composed for a violoncello da spalla, which is more like a big violin -- nothing like today's cello or the cello da gamba.

Marc Puckett said...

Had never heard Miss Wang speak before. The thought that crossed my mind when I listened to the first part of that second interview was, 'that's what you'd sound like if you were interviewed about some piece of music'-- the content I mean, of course. Vague but enthusiastic. Although I might be able to do 'enthusiastic' better.

In a similar vein, in an interview published here on Thursday, the new music director/conductor of the Eugene Symphony was quoted as prosing on about revivifying Handel's Messiah, freeing its from its previous stultification 'in Catholic liturgies' (it's being given as a part of the regular season in December). Am willing to attribute the nonsense chiefly to the interviewing journalist-- FLC may have been trying to get at a criticism of the quasi-religious attitude toward performing Messiah that had existed in some places, many places. On the face of it, a ridiculous statement, however.

Bryan Townsend said...

@David: I think the mega boxes are great. I really like to have the whole of a composer's works in a particular genre for reference purposes.

@Marc: I will be following the Oregon Bach Festival story with interest. It is rather depressing these days that so often one feels like one knows much less after the interview than one did before!

@Anon: Yes, there has been speculation about this recently. I don't find it very convincing, though. The reference on the title page is to the absence of a basso continuo part, i.e. for SOLO violoncello. If you look at the title page for the solo violin suites it says "violino solo senza basso accompagnato." Do you have a reference for a scholarly argument about the instrumentation for the cello suites?

David said...

Bryan, I agree, the mega/ultra/huge boxes are a great product. The cost per disc of most of them is a tiny fraction of the typical new single disc recording. A function, I guess, of the low cost of reproducing audio archives. To my wife's dismay, I probably have more than my fair share of big boxes. I really like the Decca/DG/Phillips Richter box, the complete Tafelmusik box, and the Mercury Living Presence Boxes 1 and 2. My "snarky comment" was targeted to a live bing of multiple hours of solo Bach cello while confined to one theatre seat. It has some of the elements of the old dance marathons (They Shoot Horses Don't They?)

Bryan Townsend said...

I saw that movie!

Some of my favorite boxes are the Mozart piano concertos with Malcolm Bilson, the Shostakovich string quartets with Emerson, the Haydn symphonies with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and the Mozart symphonies with Trevor Pinnock.

I really don't know how I would react to a whole concert of the Bach cello suites, though. Never had the opportunity to experience it. I suspect if it arose, I would probably attend.