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Over at the New Yorker, Alex Ross has a piece on "Star Wars" Musical Leitmotifs.
The film-music scholar Frank Lehman, an assistant professor at Tufts University, works fast: within a day of the opening of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” he had updated his “Complete Catalogue of the Motivic Material in ‘Star Wars,’ Episodes I-VIII,” which can be found online. The catalogue now includes fifty-five distinct leitmotifs—thematic ideas that point toward characters, objects, ideas, and relationships—and forty-three so-called incidental motifs, which, Lehman says, “do not meet criteria for proper leitmotifs” but nonetheless possess dramatic significance. Such beloved tunes as “The Force,” “Han and Leia,” and the dastardly “Imperial March” are here, along with more esoteric items like “Planetary Descent Figure,” “Ominous Neighbor Figure,” and “Apocalyptic Repeated Minor Triads.”
Oh, God, yes, those Apocalyptic Repeated Minor Triads! Frankly, I cannot quite bring myself to care much about the Star Wars franchise.
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I'm sure this will be no news to any Music Salon readers, but apparently listening to classical music daily can improve your life. The BBC has the story:
It turned out that, when I converted my listening habits into a conscious daily ritual, I began to feel less anxious almost immediately. I curated myself monthly classical playlists with a specific piece for each day. Getting on the Tube and pressing play, instead of automatically being sucked into a social media scroll hole, seemed to be spiritually stabilising. I began to look disproportionately forward to it. And it occurred to me that, if I could benefit in such a meaningful way from this small but powerful act of soul maintenance, so might others. What if I could build on my lifetime’s love of classical music? What if I could open up this vast treasury of musical riches by demystifying both the music and humanising those who created it by giving each piece some context, telling some stories, and reminding readers/listeners that this music was created by a real person, probably someone who shared many of the same concerns as them, who in many ways might be just like them.
Later on she goes on to say:
I decided to write a sort of field guide, not so much a history of classical music as a hand-curated treasury of music that I dearly love. It includes plenty of women - who for centuries have been written out of the canon — composers of colour; gay and transgender composers; differently-abled composers (Beethoven, after all, wrote some of his most magnificent works while fully deaf); composers who battled — or are battling — mental health issues, addiction, low self-esteem; composers who had to make ends meet by doing all manner of unlikely day jobs (taxi drivers, plumbers, chemists, orange pickers, postal workers) but who kept at it, despite the odds, and created these glorious pieces for our listening pleasure. And maybe for our salvation.
Sounds very useful, but I do have a caveat or two. The little aside that women have "for centuries been written out of the canon" is not really the case. It sounds as if there were some mysterious secret organization that had a list of approved composers and simply crossed out names because they were women. Actually, in the Soviet Union that was pretty much the case, but not because they were women, rather because they did not conform to the dictates of "socialist realism." Nothing mysterious about it. But the way it is characterized here is ignorant of how canon-formation works. The canon, or repertory, comes about as the result of the contributions of thousands of listeners, who communicate their wishes by which concerts they choose to attend, hundreds of performers who add their own inclinations, dozens of music administrators who make decisions taking the first two categories into account, and finally, composers themselves, by writing music that inclines performers and listeners to engage with it. For most places and most music history, there were no shadowy patriarchs "writing women" out of the canon. Nor any of the other groups she mentions.
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ArtsProfessional has an article on what seems a laudable project: New and inclusive music.
My only reservation here is that we are presented with prose and platitudes. The hard truth is that what really matters is the artistic quality. Articles like this seem to avoid presenting anything that will allow us to make a judgement about artistic quality, so I don't really trust them.Inclusive Creativity began with a conference at Ulster University in Derry as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations in 2013. We brought together existing and new collaborators including innovators in music, disability and technology Drake Music, Share Music Sweden and Derry-based Walled City Music, as well as leading academics and practitioners. This two-track academic and artistic approach has since been carried through into a range of research projects including Sharing the Stage and NonZeroSum.As part of these projects, we formed the Acoustronic ensemble, a mix of disabled and non-disabled musicians. They meet weekly to improvise, compose and perform using digital and acoustic instruments. A team comprising undergraduate, masters and PhD researchers works with the ensemble to investigate digital instrument-building and compositional and improvisational approaches in inclusive music settings.
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The Los Angeles Times has an article about the very successful conductor Susanna Mälkki who is chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the LA Philharmonic.
Mälkki is one of four women conducting the L.A. Phil this season. Throughout most of her career, she has tended to redirect conversations away from gender and toward the music she is passionate about bringing to life.
"I've always tried to stay neutral on the subject," she told the Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein in 2016. "I have just tried all along to make music as good as possible and let others think what they may, since I can't control that anyway."Finally the interviewer manages to provoke her into a political statement:
I suspect it is not quite that simple. If we did a proper "multivariate" analysis as someone like Jordan Peterson would recommend, we would likely find that there were quite a few different reasons why previously women were rare conducting orchestras while now they are becoming more and more common. I'm sure that an important reason Mälkki is sought after as a conductor is because she has always "tried all along to make music as good as possible and let others think what they may.""Women have been conducting for decades," she says. "They just haven't been welcome. It's as simple as that."Mälkki notes that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when her profession was growing in prestige, women did not even have the right to vote."If you did not have a say about your own life," she says, "how could you imagine that you could be a boss of an orchestra?" She adds that "things change gradually" and "sometimes society is just not ready for changes."
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The entertainment side of classical music is subject to the same smoke and mirrors that the entertainment industry is generally. Promoters do whatever it takes to get "bums in seats" as the ungracious phrase goes. Case in point, the somewhat wayward aesthetics of the new Carnegie Hall season which features these artists and themes (thanks to Slipped Disc):
|Click to enlarge|
Follow the Slipped Disc link for some intriguing comments. These are all colorful musicians with successful publicity but, apart from Tilson Thomas, I'm not sure that they, as commentators mentioned, would be the first choice for concertos or recitals.
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Let's end with a performance conducted by Susanna Mälkki. This is the "Mars" movement from Holst's The Planets at the BBC Proms with the BBC Symphony:
That'll clear out your ear-wax!