Friday, April 6, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

This may be a very brief offering today as I have just been swamped with non-music-related tasks this week!

Slate has a go at re-evaluating the oeuvre of Andrew Lloyd Weber:
For years, the Lloyd Webber canon has been a bit of a cultural punching bag. It’s not hard to see why: His two most popular musicals are, respectively, a nearly plotless anthology sung by performers in spandex and fur and a faux opera about a disfigured stalker in pop culture’s most iconic mask (sincerest apologies to Ghostface and Jim Carrey). Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and their ilk are the epitome of ’80s bombast: rock-tinged scores with daunting vocal ranges, mostly uncomplicated storytelling, and production values through the roof, all of which have allowed him to become a byword for over-the-top mediocrity that people can snub to feel cultured.
Or because they are cultured?

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Tom Service, who did a couple of excellent series at The Guardian a few years back (one on the symphony and the other on 20th century composers), is back with a program on Debussy on BBC Radio 3. The clickbait come-on in the headline is that Debussy is "more radical than Stravinsky." Well, ok, maybe.
The centenary is being well marked by BBC Radio 3, launched with a typically provocative edition of The Listening Service from Tom Service, hailing Debussy for his “visceral violence” as a “creator of nightmares” who was “more radical than Stravinsky”, while over recent days Donald Macleod has explored him in Composer of the Week (all available as podcasts and on iPlayer).
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There is an interesting apologia over at NewMusicBox on the issue of "equity" programming. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but the editorial note sums up the issues nicely:
[Ed. Note: When the American Composers Orchestra (ACO) announced its 2018-19 season last month, music critic Alex Ross immediately noticed that the repertoire for the orchestra’s concerts at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall was written exclusively by living female composers except for one lone piece by the late Morton Feldman. Since then, Ross’s tweet about it was retweeted 40 times. Granted it is only two concerts, but it was a welcome piece of news, especially after several major American orchestras had announced 2018-19 seasons that did not include a single work by a female composer. Thankfully, the season announcements by the Seattle Symphony and the Los Angeles and New York philharmonics that soon followed proved to be more equitable. Still, all these announcements drove home the message that the orchestra world has a long way to go to achieve real diversity, not just in terms of having a better gender balance, but also in terms of racial, generational, geographic, and stylistic equity. Composer Derek Bermel, who is currently ACO’s artistic director, has long been an articulate advocate for more pluralistic musical aesthetics and the ACO has a 40+ year track record for advocating for offering performance opportunities to an extremely broad range of composers. Given his stance and his position, we thought that Bermel would have some interesting insights into how orchestras could make their programming more diverse.—FJO]
 I think the key phrase there is "the orchestra world has a long way to go to achieve real diversity, not just in terms of having a better gender balance, but also in terms of racial, generational, geographic, and stylistic equity." Have they really thought this through, or are they just responding to fashionable progressive trends? What could they mean by "stylistic equity"? Equal parts serial, tonal, modal, minimal and post-modern styles in every concert? The word "equitable" desperately needs to be unpacked, and when you do, I think that the awkward inappropriateness of it would become evident.

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I have to say that I rather admire the audience at this concert of a 1973 Carnegie Hall performance that included Four Organs by Steve Reich:
Four Organs begins with a pattern of eighth notes played by the maracas—a steady, unyielding rattling that’s sustained for the duration of the piece. When the organs come in, they too play repeated figures of eighth notes, and although Reich manipulates both the lengths of the notes (augmenting them steadily) and the notes themselves (which, taken together, make up a dominant eleventh chord), the piece can sound repetitive at first, monotonous, bewildering. That night, it didn’t take long for some rather prominent coughing to break out, before the crowd let loose with less subtle forms of protest: boos and catcalls, the agitation growing over the course of the piece’s 15-plus minutes. At one point, an older woman approached the stage, took off a shoe, and banged it on the stage, imploring the ensemble—which included Reich and Tilson Thomas—to stop. Someone else sprinted down an aisle, yelling, “All right! I confess!” Other aggrieved patrons simply left.
The best kind of audience reaction for a living composer is enthusiastic enjoyment, of course. But I suspect a lot of composers would say that the second best is this kind of audience rebellion--because you can be sure of one thing, that they were reacting to what you wrote. The worst response is when they just sit there and politely clap with no real enthusiasm one way or another. That probably means you failed to really do something with the piece.

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Young artists have to beware of unscrupulous people pretending to "help" them with their careers. Case in point, an unsavory London management agency:
In an apparent fraud, management firm Band Management Universal (BMU) charged up to £4,000 for services and continued to sign clients despite having numerous complaints about not meeting promises.
Head of the Musicians' Union Horace Trubridge called it the worst scam he had seen in the past 20 years.
BMU could not be reached for comment.
The company, registered in Farringdon, London, has shut its website and email accounts and cancelled its phones.
Singer Sarah Kaloczi said she paid £2,000 to BMU for a contract that was supposed to include music production, marketing, gigs and tours, as well as help to secure a recording contract.
The company failed to deliver these services or refund her money and she now faces being evicted from her flat.
"They took everything I had put my heart and soul into and just shattered it into pieces," she said.
My feeling is that if the management are not willing to invest their own resources in your career, then you should look elsewhere.

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And that brings us to our envoi for today which will be Four Organs by Steve Reich. And for those who simply can't stand the piece (and they are not few!), some music by that radical, Claude Debussy. These are the Six épigraphes antiques for piano four hands.


David said...

Speaking for myself, what I want to see and hear in a concert program or a season is good music well played. The gender, race and other personal attributes of the composer don't cause the music to meet the aesthetic essential of music I enjoy and want to hear. It would surprise me if the majority of an orchestra's subscribers didn't think the same way. (Sorry, Bryan, but the Four Organs bit didn't cut it for me.)

Marc said...

I listened to Four Organs the other day when Althouse posted about it (well, the focus was the reaction of the audience e.g. "the 'All right! I confess!' is pretty funny, I think" and so forth)-- it was Easter, so I wasn't really paying much attention; first time listen. I doubt that I'll listen again any time soon, although I gave your video a couple of minutes. The sound of the electronic organs used in it is irritating to my ears in a way the organs in the Michael Tilson Thomas et al clip AA used were not, somehow.

Bryan Townsend said...

Four Organs is probably one of Steve Reich's least successful pieces. It is as close as he got to some of the early music of Philip Glass that also used electronic organs.

What those people who are demanding equal representation of women and minorities on symphony programs are really requiring is equality of result, not opportunity. As decades of this kind of practice have shown, the first thing that has to be eliminated is judgement on the basis of individual quality. Now you can fudge this as subtly as you like, and the long essay over at NewMusicBox certainly does a good job in that respect, but that is the bottom line.

Will Wilkin said...

Well I had no idea that aspiring conductors who are women require a separate program and exclusive opportunities, but apparently that's what the Dallas Opera thinks:

Back when I was a graduate student in History, finishing my Master's degree and talking with a professor about possibly doing a Ph.D. in diplomatic history or labor history, he said "forget working, Will, you are a white male and all the academic departments are seeking women and candidates "of color" to diversify their faculties. I also had other reasons for deciding against an academic career, but that added weight to the balancing of it all in my mind. One of the reasons I eventually abandoned "left" politics is I came to see it as racist and sexist, as becoming what it supposedly detested out of over-reaction to the past, and it has become a fossilized version of the necessary liberation movements that I believe are now obsolete and anachronistic and rather function to entrench useless and problematic identities and their resulting dysfunctional politics.

Regarding Andrew Lloyd Webber, I first came to know his work through Jesus Christ Superstar, which I have always loved and expect I always will. I don't know anything about musical theater (as contrasted to opera), but I do have a CD of his music that is straight concert music, the "Variations," supposedly written due to losing a bet with his brother and therefore having to compose a piece for cello and rock band. The variations are on a theme of Paganini, and the pice was orchestrated by David Cullen and played by the London Symphony conducted by Loren Maazel. I confess I haven't listened to it in probably 20 years, but every few years I still play JCS very loud, and even rented the video a few times. When I was a HS history teacher I used to show the full video to my Ancient History classes as a way of teaching the birth of Christianity, ie, the political situation of the Jews in the Roman Empire. The historiographical credit there goes to librettist Tim Rice, but bringing in that awesome rock music helped make me a popular teacher!

Bryan Townsend said...

You almost convince me I have to go listen to Jesus Christ Superstar!