Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

I don't get over to Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog as often as I might, but I just visited and she has an interesting post on a new opera by Emily Howard about surveillance and invisibility and authoritarian societies. Gosh, I wonder what connection that could have to life in the UK? The work is called To See the Invisible.
My first full-length chamber opera To See The Invisible premieres this week on the opening night of this year’s Aldeburgh Festival, and we’re nearing the end of the production period. In the next few days we’ll have stage and orchestra rehearsals followed by the dress rehearsal and I can honestly say that these last few weeks have been a real eye-opener for me. Before now, I actually had no idea that there would be so many people involved in making an opera work. I’ve enjoyed working closely with librettist Selma Dimitrijevic, director Dan Ayling and music director Richard Baker for some time now, and in addition to this, collaborating with a wonderful cast of singers, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, a full opera production team as well the Aldeburgh staff over the last few weeks has been an amazing experience. That’s a lot of people and I’m delighted to have learnt a whole lot of new information.
Here is a brief trailer for the opera:

I had an experience of this myself in high school when one day, purely as a callous psychological experiment my "friends" suddenly decided to shun me. Rather an unpleasant experience!

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 I've been posting about Sofia Gubaidulina lately, and yes, I do mean to get back to that! Another fascinating Soviet composer was her older contemporary Galina Ustvolskaya. Alex Ross alerts us to a remarkable concert at this year's Ojai Festival with Markus Hinterhaüser playing her six sonatas for piano.

Shostakovich thought very highly of her work.

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Ludwig van Toronto has a piece about an interesting attempt to generate revenue for Canadian musicians. It's complicated so you should read the whole thing. But here are some figures on earnings from streaming:
In 2017, SOCAN collected $49.3 million in streaming royalties for rightsholders, a record high. But, while the three largest (Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon,) raked in about $14.2 million USD per day globally in 2017, the rates that artists receive are still low. Spotify, for example, pays artists a per-stream rate of $0.0038, and YouTube only $0.0006 per play. To put that into perspective, an artist on Apple Music would have to get about 200,000 plays per month to earn $1472USD per month. An unsigned artist on Spotify, the service with the largest market share worldwide, needs about 380,000 plays to make the same amount.
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Over at Nautilus, composer Philip Glass has some interesting reflections on music, dance and time:
 There are many strange things about music and time. When I’m on a tour with the dance company we work in a different-sized theater every night. The first thing the dance company does when we arrive is to measure the stage. They have to reset the dance to fit that stage. So you also have to reset the time of the music: In a larger theater, you must play slower. In a smaller theater, you have to play faster. The relation of time and space in music is dynamic. I have a range of speed in mind. If the players don’t pay attention to that, it will look really funny. You can see the stage fill up with dancers because they are playing at the wrong speed.
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The Daily Courier in Arizona reprints a hoary old tale about musicians and efficiency. Under the guise of a time and motion study I saw this same anecdote taped on the wall of the music department when I was an undergraduate! But never mind, it's still funny:
A managed care company president was given a ticket for a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Since she was unable to attend, she passed the invitation to one of her managed care reviewers. The next morning the president asked him if he enjoyed it. Instead of a few plausible observations, she was handed a memorandum which read as follows:
1) For a considerable period the oboe players had nothing to do. Their number should be reduced, and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus avoiding peaks of inactivity.
2) All twelve violins were playing identical notes. Their number should be reduced, and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus avoiding peaks of inactivity.
3) Much effort was required in playing the sixteenth notes. This seems as excessive refinement, and it is recommended that all notes should be rounded up to the nearest eighth note. If this were done, it would be possible to use paraprofessionals instead of experienced musicians.
4) No useful purpose is served by repeating the passage that has already been handled by the strings with horns. If all such redundant passages were eliminated, the concert could be reduced from two hours to 20 minutes.
5) This symphony had two movements. If Schubert didn’t achieve his musical goals by the end of the first movement, then he should have stopped there. The second movement is unnecessary and should be cut.
In light of the above, one can only conclude that had Schubert given attention to these matters, he probably would have had time to finish his symphony.
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From the annals of the truly bizarre (and from my alma mater): McGill music student awarded $350,000 after girlfriend stalls career. You need to read the whole thing, but this gives you an idea:
In late 2013, Abramovitz applied for a full two-year scholarship to complete his bachelor’s degree at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. Every student at Colburn receives a full scholarship, including tuition, room and board as well as money for meals and other expenses, worth roughly $50,000 a year.
If accepted, he would study under Yehuda Gilad, considered one of the best clarinet teachers on the planet. Gilad accepts two students a year out of dozens of applicants. To be chosen is virtually a guarantee of a high-paying symphony career directly out of college. After an exhaustive pre-screening process, Abramovitz flew to Los Angeles in February 2014 with his parents to do a live audition before Gilad and a committee of faculty members.
A month later, Colburn sent an email to Abramovitz. He had been chosen.
Except Abramovitz never got the email. Jennifer Lee, a fellow McGill music student and Abramovitz’s girlfriend at the time, did. They had started dating in September 2013, and within a month he was staying at her apartment almost full time. He trusted her. He let her use his laptop. He gave her his passwords.
Scared he would move away and perhaps no longer be in a relationship with her, Lee deleted the email. She sent the Colburn Conservatory of Music an email, pretending to be Abramovitz, refusing the offer because he would “be elsewhere.”
She also torpedoed his successful application to the Julliard School in New York! Years later, when Abramovitz did finally sudy with Gilad, the whole thing came out. Astonishing, and very, very sad...

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I feel we should hear some clarinet music now. Here is Mozart's "Kegelstatt" Clarinet Trio:


Marc said...

'I hope this opera [To See the Invisible] is a sort of cautionary tale against that sort of world,' said the director, naming Handmaid's Tale and Black Mirror as partial inspiration. While I hope it has a more successful performance life than The Woman of Salt, ahem, and not having read the Silverberg story on which it's based, I had to shake my head at the composer and director's preoccupation with warmth and coldness, it belonging to the species 'pot calling the kettle black', I suspect, the director worrying about surveillance drones while to all appearances contentedly living 'in a regime' (to use his expression) where the public press is routinely subject to a regime of prior restraint and censorship. The SJW ideologues will be telling me that I cannot frown or grimace in public before too much longer, and God forbid I express my real opinion about e.g. people who rely on cats, pigs, and geckos for emotional support, or insist on using ridiculous ('that is an aggression') invented pronouns to refer to themselves. But it's true I will happily give the opera a listen if a recording becomes available.

Marc said...

I hope someone has pointed out Miss Lee's nefarious behavior to the Harvard University admissions people-- more evidence to support their contention that Asian-American kids suffer a deficit in terms of kindness, likability and 'positive personality'.

Bryan Townsend said...

Being an artist in today's politically fraught environment is rather complex, but I too would happily give this opera a listen.

Jennifer Lee is likely no more Asian than Robert E. Lee. Not that it matters either way!

Marc said...

I saw a photograph somewhere yesterday of Lee, in which Asia appeared evident, but of course perhaps it wasn't a good photo or whatever-- in any event, I didn't simply presume (for whatever reason) that she's Asian. But looking around earlier, there are approximately five million Melissa Lees so it's entirely possible that whatever article I read misidentified her.

Bryan Townsend said...

It seems you are correct and she is Asian. And probably an oboist. 8-)

Will Wilkin said...

I'm glad to see that concerns about immediate social issues ("surveillance and invisibility and authoritarian society") are addressed in a new opera ("To See the Invisible") rather than in a re-worked opera that originally had a very different flavor and meaning. Recently I've seen 3 operas by 2 different companies that were thoroughly re-worked to have "relevancy" to our own time.

Here is my comment that Yale Opera apparently won't publish, complaining about their 2 most recent productions:

I was terribly disappointed with this production. I heartily disagree with the current trend to make earlier operas "immediate to our world and our experience." I always love the Yale Opera, because the singing is so lovely, spirited, technically excellent and convincingly acted and perfectly accompanied by a sparse instrumental ensemble (usually piano alone). But this February's Magic Flute was positively horrible to endure because it was set in a strange "modern" world instead of the Egyptian (or Masonic?) temple in which Mozart had set it. Yes it was gorgeous singing but I despised the changes made to make it "immediate to our experience." And now that was repeated here in this production of Humperdinck's Hansel & Gretel. Don't you have enough faith in your audience that whatever relevance to our own world can be interpreted by us without such an inauthentic presentation? We read our great literature in its original words (or at least faithful translations), whatever time and place of origin, and I wish our opera could be equally respected.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for the commentary, Will. As someone who is still pretty new to opera (and by that I mean that up until recently I wasn't very interested and tended to avoid opera), I'm not qualified to weigh in on a lot of the productions. So thanks for giving us your thoughts on the subject. In what specific ways were these productions unfaithful to the originals?