One of my favorite Bernstein moments is something only he could have pulled off: conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the last movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 88 without actually conducting, except with facial expressions! I think this was an encore and his tribute to the orchestra that he particularly loved was to just stand there while they played without direction.Bernstein was impossibly brilliant in so many different areas: a genius conductor, composer, author, pianist, thinker, activist, educator and entertainer. But for me, his genius was in connecting the dots between all of these. Everything he read and experienced influenced everything he thought and did. I think he once said that he didn’t know whether he loved music or people more.He had passion, enthusiasm and intense and boundless curiosity about our world. Bernstein did not think about education and music as being separate entities; for him, they were part of a systemic, organic, whole-person educational approach. He was at the forefront of interdisciplinary learning - both a radical new concept and a harkening back to the Greeks. Education as a whole was important to him: information as food, nutrition, a source of power and, most importantly, possibility.
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For another view, we can go to Slipped Disc where Norman Lebrecht links to his review of a new recording of the Bernstein symphonies:
The third symphony, ‘Kaddish’, written in 1963 in memory of John F. Kennedy, is an embarrassment from start to finish. Josephine Barstow’s restrained narration claws back some of the worst mawkishness, but the text reads like an early script of Fiddler on the Roof and the best of some very bad music is lifted wholesale from West Side Story. There’s a place for us. Not in this place.Go to the Slipped Disc site for some entertaining comments.
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Daniel Barenboim was forced to stop a concert twice to harangue the audience! Normally one would think that this was both rude and overkill. But in this case, perhaps not.
The comments over at Slipped Disc are, again, quite amusing.Daniel Barenboim is having trouble with his Buenos Aires compatriots.His Brahms concert started at 8.20 because the audience were late to arrive.They applauded between movements.Barenboim stopped the music and asked for them to wait before clapping until the sound had died away. He also put in a request for no applause between movements.The next time he stopped the concert was because people were taking phone pictures.‘It hurts my eyes,’ he said.
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We haven't visited NewMusicBox for a while. They have an article up about women in music: PLAYING LIKE A GIRL: THE PROBLEMS WITH RECEPTION OF WOMEN IN MUSIC.
The year was 1942. In the USA, all-girl orchestras toured extensively, rather like a jazz version of A League of Their Own. Audiences were surprised to find that these girls played “just like men!” As in A League of Their Own, though, when the men returned, women were expected to go back to homemaking or other acceptably female professions. Those women who were leaders found themselves in the background once more. Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, and Duke Ellington play large in the bylines of the Swing Era, but women’s bands such as the Sweethearts, the Melodears, and Lil Hardin Armstrong’s “All-Girl Orchestra” disappeared.Essays like this can be painfully ideological when they set out to "prove" a predestined conclusion, but this one is rather more thoughtful.
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There is another interesting piece in The Guardian, this one about the scandal surrounding the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Worth a read. One the one hand, art and culture seems to benefit enormously from deep wells of tradition. Just look at J. S. Bach whose brilliant genius rested on a foundation of three hundred years of music traditions in the Bach family. On the other hand, the conservatism of long-established institutions can be used to shelter corruption, incompetence and distasteful attitudes. It's complicated.In the eyes of its members, there is no more important cultural institution in the world than the Swedish Academy. The members, who call themselves The Eighteen (always in capitals), are elected for life by their peers, and meet for a ritual dinner every Thursday evening at a restaurant they own in the heart of the old town in Stockholm. And once a year, at a ceremony brilliant with jewels and formality, the permanent secretary of the academy hands out the Nobel prize in literature and all the world applauds.But this year there will be no prize and no ceremony. In November 2017, it was revealed in the Swedish press that the husband of one of the academy members had been accused of serial sexual abuse, in assaults alleged to have taken place over more than 20 years. Jean-Claude Arnault, a French photographer and cultural entrepreneur, is married to the poet and academician Katarina Frostenson. In addition to assault accusations against him, the pair are accused of misusing academy funding. Arnault has denied all accusations, and Frostenson has refused to comment.The academy is paralysed by the scandal, which was followed by a slew of resignations and expulsions. Six of The Eighteen have withdrawn from any part in its deliberations; another two were compelled to do so. The statutes say that 12 members must be present to elect any new ones, so with only 10, no important decisions can be taken and no new members elected. The vacuum has been filled with invective.
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On the more practical side, here is an illuminating article from Dance Magazine on what can happen when an artist without much financial experience receives an unrestricted grant:
"I had no knowledge of how to invest, or deal with the tax implications. I wound up losing a fair amount of money because I didn't know how to properly channel the money so it could accrue interest. I kept it in my savings account and when tax time came around I was really shocked and scared by some letters from the IRS!"Every government over time makes the tax structure more and more complex. The reasons are manifold, but there are always incentives to tailor the tax structure to aid activities that either make politicians look good or help out their major donors. Over time you end up with a system of terrifying complexity. The very wealthy handle it with ease because they can hire squads of lawyers and accountants. Poorer people, however, are always caught in the net of complexities. The solution is a simpler tax system. Every now and then someone comes along and launches a real reform. They are always met with universal criticism!
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One of the great tragedies of history, for me at least, was the loss of all the great libraries of antiquity. The library of Alexandria was probably the most famous. It was finally burned around 279 AD. There is some hope that the library at Herculaneum, buried in the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, might be accessed with modern technology:
The scrolls represent the only intact library known from the classical world, an unprecedented cache of ancient knowledge. Most classical texts we know today were copied, and were therefore filtered and distorted, by scribes over centuries, but these works came straight from the hands of the Greek and Roman scholars themselves. Yet the tremendous volcanic heat and gases spewed by Vesuvius carbonized the scrolls, turning them black and hard like lumps of coal. Over the years, various attempts to open some of them created a mess of fragile flakes that yielded only brief snippets of text. Hundreds of the papyri were therefore left unopened, with no realistic prospect that their contents would ever be revealed. And it probably would have remained that way except for an American computer scientist named Brent Seales, director of the Center for Visualization & Virtual Environments at the University of Kentucky.
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Desiring to Desire is a fascinating essay over at the Times Literary Supplement about the construction of taste:
So why should I pursue classical music so ardently? In part, because I already grasp, murkily, how I will later value such music. So pursuit speaks to the self that I am becoming. What of reasons that speak to my current self? Well, perhaps I want to impress someone or gain a qualification. Any such consideration will complete the justification for aspiration.
I aspired to appreciate classical music because I desired to understand a value that was opaque to me. Further, while I may not have desired to listen to classical music, I desired to desire it. That is, I wanted my desires to change. Why, then, did I pursue classical music so ardently? Because I desired to understand its value and wished to desire it. This justifies aspiration, without any need to mention the values of the person I am attempting to become.
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I just ran across this, which perfectly fulfills the need for one silly item in the Friday Miscellanea:
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Hm, quite a varied menu this week, but not enough actual, you know, music! So for our envoi today, let's listen to one of the most unusual composers in music history, Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa. This is his Tristis est anima mea performed by La Compagnia del Madrigal: