Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Wikipedia seems to have articles on every subject imaginable: List of entertainers who died during a performance. Of particular interest to us are Louis Vierne, a French organist and composer, who died while performing his 1750th organ recital on June 2, 1937, at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris; concert pianist Simon Barere who died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Carnegie Hall while playing Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. Lots of others, but skipping a few we might mention opera singer Richard Versalle who died on stage at the Metropolitan Opera during the company's première performance of The Makropulos Case when he suffered a heart attack while standing on a sliding ladder attached to a file cabinet. He was stricken after singing the line, "Too bad you can live only so long." Ok, that was a bit macabre!

* * *

Here is a luthier who is building violins according to the fine old traditions of the Cremona masters of the 17th and 18th centuries, and yes, he lives in Cremona.
As Lucas talks on excitedly, I learn that different violin makers have very different opinions on the amount of arching the should give to a particular violin body. Factories have violin bodies coming off the machines at a tremendous rate, each one with exactly the same degree of arching, but if that is the only measurement they take, Lucas asserts that only one in a thousand violins they make will sound good because every piece of wood is of different density. As a trained chemical engineer as well as a luthier, Lucas measures their density before calculating the correct degree of arching for each body. He  explains that arching has always been very important – from the time of Amati whose violins were crafted to create a beautiful round, warm sound that didn't project hugely (with archings up to 20mm at their higher point). Nowadays some makers opt for a relatively low level of arching (up to 14 mm on the back) to gain some power on their violins, but this loses some richness.
The whole article is fascinating, so go read the whole thing.

* * *

Here is a well-written account of music in Mexico from the perspective of an orchestral player:
We played a variety of war-horses and obscure music, all of it good – a breadth that I would never span again in my career. Bruckner Masses and symphonies, Tchaikovsky’s orchestral suites, Beethoven rarities like Ruins of Athens, anything by Turina or Albeniz, and works by Debussy that I never heard again. Early forgotten symphonies of Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, Copland’s less than greatest hits. Anything by Strauss, either Richard or uncle Johann. Soloists would get edged out by muscular programing, such as an evening of Sibelius’s 2nd and Shostakovich’s 5th followed by Wagner’s Rienzi Overture as an encore. We even recorded all of Verdi’s and Rossini’s overtures, offering me an education in just how many of those gems there are. Our audiences ate it all up. And Mexico has its own classical music canon revolving around Revueltas and Chavez, the beauty of which should not be lost on artistic planners.
We reached the greatest number of people with our outdoor concerts – many thousands in one fell swoop. I remember vividly playing in a town zócalo and seeing the Indian women with babies wrapped about them quietly contemplating Beethoven’s 7th. During another concert in a distant village one Sunday after Mass, a mysterious, mustachioed man rode into the dusty church on his horse to figure out what was going on with Tchaikovsky’s 4th. The locals were drawn to classical music for what it most simply is: a spectacle of magnificence.
* * *

The Art Newspaper has an article on the problem of value in art: The all-powerful market is sounding the death knell for connoisseurship.
For centuries, the dominant narrative of art history was written to affirm the supremacy of European artistic achievements, produced almost exclusively by white men. After the Second World War the centre of the art world moved to the US, specifically, to New York. The narrative, accordingly, was adapted to position New York as heir to a Modernist legacy that had originated in Paris.
Cultural hegemony followed global political hegemony.
Even as the Modernist narrative was being written, however, some art historians recognised that it was inaccurate, too focused on France, at the expense of countries such as Austria, Germany, Russia and Italy, which had been sidelined by 20th-century events.
Many artists were left out entirely: women, socioeconomic outliers, outside the Western orbit and anyone non-white. Art historians are today making valiant efforts to correct these mistakes, a goal most effectively achieved through monographs or in-depth studies into the previously overlooked.
While this correction is laudable, it unfortunately often seems to go hand-in-hand with a suspension of critical judgment.
In the past few decades, academia has largely abandoned traditional connoisseurship because it was too often tied to “great man” narratives.
Over the same period professional art criticism has been eclipsed by a journalistic preoccupation with glamour, scandal and money.
While the art world was never entirely free from market forces, these are now essentially the sole determinant of value. People need narratives to make sense of culture and collectors require a mechanism to assess quality.
By default, today’s dominant narratives are being written by dealers and auctioneers.
That is a nicely concise statement of a problem we have discussed here at length. My response, as usual, is that this is what happens when you eliminate aesthetics and aesthetic judgement. A few quibbles: the so-called "dominant narrative" of art history was not so much written to affirm the superiority of white men as it was to acknowledge the source and nature of aesthetic quality. Turning it into a zero-sum game turning on race and gender was the contribution of the cultural Marxists of our time. If we plug in some specifics, I think this becomes clear. Does a history of Baroque music, for example, spend a lot of time on Bach, Vivaldi and Rameau because they were white men? Or because they wrote the most powerful and expressive music of the time? So as soon as that assumption is revealed for the falsehood that it is, the rest rather falls apart.

* * *

A former prominent neurological researcher at Yale and New York universities will not face prison for stealing research funds, but a judge said he must play piano for indigent elderly people in Connecticut to make amends.
The unusual sentence for Alexander Neumeister was handed out Wednesday by the US district judge Analisa Torres.
Neumeister must play the piano an hour at least twice weekly for the next few months at group facilities in Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury, the Manhattan judge said. Torres said she saw in pre-sentencing materials that Neumeister was a trained pianist.
* * *

Slipped Disc has a nifty new design and an item on mis-treatment of a cello at Manchester airport:
 Was treated absolutely horrifically yesterday at Manchester airport. After being asked to open my cello case, a man in a foul mood working at security came along without warning and thumped my cello brutally on the body of the instrument for absolutely no reason, other than that he thought there was liquid inside the cello??? It wasn’t just a gentle knock (which is also unacceptable) but a proper thump. This man was an obnoxious pig who I had noticed before my turn, treating an elderly elderly couple really nastily, shouting at them aggressively to open their bags up for inspection. After he did this to the cello I was instantly enraged and screamed at him for about 5 minutes (This is not normal behaviour from me so shows how terrible the situation was!!!!!!!) . Everyone around us was staring in our direction. He never once apologised. His manager finally came along and apologised on his behalf.
* * *

And finally, from The Guardian, a review of two new releases, a new double album from one of my favorites, Igor Levit and a new album from another of my favorites, Hilary Hahn, completing her recording of the Bach music for solo violin:
Levit’s choices touch upon the spiritual, but the music is always mixed with the secular: the solemn ritual of the Good Friday Music from Wagner’s Parsifal, reimagined for piano by Liszt and rendered transcendental by Levit’s calm, spacious playing; Bach’s church melodies wrangled by the composer Busoni into a sorrowful Fantasia, a memorial to his father.
* * *

Let's have a double envoi today. First, from the new album, here is Igor Levit playing an excerpt from "Peace Piece" by Bill Evans.

And here is Hilary Hahn with the Presto from the First Violin Sonata--all of it!


Marc said...

Levit's Liszt's Parsifal was just what I wanted to hear this Friday morning. Wonderful!

Bryan Townsend said...

Excellent! It was on your streaming service?

Marc said...

Yes, the double album, which I'll get to at the weekend, I hope.

There is a streaming site called Idagio: available in Europe for months etc but they're now in North America, so will probably take them up on their free two weeks offer. Just classical, no Cardi B, Kanye, or Justin.

Bryan Townsend said...

Sirrah, thou doth tempt me sorely!

Craig said...

I bought the new Igor Levit record, and have listened to it once. It's tremendously good. Some very unusual repertoire on it: a 35-minute transcription of a Liszt organ piece!?

I haven't heard the new Hilary Hahn record yet, but I did try to buy tickets to her all-solo-Bach concert in Toronto. Sold out!

Marc said...

From the Wikipedia article on Meyerbeer's opera Le prophète:

The musical unity of the work is established by the existence of some recurring themes: the main is the Anabaptist hymn "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam, iterum venite miseri", which is heard in the first act with the sinister appearance of the three Anabaptists. It reappears in the third act when Jean [the eponymous Anabaptist prophet] calms his troops who have just suffered a defeat, while preparing them for new battles. Finally, the theme appears again at the beginning of the last act as the three Anabaptists plan to betray the "prophet".

Am listening to those passages (if I can figure out which they are without too much trouble) and then turning to Levit's Liszt's Fantasia and Fugue.

Bryan Townsend said...

Now I am eager to listen to this new album from Mr. Levit.

Marc said...

(Idagio is quite nice. It claims to provide Lossless, FLAC, sound reproduction, and certainly the difference between Spotify and it is audible. As it happens, the only recording on CD that I have that is also at Idagio is Pfitzner's Palestrina, and if anything it sounds better on Idagio-- no idea whether that is possible, or just a trick of the imagination. But this also points to the drawback I saw almost immediately: the Idagio catalogue is much smaller than Spotify's; it's not good for opera, and e.g. my particulars Biber and Savall aren't well represented. I'm sure it has to do with how much money has been spent on rights etc-- there's e.g. lots of Arvo Pärt but not so much James Macmillan. Five recordings of Leo Brouwer's Elogio de la Danza-- Cobo, Barrueco, Caruso, Cacérès, and Santos. Also, it is a bit creaky in its joints, moving from one function to another: but I expect that that sort of thing will disappear as it matures. Back to the Levit, and Martin Stadtfeld's Homage to Bach.)

Marc said...

The Levit piece, 'Fantasy and Fugue on Ad nos salutarem undam', is actually Busoni (BV B [Bearbeitung glossed as "cadenzas and transcriptions" at Wikipedia] 59) after Liszt super Meyerbeer.

I imagine Busoni gives employment to many scores of graduate students.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for the detailed review of Idagio. I suppose I should investigate! Thanks for the detail about the Elogio de la Danza recordings.

I think you imagine incorrectly regarding Busoni and graduate students. Unless there is some sort of obvious "hook" in the areas of gender, sex, race or class, I doubt Busoni would command a lot of attention. As I recall, he and Sibelius were friends. Sibelius also does not command a lot of interest in the academy.