Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll?

I can't tell if this is satire or not: Wife of Man Who Started Midlife Crisis Band Wishes He’d Just Had an Affair.
ALLEN, Texas. — Annette Martin is allegedly tired of her husband’s foray into live music as a band-aid for his mid-life crisis, telling friends she wishes he would “just sleep with another woman already,” sources confirmed.
“I get it. I do. A guy passes 40, and he wants to feel young again,” said Mrs. Martin, moving a box of her husband’s demo tapes into the garage. “But why did he have to start this awful band and interrupt my life? Now I have to spend every Friday at the Lakeside Tavern, listening to him struggle his way through Goo Goo Dolls covers. If he was having an affair, at least I’d get some nights to myself.”
It has to be a satire, right? Yes, it is. Here is another item from the same site: Autographed Morrissey Album Valued Less Than Unsigned Copy. Well, maybe not?
PORTLAND, Ore. — An autographed, vinyl copy of Morrissey’s album “You Are The Quarry” sold on Discogs.com for 30 euros less than an unsigned copy on the same day, stunned record collectors reported.
“Frankly, we’ve never seen anything like this. No artist has ever become so maligned as to tank the value of signed versions of their records,” explained Discogs.com creator and CEO Kevin Lewandowski. “At this point, people are so averse to being viewed as a diehard Morrissey fan that they would spend more money on a fresh copy, rather than risk looking like some hateful Morrissey stan who thinks Nigel Farage might have a few good points.”
Ok, satire...

Weekend Ruminations

New commentator Maury is working his way through my back pages here and offering a lot of intriguing comments to which I try to make response. It makes me go back and read old posts. There are, by the way, nearly 2,800 posts here at The Music Salon, many of them fairly substantial, so I encourage new readers to go have a look at them. In the last couple of years, for various reasons, I have been posting less often, two or three times a week instead of at least once a day. But you can rectify your musical rumination deficit by looking back at the archive. The search function works pretty well, but in the early days I didn't put many tags on posts. Also, there are a whole bunch of posts where the topic was so hard to characterize with a short tag that I just slapped "aesthetics" on a bunch of them. So if you search for "aesthetics" that is likely to keep you occupied for quite a while!

* * *

I have left hanging two ambitions projects, one a series of posts on composer Sofia Gubaidulina that reached seventeen separate posts before going into hiatus. I have a lot more to do as I find her perhaps the most interesting living composer. So at some point soon I will get back to that project. The other one is the more recent series on composer Luigi Nono that I started because I realized that he was a lot more interesting than I had previously thought. So look for some more posts on him before too long.

* * *

The long nightmare that is Venezuela somehow keeps on keeping on. At Slipped Disc we find the story of a clarinetist who had a job offer with the national orchestra withdrawn. When she tweeted a complaint about this, she was arrested and has been in jail for a month. The thing that I find most remarkable about this is that Venezuela still has a national orchestra despite the collapse of the economy, food and water shortages and mass emigration. Does anyone still have time or energy to go to the symphony in Venezuela?

* * *

I think this is one of the signs of the Apocalypse. Surely we are in the End Times if Sony is signing Chloe Flower as a, cough, cough, classical artist. Let's cue the fulsome praise:
Sarah Thwaites, Label Head UK, Sony Music Masterworks said: “Chloe Flower is one of the most exciting artists on the planet and I’m unbelievably stoked to share her talent with the world. Whether it’s original compositions, classical masterpieces, unexpected collaborations or virtuosic covers of today’s hottest hits, Chloe’s incredible talent, passion and style shine through.”
Over at Slipped Disc, some of the commentators are unbelievably stoked as well:
My anaconda don’t, my anaconda don’t…
Nicky Minaj meets Fifty Shades of Gray
Who packages these things at Sony? A committee of pop culture professors watching videos from 5 years ago?
And who’s the target market? Middle aged men with an Asian fetish, I guess…

The label of Horowitz, Rubinstein, Gould, etc. Oh Lordy!
 On the other hand, she does tend to make Yuja Wang and Khatia Buniatishvili seem far more sober, serious artists in comparison.

* * *

This is a very sweet story: Jennie Litvak resigned from the World Bank to play the shofar at synagogue:
She resigned from the World Bank and joined the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington, dc, where in 1876 Ulysses S. Grant became the first American president to attend a service in a synagogue. There was meditation every Tuesday night, yoga every Wednesday night, lessons in Jewish mindfulness all through the week. But it was when she held aloft the shofar that she really found her voice.
After every morning service through the month of Elul, then through Rosh Hashanah—Jewish new year—on to Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, her friend, would call out: Tekiyah. She would respond with a single note…
If you follow the link and watch the clip, she is not playing a single note, of course, but two notes a fifth apart.

* * * 

There is an historic instrument in Western music very similar to the shofar, the gemshorn, traditionally made from a goat horn. Here is a sample:


Which sounds remarkably like a recorder. The cornett or zink is made of wood covered with leather, but sounds more like the shofar:


What the heck, since we've got the cornett handy, let's listen to some of that wonderful Gabrieli music written for the San Marco in Venice:


Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Most of the so-called "memes" we suffer through each day are missable. But here are a couple I couldn't resist:






* * *

I just ran across this box at Amazon: all of Esa-Pekka Salonen's recordings with Sony, sixty-one discs! And no reviews? Well, there will certainly be one as soon as I have listened to the box.


* * *

We are sure talking about creativity a lot these days. Here is a piece over at Nautilus:
Is creativity a skill I can beef up like a weak muscle? Absolutely, says Mark Runco, a cognitive psychologist who studies creativity at the University of Georgia, Athens. “Everybody has creative potential, and most of us have quite a bit of room for growth,” he says. “That doesn’t mean anybody can be Picasso or Einstein, but it does mean we can all learn to be more creative.”
I kind of doubt that. I'm pretty sure that one aspect of creativity is the quality of being very open. A lot of artists have said that ideas just come to them, float by, and all they have to do is grab them. This depends on being really open to that possibility. Also, they are leaving out all the work. Once an idea drifts into your ken you have to recognize what it is and figure out what to do with it. I suspect that not only can you not teach yourself to be creative, 6,000 self-help titles notwithstanding, I rather doubt that anyone can teach you. A lot of composers have stated pretty clearly that it is not possible to teach composition. Though you can certainly pretend to do so...

* * *

Over at the Wall Street Journal there is an article about pianist Chloe Flower who, apparently, invokes the spirit of Liberace in her popular crossover efforts:
Ms. Flower grabbed attention online by posting videos of herself covering hip-hop hits by Drake and Kendrick Lamar in the style of Bach and Beethoven. She performs for her 237,000 Instagram followers in eye-catching outfits at her 63rd-floor apartment in Manhattan.
More than a musical and stylistic influence, Liberace has been an accompanist of sorts to Ms. Flower’s career. She has the support of his estate, which lent her one of his bedazzled pianos. The co-star of her videos, it is a Baldwin with a see-through top and a 9-foot housing covered in mirrored tiles.
Let's have a look. This video is titled "Get What U Get":


For some reason Blogger won't embed. Well, that was certainly less, uh, interesting than promised. It is like a parody of bad crossover: take a prelude by Chopin (this is the E minor), use it as an introduction, then move to an upbeat tempo with a lot of gratuitous arpeggios. The video has every silly gesture and pose imaginable. And all the commentators love it! You know how sometimes critics talk about how a piece or a composer eliminates all the surface frivolity and goes right to the heart of a musical idea? Well, this is what it looks like when you do exactly the opposite.

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I check in over at Musicology Now every now and then, just to see it they have anything new up. Right now there is a new post attempting to nuance or problematize or something, country music with rap (or trap) influences or (t)rap music with country influences by black artists: Lil Nas X, the “Old Town Road,” and the (f)utility of genre labels.
 Lil Nas X insists that his song is both country and trap—not one or the other<6>—Billboard is perhaps correct that, despite the eclectic mix of generic signifiers in the song, it is more of a hip hop/trap tune with country topoi (in both text and music) than the other way around.<7>  We might use the same “it’s more blueish-green than greenish-blue” reasoning to argue that Run-DMC’s “Rock Box” is a rap song with prominent rock elements while Rage Against the Machine’s “Testify” is rap influenced rock.  Yet conflating genre with style is of course a mistake; genre labels are notoriously unreliable at grouping music into coherent stylistic categories. True, if one uses historical style markers like the use of steel guitar and fiddle as a barometer, “Old Town Road” seems a poor fit for country radio.  But the same can be said of songs by Sam Hunt and Florida Georgia Line, whose recent hits are indistinguishable from contemporary pop.
There is a whole lot more similar prose, but it never seems to get close to talking about what genre and style are, let alone what the elements of a particular genre or style are. Is it just a reluctance to use musical terms or examples? That seems odd for someone who is an assistant professor of music theory:

Click to enlarge
* * *

Alex Ross has a new piece up at The New Yorker that might be worth a look: Meredith Monk’s “ATLAS” and the L.A. Phil’s Extraordinary Season.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s centennial season, which recently ended with incandescent performances of Meredith Monk’s opera “atlas,” has no peer in modern orchestral history. More than fifty new scores shared space with classics of the repertory. Fully staged opera productions alternated with feats of avant-garde spectacle. The L.A. Phil, colossal in ambition and experimental in spirit, has redefined what an orchestra can be.
I'm sorry I missed it! To cite just one example: "Esa-Pekka Salonen led one of the finest, most ferocious performances of “The Rite of Spring” I have heard". I'll bet it was something!

On one occasion, reviewing an Alex Ross review of the Ojai festival I averred that he was more likely to punch knitting needles through his ears than give a critical comment on a piece of new music. But he seems to have overcome that failing:
Not everything was a triumph. One commission, Philip Glass’s Twelfth Symphony, meandered interminably through material derived from David Bowie’s album “Lodger.” Bryce Dessner’s “Triptych,” another première, attempted to make an oratorio out of the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, with murky and often uncomfortable results. Tan Dun’s “Buddha Passion” wavered between visceral sensation and saccharine kitsch. Even when the L.A. Phil fails, though, it fails memorably. What the season resolutely lacked was the sort of cautious complacency that smothers so much of the classical world.
Yes, let's not settle for cautious complacency!

* * *

Something from the steady hands of Esa-Pekka Salonen would seem to be a logical envoi for today. Here he is conducting his own piece for orchestra Nyx (2011) with the Finnish Radio Symphony:


Sunday, July 7, 2019

What I Like About Moment Form

Sometimes I find myself saying, in conversation, that these are difficult times for music. I was having dinner with friends last night and it came up. Now understand that these friends are business people, have no particular connection with music and do not play an instrument, though their middle son has taken up the guitar. So they are uncorrupted by any actual musical knowledge! I mentioned that money was one complicating factor in music. Ed Sheeran is the biggest earner these days so I asked them to guess what he was earning on his current concert tour. They speculated it was a few million dollars. The correct answer is a few hundred million dollars (from here):
In total, Sheeran's tour sold 4,860,482 tickets for 94 shows across 53 cities. He earned a whopping $432 million, effectively shattering the record for the highest global tour revenue by an artist in a single year.
I didn't know much about Ed Sheeran's music, but I said to my friends that his music is rather, well, innocuous. Let's have a look/listen. This is the song that comes up at the top on YouTube (Blogger won't embed):


Not to do any real analysis, but the most salient features are: a brisk, tuneful musical setting, a beautiful and very fit black woman is the love interest, Ed himself is portrayed as an amiable goof who gets seriously in shape and gets in a match with a Sumo wrestler (only to be rescued by the aforementioned black woman), and the underlying values are black is great, fitness is great, eating properly is great and, presumably, don't get in the ring with a Sumo wrestler! All these are the mainstream values of our day. So "innocuous" is probably the right word.

My concept of musical art is contrary to that. For me, what is worth doing, musically, is to go outside the mainstream values, aesthetic or otherwise. A new piece of music needs to be, in some way, new. I tried for quite a while to reconcile traditional music aesthetics with composition today and was not quite successful. At the same time, I reject the more extreme trends of modernism because they seem to me empty of humanity. I was very happy to discover that the solution, for me, was to be something of a synthesist. In other words, there is a great deal of genuinely new music expression to be found in sifting through the trends of the last hundred years and sorting out the potential gems therein. Some of the greatest composers of the past like Mozart and Bach were really synthesists rather than innovators.

One of the musical ideas that was discovered around sixty years ago, was moment form. There are some very interesting examples that I was talking about the other day, but my feeling is that the surface has barely been scratched. For example, the Klavierstücke XI by Stockhausen, one of the earliest examples, can sound a lot like an ordinary piano piece (though in avant-garde style) even though the narrative continuity is shattered. There are, as I recall, nineteen moments that are played in a largely random order. The form of the piece is like that of a mobile by Calder.

Other examples of the form bring out different aspects. In a piece for more than one instrument you can have the possibility of counterpoint, for example. The aspect of the form that has most powerfully attracted me, oddly enough, is the rhythmic element. The one thing you cannot have with a moment form piece, is a score. I suppose you could create a score by transcribing a performance, but every performance will be different so that doesn't really capture the piece. There is no score because there is no vertical integration! The musical score, showing the vertical integration of the parts in an ensemble piece has been the foundation of Western music from the sixteenth century. Prior to then, pieces for ensemble were often or usually written down in parts only. The invention of the barline made integrated scores possible.

As we let go of the vertical integration of the parts of the composition we gain a whole universe of open, freely flowing sound. This is more appropriate for certain kinds of musical moods than the march-like narrative of a traditional score. The whole idea of a unified pulse is banished. This has strong appeal to me because perhaps the core foundational element in most music today is the unifying pulse. Steve Reich has built his whole musical language on it, and very successfully too. But I find that, by letting it go, it frees me from all sorts of hidden Procrustean beds.

A few years ago I wrote a piece for solo guitar titled "Chant" that was based on the idea of no pulse. Here is that guitar piece. I get away from pulse in two ways: first by thinking in terms of Gregorian chant where the music flows, but does not have fixed beats. So I use very large note values in a fluctuating meter, so you hardly feel the meter. Then I insert a lot of grace notes that further dilutes the metrical aspect.



In order to write for an ensemble and have no pulse, you pretty much have to use moment form. Even without pulse, you can have structure and I integrate harmonic structure into my new piece for string quartet in a couple of ways. First of all, there is an overall harmonic structure that consists of four chords of four notes each. The piece begins with the four instruments playing the four notes of the first chord. Then they move through six moments at their own pace. As each instrument reaches the next note of the chord, they will pause until the other instruments also reach their notes. Then everyone proceeds through another six moments to the next chord. As they will reach the chord at slightly or significantly or quite different times, the chord will seem to "bloom" over time. After the four players have reached the end of the music (the moments are spread out over a spiral shape) they then return to the beginning. So the piece is also its own retrograde, which gives us a contrapuntal element as well as a harmonic element.

Here are the violin II and cello parts so you can see how this is written:



So why are these difficult times for music? The prominent musicians of our day are becoming wealthy in ways that previous generations could only dream of. The most successful musician around 1800 was Joseph Haydn and even though he was one of the first free-lance composers (in later life), toured very successfully in Europe and published his works in several countries, compared to what Ed Sheeran and others earn today, he was impoverished! No, the reason these are difficult times for music is that all the incentives push musicians toward the innocuous, the tuneful, the expression of only those things that are mainstream platitudes. Referring to his time as court composer to the Esterházy family, where much time was spend at their country estate, Haydn said:
I was cut off from the world. There was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Weekend Ruminations

Which are way different from a Friday Miscellanea! First up, I ran across this account of an interview with David Letterman and Kanye West in The Spectator:
It’s the most extraordinary few minutes, a minuet of death. Letterman affects to laugh, the audience laughs, Kanye laughs. But behind the smiles and the apparent bonhomie, a vicious duel is taking place and Kanye is winning hands down. I can’t think of a single other celebrity in the world who would have had the balls to do what Kanye does in this interview: challenge the entertainment industry’s oppressive left-liberal consensus; speak out for Donald Trump; rail against the stifling constraints on freedom of speech that is rendering so much unsayable. Maybe you need to be a huge rap star to get away with such things. But how many other huge rap stars would have had the originality of thought even to try?
As you have undoubtedly noticed, I have found Kanye West to be one of the most genuinely creative musicians in the contemporary pop world.

UPDATE: Afterwards I took the time to watch the Letterman interview and I think Delingpole really overstates the case. Sure, there was a little tension around the #metoo discussion, but it wasn't so fraught and was followed by a little film of Kanye's Sunday Services which are sort-of like a musical church with a lot of improvisation. So really, no hard feelings, no "minuet of death." Who comes up with this stuff? I think my favorite part of the interview was when Kanye dresses Dave up in a new wardrobe. Most talk shows I can't watch and that includes the old Letterman shows. But this was very watchable. Dave is better interviewer than he used to be. Mind you, I like Craig Ferguson, so bear that in mind and take my comments with a grain of salt!

* * *

I have been catching a few of composer David Bruce's videos lately--he is quite prolific. I go back and forth on them. He seems quite hip and cool, using terms like "negative rhythm" and "gateway drug" to pique our interest. He covers a lot of interesting topics. "Gateway drug" comes from this video about ten pieces of contemporary classical music that might get you hooked:


And then he kills my interest right off the bat by picking that dreary sludge of virtue-signalling, Become Ocean by John Luther Adams. Then a piece by Osvaldo Golijov, whose name he consistently mispronounces. Then John Adams and another landscape piece consisting of characterless washes of sound, remarkably similar to the John Luther Adams one. He then almost redeems himself by choosing two excellent pieces by Steve Reich: Different Trains and Music for 18 Musicians. Next is a weird choice of a weird piece: Les Noces by Stravinsky. Yes, interesting piece, but I very much doubt it is going to be anyone's choice of a gateway drug into contemporary music! The very obvious choice would have been The Rite. Then a really inspired choice, almost winning me over: the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Messiaen. Unfortunately he immediately says Messiaen is like Prince, which may be hip, but is remarkably unfair to both! Other picks are Thomas Adès, sure, why not, and Kevin Volans, another inspired choice. All right, let's give him a gold star for putting in Conlon Nancarrow and maybe half a star for his last pick, a piece by Ligeti with an absolutely unpronounceable name: Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüve!

Two things that turn me off about his videos are the interjections of little snippets of pop culture from time to time just to show us he is actually cool and not a boring old classical composer, and his re-naming of long-familiar musical techniques. "Negative rhythm," it turns out is just a fancy new name for, wait for it, hocket!

* * *

I'll tell you right off the bat that if you have the gall to turn your back on a truncated, bleeding chunk from the last movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, you will get nothing but disdain and disgust from The Guardian:
Yesterday, Brexit party MEPs led by Nigel Farage turned their backs while the anthem of the European Union played at a ceremony to mark the opening of the European Parliament. Their behaviour has been met with disdain by many, with #notinmyname trending on Twitter. This was an emotionally provocative act at a time of political sensitivity, and there is something about the shunning of the anthem itself, an instrumental arrangement of the Ode to Joy from the final movement of Beethoven’s iconic Ninth Symphony, that makes the demonstration particularly inflammatory.
Read on for a recounting of how the symphony has been used as propaganda by both the right and the left over the last couple of centuries. Perhaps the best thing ever written about the symphony was the essay "Resisting the Ninth" by Richard Taruskin. Look, for various reasons, musical and non-musical, the piece has become a warhorse of utilitarian propaganda. As such, I think that anyone would have the right to resist its use in a political context.
The image of the Ninth as a powerful symbol of European unity was perhaps claimed in most iconic fashion on Christmas day in 1989 when Leonard Bernstein conducted the last movement of the Ninth to celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall with an orchestra consisting of members from East and West Germany as well as the four allied powers: France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the US.
However, as a matter of fact, Europe is not now and never has been a "nation" in the sense of a geographic, linguistic, ethnic, cultural and economic unity and the very fact of Brexit demonstrates that.

* * *

Let's have a little musical palate-cleanser. Here is a movement from Kevin Volans White Man Sleeps played by the Kronos Quartet:


You can find the other movements on YouTube, but Blogger won't embed for some reason.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

I've been thinking of billing myself as the "World's Most Obscure Composer" but Jessica Duchen has an article on someone else in running for the title: At 82, composer achieves a first.
Erika Fox’s coffee mug is emblazoned with the title of HG Wells’s The Invisible Man. One can’t help noticing, because this extraordinary composer has for too long been an almost invisible woman. Today, her first-ever commercial CD is released, featuring a selection of her chamber music. She is 82.
Musical cognoscenti reacted with horrified astonishment to the realisation that Fox’s music has not previously been recorded. Its style is tough yet mesmerising, highly individual, with a strong undertow of unsettling emotion. “Some people have said it’s challenging, but because it’s mine, I don’t think of it that way,” Fox remarks. “To me it’s ordinary. It’s what I do.”
Read the whole thing.

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There is a debate going on in Australia these days about the depiction of women in opera: 'Difficult to renovate': Opera's struggle to move with the times.
The "call to action" co-authored by Sally Blackwood, Liza Lim, Peggy Polias and Bree van Reyk urged "respect" for "creators who are female, non-binary and from diverse cultural backgrounds" and ask for "safe inclusive spaces for people with diverse voices and abilities to set the agenda".
Operas written in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries are products of their time with the portrayal of women sometimes limited to that of a tragic heroine. 
Mr Terracini rejected the assertion that bias and sexism was only an "opera problem", arguing the discussion should involve all art forms.
"If we want to seriously examine the cultural history of Western art, let’s examine everything that constitutes the making of a civilisation based on the history of art," he said.
"If people are serious about doing something like this, it would need to involve an examination of painting, sculpture, ballet, everything.
This points out one strategy to push back at the people advocating "equity." You need to point out the hypocrisy in just calling for equity in the glamorous, sought-after areas and ignoring the equity in all the other areas.

* * *

There is a post at Slipped Disc on this same initiative: LET’S BAN VIOLENCE FROM OPERA, RIGHT?
That’s the cry from 190 ‘leading Australian composers, directors, musicians, and vocalists’, who have signed a petition ‘to remove gender bias, sexism, and dramatised acts of violence against women in opera’.
What is most entertaining over there are the extensive comments. Such as:
Oh, I see. Then we’ll have to make some changes. First, Otello and Desdemona seek marriage counselling; then, Fasolt and Fafner draw straws over who gets most of the gold; Don Giovanni gets kneed in the groin by Zerlina; bad news for the Duke of Mantua for yes, it IS he who ends up getting knifed by Sparafucile, thus providing Rigoletto with that rarest of opera house phenomena: a happy ending; Brunnhilde gets done for animal cruelty in Gotterdammerung and Butterfly slaps a paternity suit on Pinkerton and wins a million bucks a year in child maintenance. Trust the politically correct maniacs Down Under to try and alter an entire art form to suit their loony notions….
* * * 

The New York Times takes a look at the problems of classical music in the Age of Streaming: In Streaming Age, Classical Music Gets Lost in the Metadata.
When Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, a classical music aficionado in Brooklyn, asked her Amazon Echo for some music recently, she had a specific request: the third movement of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto.
“It kind of energizes me, motivates me to get things done,” she said.
But the Echo, a voice-activated speaker, could not find what she wanted. First it gave her the concerto’s opening movement; then, on another try, came the second movement. But not the third.
Exasperated, Ms. Kalyanaraman Marcello gave up.
“Just play something else!” she recalled saying.
Her frustration may be familiar to fans of classical music in the streaming age. The algorithms of Spotify, Apple and Amazon are carefully engineered to steer listeners to pop hits, and Schubert and Puccini can get lost in the metadata.
One reason I have not been tempted to give up CDs for a streaming service. It's also personal: most streaming services just don't have a metadata field for "composer." As a composer, I rather resent that!
* * *

Woody Allen is directing Gianni Schicchi at La Scala.
The film director, hounded out of Manhattan by his former wife and stepchildren, is staging Gianni Schicchi at the home of Italian opera, courtesy of Alexander Pereira.
As always with Slipped Disc, the comments are worth a look.

* * *

Composer David Bruce has a number of videos over at YouTube. This one, about the uses of silence, is quite interesting:


* * *

 Yuja Wang has a unique approach to practicing:


That's how to get a really fortissimo chord!

* * *

For our envoi today, let's listen to a track from the new CD of the chamber music of Erika Fox. This is On Visiting Stravinsky's Grave at San Michele played by Richard Uttley. Blogger will not embed, so follow the link.


(When I accessed this clip on YouTube it had only nine views!)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A Note on Moment Form

I have been playing and composing in moment form for almost forty years. Good heavens! That's longer than Mozart was alive. But it turns out that moment form is not so easy to understand for players or composers. Let's do a little history. Here is the definition from Wikipedia:
In music, moment form is defined as "a mosaic of moments", and, in turn, a moment is defined as a "self-contained (quasi-)independent section, set off from other sections by discontinuities."
Heh! Like the definition of "ontology" in philosophy, that confuses as much as it clarifies! Ontology: the study of being qua being. Heh, again. The Wikipedia article has some background, but it is still confusing. Let me give my take on the subject. The first moment form piece I played was, as I said the other day, Night Rain by Tony Genge. In this piece each player has several little "cells" or "moments" meaning little melodic fragments or phrases. How they come together is different with each performance and so there is no rhythmic co-ordination. However, the two players are listening to one another and shaping how they play and what moment they choose according to the context. The effect is of an open, floating kind of atmosphere. You can't get this effect by writing down notes in a row in a rhythmic pattern.

One piece by Stockhausen that I always found interesting is his Klavierstüke XI which is described as follows:
Klavierstück XI consists of 19 fragments spread over a single, large page. The performer may begin with any fragment, and continue to any other, proceeding through the labyrinth until a fragment has been reached for the third time, when the performance ends. Markings for tempo, dynamics, etc. at the end of each fragment are to be applied to the next fragment.
This is rather different from how his other moment form pieces are structured and also rather different from how Tony Genge's is structured and how mine are structured. What they all have in common are two fundamental things: there is no fixed linear "narrative" and the performance will be different on every occasion. For me, the appeal is that instead of marching through the piece in a measured way, the feeling is of being in a space where events are occurring in somewhat unpredictable ways. Why this is appropriate for my string quartet movement is that I am trying to re-create a specific, unusual atmosphere that I experienced in an Old Growth forest. You are surrounded by enormous trees, like being in a great, natural cathedral, and you hear various levels of sound: a very indefinite soughing of the wind in the trees, the occasional creaking of branches, an isolated bird song and so on. The light is subdued, like dusk, as the sun rarely breaks through to the forest floor.

I am structuring this movement in certain ways so it is largely free within organized boundaries. What I am trying to do is cultivate the right atmosphere but doing it within a harmonic structure.

I hope this helps a bit to understand what moment form is all about! Oh, one final thought. Moment form brings out an interesting ambiguity in the concept of musical notation. Notation in Western music got established when Guido de Arezzo came up with the idea of orienting the notes around a line that specified a pitch. This developed into the five-line staff we use today. The idea is that standard musical notation, sometimes called "vocal" notation, is a kind of transcription of what a performance will be. Oh, those are the notes they are playing! But there are other kinds of notation, particularly tabulature. This looks like vocal notation because it uses staff lines, but instead of dots there are numbers or letters. Tablature, used by the lute and guitar, shows you where to put your fingers, but it does not show what sound will result. So tablature is a set of instructions, not a transcription. Moment form notation, which looks like regular notation, is in a sort of grey zone: it is kind of a set of instructions to the players: you do this and you do this. But it does not show what the result will be. There cannot be a moment form "score."

Here is the aforementioned Klavierstüke XI by Stockhausen:

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Quartet Progresses

I need to get a good part of the new quartet to the performers sooner than I thought so I have been working daily and two movements are pretty much finished. A violinist and violist friend came over on Sunday and we went through the two movements in some detail. We fixed all sorts of little details that otherwise would have led to an embarrassing first rehearsal! For example, I tend to put phrase marks everywhere they seem relevant, but I learned yesterday that if you put phrase marks over passages in pizzicato for bowed instruments, they are likely to think you are an idiot and there will be titters. I didn't know that! I guess that the concepts of bowing and phrasing are very close for string players. As a guitarist, pretty much everything I play is pizzicato and phrase marks are normal for me. Interesting...

But I had a little win in another movement. The second movement, titled "Forest" (the quartet is inspired by the geographic beauty of the Vancouver/Vancouver Island region) is in moment form. This was invented by Karlheinz Stockhausen in the 1950s and taken up by many others since. My first encounter as a player was with a piece called Night Rain by Canadian composer Anthony Genge. It is a lovely piece for alto flute and guitar. The score has three pages, each divided into a top and bottom half and each page is a separate movement. The flute part is on the top and the guitar, the bottom. Each part consists of ten or fifteen "moments" or brief cells that may be played in any order. Some of the cells are rests. You play each moment once in any order. The trick is ending each movement roughly together as there are no musical signposts. We discovered, as we played the piece, that we quickly developed an intuitive sense of where we were and when we recorded it, we did so in one take. Here is our recording:


We always enjoyed playing that piece because it had a mood and atmosphere quite different from anything else. I wrote my first "moment" piece decades ago for guitar orchestra. It consisted of a kind of flow chart with the different moments in little boxes. Each row was numbered and lines showed where you could go next. What is not on the page is how I conducted the piece. I created the form during the performance by cuing certain players to, for example, return to the "snare drum" box on level one. Other performances could take a different course. So the score is like a box of materials to construct a performance. Here is page one of the score:


(Just a note to future scholars: my original name for this piece when I wrote it around 1978 was Forms. When the Swedish publisher Guitarissimo issued it in a collection with two other pieces of mine for guitar orchestra I changed the title to Long Lines of Winter Light. That title I had, many years before, given to a piece for string quartet (not a regular string quartet, but one with mandolin, guitar, banjo and double bass or something like that!). That piece never got beyond a brief sketch, so I re-used the nifty title. Much later, as in just a few years ago, I revived that idea and put a great deal of time into a new version for violin, harpsichord, harp and guitar. That piece has never been performed.

Here is a recording, with ten guitars, of the original piece under the title Long Lines of Winter Light:


One section of my new piece Dark Dream uses moment form. Each player has a number of moments, to be played in any order, but that whole section is then repeated. I haven't posted the recording of that piece yet, but I will.

The new quartet, adventurously titled String Quartet No. 2 as there was an earlier quartet, is in three movements. The first, titled "Mountain" is just a sketch so far. The second movement, "Forest" is in moment form, but I have organized it quite differently. The moments are in a fixed order and spiral out from the center to the periphery. Then the player returns to the center. However, the player can play each moment several times if so desired. There are four "signposts" which are four whole notes. The four instruments each have a different note and the four signposts together outline a chord progression. When a player reaches a signpost, he or she waits until all four performers are there, then they all continue. My violinist was extremely skeptical about this so I suggested we just play through it. We both arrived at the signposts at nearly the same time! Actually, the piece is designed so it is really not possible to have ensemble problems. In fact, I would prefer that the four instruments arrive at the chordal signposts at different times allowing the chord to "bloom." Here is what two of those parts look like:

Click to enlarge
I rather enjoy the ontological question of how many pages there are. This is the first page of the two pages this movement takes up in the score (which shows all the parts together). Now, of course it is not a normal score where the parts are aligned vertically. To the listener, this movement only has one page as all four parts are played simultaneously. However, when I print out the parts for each player, there will be four pages. So, how many pages are there? As I mentioned before, you start in the center, move along the spiral to the periphery and then return to the center.

There were some scores by George Crumb that used spirals back in the 60s, but apart from that I am pretty sure this is a fairly original idea.

The last movement is a hard-driving finale in 10/8.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Well, Bach...

I have posted a lot about Bach, of course, but there is always more to discover. Here is a clip about the canons in Bach's Goldberg Variations:


Why do I say there is always more to discover? Because even now, two hundred and sixty-nine years after his death, we are still stumbling across things he did that hadn't been noticed before. For example, in the clip David Louie points out that the theme to the Goldberg Variations is 32 measures long and this is reflected in the piece generally. Of course we have always known that each of the 30 variations uses the same bass line from the theme. But Louie points out that all the variations are either in triple (3) or duple (2) time. AND if you look at how many variations are in 3 and how many in 2, they turn out to be in a ratio of, yep, 3:2. If it were anyone else, you might just shrug it off to coincidence. Another example: I was at a talk on the Mass in B minor once and the scholar pointed out that there are exactly 2345 measures in the Mass AND that the Dona nobis pacem, the only music that is repeated and that also ends the work, the theme opens with the notes D E F# G, which, if you use fixed doh solfege, are the notes 2345. Again, if it were anyone else but Bach...

In 1974 Bach's own copy of the score of the Goldbergs turned up and lo and behold he jotted down fourteen more canons on the theme. As Wikipedia notes:
When Bach's personal copy of the printed edition of the "Goldberg Variations" (see above) was discovered in 1974, it was found to include an appendix in the form of fourteen canons built on the first eight bass notes from the aria. It is speculated that the number 14 refers to the ordinal values of the letters in the composer's name: B(2) + A(1) + C(3) + H(8) = 14.
I'm sure I have told this story before, but when I took the graduate seminar called "Fugue" I had something of an epiphany with Bach. First of all, the professor prefaced the course by saying that the entire content of the course would be on Bach and only Bach. Despite the fact that many composers wrote fugues and fugue-like pieces before Bach and an enormous number of composers have continued to do so since Bach (a short list: Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Brahms, Bruckner, Bartók, Shostakovich, and so on), none of them were worth taking time away from Bach to cover. By the way, there are not and have never been any other musical forms or genres that have been dominated by one composer so completely as Bach dominates the fugue. All the other guys? Not even worth discussing. But what really made me fall off my chair was when I realized what he had done with the so-called "mirror" fugues (I wrote a post on them here). A pretty good composer can use what is known as invertible or double counterpoint, where one line can be transposed above another without causing any awkward bits. A really good composer can maybe do triple counterpoint which is the same thing with three voices. Bach could write a four-voice fugue that could be completely inverted and it would still work perfectly. As far as I know, no other composer even tried that.

Now in the Goldberg Variations, every third variation is a canon. Ok, cool. But remember, all these canons have to fit over that same 32 measure bass line. Oh, and each of those nine canons is at a different interval. No, you don't have to have the second voice start in the same place, it can be a second above, a third above, a fourth above, a fifth above and so on. Which is exactly what Bach does. For nine different intervals. Over the same bass line. Those of you who know a bit about music theory are now gibbering insanely, aren't you?

Watch the whole clip as it is interesting to see how Nahre Sol, composer, approaches Bach.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Wit and Wisdom of Adam Neely

I put up a clip of Adam Neely the other day talking about tuning. But he has a whole bunch of clips out and some of them are very funny. Here is a favorite, about musical trainwrecks:


This reminds me of a couple of my trainwrecks, though mine were rather minor in comparison. I was accompanying a choir in a performance at church once. The choir had a fairly long section where they sang unaccompanied and then we ended together. Or sort of! Turns out this choir had an unfortunate tendency to sink in pitch if they were singing a capella. So when I came back in for the coda, it sounded as if I were about a semitone sharp! Agh! That horrible feeling of being appallingly out of tune even though you are not. But at least I didn't have to play uptown funk afterwards...

Here are a couple of other clips from Adam Neely:


(Caveat: there are some secrets to busking, as I discovered touring through Europe one summer, but none are revealed in this video.)


Hey, dude, that's nothing. When I was nineteen I played bass at a gig at an air force base with a soft rock/calypso group. On acid.

Friday Miscellanea

Here is a fun item explaining some curious things about the viola including why there are so many viola jokes: Why Is the Viola the Butt of So Many Jokes?


These jokes are nothing new, and so firmly cemented in many musical communities that the topic “Viola Jokes” earned its own Wikipedia page. Violist and Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor Carl Rahkonen’s article No Laughing Matter: The Viola Joke Cycle as Musicians' Folklore notes that while soprano jokes often play on the diva stereotype and conductor jokes poke fun at the maestro god complex, viola jokes mock trial (perceived) musical incompetence. Since effective humor hinges on the unexpected, Rahkonen argues that these jokes have ceased to be funny, and essentially serve to enforce a musical hierarchy, and violists are always at the bottom.
The article goes on to discuss the interesting history of the viola and some particularly nice repertoire.

* * *

Looks like I might be in the Vancouver area next May as that is when we are planning to premiere my  new string quartet. It will be dedicated to the Pro Nova Ensemble who will give the first performances in North and West Vancouver. I will let you know the dates as soon as they are decided. I don’t know how many readers of the blog are in that general area, but whoever you are, I extend a general invitation to either or both of the concerts. There will probably be CDs available for purchase. If anyone is interested why don’t we schedule a meet-up? I’m sure there would be lots of suitable places!

* * *

A whole bunch of posts over at Slipped Disc about the Tchaikovsky competition, but perhaps the most striking is the one about the concerto reversal. One stage of this grueling competition asks the pianists to play two big virtuoso concertos back to back. The Chinese contestant was expecting to play Tchaikovsky, then Rachmaninoff, but instead the order was reversed and announced, only in Russian. So when the orchestra began he was absolutely flummoxed. Here is the clip:


* * *

Also at Slipped Disc an item about a last minute change of pianists:
Gabriela Montero had bought tickets to hear Martha and Maria Joao Pires play four-hand in Hamburg and had booked her flights from Barcelona. Last night at one in the morning, the phone rang. ‘Gabrielita,’ said Martha, ‘Pires has had to cancel on Wednesday night. Will you play the Schubert F Minor Fantasie with me? And could you do some improvisations?’.
Gabriela says: ‘So, that’s where I’ll be tonight. Not sitting in the audience, but sitting onstage next to my dear Martha bringing to life these gorgeous 20 minutes of other-worldly inspiration.'
* * *

And again at Slipped Disc, notice that one of the Salzburg concerts that I have a ticket for that was to be conducted by Mariss Jansons will instead be conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Should be quite a treat as I have not heard him conduct. Jansons has cancelled all his engagements this summer due to illness.

* * *

Canada has a new singing star. Jeremy Dutcher is an indigenous member of the Wolastoqiyik tribe from New Brunswick. Here is a story in the San Francisco Classical Voice:
Interviews with Jeremy Dutcher figure among the new demands on a Canadian First Nations (indigenous) singer-pianist who’s risen rapidly to international attention. The 28-year-old Toronto resident needs now and then to take a break from the clamor, to return to something like the pastoral pace of his raising in the Maritime province of New Brunswick, as a member of the Wolastoqiyik [pronounced Wuh-last-o-key-yik] tribe.
I first witnessed Dutcher a year ago, at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, performing on piano and singing in his tribe’s native Wolastoq language (the word denotes ‘the beautiful river’; renamed by the colonizers of New Brunswick as the St. John), in the basement of a church, a beautiful historical landmark. He hadn’t yet won Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize, nor its Grammy-equivalent Juno Awards. Both of these wins would recognize his debut self-produced album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, translated as Songs of the People of the Beautiful River, tracks from which were presented in Montreal and will be heard here this Saturday when Dutcher appears at 1 p.m. at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.
Dutcher incorporates in his live and recorded music an unusual and affecting act of legacy, playing transcribed wax recordings from 1911 by an early anthropologist of a tribal elder singing and speaking, and following the melodies with his own heldentenor voice and mellifluous keyboard compositions. The method and quality of his approach derive from his training, including classical voice with Marcia Swanston at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
That sounds fascinating! Let's have a listen. This is his performance of Sakomawit at this year's Juno awards (Canadian equivalent to the Grammys):


Ooph! Well, the costuming is certainly unusual. Was that a mesh t-shirt over short-shorts underneath the cape? Canada has been fetishizing their native peoples for decades now and this looks like the perfect fulfillment of that project done as a 70s rock ballad. And no, that's not a heldentenor voice, at least not one that would ever get a job singing Wagner.

* * *

I have probably told the story of Artur Schnabel before. He was one of the greatest pianists of the first half of the 20th century, particularly known for his Beethoven. For many years he simply refused to record the Beethoven piano sonatas because of a fear that someone, someday would listen to the recording while eating a ham sandwich. Yes, by today's standards, just a tad elitist! I have similar feelings when I realize that if I issue a CD people might be listening to it on a laptop. Even worse, no-one listens to CDs anymore so it will be streamed over an iPhone and listened to via earbuds. Shudder! Here, via ShellyPalmer, is the story of how we got to where we are:
The world of recorded music was irrevocably changed in October 2001 when Apple introduced the iPod. While it is well remembered as a stepping stone to the greatest comeback in American corporate history, the iPod is less well remembered for dealing the final, almost fatal, blow to sonic quality.
The iPod came with the iconic white earbuds. The wired version was prominently featured in the equally iconic iBod campaign. As pretty and expensive ($29 if purchased separately) as earbuds were, the transducers (the little speakers in each ear) probably cost Apple 29 cents. I’m pretty sure Apple spent more on the packaging than it did on the hardware. To say that earbuds offered the least emotionally satisfying audio experience possible would be a compliment.
When you combine “lossy” compression with 29-cent earbuds, you get the world of recorded music as mass marketed by Steve Jobs. You also get the death of sonic quality. The funny thing is, nobody noticed.
Hey, I noticed! Read the whole thing.

* * * 

For our envoi today, let's pay some homage to the viola. This is Mozart's lovely duo concerto for violin, viola and orchestra, the Sinfonia Concertante. The soloists are Wolfram Brandi (violin) and Yulia Devneka (Viola) and the Staatskapelle Berlin is conducted by Daniel Barenboim:


Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Universe of Music

I remember the exact moment when I decided not to switch my major from music to philosophy. This was when I was in my second year as an undergraduate at the University of Victoria. My first couple of undergraduate years at university were a wonderful time for me. It was the first time I had the opportunity to participate in the world of higher learning and I took to it like a duck to water. Apart from my course work in music, English, linguistics, German and philosophy I read an appalling amount: a multi-volume history of philosophy, Dante's Divine Comedy and a bunch of other stuff. I also was a voracious listener. Back then, pre-Internet, the only place you could find a really extensive collection of music to listen to was in a university listening library with their thousands of LPs of everything from Beethoven, to Javanese gamelan, to Machaut, to Stockhausen. It is hard for us to imagine now how limited the opportunities to hear music were before YouTube and iTunes and Spotify. If you wanted to hear, say, the Symphony No. 2 by Beethoven you had four choices:

  • buy a recording
  • wait for the local orchestra to program it
  • read through the score yourself on piano
  • take it out from the listening library
And if, as I did before attending university, you lived in a small town with no listening library--or orchestra!--and if you didn't happen to have the score, then you simply had to hope the local record store had a copy! So during my undergraduate years I took out several records every day from the listening library.

But back to my story: as I was saying, I remember the exact moment I decided to stick with music. I had taken a summer course in the philosophy department. It met every Friday afternoon for three hours, like a graduate seminar. The course was Philosophy of Mind, taught by the chair of the department. This was his specialty and it was a pretty high level course, 300 level as I recall. We started with readings in Descartes and moved on to Quine, Strawson and others in the British analytical tradition. Some of the things I learned stick with me to this day such as the concept of "category error" from Quine. But for the most part I felt lost at sea! The course was a huge challenge. There were only three students in the class and on one occasion both of the other ones didn't show up so I had to converse by myself with the professor for three hours. After that my head hurt! At the end of the course the professor gave me a little verbal evaluation, saying that he thought that I was sensitive to a number of the important distinctions. Sounds pretty half-hearted, or so I thought at the time! But it probably was not a bad comment. What was telling for me was that philosophy was utterly a thing of the mind or intellect. Even the professor's body language was indicative of this. He hardly seemed aware he had a body.

While I loved philosophy, it always seemed partial to me--just a slice of the universe. Music, on the other hand, was a whole universe in itself. There are the most abstract levels of pure thought in music theory, and at the same time, the most concrete and practical considerations in the playing of instruments. Your own body is an instrument if you are a singer. Well, that is also true of instrumentalists. Guitarists' fingertips are the source of sound for them as are the lips of trumpet players. The whole of your being goes into playing music and you are constantly dealing with bows, rosin, strings, fretboards, humidifiers, and on and on. Music history delves deep into the past while acoustics delves deep into science.

Music has a lot of eccentricities as well. For example, I just ran across this fascinating clip exploring whether A = 440 is wrong and it should be A = 432.


Of course the reasoning is flawed: we do not have a deep connection to the vibrational frequency of the universe! That's just a bit of scientific mumbo-jumbo. But tuning is one of those areas where obsessive eccentrics have been promulgating weird theories for the whole history of music. Incidentally, Adam Neely, who did the above clip, is a very clever fellow and in this clip explains how to tap 7 against 11:



One of those tuning eccentrics was the American composer Harry Partch who not only invented his own tuning system, but also all the instruments needed to use the system. Here is his Castor and Pollux:


Monday, June 24, 2019

New iPad Air

Looking around for a compositional tool, I vaguely recalled a commercial Esa-Pekka Salonen did for, of all things, the iPad. I also ran across a YouTube video demonstrating a lot of amazing things you can do in GarageBand on an iPad because of the touch screen. Glissandi, for example. I have a problem with glissandi. I use them a lot on string instruments (including guitar) but Finale, my notation program, really hates them. When I put in a glissando any one of the following might happen in the audio rendering:

  • Nothing might happen—not only no glissando, but no sound whatsoever
  • There might be a scale instead of a glissando
  • There might be an actual glissando
And if I have glissandi in all four instruments at once (my string quartet) then I will get all of the above possibilities! In GarageBand you can easily do glissandi in string instruments. I am just getting started on using the program though. Apart from its complexity, the issue for me is that the program is designed to use in the composition of pop songs so there are a lot of built in defaults I have to figure out how to work around. For example, the program assumes you are going to be in a particular key (though there are some exotic scales available, for non-Western instruments at least).

One very intriguing area is percussion. There are a lot of interesting instruments available and I can’t wait to see what I can do with them. You can also record directly into the program so the possibilities are really enormous. GarageBand is kind of a smart synthesizer, recording studio, and digital production program. About the only thing it doesn’t do is notation and maybe I just haven’t found that section yet!

Anyway, I just got the iPad and have barely scratched the surface of GarageBand so we shall see. The  iPad, with an add-on keyboard also makes a nice, small laptop so I may take it with me the next time I travel and do my blogging on it. I am writing this post on it!

Before I was asked to write a string quartet, I was just about to write a piece for violin, guitar and percussion. Here is a piece by Lou Harrison for guitar and percussion that is nothing like what I have in mind.


Sunday, June 23, 2019

What Makes Ringo a Great Drummer

I have long been a big fan of Ringo's drumming. Somewhere on an old post I think I said something like "Ringo reinvents drumming for every song." I just ran across a video clip where Sina takes the time to demonstrate just how original he was:


When the Show Must Go On

I don't know these guys, but this really was something. I would have been leery of being electrocuted. Electric guitars and microphones don't really go with rain. But good on 'em!



Plus he won't have to humidify his acoustic guitar for the next month or so...

Writing a String Quartet

As I have tiresomely repeated a few times, I am writing a string quartet to be premiered in Vancouver next season. In great contrast to my last piece, Dark Dream for violin and guitar, the structure of the new piece was clear from very early on. Dark Dream I re-wrote several times from the ground up because I was trying to figure out the structure. Here is how the new quartet is organized:

String Quartet No. 2

I Mountain
II Forest
III Ocean

My inspiration stems from where the piece will be premiered. The Vancouver area is dominated by mountains, forest and ocean--where there aren't people that is! I spent much of my youth on Vancouver Island and sometimes in very remote parts of it. For a while I worked a few miles from the highest mountain on Vancouver Island, the Golden Hinde.
Click to enlarge
Vancouver Island and coastal British Columbia generally has a lot of old growth forests and the second movement is "about" them in the way that Bartók's "night music" movements are about the sounds of the night. The third movement depicts the ocean as if La Mer had been written by Prokofiev instead of Debussy!

The first movement is proving the trickiest from a structural point of view and I haven't worked out the overall plan yet. Here is the first page, though:

Click to enlarge

Those red arrows indicate the speed of the glissando. Going up means you start slow and speed up. Going down is the reverse.

The second movement is in moment form and I will put up a sample when it is further along.

UPDATE: But here is the first page of the third movement, Ocean:


Click to enlarge

Saturday, June 22, 2019

A Four-million-dollar Guitar?

This is some kind of milestone, for sure. There are now guitars, well, one at least, worth as much as Stradivarius violins. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd held an auction of his guitars on Thursday and netted $21 million. The highest-selling item was his famous black Stratocaster.
But the star attraction was Gilmour’s legendary Black Strat — it was snatched off the block by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for $3,975,000 — setting a new world record for any guitar sold at auction, Christie’s said.
The is the axe heard on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Money” and many others, Guitar World’s Jackson Maxwell reported.
“The guitar went through many modifications over the years, which only added to its mystique,” Maxwell said. “With its battle-scarred surface, it wouldn’t be hard to believe this guitar had been to The Dark Side of the Moon and back. And in some ways, it had, appearing on that album, as well as many others in the Floyd catalog.”
He is donating the funds to the climate change charity ClientEarth. Oh, well...

I was a fan of Pink Floyd in the early days of Ummagumma. Here is a song from that album that seems appropriate:


Friday, June 21, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

You might need a Wall Street Journal subscription to view this article: Opera Star Hao Jiang Tian Bridges East and West. But try Googling the headline.
By opera-world standards, Hao Jiang Tian is a late bloomer. The Chinese native didn’t even attend his first opera until he was 29 years old, when he was getting ready to study in the U.S. and heard Luciano Pavarotti at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Since then, Mr. Tian has made up for lost time. Today, the 64-year-old bass is a presence on the global opera scene, having performed more than 50 roles at companies from Berlin to Buenos Aires. At the Met, he has appeared for more than 20 seasons, including alongside Pavarotti in 1993 in Verdi’s “I Lombardi”—just a decade after his first visit to the opera.
Mr. Tian is about to appear in an opera written in Mandarin at the Lincoln Center.

* * *

You would think that if you mixed up Bach, Sufi music and a little John Cage you would get something a bit more interesting:


* * *

Alex Ross has one of those big pieces he is so good at in The New Yorker. This one is on the Dutch National Opera's production of excerpts from Stockhausen's mammoth 7-opera cycle Aus Licht.
At first, the Holland Festival had hoped to stage all seven operas, but the logistical challenges proved insurmountable. Instead, a production team led by the French-Lebanese director Pierre Audi assembled fifteen hours of excerpts—a little more than half of the cycle. The musical director was the Dutch flutist Kathinka Pasveer, who lived and worked with Stockhausen. She spent three years supervising an army of some four hundred performers, many of them students at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. They essentially majored in Stockhausen.
This was a fantastic opportunity for those students! Over at YouTube we find some clips about the production:


Here is a clip featuring bits with Stockhausen himself.


I have attended lectures by some famous composers such as Witold Lutosławski and Jō Kondo, but the only really well-known composer I have met personally was Karlheinz Stockhausen when he brought his ensemble to Salzburg in 1988 and gave seven concerts of his chamber music. I had a nice conversation with him after one of the concerts. A remark that sticks in my mind is his comment that a recording of a performance is like a post-card: it resembles the event, but hardly captures it fully.

Ross cites "Angel Processions," the second scene of the opera Sunday, as an example of Stockhausen's "impeccable craft." Here is a clip of that section:



* * *

China has engaged in an orgy of building, not least in the area of culture: Why China Has Hundreds Of Empty 'Ghost' Museums.
The museum looked like a colossal golden jelly bean. The adjacent library was designed to look, literally, like a row of books on a shelf. Across the street was an opera house that appeared to have been modeled from some kind of ancient Silk Road fortress. These magnificent buildings were all aligned along a massive public plaza that was nearly the size of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, which ran south from the palace-like edifice of the new local government headquarters. Such monumental public works may have come off as normal along the raging boulevards of a vibrant, uber modern big city, but out here in Ordos Kangbashi–a quiet and scantly populated new city rising up from the desert of central China– it was difficult to suspend a surreal feeling of disbelief: why would all of this be built here? I would soon discover that it was all a part of a top-down central government initiative to completely revamp China's cultural infrastructure.
Ironically, one main reason that China has little to put in these museums and libraries is because the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s launched by Chairman Mao managed to destroy a great part of China's cultural inheritance:
China's historical sites, artifacts and archives suffered devastating damage, as they were thought to be at the root of "old ways of thinking." Artifacts were seized, museums and private homes ransacked, and any item found that was thought to represent bourgeois or feudal ideas was destroyed. There are few records of exactly how much was destroyed—Western observers suggest that much of China's thousands of years of history was in effect destroyed, or, later, smuggled abroad for sale, during the short ten years of the Cultural Revolution. Chinese historians compare the cultural suppression during the Cultural Revolution to Qin Shihuang's great Confucian purge. Religious persecution intensified during this period, as a result of religion being viewed in opposition to Marxist–Leninist and Maoist thinking.
* * * 

A brand new concert hall, the first purpose-built arts venue in an Alpine ski village, opened on Sunday night in the Swiss resort of Andermatt with the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Constantinos Carydis christening the space.
The light-filled, flexible hall is designed by British architect Christina Seilern of Studio Seilern. It is part of an ambitious new development for the once-dwindling village that it is hoped will transform it into a year-round cultural destination.
Say what you will about Europe being a museum of the past--in my book that is high praise.

* * *

One of the pieces played in that inaugural concert was Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony op. 110a. This is an arrangement by Rudolf Barshai (approved by the composer) of the String Quartet No. 8. Here the performers are Terje Tønnesen, and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.