Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Arriving in Salzburg

Flying to Europe always knocks me out. This was a particularly long flight. First, it took three hours to get to the airport, then there was security and a couple of hours waiting around. The Lufthansa flight was eleven hours to Frankfurt. I had to go for the fast track lane to get around a huge line or I never would have made the Austrian airline flight. Lufthansa was ok, but the food was merely acceptable. The Austrian flight was delightfully informal and they played Viennese waltzes on the system. Just a one hour flight. I had never been to the Salzburg airport before and was delighted to see that it is possibly the only airport in the world named after a composer:


I was totally zonked by the time I got here, and starving! So I popped into this hotel sky restaurant (meaning it is on the sixth floor with a view) and had a terrific salad with caramelised sheep cheese and a weissbier, both excellent. Looking forward to a hearty wienerschnitzel for lunch. My hotel is a fairly small, old-fashioned one in the historic part of town, so I think it won't be far to the Grosse Festspielhaus for tonight. Looking at a map, looks like it will be a cab ride.

Tonight at 8:30 will be the Grigory Sokolov recital in the Grosses Festspielhaus and the program is Beethoven and Brahms. Tomorrow at 8pm is the Bavarian Radio Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and they will be doing the Symphony No. 5 by Shostakovich. Here is the calendar for the whole festival and as you can see, there are several concerts every day. Today, for example, the Ébène Quartet play and there are two plays as well as the Sokolov recital. There is a puppet theatre here, but I'm not sure which are those and which are normal stage plays. Tomorrow is an opera camp performance of Medea and Idomeneo by Mozart,  a Gorky play as well as the Bavarians.

I will try to take a few more photos than usual. Salzburg has the charm of a small city in a small country--Austria is only eight million people. For example, in my hotel, there is a lounge, open all hours, where you can go and read magazines and consume various beverages from orange juice to champagne. And it is on the honour system! You just go, take what you want and write it down on a little list along with your name and room number. Never seen that before! They never give you a wash cloth in the bathroom, so I brought my own. I expected a bathrobe, but no luck there.

Well, it is almost breakfast time here and I am starving, so more later. For our envoi, let's have a very suitable Viennese waltz by Johann Strauss II:



UPDATE: Nothing like a good German Frühstück to set you up for the day. The breakfast room here is surprisingly large and well-lit as it overlooks the garden. The lobby, in comparison, is very unprepossessing. I was going to say something about the ticket to the concert tonight. As I said, the artists and concerts are announced in December and I ordered tickets in January. What I find so interesting about the ticket to the Sokolov concert tonight is that it doesn't actually mention who is playing (I penciled in the artist just to remind myself):


Isn't that weird? And the ticket for tomorrow's concert only says "Orchester des BR." One starts to get the idea that this is really all that's required and a lot of the stuff we see every day is purely for marketing. What would the world look like without marketing?

Looking at that ticket now, could I really be in the third row? Cool!

UPPERDATE: My hotel room is so small I don't think I can get a shot of it, but there is a nice view out the window:

Across the street
Looking to the southwest. In the distance you can see an alp
Looking the other way. Nice 18th century architecture.
Another UPDATE: Salzburg feels a bit like an overgrown music department. Instead of barking dogs, what I hear floating over the rooftops is someone doing vocal exercises. And I just noticed that the prints in the hallway in the hotel are scenes from operas.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Review of Salonen's Complete Sony Recordings

The best way to review this big box of sixty-one CDs of largely orchestral music conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen might be just to make a brief comment on each disc. That will also tell you exactly what is in the box, something the Amazon page doesn't do. So here goes:

  1. Bach Transcriptions These are by Leopold Stokowski, Edward Elgar, Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler and are quite enjoyable.
  2. Bela Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta Excellent recordings with the LA Philharmonic.
  3. Bela Bartók: The Three Piano Concertos The pianist is Yefim Bronfman and he does an excellent job as does the orchestra.
  4. Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major "Romantic" The LA Philharmonic do a great job with this: rich, resonant and not rhythmically turgid--Salonen might have had something to do with that.
  5. John Corigliano: The Red Violin The original film soundtrack plus the related chaconne. Joshua Bell, violin. Quite nice, but likely much better with the film.
  6. Luigi Dallapiccola: Il prigioniero and Canti di prigionia Well done, of course, but I didn't find the composition very compelling.
  7. Claude Debussy: Images pour orchestra, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, La Mer All wonderfully done, of course, with the LA Philharmonic.
  8. Claude Debussy: Nocturnes, La Damoiselle élue, Le Martyre de saint Sébastien Dawn Upshaw does a fine job in La Damoiselle élue. For some reason I have never previously heard either that or Le Martyre.
  9. Edvard Grieg: Peer Gynt incidental music to the play by Henrik Ibsen This contains the well-known In the Hall of the Mountain King. Quite nice in its way.
  10. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 82 in C major "The Bear," Symphony No. 78 in C minor, Symphony No. 22 in E-flat major "The Philosopher" Three excellent Haydn symphonies excellently played by the Stockholm Chamber Orchestra. This tends to highlight that there is no Mozart, nor Beethoven in the collection. Overdone by others or he's just not interested?
  11. Bernard Herrmann: The Film Scores Containing music from The Man Who Knew Too Much, Psycho, Marnie, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Torn Curtain, Fahrenheit 451 and Taxi Driver. Probably one of the best recordings of these classic soundtracks.
  12. Eva Dahlgren: Jag will se min älskade komma från det vilda Eva Dahlgren is a well-known Swedish pop star and this recording, released in 1995, went to no. 2 on the Swedish charts.
  13. Paul Hindemith: Sinfonische Metamorphosen, Thema mit 4 Variationen, Symphonie "Mathis de Maler" Well-played, certainly, but, with the exception of "Mathis de Maler" it just serves to remind me why I don't like Hindemith. Surprisingly dreary compositions, on the whole. But "Mathis der Maler" really is quite lovely and transcendent.
  14. Lars-Erik Larsson: Förklädd Gud Tuneful and charming with a folkish air.
  15. György Ligeti: Le Grand Macabre, Scene I and II At first hearing it sounds like a 60s "happening", but further listening will likely reveal interesting aspects. Extreme vocal techniques, plus characters named Spermando, Clitoria and Mescalina. One wonders if Ligeti never quite recovered from the 60s.
  16. Scene III and IV 
  17. György Ligeti: Nonsense Madrigals, Mysteries of the Macabre, Aventures, Nouvelles Aventures, Der Sommer, Három Weöres-dal, Öt Arany-dal, Mégy lakodalmi tánc Interesting recreation of madrigal style in contemporary terms, plus settings of folk songs.
  18. Magnus Lindberg: Cantigas, Cello Concerto, Parada, Fresco One way of describing Lindberg's music is to call it "complex chaos." Perhaps that's not entirely fair, but it is very busy and without too many obvious guideposts for the listener.
  19. Arnold Schoenberg: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; Franz Liszt: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in A major, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in E-flat major Schoenberg and Liszt is not a pairing we see too often, so let's give Salonen some points for creativity in putting these piano concertos together. One wonders: who is he trying to punish, Schoenberg fans or Liszt fans? Kidding, of course! The pianist is Emmanuel Ax who does a fine job. I have talked about Schoenberg's violin concerto recently, but I haven't heard the piano concerto for decades. I used to have a recording by, I think, Peter Serkin. After much negotiation with two different patrons, Schoenberg received the handsome commission of $1,000 for the work, completed in 1942. Something that has always puzzled me was why Liszt, the greatest piano virtuoso of his day, only completed two (and mostly, a third) piano concertos, and that after decades of revision? Mozart, for comparison, wrote twenty-three. Mind you, Liszt was astonishingly creative in a number of ways as a composer. Bartók, for example, commented that the Piano Concerto No. 1 was "the first perfect realisation of cyclic sonata form."
One of the fruits of Salonen's tenure in Los Angeles, apart from its effect on his composition, was his encounter with film music. Here is the overture to North by Northwest composed by Bernard Herrmann from disc 11. Blogger won't embed.


Not on the Herrmann disc is this excerpt from the soundtrack to "On Dangerous Ground" also by Herrmann:


UPDATE: Sorry, forgot to mention that this is just part one! There are sixty-one discs in total, so this is a review of less than a third of them. I am planning two more posts.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

In honor of this week's anniversary:

This photo contains every human ever to have existed,
with the exception of Michael Collins, who is holding the camera.
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We love to complain about the terrible state of music education, but there are places where it is pretty good. Here is David Alberman and some friends from the London Symphony Orchestra giving a little demonstration of string techniques for A level music students in England:


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I wonder if NewMusicBox are trying to make up for those intemperate articles lately about how classical music is all about white supremacy by putting up more sane posts? Here is a good one by a woman composer giving some healthy arguments why her music--and all of our music!--should be played more often: WHY YES, I DO WANT MY MUSIC PERFORMED. She also brings up some interesting points about Canadian composers:
as a Canadian-born composer, I do have long experience with another kind of programming that takes more than just whether a piece is “good” or not into account, the Canadian Content (“CanCon”) requirement, which stipulates that a certain percentage of radio and TV broadcasts consists of work by Canadian creators and/or performers. CanCon was introduced in the early 1970s to give Canadian artists, who had previously been overshadowed by artists from the USA and Europe, a chance to develop, thrive, and reach audiences in Canada and abroad. Similar initiatives from the Canada Council for the Arts and other Canadian funding bodies preferentially support ensembles that perform Canadian music, enable ensembles to commission pieces from Canadian composers, and fund tours of Canadian music and ensembles abroad.
Has this effort been a success? In terms of promoting more Canadian music domestically, certainly, but I tend to disagree with the writer's claim that post-colonial Canadian music is on an equal footing with the rest of the world. To all of you who reside outside Canada, please answer the following question: name three Canadian composers. Take your time. Ok, Claude Vivier. Anyone else?

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Tablet magazine has a piece on Alan Lomax and the Search for the Origins of Music.
Ethnomusicology was initially the creation of a small number of men and women, mostly European and North American, who were trying to make sense of the growing number of recordings of music from non-Western cultures that were being made in the field, first on wax cylinders and then on shellac records at the dawn of the 20th century.  Non-Western music and European folk song did not follow the conventions of Western classical music. Indigenous harmonies, when they were found in places like the Balkans and the Caucasus, did not work according to the then-accepted standards of European classical harmony. The vocal styles were opposed to what educated, middle-class Western Europeans at that time thought was “true, good, and beautiful.” 
Lomax discovered and facilitated the careers of Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Muddy Waters, to name a few, and he was an early mentor of the young Bob Dylan. He also collected music in the British Isles, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and the Soviet Union (triggering the folk music revivals of Europe that followed the publication of his recordings there) as well as in the Caribbean, Appalachia, and other parts of the Deep South. He probably collected and listened to more and different kinds of folk, tribal, and non-Western music than any other person during the last century. Some of the obscure songs that he discovered and recorded later became global hits such as “House of the Rising Sun” (The Animals), “Rock Island Line” (Lonnie Donegan), and “The Sloop John B” (The Beach Boys).
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Here is something I can relate to: On Being a First Generation Classical Musician.
At second glance, many people at the center of classical music life grew up immersed in the culture. To name just a few: the composer John Corigliano’s father, John Sr., was the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and a friend of Samuel Barber. Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic, is the son of the late principal clarinet of the Vienna Philharmonic (a post Ottensamer’s brother now holds). The parents of the cellist Alisa Weilerstein and the conductor Joshua Weilerstein perform together in the Weilerstein Trio, an ensemble in residence at the New England Conservatory of Music. Nadia Sirota, the violist and host of Meet the Composer, is the daughter of Robert Sirota, a composer and conductor. Matthias Schulz, the artistic director of Berlin’s Staatsoper, recently told a local newspaper that, for his five children, playing an instrument “was as natural a part of their daily routine as brushing their teeth.”
Yes, classical music tends to be a bit dynastic.
Every classical musician who is not from a musical background has a different story of how their interest in the art was sparked. But for most of them, their early forays into music were baffling and awkward: more like riding a unicycle than brushing their teeth. The barriers of entry that classical music puts up against people of color and from working-class backgrounds are often discussed (though not always with clarity). The difficulties faced by first-generation musicians overlap, but are harder to unravel. They play themselves out in tenuous musicianship skills, in educational paths not taken, in careers that stall because of networks, not ability.
This was my experience to some extent. My mother was an old-time fiddler as we say in Canada, with no connection to the classical music world. My entry actually felt perfectly natural. I simply switched from electric guitar to classical guitar and went to a university school of music. It was a lot easier to get in, back then!

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Hat tip to Norman Lebrecht for alerting us to a huge outdoor concert conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin in Montreal: Orchestre Métropolitain au pied du mont Royal: une soirée parfaite.
Près de 35 000 personnes s’étaient rassemblées au pied du mont Royal, jeudi soir, pour écouter le traditionnel concert en plein air offert par l’Orchestre Métropolitain (OM) et son chef, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Pour cette sixième édition, la température était idéale, l’ambiance conviviale et l’émotion au rendez-vous.
Pénélope McQuade a présenté la soirée avant l’arrivée de Yannick Nézet-Séguin, chemise à pois et pantalon blanc, dont l’entrée a été chaleureusement applaudie.
L’an dernier, le chef avait choisi trois pièces de Tchaïkovski, dont la Symphonie no 4, pour le concert sur la montagne. Cette fois-ci, Yannick Nézet-Séguin avait opté pour un choix plus diversifié. Après l’ouverture avec Peer Gynt, suite no 1 d’Edvard Grieg, on a pu entendre la Symphonie no 5 de Tchaïkovski, ainsi que le fameux Boléro de Ravel en clôture.
For those of you without French, Québec's wunderkind conductor, newly appointed to the Metropolitain Opera in New York (and whom I will see conducting the Bavarian Radio Orchestra in Salzburg in a week or so) gave a hugely attended concert at the foot of Mont Royal for 35,000 people. The program included the 5th Symphony of Tchaikovsky, the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg and Ravel's Bolero. Not to heavy, not too pop, just right. Montreal is a wonderful cultural center and I miss living there. But I don't miss the six months of snow every year!

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Let's have an envoi with the Québec maestro. This is from the 2013 Proms, a performance of the Symphony No. 5 by Prokofiev with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. The first five minutes are an interview with the conductor.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Salzburg Preview

I leave for Salzburg on Tuesday, so I was just reading up on it. People were asking.

  • Salzburg is just a bit bigger than the small city I live in in Mexico, around 150,000. It has thirty-five churches, a few palaces and a bunch of concert halls
  • These include the Grosse Saal in the Mozarteum as well as the Wienersaal, a smaller hall there (where I played a concert when I was a student)
  • The Grosse Festspielhaus, the main concert hall of the festival, was opened in 1960 and seats over 2,000. It is inscribed with this motto: SACRA CAMENAE DOMUS / CONCITIS CARMINE PATET / QUO NOS ATTONITOS / NUMEN AD AURAS FERAT (The Muse's holy house is open to those moved by song / divine power bears us up who are inspired)
Click to enlarge
  • Salzburg lies just to the north of the alps and one quite imposing mountain, the Untersberg, is less than ten miles to the south
Untersberg, looking over the south of Salzburg, click to enlarge
  • When I was in Salzburg as a student, we went up to the top of the mountain via cable car. Spectacular view into Bavaria!
  • Despite its small size, Salzburg has a lot of universities. These include:
  • Salzburg University of Applied Sciences
  • University of Salzburg, a federal public university
  • Paracelsus Medical University
  • Mozarteum University Salzburg, a public music university
  • Alma Mater Europaea, a private university
  • SEAD – Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance
  • I'm afraid I was rather unkind to a Juilliard student once. He was bragging about being a graduate of that fine school and I couldn't resist saying, after a measured pause, "I attended one of the very few music schools that has a higher reputation than Juilliard..." He gave me a startled look to which I replied "the Mozarteum in Salzburg." That ended that conversation.
  • Salzburg during the festival has five orchestras in residence so when you get on a bus you might find yourself fighting to get past several cello cases. And that's not even counting the hundreds of music students!
  • Speaking of master classes, I hope to sit in on a couple and maybe see some student concerts. A student concert in Salzburg is probably near the level of a professional concert in most other places.
  • I have to confess that one of the things I am particularly looking forward to is wienerschnitzel!
  • Accompanied, of  course by a weissbräu, a somewhat cloudy wheat beer:

Let's have some music! This is one prominent resident, Herbert von Karajan, conducting the music of another prominent resident, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This is the Symphony No. 39 with the Berlin Philharmonic in a concert in Tokyo in 1988.


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Weekend Ruminations

Wow, you guys have been keeping the comments section hopping lately! That adds so much to the blog.

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Salzburg is looming closer and closer--I'm off in a little over a week. I will try to blog every day while I am there. In the meantime I had to get two movements of my quartet off to the players in time for their annual reading session. There was a surprising amount of tidying up to do. My last movement, titled "Ocean" is in 10/8 time (well, mostly) divided up 3+3+2+2. That looks like this:


I had to go through and make sure that the computer was doing the rests properly. When you have one of these composite time signatures (a famous example is the Precipitato that is the last movement of the Piano Sonata No. 7 by Prokofiev), you need to make sure that the rests are subdivided correctly so as not to throw off the performers. So I had to check every measure and correct quite a few of them. Sometimes I go against the underlying subdivisions:


Here, for example, the second violin and viola are following the 3+3+2+2 subdivision while the first violin and cello are actually in 5/4.

I use the Finale music software. I know that most people use Sibelius these days and maybe it is better, but I have been using Finale for over twenty years and almost have the hang of it 8^)

One great thing about these notation programs is that they can save a lot of time. For example, Finale has an "extract parts" feature. In the old days you would pay a copyist to do the laborious task of taking the part for each individual instrument from the score and notating it separately (only the conductor works with the full score). Not too much work if it is a string quartet, but imagine what that involves for a full orchestra! But with notation software, the parts can be extracted in a matter of seconds. But then you have to go through and check every measure. Finale tends to scrunch up some measures rhythmically so you have to adjust them. And then sometimes the slurs go astray so you have to adjust them. That was what I spent the morning on.

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Click to enlarge
I've been really enjoying the big box of Salonen from Sony that arrived the other day. Sixty-one discs! A surprising delight is to be listening to things I wouldn't normally listen to based on the thought that if he thought it was worth recording, then I should give it a listen. Some examples?
  • the soundtrack to The Red Violin composed by John Corigliano
  • Il Prigioniero by Luigi Dallapiccola (I don't think I have ever listened to Dallapiccola before)
  • the whole of the incidental music to Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg
That's as far as I am so far. There were also a couple of CDs of Bartók and a couple of Debussy as well. Upcoming are Bernard Hermann (soundtracks), Paul Hindemith and some fairly obscure Scandinavians plus all the Lutosławski symphonies.

What I am noticing is that Esa-Pekka Salonen is a very, very fine musician. I keep hearing interesting secondary voices that I don't recall hearing before. There is a tremendous amount of musical clarity, which brings out musical meaning. In any case, really looking forward to the rest of the discs.

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For an envoi, here is the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Bartók from the Salonen box. The pianist is Yefim Bronfman with the LA Philharmonic.


All three of the Bartók piano concertos are in the box as well as the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and the Concerto for Orchestra in very fine performances.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Let's start with a photo:


What famous musician is this? Select the line below for the answer.
George Harrison in Hamburg, 1962

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Here is something really astonishing: the dance of the four little swans from the Tchaikovsky ballet done in Chinese acrobatic style.



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Over at NewMusicBox Brandon Lincoln Snyder has some interesting things to say about time, music and the Internet:
Compared to performance spaces in the “real world,” the internet is not a normal place for music. The scrubber bar in digital media players gives listeners a particular control over their listening experience, making it markedly different from any live circumstance. On one hand, some music made for live performance becomes more difficult to listen to on the internet. It can feel unnatural to listen to a piece without pause, to not click away before the end. On the other hand, this new relationship between listener and music opens the door to aesthetic avenues rarely exploited in the corporeal realm. The visuals, development, and interactivity of music are three components drastically redefined online.
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Over at On an Overgrown Path, we are warned that Classical music must beware of its new elitism:
A disturbing strand of elitism and snobbery is creeping into classical music, particularly in the UK. Country house opera is the new big thing and an increasingly condescending attitude is prevalent towards rock and other non-classical genres. Leading the charge with a recent online polemic is composer James MacMillan. In this he uses the term 'Left-wing' (his capitalisation) as a pejorative, a distasteful use overlooked by classical music's champagne activists who happily tweeted their approval of his views - "Well said Sir James". 
James MacMillan is dismissive of the emblematic Glastonbury Festival and in the same sentence denounces popular music for "the elevation of the decidedly mediocre and banal to iconic genius status". He then goes on to plead the case for classical music as "a struggling, hard-pressed cottage industry", which conveniently ignores the fact that the top five music directors of American orchestras earned a total of US$11.6 million in 2018. He also denounces how the "pop-dominated, mass-produced culture industry and big business are inherently bound together to make a large-scale system of control and exploitation". Which overlooks the fact that the industry leading classical labels of Decca and Deutsche Grammophon are owned by pop-dominated Universal Music. In this very big business - 2018 turnover of US$ 7.1 billion - classical musicians of the moment such as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla sit, presumably comfortably, alongside the non-classical artists dismissed by MacMillan as "decidedly mediocre and banal".
MacMillan and other classical artists are accused of hypocrisy:
The reality is that the output of those artists denounced as mediocre and banal fund admirable recording projects such as Gražinytė-Tyla's Weinberg Symphonies. And also conveniently overlooked is that what Sir James describes as corporate music's "large-scale system of control and exploitation" facilitated the recording of his almost certainly loss-making The Lost Songs of St Kilda for Decca, and that he took the proverbial thirty pieces of silver from Universal Music's Deutsche Grammophon when he conducted a recording of violin concertos for them.
It's complex, of course, and, depending on how you frame it and what facts you select, you can make the case either way. In a world where a free market has given billions of dollars in revenue to pop artists and a tiny fraction of this to classical artists, it is hard for classical musicians not to feel ashamed that they are being subsidized by pop artists. Either that or they consciously avoid making any unfavorable aesthetic judgements about their pop colleagues. There is a lot to be said for just throwing up your hands and saying--perhaps even believing--that you love all music equally like you love all your children equally. I'm not temperamentally suited to take that path, however, so I think that you have to make individual judgments and make them as accurately as possible. Also, if you want a career in music, you are going to have to make a lot of pragmatic compromises.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on an upcoming four-day academic conference on Bob Dylan: All Along the Ivory Tower.
The majority of the conferees split evenly between two camps — though it’s difficult to say just what these camps should be called. "Amateurs" and "professionals"? There’s probably something to that distinction, but "amateurism" in this instance doesn’t really indicate a disparity in scholarly interest or skill so much as it separates those who were getting paid from those who were paying out of their own pockets. Most uncharitably, to both parties, the division might be described as "geeks" versus "nerds"; more conventionally, I suppose, the participants could tentatively be grouped into "fans" and "scholars."
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The Guardian relates a new instance of the weaponizing of music: Florida city constantly plays Baby Shark to deter homeless from civic building.
City officials in West Palm Beach, Florida, are using extremely catchy children’s music to try and drive away homeless people from one of its civic buildings.
The city’s mayor, Keith James, confirmed to Fox News that the songs Baby Shark and Raining Tacos were being played at the patio of the Waterfront Lake Pavilion, where homeless people have been living.
At least they're not using Vivaldi or Mozart!
The city has previously attempted to use classical music to deter drug dealers, but the unit powering the speakers was smashed.
One homeless man Fox News spoke to said the children’s songs hadn’t been enough to move him on. “I still lay down in there,” Illaya Champion said. “But it’s on and on, the same songs.”
So they really hated the classical stuff?

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 I've been waiting for someone to mention this problem: Burnout: What musicians in 2019 are 'perpetually terrified' about.
Musicians burning out "is an age old story", Sam says, but social media and feeling like "you have to be on top all the time" adds extra pressure on the mental health of modern artists.
"Back in the day, you could have a crap gig and nobody would film you.
"Now everybody's got an iPhone - you have a bad day and it's going on the internet."
The 25-year-old says it's easy to become vain as a musician.
"It's so vacuous this job.
"You're constantly looking at pictures of yourself, talking about yourself. Then I come back home and all my mates want to talk about is me because I've been hanging out with Elton John and stuff."
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The world's newest opera house looks like an iceberg and it's in China:

Click to enlarge 
Henning Larsen designed the white angular volumes of Hangzhou Yuhang Opera to look like ice floes on a lake.
The waterfront performance venue in Hangzhou, China, contains a 1,400-seat auditorium, a 500-seat black box theatre, and an exhibition centre. Henning Larsen completed the building in May and it is now open to the public.
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For our envoi, let's listen to the Symphony No. 4 by James MacMillan. This is the BBC Scottish Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles.


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!

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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.

* * *

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: