Friday, November 29, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

I almost forgot to put up my Friday Miscellanea! Just too much excitement this week, I guess. First up, here is a new video from Kanye on the song "Closed on Sundays":

I wonder what effect Kanye is having on the culture? This is a pretty interesting video from that point of view. Thoughts?

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Shall I rub salt into the wound by linking to this tweet from the BBC: Clara Schumann is the greatest composer of all time!

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After the musicologists, historians and theorists have all had their way with George Frideric Handel, is there anything left for the accountants? Yes, apparently.
George Frideric Handel was a master musician — an internationally renowned composer, virtuoso performer, and music director of London’s Royal Academy of Music, one of Europe’s most prestigious opera houses. For musicologists, studying his life and works typically means engaging with his compositional manuscripts at The British Library, as well as the documents, letters, and newspapers that describe his interaction with royalty, relationships to others, and contemporary reaction to his music. But when I began to explore Handel’s personal accounts at the Bank of England twenty years ago, I was often asked why. For me the answer was always ‘follow the money’. Handel’s financial records provide a unique window on his career, musical environments, income, and even his health.
Read on for a discussion that is just as dull as one would expect...

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I don't know if I ever said so in so many words, but I basically ended my concert soloist career by going on strike. One day I just said "enough!" A new book by a pianist informs us about the vicissitudes of a concert artist:
Before reading the book, I would have said that I had a fairly good understanding of the work that goes into the career, but I was dreaming. Here are some of the more stressful examples: In London, Hough gets a call to play Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto, which he knows, but hasn’t played for a couple of years, with the Chicago Symphony, ie in Chicago – the next day. Another cancellation has him playing Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which he has only played once before with a youth orchestra (badly, he says), at the gigantic Hollywood Bowl, where the “heads of the audience in the back rows were as small as the notes on the page of my miniature score”. Again, when he is in Amsterdam to play the Grieg Concerto, a cancellation offers him the opportunity to play it with another orchestra – on the same day. He rehearses at 11 am with the first orchestra, at 12 with the second, gives performance one at 2:15, has a dress rehearsal at 6:15, performance two at 6:30. Or simply the extraordinary task of playing both the Brahms concertos on the same programme. I would find that emotionally draining even as a listener. You might say that Hough had it in his power to turn down some of these opportunities, but that is not the life of a freelance artist, where the only good excuse for turning down a gig is that you are already booked for another one.
And this is the life of someone whose career is doing really well.

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 If you will forgive the pun, here is a piece beating the drum of multiculturalism in music: CULTURAL APPROPRIATION IN CLASSICAL MUSIC?
A lucid example of the Western music aesthetic versus an indigenous one would be to consider the concert hall experience and that of a powwow. In the concert hall, the quality of the sound becomes the preeminent value, conceptually superseding the players and the audience. In a concert hall, the audience and orchestra are kept in separate spaces, and the flow of activity is directed from the orchestra to the audience, which remains seated, silent, and motionless. The performers all wear black to hide any individuality, and concerts are typically appraised on the “ugliness” or “beauty” of their collective sound.
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Over at The New Yorker, Alex Ross has a laudatory piece on the record label ECM that has put out a host of great contemporary recordings: The Pristine Empire of ECM Records.
ECM is one of the greatest labels in the history of recording. Manfred Eicher, who founded ECM and remains its sole proprietor, has forged a syncretic vision in which jazz and classical traditions intelligently intermingle. ECM’s catalogue of some sixteen hundred albums contains abrasive sounds as well as soothing ones, clouds of dissonance alongside shimmering triads. All benefit from a crisply reverberant acoustic in which an instrument’s timbre is nearly as important as the music played on it. Simply put, Eicher’s releases tend to sound better than other people’s. Some of ECM’s best disks were made in league with the Norwegian recording engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug, who died earlier this month.
The occasion for this column is a new Beethoven cycle with some interesting twists by the Danish String Quartet.

Every now and then I forget that the level of culture in, well, our culture has been declining for the last few decades. And then along comes an article that reminds me: Three quarters of young Britons have never heard of Mozart while one in five think Bach is still alive, poll reveals. And this is in the UK, which is usually presumed to be more culturally educated than North America.
Three quarters of young people in Britain have never heard of Mozart, a survey reveals.
One in five think composer Johann Bach – who died in 1750 – is still alive, fewer than one in five had heard of violin star Nicola Benedetti and only a third knew that Sir Simon Rattle, who performed at the 2012 London Olympics, is a conductor. 
By contrast, 94 per cent knew Adele was a singer. Leading composer Debbie Wiseman said she was alarmed by the findings, which revealed a widespread ignorance of classical music.
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In her last column for the Washington Post, Anne Midgette reveals what she really thinks of the National Symphony:
People often say that an orchestra is a metaphor for excellence. But it’s also a metaphor for life itself: not an isolated event but an activity to be engaged in, through dry spells and misfires and, sometimes, moments that overwhelm you with their sheer magnificence. Orchestra lovers are like fans of a baseball team, who accept that it sometimes does badly and exult when it does well, and like a sportswriter, I call out the bad moments while, in my heart, always rooting for the group to do its best. In that spirit, I can say that “Zarathustra” on Thursday had some shockingly lackluster spots, like the dry, piercing flute notes on which the piece ended, and some richly beautiful ones that made me appreciate the depths of a score usually remembered only for its first 60 seconds.
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 We haven't had any Richard Strauss for a while, so let's listen to Thus Spake Zarathustra. This is Jonathan Nott conducing the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra at the Proms in 2009:


Anonymous said...

Kanye West is pretty much off my radar but I do recall vividly the first time I heard him discussed. It was a while back. Apparently he was in financial straits and had made some public comment the gist of which was that that the world owed him a living because he is a musical genius. The reply in this conversation was that when told what a great genius he is Hendrix would talk about how embarrassing that is because all he does is make mistakes.
Hears to the humble geniuses who move the music forward.
Happy Holidays,
Mike near San Antonio

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for the comment, Mike. I used to be pretty down on Kanye, but I have completely changed my mind about him. He is one complex guy, that is for sure. Isn't it odd that the kind of humility that used to be so common among musicians, is fading away?

JBB said...

Dry, piercing flute notes are the norm with the NSO's flute section, I'm afraid. It's a shame -- they have one of the best brass sections around right now, beyond-excellent double-reeds and clarinets, improving strings, good percussion, and that awful flute sound sitting atop the rest.

Bryan Townsend said...

Glad to hear that Anne Midgette's observations are accurate. A friend of mine used to be principal French horn in the NSO.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

For the cultural appropriation article I noticed someone asked about the case of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha cantatas. Davids hasn't commented and I'm not sure if he will but Michael Pisani has an interesting monograph on depictions of Native Americans in concert music from Europe and the United States I've been slowly getting through. Joseph Horowitz has been doing some interesting writing on the Indianist leader Arthur Farwell, whose works have been considered taboo by Native American musicians and musicologists in the present as a matter of principle even though, unlike Coleridge-Taylor, Farwell interacted with Native people and transcribed and adapted a number of songs from some tribal song traditions. It's not that Farwell is necessarily a lost master, although I have liked some of his work and found some of it forgettable--Horowitz has been making a case at his blog on ArtsJournal that Farwell has been forbidden from getting a more serious hearing because his having been a leader of the Indianist movement has meant he's considered guilty of cultural appropriation. Farwell was in some ways an outsider in his own time and place because some of his contemporaries thought he was too committed to making concert music from Native American songs. It looks like a kind of damned if he did and damned if he didn't double bind.

Conversely, contemporary composers who invoke Native identity are able to get commissions and that's sort of cool but there's a sense in which what keeps it from being a kind of "orientalist" novelty thing is the composer being of the group X rather than a white composer emulating musical idioms from X ethnicity.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for weaving your way through the complex threads of that tapestry! The idea of having to get a DNA test before you are allowed to use this or that musical idiom seems pretty illiberal. But we seem to live in illiberal times.