Monday, October 3, 2011

Highlights of My Career?

Wow, that is a distressingly dull title! But don't worry, the post won't be dull. That title is what we in the writing biz call 'ironic'.

Whenever I read the bios of musicians lately I can barely restrain the urge to re-write them for comic effect. They are absurdly dull and all read like they came out of the same mechanically-programmed word processor. Here is one paragraph from the Afiara Quartet's bio:
In addition to its win at the 2008 CAG Competition, the Quartet claimed top prizes at 2010 Banff International String Quartet Competition and the 2008 Munich ARD International Music Competition.  From 2007-2009, the Quartet was the Morrison Fellowship Quartet-in-Residence at San Francisco State University's International Center for the Arts (ICA), where the members were teaching assistants to their mentor ensemble, the Alexander String Quartet.  One of two fellowship quartets at the 2008 Aspen Festival's Center for Advanced Quartet Studies, the Afiara Quartet also serves as Artist-in-Residence at Lake Tahoe Music Festival's Education and Outreach Program and is an Affiliate of San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music. The ensemble has been heard on Bavarian Radio, CBC Radio 2, KALW, and was featured in the Road to Banff documentary profiling its participation in the 2007 Banff International String Quartet Competition.
There are eight paragraphs exactly like that! Apart from letting me know that they have done well in a lot of competitions and hooked up with a lot of the right people and places, this doesn't tell me a single thing of interest. It is so bad I'm not even sure you could parody it! There is nothing there that tells me a single thing about this quartet that distinguishes them from every other quartet--apart from their institutional associations. The only factlet revealed is that they are all Canadian, which as a Canadian myself I find intriguing. But not a word about where they were born, or even details about the course of their musical education, who they studied with, what sort of performing tradition they might feel themselves part of. Is it the Julliard Quartet? Do they emulate them or the reverse?

So to counter this mind-deadening crap, let me do my own musical bio, in my inimitable fashion.

Bryan Townsend has had a checkered career as a performing musician. Son of an accomplished Canadian old-time fiddler, he found music mostly quite dull until his teen years. Hooked on the Beatles, the Stones and Bob Dylan, he played bass, shakily, in bands so bad they had to change their name after every gig. He reincarnated as a folk musician and when given the opportunity to shine at a little talent show where a good choice of repertoire might have been Four Strong Winds, instead he chose to perform, in a state of high anxiety, Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, the ten-minute long dirge by Bob Dylan that only hard-core Dylan fans could really love. Later on, after becoming a classical guitarist and in a much bigger talent festival before an audience of five thousand people, he chose to play one of the more subtle and introverted preludes by Villa-Lobos--not quite the absolutely wrong choice, but pretty near, as he was told by a judge afterwards. In his first recital in his first job as music instructor at a regional conservatory, he chose to play the bizarre avant-garde piece Memorias de "El Cimmaron" by Hans Werner Henze which begins with about a minute of random scrapings on the guitar with a cello bow. Parents of several of his students immediately walked out of the concert. Selected to appear in a New York competition, he again chose odd repertoire by playing a new work by Leo Brouwer that was unfamiliar to everyone. He got beaten by a bassoon player--bassoon!--from Julliard.

Bryan Townsend has usually decided that playing the familiar and charming music that audiences are longing to hear is just too dull and lacking in challenge. So instead he prefers to choose odd or bizarre unfamiliar repertoire that at most perhaps 2% of the audience will actually enjoy.

On the other hand, he has a fantastic sense of timbre, articulation and phrasing. Pianists have come up to him after concerts and praised him for his contrapuntal sense.


Would anyone like for me to re-write their bios for them?


RG said...

So writing criticim of music is not good enough for him. No, he must put in his oar to the shore of criticism of criticism. And still not content, he must rise/sink to criticism of musical biography! This may be critical Mass!

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh!