Monday, March 11, 2013


  • On several occasions I have ranted about "scientistic" attempts to analyze music and how feeble the results often are. Today I am delighted to read a review of a recent book by philosopher Thomas Nagel supporting my view. The book:
offer[s] thoughtful reasons to believe that the non-material dimensions of life—consciousness, reason, moral value, subjective experience—cannot be reduced to, or explained as having evolved tidily from, its material dimensions
He notes that, "the problem of the limits of science is not a scientific problem." Yes, exactly. Ironically, the belief that everything, consciousness, aesthetics, moral value, can be researched using standard scientific methods is nothing more than an act of faith!

  • Norman Lebrecht has a story about the Vienna Philharmonic's Nazi past and many commentors weigh in. I scarcely know how to sort out all the moral complexities here. I had a friend who was both a violinist and a victim of the Nazis. As a young boy, he was sent first to Terezin and later to Auschwitz. He survived to perform with the Vienna Philharmonic after the war. I believe he also acted as concert master on occasion. On several occasions he defended the Vienna Philharmonic to me. He was also awarded the Cross of Honour for Arts and Letters by the president of Austria for his services to music and I believe that the notorious Kurt Waldheim was president at the time. Did Paul forgive the Nazis? Doubtful. But at the same time, he obviously decided to move past it. He never, never discussed his treatment under the Nazis and I only learned of it through friends. I wish he were still with us so I could ask him about it.
  • Here's an article about a new piece for orchestra that manages to hit all the fashionable talking points. 
  1. Inclusiveness: "That manuscript in front of us is the culmination of an almost year-long experiment in collaboration between the composer and about 5,000 Torontonians."
  2. Technology: "the intersection of technology and classical music" and "Today, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s famed Media Lab, Machover composes new pieces, invents instruments, and leads the work of a team of students exploring the feedback loop between machines, technology and the human element in music."
  3. Diversity: "A Toronto Symphony has not been “crowd-sourced.” For the most part, it has come out of Machover’s imagination. But that imagination has been fuelled by the work of scores of ordinary citizens. Among them: people who, at his request, sent him recordings of themselves, or sounds of the city; kids in public schools who worked with simple computer programs Machover and his MIT colleagues created; and Torontonians of all ages who participated online to manipulate two computer apps, released by Machover last fall, that allowed them to experiment with composing parts of the work."
  4. Progressive politics involving the people: "Ultimately, the real test of A Toronto Symphony will be its ability to move its audience. Still, the process of how it came into being is taking on a life of its own."
This is an extremely clever approach. It is hard to imagine a committee of organizers not falling prey to the sheer non-snobby progressivism of it. Why would they let the fact that not once in the thousand year history of Western music has an approach like this ever resulted in a good piece of music stop them? Isn't it odd how we have gone from wonderful pieces composed by people who preferred to remain anonymous (in the Middle Ages) to probably very so-so pieces that pretend to be composed by "Torontonians of all ages."
  • Speaking of Toronto, I was at a very interesting concert last night of pianist/composer Steven Prutsman's scores to two silent films, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the Buster Keaton comedy Sherlock Jr. performed live as the films were shown by Steven and the Afiara String Quartet. Afiara are all graduates of Julliard, but also all Canadians and currently based in Toronto. Afterwards was a lovely dinner in a truly palatial estate for fifty of the patrons of the concert series and the artists. I found myself seated between the two violinists Valerie Li from Vancouver and Yuri Cho from Edmonton. Here they are performing the Beethoven String Quartet op 18, no 1:

No comments: