Friday, May 2, 2014

Friday Miscellanea

First up music as torture, pieces the CIA likes to use to soften up prisoners for interrogation:

I think they left out some excellent candidates for torture music, like this song:

and anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber!

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The Guardian's symphony guide this week, curated by Tom Service, came up with an excellent candidate, the Symphony in D minor by César Franck, a tightly-written homage to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, also in D minor. This is far less self-indulgent than most late 19th century symphonies. Is it really as neglected as Tom claims? Here is a performance by the young orchestra of the University of Gothenburg Symphony:

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Sinfini Music is one of the web's leading music magazines and one of its features is lists of the greatest musicians. Here is their list of the top 20 pianists, prepared by Jessica Duchen. Nothing to complain about there, right? She even lists a couple of very young up-and-comers. And, blessedly, she does not list Lang Lang. But do you notice the one really shocking omission? One of the greatest pianists of the 20th century and a legendary interpreter of Bach? Initials G. G.? Canadian? How could she have possibly missed Glenn Gould?

(I would also have put in a vote for Friedrich Gulda, a neglected master.)

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Here is an article that tries to explain why we actually need those over-paid narcissists, orchestral conductors. The writer, Ivan Hewett, makes some good points, but one still wonders if at least a few conductors are not over-paid. I recall one orchestral player telling me of a conductor they used to have who had a lot of trouble with Beethoven. So much so that often the players were better off ignoring him and just listening to one another. Apparently they would write little notes in the parts at crucial places giving warnings like "Don't look up!" i.e. at the conductor.

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Musical super-power Daniel Barenboim is starting his own digital label, PERAL Music. He has filmed a little "infomercial" expressing his ideas about how we listen to music. For some reason Blogger refuses to embed the clip, but it is well worth listening to as he says some excellent things about how to listen to music:

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I have mentioned the innovative Australian Chamber Orchestra here before. There is a review up by CrackCritic that calls them out on their repertoire choices:
 In a compact evening, four selections were played in each of three sets. A piece for two violins by Australian/Macedonian composer Anthony Pateras opened the concert and explored small grinding dissonant intervals with distended glissandi through a folkloristic section to an episode of stretti and diminution of scampering rising figures.

Jarring and appalling was the segue of Pete Seeger’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone? written in the Antipodes fifty years ago, presented here so syrupy, so Scooby-Doo as to be appropriate to end a bogan wedding reception in Kalgoorlie. Stravinsky’s Canticle for string quartet was a brief, bristling whatever that showed up to very poor effect Tognetti’s 5th Caprice of Paganini with his unimaginative distracting self-consciously beaty ensemble accompaniment, stifling any possibilities of virtuosity.
   The next set began with a luridly rendered transcription of Gesualdo’s madrigal Dry Those Lovely Eyes. I prefer crudity in vegetables. Radiohead’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s Prospectus Quartet was mushed potatoes melodically and harmonically, distinguished by Mr. Tognetti’s wiry, eager to please vibrato that didn’t.  If this coupling was the most insulting, second was Hollaender’s If I Could Ever Wish for Anything, a composer championed by Marlene Dietrich, presented with an existential emptiness alongside a realization of Bach’s riddle canons connected by repeated notes in the piano and pizzicati in the strings. Where were the bongos? It was admittedly more interesting than the music one endures on hold with American Express. 
Sometimes adventurous post-modern pairing are just aesthetically annoying...

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 Just to let everyone know, the San Miguel Chamber Music Festival will go ahead this summer with a plethora of concerts starting the 31st of July and running for two weeks. Excellent ensembles like the Gryphon Trio and Borromeo String Quartet will be heard. Here is a link to the programs. And here are the Borromeo Quartet playing Beethoven. Notice that they are all playing from MacBooks. The pages are turned by hitting a little switch on the floor. 

I guess you are fine if your batteries are charged up and there isn't a power failure...


Rickard said...

Most pop music is a bit of a torture to me so not surprisingly it's used for torture. I think classical music would be less effective as a torture tool unless it's Pachelbel's Canon in D or maybe some extreme-modernist pieces (Cage, Boulez, Stockhausen, Babbit comes to mind). Maybe John Cage's 4'33 can also be quite torturous, especially in a room with good sound isolation.

Bryan Townsend said...

And conversely, they sometimes use classical music to drive young people away from loitering at the mall! One man's torture is another's sweet, sweet melody. Apparently.

Bryan Townsend said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher Culver said...

Sinfini is run (out of the same offices, even) by Universal Music and has had its share of criticism for hyping the flashy, crossover-friendly antics of its parent company while neglecting things that are going on in classical music elsewhere. Could it be that Glenn Gould was left out because his recordings are owned by corporate rival Sony?

Bryan Townsend said...

I knew that Sinfini was a corporate-backed venue for promoting record sales, but I was foggy on the owners. Thanks for the info, Christopher!