Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Miscellanea

Sorry for the meagre posting this week: lots of other things occupying my time and I came down with one of those mysterious 24-hour bugs... Still, I hope to put up something substantial on the weekend.

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First up, a fascinating list of fees charged by popular artists. This was leaked from a booking agency and posted here, along with some remarks as to its accuracy. Just some highlights:

Bob Dylan: $150 - $300k? Seems about right, I guess. If he is still on that never-ending tour, what does that come out to a year? Assuming 150 dates at a modest $200k per, that's $30,000,000!! Sure, he's got some expenses, guitar strings, that tour bus, gotta pay the guys in the band, but still. Bear in mind that Stevie Ray Vaughan refused to tour with David Bowie on the Serious Moonlight tour even though he played on the album "Let's Dance" because Bowie only offered him $200 a night. No zeros missing there.

Jason Mraz, $150 - $250k?? Just slightly less than Bob Dylan? What strange universe is this?

Skipping past zillions of acts I have never heard of and noticing that the real Lords of Pop: Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, are not on the list, we drop way, way down to the $1000 to $10,000 bargain basement and find the English Beat, one of my favorite bands from the 80s available for your wedding, funeral or bar mitzvah for only, wait for it, $5 - $10k! Wow. Here they are with one of their hits:

Love the reincarnation of the Cavern, where the Beatles used to play in Liverpool before they were famous.

I don't have something similar for classical musicians, but a lot of up-and-coming young virtuosos with big careers ahead of them, including string quartets and trios, can be booked for $5000 for a concert.

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The big controversy this week in the world of classical music is over whether a music critic is allowed to comment on the physical appearance of an opera singer. Here is a piece in the Guardian arguing that they should not:
How, then, have we arrived at a point where opera is no longer about singing but about the physiques and looks of the singers, specifically the female singers? I am, of course, obliquely referring to the storm that has been stirred up by the publication of reviews by the UK's national newspapers of Glyndebourne's new production of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Five separate critics, including one from this newspaper, discussed a young singer's physique, describing her variously as: "a chubby bundle of puppy fat", "dumpy", "unbelievable, unsightly and unappealing" (£) and "stocky".
Barely any mention of her voice, a gloriously rounded and well produced instrument, was made, and there was little comment on her musicianship, dramatic commitment or her ability to communicate to an audience and to move that audience to tears. Comment was also made about another female singer being "stressed by motherhood". I, for one, had thought we as a country had moved beyond the point where women were treated as second-class citizens, but clearly overt sexism is still rife, no matter what we are led to believe.
Now I can certainly appreciate this point of view. In fact, in my on-going series of posts about how a pop music sensibility is invading classical music, I think I have taken the position that I am far more interested in how an artist plays than how they look. But let me just point out one incongruous aspect of this controversy. If we are to ignore the physique of an opera singer who some have characterized as slightly overweight, then to be fair, shouldn't we also be ignoring all those publicity photos and onstage costumes designed to exploit the comeliness of other female (or male, I suppose) artists? Like Yuja Wang?

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What is it with the exaggerated obeisance to the oeuvre of Radiohead? First Alex Ross and now Norman Lebrecht commenting on the Chicago Symphony programming music by Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. He says, "They’ve come a long way since the Solti days" like it's a good thing. Chicago Symphony under Solti:

And here is part of Jonny Greenwood's score to the movie "There Will Be Blood" which will be played by the Chicago Symphony.

Well, ok, not bad, but it is still movie music. What is the difference, by the way, between an orchestral movie soundtrack and a symphonic score? Apart from the context. What is the actual musical or structural difference?

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This story just keeps getting flogged and flogged: professional violinists can't tell a 300-year-old Stradivarius from a brand-new violin. I'm sorry, but I don't think I will quite believe it until I witness it with my own eyes. This always reminds me of a commercial swearing you can't tell butter from this new margarine product or the myth about the "Mozart Effect". For one thing, just like I used to always ask "why Mozart? why not Bach?" now I would ask, "why only Stradivarius?, why not ever Guarnerius or Amati" the two other renowned builders of the time? I used to play concerts with an extraordinary violinist who played a Guarnerius and I feel quite sure that if a modern violin were just as good, he would have played one.

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Let's end with some music. The Beethoven Violin Concerto played by Itzak Perlman:

Incidentally, Perlman also plays a Guarnerius violin.

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