Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Miscellanea

Kicking off this week's miscellanea is a tribute to the opera singer Anita Cerquetti, an extraordinary singer who retired at the age of thirty.

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Here is a Concerto Fantasy for two tympanists and orchestra by Philip Glass

I doubt if any other composer has gotten so much milage out of just two ideas: 3 + 3 + 2 and rising minor thirds!

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I'm trying to decide if this is good news or bad news: "Not One Artist's Album Has Gone Platinum in 2014." If this is a case of the public recoiling from the purchase of second-rate music, then isn't that good news? Mind you, I would hope that good music would start selling more, but that's obviously me dreaming!

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Tom Service shows his value over at the Guardian with an excellent piece about Haydn's neglected operas. Some good clips from YouTube. One conductor that has really made a contribution is Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Here he is conductinL’anima del filofoso with Cecilia Bartoli:

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One thing we should always keep in mind is that the mass media and opinion-shapers in general think that the people that read their stuff are basically low-information idiots. Sure, there may be some truth to that, but the hypocrisy is that these opinion-makers think that they are being very clever when what they are usually doing is serving up warmed-over clichés. Two recent examples: Baldur Brönnimann tries to tells us what is wrong with the classical concert format and just shows himself as a dolt. For example, he says:

6. The artists should engage with the audience

Many of us do: we speak to the audience before, after or during the concerts. But this can’t be an option, it must be mandatory for every artist to at least be able to introduce a piece, greet the audience or to sign a program. On that note, I think it is a shame that the public is often prevented from going backstage after a concert. Everybody should be able to talk to the musicians and share their thoughts and opinions, if it’s backstage or in the bar. We don’t live in an ivory tower and we have an obligation to talk to the people who love music as much as we do.
Uh-huh... Well, in my experience over the last few years, just about every string quartet and pianist on the planet is already doing this and straining my patience to the limit! My favorite was the very fine string quartet who thought it would be a good idea to have their Russian violinist introduce everything at great length in an absolutely impenetrable Russian accent which was, towards the back of the hall, also inaudible. Please, in most cases, unless you have a very articulate member with something to say, JUST DON'T. The reason program notes were invented was to provide mundane information to the audience about the music so that the players didn't have to.

Equally annoying are the comments by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead about live classical concerts. Hey BBC, can I have equal time to tell you what I think of Radiohead concerts?

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I was expecting something classical, Franz Joseph Haydn or George Harrison,
says Tom Hanks in this piece in the New Yorker. I just like the equating of Haydn and Harrison as both being, in some way, "classical". Well, sure, works for me.

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John Adams' opera The Death of Klinghoffer, which I have written about before a couple of times, is about to be put on at the Met and the Wall Street Journal decides to do a nice little puff piece about the composer. And gets their ass handed to them in the comments. Go have a read. The comments especially.

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People who think that classical music is stuffy and rigid are people who do not know the rich repertoire of classical music humor. Apart from the purely musical humor of someone like Haydn, there is the astounding variety of musical parody and satire. The Guardian has collected some of the best examples here. Here is a sample: Dudley Moore accompanies himself in two impressions of songs by Fauré and Schubert. In the former there is some particularly effective use of the eyebrows. Alas, YouTube refuses to embed, so just click on the link:

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Let's send "get well soon" wishes to Hilary Hahn who has still not recovered fully from a muscle strain issue. She had to cancel a performance of two Bach concertos this week in Cleveland. And that gives us this week's envoi. This is a recording of Hilary playing the Bach A major Violin Concerto, but the video is of a completely different piece (no quartet of French horns in the Bach!):


Rickard Dahl said...

With regards to The Death of Klinghoffer and this previous post you made
I will try to explain as clearly as possible but might still get convoluted.

Basically: I think political correctness is often used as a form of censorship. Political correctness as a form of censorship is present throughout most parts of society. In academia and sciences it very present in the field of biology/behavioral science (or whatever it is called). It is a taboo to present scientifically proven facts of even seemingly basic things like biological differences between males and females (or even general observations about males and females). The Norwegian documentary series "Brainwash" (which I've previously linked) present these sort of academic dishonesty: But the maybe even more tragic extent of censorship through political correctness is that it affects works of art and fiction (which includes things like movies, video games, music, painting, sculpture, books, TV series etc.).

Now, how is this sort of censorship used? We either have people who are easily offended and demand that other people (who are not offended) should not be able to enjoy whatever was found offensive or we have ideologically driven people (often from academia) who want to impose their agenda on everyone else. Now it is understandable that some people are offended. Personally I feel usually offended by atheists who do their best to push people out of religion and say all sort of nasty things about religion. However, I don't want to censor those atheists or have the right to do so even if I feel offended. On the other hand, these people who practice the political correctness censorship DO think they have the right to impose their views on others. They either demand that their desires are met by complaining about supposed misogyny for instance or work with their agendas to try to destroy an artform or type of work of fiction within.

One recent movie example was the Hobbit 2 movie. Some of these people (i.e. a very small minority) complained that there should be more female characters despite the fact that the Hobbit movies are based on the Hobbit book which is about a hobbit and a company of dwarfs on a journey to get back the dwarven land stolen by a dragon. The only "problem" is that the dwarfs are all male. So what did Peter Jackson stupidly do? He gave in to their demands and gave us an out-of-place female elf called Tauriel. She isn't in the Hobbit book and doesn't add anything valuable to the movie. The worst part is that they will demand more even if you give them what they want. Give them an inch and they will take a mile.

Rickard Dahl said...

Another example is that over the last few years the video game industry has been under attack by feminist and marxist ideologues amongst others. The main problem the ideologues have is that most of the gamers are male. That has been the case ever since video games were invented. It is true that roughly half of the players of video games are females if you count all sort of videos games including simple mobile games, Facebook games, board games, card games etc. However, the core of gaming (PC & console games, genres such as first person shooters (FPS), third person shooters (TPS), real-time strategy (RTS), roleplaying games (RPG), adventure/platforming games etc.) consists of mostly male players. It is also true that many of the female core gamers are in fact against the infiltration of ideologues. So what do these ideologues do? Some of them claim that video games are too violent (an older claim that has been disproven, in fact: video games have reduced violence in society). But many others claim things such as that video games perpetuate a culture of misogyny, portray women unrealistically (the hypocrites never point out that men are portrayed just as unrealistically but that's besides the point, it's fiction, not reality, for heaven's sake), are not inclusive enough for women, homosexuals, transsexuals and non-whites. They also do biased reviews and articles. They also complain about those things that they find offensive and demand that video game developers adjust to their demands instead of getting off their chairs and actually developing their own video games according to their tastes. Furthermore they write biased reviews that focus a lot on what they find offensive and giving the games lower scores because of it. They also write hitpieces such as a bunch of articles during the same day (I think it was 27 September or so) claiming that "gamers are dead" and in those articles it is pretty clear that they hate that most gamers are male. And so on. I could go on but lets get to music.

Music is thankfully less prone to censorship due to its' more abstract nature. The exception is of course opera. It was due to an opera that Shostakovich had to live in fear of Stalin for instance. And with the "Death of Klinghoffer" we also saw a big raging crowd and fear to premiere the opera (albeit a way less dangerous situation for John Adams compared with Shostakovich's situation, thankfully we don't live in dictatorships). It is true that maybe it is very offensive and very controversial and maybe that is even Adams' intent. That however is not an excuse to use political correctness as a means to censor it. I'm sure pretty sure we wouldn't see a such harsh reaction if it would be about the death of Osama bin Laden for instance, but that's besides the point. Now to the most general and final point I would like to make regarding these things:

Creators of art and fiction should in no way be censored with or without political correctness. The creative fields need to remain freely creative and the creators should be able to pursue whatever they want no matter how controversial it is as long as it's not illegal (as is the case for instance with child pornography, it is clearly damaging to the children involved and should never be used).

Also, with regards to your post I've linked at the top:

It's good that you don't censor opinions that you disagree with.

Rickard Dahl said...

I forgot to link this video by Christina Hoff Sommers who doesn't agree with the idea that video games are sexist:

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for this very thorough comment!! Which might be a Music Salon record. Yes, I don't believe in censoring comments as a rule. In the three years I have written the Music Salon I have only removed one comment and it was because it was obscenely insulting. That is NOT an argument.

Thank you for your argument. Klinghoffer has provoked a great deal of commentary which is probably a good thing.

I find it interesting that it is conservatives (and I believe that you, Rickard, are basically a conservative) are the ones who are most against censorship, while liberals seem more inclined to tell us what to say (and think). Just an observation, don't shoot me!

Rickard Dahl said...

I don't really like defining my political identity because what is more is important than political ideologies is the truth and honesty. Both sides of the spectrum have good and bad characteristics. For instance conservatives tend to more positive towards war but I'm not. With that being said I think I'm closer to a conservative than a liberal. In fact I think I'm quite much on the libertarian (not be confused with liberal) side. I want less government involvement and want people to make more choices themselves.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for the clarification, Rickard. I think I would call myself a libertarian as well. Unfortunately, that usually means that when election time comes around, there is no-one to vote for!

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize how hilarious it can be to listen to a piece of music and have the orchestra play something else.

Anonymous said...

Rickard Dahl: I am not quite sure how you reconcile your love of classical music with your libertarian disposition and desire to see less government involvement in our society.

Even in the US, government support for classical music plays a key role. But in Europe it's different. Most aspects of classical music, from education to performance, is funded by the taxpayer. The results are obvious. Europe has little of the pressure to commercialize classical music with crossovers or require sexy violinists to wear miniskirts at their recitals.

More seriously, the US does not have any symphony orchestra in the top 5. It does not have any year-round opera house (Germany has 20!) Munich alone has 4 full-time, year-round professional orchestras and 2 full-time opera houses. Europe has about 10 times as many symphony orchestras as the US, etc.

The key difference? Government.

Bryan Townsend said...

@Anonymous re the video: yes, really peculiar. There is another Hilary Hahn video with the same problem. This was the only clip I could find of her playing a Bach concerto. Sorry!

@Anonymous re libertarianism and government funding of the arts. Like most intersections of government and art, there are a lot of complexities here. Where I live in Mexico, government funding of classical music is so unreliable that any organization that relies on it tends to go under when it is mysteriously withdrawn. There are government-run cultural centers, but they offer lower-quality, politically-connected artists in rather haphazard series. The two main classical music organizations here, one a summer chamber music festival and the other a winter season (October through April) concert series, are both professional organizations that have been around for decades. In both cases they are supported by hundreds of private patrons who contribute anything from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year. These organizations hire internationally-known string quartets, pianists and other ensembles. Right now I am working on setting up a support organization for a symphony orchestra with local musicians. So I am familiar with a lot of issues surrounding support for the arts.

Everything you say about government funding is, of course, true (or I assume so). Government, should it choose to do so, can be enormously supportive of the arts. Take the example of Quebec, where the provincial government has long supported an extensive network of conservatories providing the best musical education in Canada. In Europe many governments are highly supportive of the arts, but I notice in recent years some significant cutbacks.

So what is the downside to government funding? I think there are several. As a Canadian musician I never sought funding from the Canada Council as it seemed meager and not worth the effort. There was also the feeling that it was run by an "old-boy network". Here is how that works: the juries that make the choices consist of an inner circle of artists that tend to choose their buddies and be chosen by them. It is a bit like the equivalent of log-rolling in politics.

Other problems associated with government funding are that it chooses politically-correct art or imposes politically correct standards. That the funding is politically motivated and that it tends to choose art from an ideological standpoint.

If the government, as is the case in Europe, is sufficiently culturally aware, then these problems need not be excessive. But in a lot of places government-funded art is bad art for precisely that reason.

I think that the best sort of funding is that by private, wealthy patrons. But finding them is always difficult!

Rickard Dahl said...

@Anonymous, It's an interesting issue for sure. Cultural support would most likely be one of the first things to go if government size would be reduced. I think Bryan's comment gives an interesting perspective.

Bryan Townsend said...

Some further considerations: if, as seems clear, the growth of government is destined to slow down considerably and even reverse course (due to a variety of considerations including slow economic growth and aging populations) then one of the first things to be cut tends to be cultural funding. It doesn't buy nearly as many votes as other things do! If we were to do a real cost benefit analysis, we might conclude that a lot of entitlement funding needs to be cut before cultural funding. Some would say it is better to fund culture than indolence. Others have a different point of view. But the pragmatist will usually conclude that governments fund what buys them votes. Right up until they run out of money!