Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

Some things about one's fellow man it is just better not to know: such as what music they like to make love to. According to Spotify this is the most popular selection:

That is so terminally boring it not only doesn't get me in the mood, it makes me question my will to live!! If you want an intro to your loving, this is more like it:

No need to thank me, just go and be happy.

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Gidon Kremer is not one to mince words when he sees something not right in the music business. Via Slipped Disc we learn that he has decided to cancel a concert tour rather than put up with the shallow, sterile marketing ideas of the concert promoters:
I was particularly disturbed by the promoters’ focus on one “big name” only and the reluctance to consider others who would have treated the music with equal respect and professionalism. Not one of the substitutes I proposed was accepted. The Chopin competition winner and mature artist Yulianna Avdeeva was fortunately available on the required dates and would have been happy to play the two Chopin concertos originally planned, meaning that the programme, which also included works by Weinberg, Gorecki and Penderecki, would not have to be changed. She was wholeheartedly recommended not just by myself, but also by pianists of world-class calibre such as Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman and Daniil Trifonov himself. In fact, Daniil Trifonov was the one who approached me personally about finding a replacement. All these efforts sadly fell foul of marketing strategies.
 I think that the only good solution to this problem of celebrity-driven, shallow marketing in the classical music world is to cultivate more sophisticated appreciation of music in the general audiences. To do this there need to be capable music critics and educators working at communicating on a regular basis. Unfortunately the trend has been entirely the other way with music programs being curtailed in the schools and music critics being let go from mass media publications. Perhaps the blogosphere could take up some of the slack. Wouldn't it be great if a few music bloggers really tried to restore some level of critical commentary? Oh, wait, that's what I'm trying to do here at the Music Salon!

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Amazon sent me an email titled "Hot New Releases in Classical". Of course we have to understand the word "classical" in that context not to refer to the dominant form of music in Western Civilization for the last thousand years, but to the small genre niche currently referred to as "classical". How else to explain that the first item on the list is this album:

What's my beef? Hey, they're playing cellos, aren't they? Yeah, but here is the track list:

CD Track listing
1. The Trooper Overture (Rossini 'William Tell Overture'/Iron Maiden 'The Trooper')
2. I Will Wait (Mumford & Sons)
3. Thunderstruck - Intro (Vivaldi Cello Sonata No. 4 in E minor)
4. Thunderstruck (AC/DC)
5. Hysteria (Muse)
6. Shape of My Heart (Sting)
7. Mombasa (Hans Zimmer from 'Inception')
8. Time (Hans Zimmer from 'Inception')
9. Wake Me Up (Avicii)
10. They Don't Care About Us (Michael Jackson)
11. Live and Let Die - feat. Lang Lang (Paul McCartney and Wings)
12. Street Spirit - Fade Out (Radiohead)
13. Celloverse (Original composition by Sulic & Hauser)

It's kind of like living in a future nightmare where instead of a "boot stamping on a human face - forever" (George Orwell), real classical music by people like Bach and Haydn has been replaced by pseudo-pop stylings like this.

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I wonder how many people buying pop recordings realize how little the musicians actually get paid? Record company accounting is just as bad as Hollywood accounting as we find out in this illuminating article. Here is a little chart that shows just part of what is wrong with the business:

I wish someone would do a similar analysis for classical musicians.

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There's a name for it! From the New York Times comes this article about misophonia which is an extreme sensitivity to certain sounds. I guess that musicians have a kind of trained misophonia. We spend years learning to listen very closely, which means of course, that it becomes harder to ignore sounds. Thanks to Ann Althouse for that link and for this one to a quote by Philip Pullman on why you can't write while music is playing:
For that reason you can't write with music playing, and anyone who says he can is either writing badly, or not listening to the music, or lying. You need to hear what you're writing, and for that you need silence.
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The most interesting takeaway from the Grammy Awards show: Lady Gaga can sing!! And she can even do an excellent rendition of tunes from The Sound of Music:

Fixed the link! (I've always, secretly, liked her. Please don't tell anyone!) Tattoos are a bit distracting, though.

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Here are some music students from the Louisville, Kentucky area. Doing a tuned percussion arrangement of "Kashmir" by some English band.

There was a time when students of this age would be playing Bach and Vivaldi... But we can't complain, right? Sure we can! Honestly, you don't need to spend class time on getting funky. Kids can do that on their own time.

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Here is a rather sad turn of events: legendary pianist Ivo Pogorelich returns to the stage in London, but gives a very poor concert according to this review. The review links to an earlier article about the disruptions in his life caused by the breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent wars and unrest. Worth reading. He seems to have disappeared from the concert stage for some time now as this was his first appearance at this venue since 1999. I have very fond recollections of his career. On one occasion he came to Vancouver for a pair of concerts with the symphony at which he played, if I recall correctly, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. A music critic friend of mine attended both and had a funny story to tell about his colleague at the Vancouver newspaper. Apparently the fellow wrote a review after the first concert at which he complained about such and such. Perhaps it was too much liberty taken, or perhaps it was too little? I don't recall. But obviously Pogorelich read the review, because the next night, he did precisely the opposite! Pogorelich was at a level of mastery at which he could play a big concerto in many different ways, all superb. The hapless reviewer really didn't realise this. If Pogorelich is really playing so poorly these days, that is sad indeed. But I'm afraid that reviewers and writers have been getting him wrong for many years now, so...

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Let's end the collection today with Ivo Pogorelich playing the Second English Suite by J. S. Bach. Rather well.

That gigue is just fiendishly difficult!


Ken Fasano said...

It is always a treat to read your blog. Always something thought-provoking. As for the cello recording, I think the obvious counter-example is YoYo Ma playing the Bach Cello Suite #1. Music for lovemaking? Just hope it isn't the Schoenberg or Bartok fourth string quartets, or Milton Babbitt.

It's unfortunate that the genre "classical" has been abridged to the point that it refers to a few baroque, classical, and romantic pieces, maybe a few 20th century ones. I'm afraid that the reduction of the classical genre according to the profit needs of a few music industry (!) shareholders and CEOs reflects the same throughout our culture: civilization's intellectual life is more and more restricted to the needs of capitalism. Virgil? Dante? Are they rap stars I haven't heard of? Despite the iPhone in my pocket, it's beginning to smell like the fifth century a bit!

Ken Fasano said...

And, as for "Kashmir", it does have some rhythms that would be tricky for fifth graders. "Ionisation" or Xenakis' "Pleiades" is probably a bit too difficult for them. Maybe by seventh grade they can play some Brian Ferneyhough!

Bryan Townsend said...

Hi Ken,

Well, thank you for the excellent comments! They add a lot. By "counter-example" do you mean for aesthetic reasons or because it also became popular? I like that prelude a lot, I have played it and recorded it, but I've often wondered why it is so much more popular than a host of other Bach preludes. I think only gymnasts and acrobats could make love to Milton Babbitt...

I thought I hit upon something there by noticing the cognitive dissonance between the commercial niche category of "classical" and the historical breadth of what is usually called "classical" music. I wonder why the alternative terms "art" music or "concert" music never seem to have taken hold!

I think you just gave me an idea for a post!

Ken Fasano said...

By "counter-example" I wasn't thinking of that suite's popularity. I was thinking of the excellence of Bach, that work, and that particular performer. "Art" music makes more sense. I am concerned about what "art" is and what it means in a society of mass produced music, movies, etc. as entertainment, as opposed to a society where a Michelangelo or a Beethoven is rightfully celebrated as a living classic. When the purpose of education is to prepare oneself as a production/consumption unit, rather than to make oneself a well-informed citizen aware of history, art, ethics, etc., then what kind of art will be cultivated? Certainly not "classical".

Bryan Townsend said...

Ken, if I had a prize for "most profound comment of the month" I think I would award it to you.

I think the crucial word there is "mass". Beethoven was rightfully appreciated as a living classic by a group of Viennese aristocrats who included the brother of the Emperor. There was also a wider audience, but nothing like a mass. Quite a few did show up for his funeral, IIRC? Mozart's concertos were premiered at Lenten concerts with 120 people in attendance. But they were the most influential people!!

I really think you hit on something important with the comment about education. Yes, it seems clear that for the most part our educational system is designed to produce well-indoctrinated, punctual, consistent people to work in an industrial economy. It is not designed to produce people with any sense of history, art or aesthetics.

Where the money goes, there is the power. And all the money goes to pop music these days.

Christine Lacroix said...

So since you had the courage to admit to liking Lady Gaga... I confess! I love the 2Cellos!
Will I be kicked off the blog?

Bryan Townsend said...

Lots of people love 2Cellos! So please, stick around and leave a few comments.