Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

We start off today with a piece of sad news: B. B. King, master of the blues guitar, passed away yesterday at 89 years of age. I saw him play in concert in Montreal perhaps 25 years ago and he gave a great show. The highlight was his introduction to his most famous song. He told a long story about a woman and how things started to go wrong until one day he just up and said "The Thrill Is Gone".

Way, way back around 1970, one of the last things I did as an electric guitarist was record a few of my own songs double-tracked with me on vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar and bass and a couple of friends on drums and organ. The only song we recorded that was by someone else was "The Thrill Is Gone." Sadly, that tape disappeared years ago. I've got a couple of B. B. King's CDs sitting on my shelf including one collaboration with another guitar hero, Eric Clapton:

Now that's some fine and manly blues.

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Some manuscripts by Pierre Boulez, including Structures, his first venture into "total serialism", are about to come up for auction at Sotheby's. An example:

Tom Service blathers on about it in the Guardian.

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There is room for something a bit silly in the miscellanea today--like this little piece titled "Why Is the Timpani Player Smelling His Drums."
It took me a while to understand what this audience member was asking. But looking back at the timpani, I saw exactly what she was asking. The timpanist was putting his ear close to the drum heads, tapping lightly and trying to retune the drum while the orchestra was playing. But looking at it through an audience perspective, it did look like he was smelling his drums. His face (especially his nose) was right next to the drum head.
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There is a big kerfuffle going on now about the Berlin Philharmonic's search for a new music director. Norman Lebrecht in particular has been turning his feigned astonishment up to eleven and even Alex Ross is fulminating about it. The Telegraph has a more moderate comment on what is going on. The Berlin Philharmonic is one of those rare ensembles that elects their music director and there is apparently some internal difference of opinion.

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Alex Ross' piece in particular raised some broader issues so I am going to curtail this post and start a new one to talk about those issues. I leave you with the Berlin Philharmonic under their superstar conductor Herbert von Karajan playing the Symphony No. 3 of Beethoven:


Marc Puckett said...

I clicked through to read the Holly Mulcahy article. While I have no idea really why the concertmaster takes his place when he does (well, I expect it has to do with responsibilities and hierarchy, which doesn't fit in with Mulcahy's purposes, after all), I doubt that it has anything to do with signaling anything to the audience.

But she was right to push back against those who think the dress issue ought not to exist. A co-worker, who I think usually listens to radio broadcast pop, was going with me to a recital and the first question she asked was, what should I wear? There are regional differences, too: here in Eugene, the ESO website doesn't address the dress issue at all (as I recall) while the Cincinnati Symphony's surely does. Here, t-shirt and jeans (at the symphony, I mean), eh, certain people will make certain judgments; in Cincinnati, well, the expectations are different.

Bryan Townsend said...

You are absolutely right about the concertmaster question. In fact, it inspired a post!

When I attend a concert, I usually choose my garb according to how I perceive my role. If I am there as an audience member I dress as most of them do here (casual to slightly dressy). If I am there as a composer, sometimes I go for the black, edgy sophisticate look (or try to). And sometimes I wear a suit and tie! Mostly in Mexico we aren't too formal.