Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday miscellanea

I'm not a jazz fan myself, but this is a good and thoughtful review of a good and thoughtful book on how and why to listen to jazz:
Gioia is so confident that newcomers can appreciate jazz in part because he believes that objective benchmarks of evaluation exist, and that, in the case of jazz, we can listen for fundamental “building blocks” such as rhythm, dynamics, pitch and timbre, and phrasing. This view puts him at odds with more theoretical critics who claim that subjectivity is the only aesthetic standard. Nonsense, says Gioia: “Understanding jazz (or any other form of artistic expression) can never be reduced to personal whim or some flamboyant deconstructive manipulation of signifiers but always builds on a humble realization that these works impose their reality on us. . . . and in this manner can be distinguished from escapism or shallow entertainment, which instead aims to adapt to the audience, to give the public exactly what it wants. We can tell that we are encountering a real work of art by the degree to which it resists our subjectivity.” In this one passage, Gioia manages to push back against both highbrow and lowbrow wrongheadedness.
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Ann Althouse reminds me of a song I had forgotten:

Couple of neat things: first, it is only the second rock song from back then that talks about tax policy, the other being "Taxman" by George Harrison. Back in the 60s rock artists were not financially sophisticated. When they finally had some hits and the money started rolling in they were astonished, astonished to find that they owed 96% of it to the Treasury. They just couldn't see how that could possibly be fair. Well, yeah! Nowadays rock stars are very financially sophisticated and have discovered all the ways that other financially sophisticated rich people have to avoid paying more than a pittance to the Treasury. Just ask U2...

Oh, and the other neat thing is that this is a pretty good song, pretty well performed.

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Jordi Savall, the outstanding viola da gamba player and conductor just did a "Facing the Music" for the Guardian. This is an ongoing series in which musicians are asked to answer a pre-packaged list of questions. Sometimes the answers are interesting. Usually it is obvious that the questions are designed to elicit a politically-correct response. This wasn't the most interesting set of responses, but I  would sure be in agreement about this one:
We’re giving you a time machine: what period, or moment in musical history, would you travel to and why?
Ancient Greece. We know so much about their art, literature and sculpture but so little about what they were doing with music.
It would be amazing to hear what the Greek tragedies sounded like with the original music!

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I never quite fell in love with the music of Einojuhani Rautavaara, though I certainly gave it a whirl. The Guardian has a review of a new CD, but they aren't head over heels either: "Rautavaara: Rubaiyat, Balada, Canto V, Four Songs from Rasputin CD review – gooey post-Romanticism"
It took me several attempts to make it all the way through this disc of recent-ish choral and orchestral works by Einojuhani Rautavaara. The 88-year-old Finnish composer, mystical with a capital M, has dipped into various styles from neoclassicism to serialism to glassy Nordic minimalism during his long career, but his late style has settled into a thick, gooey swirl of post-Romanticism, and I kept feeling overwhelmingly bloated.

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Just a couple of blocks from my hotel in Madrid, facing on a little square with a couple of good tapas places, was this building:

Fairly ordinary, though that is nice ironwork. But you see that brass plate on the right? Here is a close-up:

Ah, yes, that is the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Syria! I guess, what with the civil war and all, they haven't had time to polish the brass much...

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Allan Kozinn, one of our finest music critics, offers a final summation of the whole Arthur Kaptainis/Canadian Opera Company affair. And does it in a magisterial manner. You must read the whole piece as it is full of insights. But here is a taste:
What happened with Kaptainis was, in a nutshell, a wholly inappropriate editorial decision that spun out of control, thanks in part to an understaffed newsroom. Kaptainis had been the National Post’s freelance music critic since 2010, and though his beat was mostly local, he periodically filed high-profile reviews from abroad – Simon Rattle leading the Berlin Philharmonic in Bruckner at Carnegie Hall, for example. You would think that the paper would consider itself lucky to have him: he was, for many years, the chief critic of the Montreal Gazette, and he continues to write about music for them as a freelancer, having taken a buyout in 2007. He is fiercely opinionated – a job requisite, one would think – and respected internationally.
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For those of you who long for lurid details of musicians' private lives, Slipped Disc is the place to go. Here is a particularly seamy story about violinist David Garrett: "Full court details of the $20m violin star vs porn star case." I'll spare you the details...

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Falling plumb into my "how I wish I had written that" category, is this follow-up to that silly Musical Toronto piece that I posted about the other day: "Nine Or Possibly Ten Things That Should Change About Classical Music."
What’s with the conductor walking on and off the stage? Or the concert master shaking hands with the conductor? I don’t understand! Since these customs look odd to a newcomer there must be no sensible reason why they exist; it’s time for them to go. We need to get rid of everything that a newcomer would not understand and replace those things with things that no-one understands; this will help the newcomers understand why they do not understand what it is we understand about what we used to understand but have changed to help people understand.
Oh, that's just ... beautiful!
Don’t make us feel insecure!
Symphony? Movements? Masterpiece? What’s all that? We should only present things that are simple, easy, and accessible for absolutely everyone, like death.
Let us clap!
Oh boy, this one is probably the most important of all. Some people go to concerts to enjoy music or to have a good time, but such people are a dwindling minority of toffs who don’t matter- most people go to concerts with only one thing on their minds: CLAPPING. As soon as they wake up, that is all they can think about. Before they even get out of bed, the questions begin: how can I best flail my hands together repeatedly? Where can I go that will allow me to do some good old fashioned happy-flappy palm-pounding? Why does nobody want to dance the smashy hand-flesh samba whenever I want to do it? How rude!
You must let these people be free to express their own unique identity with a prescribed action done at the same time as the group they are in. Nothing else matters.
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And that provides us with the perfect envoi for today: Clapping Music by Steve Reich:


Marc Puckett said...

Just don't get the preoccupation with clapping-- it's because people at pop concerts applaud every three or four minutes, I suppose, and everything musical must be reduced to a simulacrum of that. It bespeaks the intellectual impoverishment of our culture, as much as anything else, I reckon, in spite of how much prating goes on about our vast liberal-mindedness, progressivism, and multiculturalism &c, as if any of that can substitute for thinking clearly.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think the epidemic of narcissism has something to do with it too. Clapping is how the audience participates in the event, which is obviously the most important thing!

I read about one concert where the audience response was to sit in complete silence for several minutes. It was at the end of one of those very profound symphonies, probably by Mahler. The audience were so emotionally engaged that they had to simply sit and recover. There was applause, of course, but not for a long time.