Usually when I discuss Bob Dylan as a poet I point to his visionary songs. “Desolation Row” (1965), which I selected for inclusion in “The Oxford Book of American Poetry,” is terrific in its phantasmagoria:The Titanic sails at dawnAnd everybody’s shouting‘Which side are you on?’And Ezra Pound and T.S. EliotFighting in the captain’s towerWhile calypso singers laugh at themAnd fishermen hold flowersBetween the windows of the seaWhere lovely mermaids flow.Another fine example is the title song of “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965), which begins with God and Abraham mixing it up in Genesis 22: “God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’ / Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on.’ ”But you could as easily make the case on the basis of his powers of rhetoric. His gift is oracular. Some of his strongest lines are infused with the spirit of protest: “How many roads must a man walk down / Before you call him a man?” Others verge on heartbreak: “It don’t even matter to me where you’re wakin’ up tomorrow / But mama, you’re just on my mind.”
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Also in the Wall Street Journal is an item on Steve Reich, whose 80th birthday it is, and who will be premiering a new piece titled Pulse in a few days.
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Still in the Wall Street Journal, obviously your go-to medium for important arts coverage, is a nice piece on two recent performances of the Schubert Quintet that I just put up as the envoi to another post. Sure, that's where I got the idea. I left a comment thanking them for doing something on classical music, as so much music coverage lately has just been on pop, and I got a lot of thumbs up from other readers and a couple of replies. So when you go to the piece, don't forget to read the comments.
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I link this without comment except to say that this is probably the most blatant example of cultural Marxism in classical music this week: Classical music is subject to ‘unconscious racism and class’, says composer:
‘One would like simply to be commissioned regularly without racial agendas – and not just for Black History Month,’ she told the BBC.‘The powers that be must start to include all races on an ongoing basis. These powers could also entertain a broader concept of what a mainstream contemporary composer sounds and looks like so there isn’t just an inner club of composers who get heard while others are effectively silenced,’ she said.
As someone, a Supreme Court justice I believe, once said, the way to avoid racial discrimination is simply to not discriminate on the basis of race.
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In some ways we are living in a golden age of classical music: despite the best efforts of some very iffy "friends" of music: symphony boards trying to cut back salaries, committees awarding prizes to not very good composers, the relentless pressure from pop music, increasing inroads from the cultural justice warriors, shallow misleading attempts at music "appreciation" and the near elimination of music from the schools, there is still great music being made and great young artists coming on the scene as fine as we have ever had. Hilary Hahn, of course, on violin, Igor Levit on piano and there might be another. I just read a fervent appreciation of a young Greek conductor named Teodor Currentzis who has recently recorded three of the greatest Mozart operas. James Rhodes writes in the Guardian:
...along comes a young Greek conductor called Teodor Currentzis. He is the conducting equivalent of Glenn Gould morphed with Kurt Cobain. Gould said there is no point performing something that’s been performed a thousand times before unless you do it differently. And Currentzis, who has a work ethic and attention to detail that would have made Steve Jobs look like an unemployed bum, goes way, way beyond that.He formed his own orchestra, Musica Aeterna, hand-picking the very best musicians he could find – largely from Russia, where they have quite the selection. He somehow convinced Sony to inject an obscene amount of money, and he set to work producing and recreating definitive performances of Mozart’s three greatest operas. He records in Perm, a city in the middle of Russia whose temperature redefines cold. He, his orchestra and singers, along with producers, sound engineers and technicians, spend weeks in what can only be described as a classical music lock-in – they live, eat and breathe there, and the majority of their waking moments are spent creating music. Hundreds of hours of takes are recorded, with Currentzis pushing everyone involved beyond the limits of what most would consider possible. He chooses speeds that are, to many, unplayable. Vocal techniques that are not taught in any schools. Interpretations that make most music critics and regular opera audiences question everything they thought they knew. His conception of these works is so grand, so life-affirming and life-changing, so far beyond anything that has come before it that it has, for me, redefined music itself. This is classical music breaking the four-minute mile.
The third of the series, Don Giovanni, is being released today on Sony Classical.
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There is some bad news from the Wall Street Journal: there will be less arts and culture coverage. Norman Lebrecht reports:
* * *Here’s the relevant part of Baker’s memo to staff:– Our uniquely engaging lifestyle, arts, culture, entertainment and sports coverage now featured in Personal Journal and Arena will be combined in a section named Life & Arts, and included in the main news section of the paper every day from Monday to Friday. This new part of the A section will also feature the cultural commentary and criticism written by the Editorial Page’s team of critics that currently appears in PJ and Arena. The name Life & Arts not only better captures the range of this combined content but also aligns more closely with the relevant sections in our digital products.
It's a musical year in literature. After the Nobel Prize announcement comes the award of the Chicago Tribune Literary Award to composer Philip Glass for his memoir Words Without Music. It is a fascinating book and I wrote about it in this post, back in January.
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I am tempted to attribute this to our ever-expanding therapeutic culture where everything has to be an illness: Seven out of 10 musicians report mental health problems – survey:
More than 70% of musicians have experienced anxiety and panic attacks, the largest ever survey into mental health issues in the profession suggests.Professionals working in the music industry, including those in theatre, may also be up to three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public, according to the Help Musicians UK survey results.
The cynic in me suspects that part of this initiative is to create a justification for a new organization that can, while doing some good, mostly provide salaries for highly-paid administrators. I say this because this always seems to be how things end up. Just look at the Veterans' Administration in the US. Here is a little clue from the article:
When the campaign was launched in May, Help Musicians UK said it hoped to have a service dedicated to musicians' mental well-being in place by 2017.* * *
Let's have some good orchestral news: The Atlanta Symphony has completed its fundraising campaign to restore orchestral positions two years ahead of time and is adding eleven players to the orchestra.
The news is in stark contrast to the gloom of 2014, when ASO musicians were locked out of Symphony Hall for nine weeks after they refused to accept a contract that would fix the number of full-time musicians at 77, below the standard level of a major symphony orchestra. That lockout, the second in two years, delayed the opening of the season and led to the resignation of then-president and CEO Stanley Romanstein.* * *
There is not a huge selection of clips by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on YouTube, but they do include this older recording of the Symphony No. 5 by Mahler: