Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

I have a general policy of avoiding political issues unless they are directly relevant to our real focus here: music. But since today is the Presidential Inauguration let's start with this item: the Piano Guys are going to perform at the inauguration and offer a statement:
To our friends who have felt disturbed by our involvement, we want you to know that this doesn’t lessen our gratitude for what you have done for us. Not one bit. We still feel indebted to you. We love you. You give our music wings! We sincerely hope and pray for your understanding. We don’t feel right limiting our positive message only to people that believe or act the same way we do. We haven’t changed our message. We haven’t changed who we are, what we stand for, or what our music means and why we write it. We’re still doing what we’ve always done – playing for anyone who will hear our musical message with the hope that it persuades its listeners to love others.
– The Piano Guys
You should read the whole thing, which is very well expressed--and the comments as well, which include some spectacularly mean-spirited ones.

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I ran across this clip from the movie I, Robot that is amusing in an interesting way:

Well, I've written only four symphonies so far...

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Stuart Isakoff has a nice piece in the Wall Street Journal celebrating Tchaikovsky on the occasion of a festival of his music to be presented in New York later this month:
Why Tchaikovsky? It may well be that this composer’s attempt to reconcile influences from East and West—fusing classical elegance, Italian lyricism and German counterpoint with Russian folk elements—produced a many-faceted art in which disparate audiences can all find reason to celebrate.
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Bob Dylan's grandson, Levi Dylan, isn't going into the family business:
Levi Dylan, 22-year-old grandson of Bob Dylan and the son of Jakob Dylan, has decided not to pursue the family trade. “I gave up on music,” he told the Cut at the Cinema Society’s post-screening party for Southside With You on Wednesday, standing in a courtyard outside Harold’s Meat + Three. “I still love to play, but it’s too hard to make a living. And I think that was a mature decision to make.”
Yep. Levi's father, Jakob Dylan, has had a modest career in music, but he is going in a different direction. It is indeed very hard to make a living in music, but that isn't why we do music, after all. We do it basically because we have to.

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Talk about mixed emotions. That's my reaction to this item: Canada Mosaic puts Canadian music on the map.
“Innovators. Renegades. Pioneers. Canadian musicians have long punched above their weight both at home and internationally.”
Or so claims a news release announcing Canada Mosaic, an ambitious cross-country celebration of Canadian music and musicians spearheaded by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and funded (to the tune of $7.5 million) by the government of Canada.
“What a wonderful way to celebrate our 150th,” enthuses Mélanie Joly, minister of Canadian Heritage.
And it surely is a welcome way to fund some major commissions to our composers in addition to 40 or so two-minute fanfares to be performed by the TSO and partner orchestras from British Columbia to Newfoundland.
As a Canadian myself, a few thoughts come to mind. First of all, let me put the question to my readers, apart from Glenn Gould, Leonard Cohen and Justin Bieber, can you name one Canadian composer who is not a popular musician? Take your time... Nothing? I'm not surprised because the one really obvious truth is that Canadian composers have virtually no international profile. While talked up in the Canadian media from time to time as a kind of community boosterism, Canadian music, again, talking about the classical or concert music, has been notable in its utter insignificance. Believe it or not, Canadian composers have even less importance than Swiss composers and I'll bet you would be very hard-pressed to name a single Swiss composer. So, we need to revise that opening paragraph to read "Canadian composers have long punched far below their weight both at home and internationally." The real question is why? Maybe part of the answer is found by reading on. The nation of Canada, in grateful homage to its native composers is commissioning forty of them to write two minute fanfares? Oh good grief, honestly, why bother? A two minute fanfare is not a "major commission". In fact, that is about as tiny and insignificant as a commission can be.

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Our envoi today is the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor of Tchaikovsky played by a very young Martha Argerich in 1975. The conductor is Charles Dutoit:


Anonymous said...

"I'll bet you would be very hard-pressed to name a single Swiss composer."

Michael Jarrell and Heinz Holliger immediately sprang to mind, the music of both is them is played fairly often in Europe. Klaus Huber, long known mostly as a teacher, seems to now be getting some late recognition for his compositions in a fashion similar to Friedrich Cerha's increasing stature as he has got into his seventies and eighties.

The only way Canada seems to have fallen behind internationally is not became it has no famous composers -- I listen to Istvan Anhalt, Claude Vivier, and Andre Prevost from time to time -- but rather because those famous composers are now deceased and the living composers still iving haven't made the same splash (at least, not yet – when Vivier died, a young and relatively little known figure -- no one would have his music to have such a lasting impact over these last 30+ years).

David said...

Bryan, I think the claim of the news release on Canada Mosaic has not yet sunk to the level of President Trump's "FAKE NEWS". The press release claims that Canadian "musicians" have "punched above their weight". Two things; first this seems to include both composers and performers, as both are within the common understanding of the word "musicians". Second, there is no claim as to what the Canadian weight class is. Objectively, it is probably featherweight. So, maybe hitting at a welterweight level doesn't make you a musical Ali, but it might be enough to give legitimacy to the "feel good" objective of the press release.

As a Canadian, I took your "Name a Canadian Composer Challenge". My answers (before Google-ing) Healey Willan, Murray Schafer, Jean Colthard, Howard Cable, and the guy who wrote O Canada.

I concede your point when I read the Wikipedia entry on Andrew Ager, who is described as "one of Canada's most prominent composers". I am familiar with Andrew as the former organist at St. James Anglican Cathedral in Toronto.

But to be fair, the class of global composers born after 1867, the year Canada came into being, is not loaded with heavy weights of the Canon. (Satie was born in 1866). A reasonably complete selection of the "identifiable" composers born in or after 1867 includes Roussel, Suk, Scriabin, Holst, Gliere, Ravel, Ketelby, Kodaly, Stravinsky, Bax, Berg, Szymanowski, Respighi, Copland Villa-Lobos, Atterberg, Milhaud, Hindemith, Hansen, Korngold, Gershwin, Poulenc, Khachaturian, Kabalevsky, Tippett, Alwyn, Messiaen, Barber, Hovhaness, Gould (Morton), Bernstein, Arnold, Shchedrin, Schnittke, Part, Tavener, Rutter, Glass, Reich. The big names of the last 150 years really do pale incredibly in the light of the Big Names of Classical Music that preceded them, don't they.

I expect that you will have identified the one name missing from the list who can legitimately be said to be canonic: Shostakovich.

I am listening to a recording of Dorati conducting Hayden symphonies as I write this, so forgive me if you detect some "sturm und drang" in my comment.

Thanks for giving me something to think about.

David said...

Bryan, forgive my omissions of Bartok, Prokofiev and Stravinsky in my earlier list. I see that I run the risk of losing my credibility. On reflection, there does seem to be a weighting to composers from the Eastern Bloc here. Any thoughts on why.

Bryan Townsend said...

@Anonymous: Yes, you caught me in a bit of a rhetorical flourish: I'm sure that many readers can name a Swiss composer or two. Frank Martin is another and he wrote a fine piece for guitar. But If we compare the number and importance of Swiss composers to those of the neighboring nations of France, Italy and Austria, we are bound to notice that they are few indeed.

@David: oh yes, music lovers who live in Canada can come up with a nice list of Canadian composers. But with the exception of Claude Vivier, none of them have much in the way of any international recognition. Rather like Swiss composers.

I have been puzzling for a long time over the extremely strong contribution that Russia has made to 20th century composition. Three of the greatest composers of the century are undoubtedly Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich and there are a host of minor ones as well. The comparison with Canada is stark.

Marc said...

Was going to tsk, tsk because Frank Martin was Dutch! (his Mass for double choirs was performed here last summer at the OBF) but I've learned to give you the benefit of the doubt, ha, and, sure enough, he was Swiss.

Bryan Townsend said...