Saturday, January 7, 2017

Friday, No! Saturday Miscellanea

Please forgive me for missing posting my Friday miscellanea! I think it is the first time in years. Just too many other things going on. That ritual abasement over, let's get on with it:

In the immortal words of jazz critic and historian Ted Gioia:


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It's always nice to watch a real pro at work and Harry Connick Jr. is certainly that. If you listen carefully to the clip you can hear how he inserts an extra beat in his piano solo. Why? Because the audience were clapping on the one and the three when they should have been clapping on the two and the four--backbeat, y'know. Stick in an extra beat and magically they are now clapping in the right place. You just move the downbeat.

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A somewhat less professional musician might actually stop and mildly berate the audience for clapping wrong:

(Hat tip to Ann Althouse.)

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A frequent criticism of the classical music world is that we are condescending elitists. Sometimes it is even justified as in this particularly tone-deaf sneer by Norman Lebrecht:
Seong-Jin Cho, winner of the Chopin Competition, is a fabulous artist with a brilliant future. But he should never be allowed to talk to camera until he acquires a pull-on charisma set from his local makeover shop.
Which DG genius thought this chat was going to help sell records?
The idea of Norman Lebrecht shaking his finger at Deutsche Grammophon is worth a chuckle in itself. But go ahead and watch the clip. It is, as a number of commentators remarked, simply a down-to-earth chat about the piece by the performer with no slick marketing tricks. And thank god for that! Norman, there is a difference between actual charisma and the glitzy fake one that so much classical music marketing has fallen into recently.

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I have been reading articles about how scientists are figuring out what makes those violins by the Cremona builders from the 17th and 18th centuries so special for all my life it seems. It was the varnish! No, it was using wood that had been immersed in water for a long time! No, it was simply the age of the wood! Now the New York Times has a piece on the latest effort: The Brilliance of a Stradivari Violin Might Rest Within Its Wood:
“If you compare Stradivari’s maple with modern, high-quality maple wood that is almost the same, the two woods are very different,” said Hwan-Ching Tai, a professor of chemistry at National Taiwan University and an author of the paper.
In the study, done in collaboration with the Chimei Museum in Taiwan, Dr. Tai and his colleagues used five analytical techniques to assess wood shavings from two Stradivari violins, two Stradivari cellos and one Guarneri violin. Their measurements yielded several major findings.
First, they found evidence of chemical treatments containing aluminum, calcium, copper and other elements — a practice lost to later generations of violin makers.
The whole article is well worth reading, for the context and history if not for any final answers.

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Alex Ross has an article about Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov that is worth having a look at. Trifonov seems to be tearing up the turf these days. I haven't sought him out, frankly, because I'm not so terribly interested in the hypervirtuoso repertoire that he specializes in. 
So far, Trifonov has done best in the high-virtuoso territory of Liszt, Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff. His latest recording, on Deutsche Grammophon, is of Liszt’s Transcendental Études, Concert Études, and Paganini Études. The Transcendental Études contain some of the most taxing piano writing ever put on paper: jagged chords strewn all over the keyboard, everywhere-leaping arpeggiated figures, pages of double octaves. Trifonov dispatches all of it with stupefying effortlessness, in the process transforming this ostensibly bravura music into something elegant and rarefied, almost French. He suggests how much Debussy and Ravel owed to Liszt. This is not the final word on the Études: on the Myrios label you can find a recording by Kirill Gerstein, another major, younger Russian-born pianist, which has a stronger sense of musical architecture. Still, Trifonov’s entry will long be a benchmark.
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Let's have a listen to some of Trifonov's heaven-storming Liszt. Here he is playing the Three Concert Etudes, S. 144:


Marc Puckett said...

Happy new year! hope it's a good and fruitful one for you. Here, we have had a second! ice-and-snow storm of the season-- so I'm well pleased and many others are not.

Listened to the Trifonov and one thing led to another... apart from a performance from forty years ago of the Rhapsodie espagnole, a quick look at YouTube and Wikipedia seems to reveal that Grigori Sokolov has stayed away from Liszt-- how a performer makes those sorts of choices must be an interesting process.

Bryan Townsend said...

Happy New Year to you as well! And welcome back. Yes, I just heard from someone on their way down here that their flight out of Portland OR was cancelled due to a snowstorm. 77º and sunny here.

What a performer chooses to play--and chooses not to play--is one of the most telling bits of information about their aesthetic stance. If a pianist specializes in Liszt, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff that gives me a sense of where they are as an artist. Sokolov seems to have a remarkable aesthetic compass.