Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Esa-Pekka Salonen, the very gifted Finnish conductor and composer has just written a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma and the Wall Street Journal has a review of the Chicago premiere:
Clanging percussion opens the concerto, with the cello entering to largely relaxed accompaniment from the rest of the orchestra. The composer likened this first movement to a “zooming in from cosmic to planetary,” emphasizing the work’s “stylized chaos.” I heard almost Romantic gestures from the cello, with singing lines and phrases that unexpectedly evoked English pastoralists like Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams. At one especially beguiling point, a gentle orchestral corona surrounded the cello as it evinced a heartfelt searching motif. But there was, indeed, a cosmic quality, with interplanetary space suggested by a combination of celesta, marimba and flute (Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson, the orchestra’s extraordinary principal and one of its myriad glories).
I'm rather a fan of Salonen and look forward to hearing this piece. His violin concerto is excellent.

* * *

Let's take a walk down memory lane with George Harrison:

This extremely heart-felt song came about when George discovered that he was in a 95% tax bracket and thought that was just a tad unfair! That stubbly fellow taking a guitar solo is Eric Clapton, of course.

* * *

I have written about Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra before here at the Music Salon. The Guardian has a review of a recent concert:
When some average orchestras and soloists regularly sell out London’s larger auditoriums, it was odd to find Milton Court nothing like full for these concerts by an orchestra that, by any standards, is one of the wonders of the musical world today. The Australian Chamber Orchestra was there for the final part of its artistic director Richard Tognetti’s residency this season. The first of their appearances had been a performance of The Reef, Tognetti’s audiovisual celebration of his twin passions, music and surfing, while the other two were more conventional concerts that provided the perfect showcase for the group’s astounding finesse.
* * *

I think that Yuja Wang and Khatia Buniatishvili must be in some kind of publicity war to the death. I previously wrote about how Ms Wang seems to be more obsessive about her photo sessions than anything else:

And now Ms Buniatishvili returns fire with this publicity shot from Figaro:

Click to enlarge
This other shot from the article fits the blog format better:

There were some fairly extreme publicity campaigns in the 19th century, particularly by Franz Liszt and Niccolò Paganini, the latter of whom cultivated a nearly-Satanic public persona. But the 21st century certainly has the edge when it comes to visual impact.

* * *

Yet another in the perennial efforts to make classical music more appealing, but this one is more sensible than most: Time for changes
I truly believe that classical music is inherently accessible. But with concerts, it’s not just what we hear, but also what we see. An orchestra of people dressed in morning suits or tailcoats are too formal today. Classical music is always going to be called elitist if the musicians look like extras from Downton Abbey. Plus, they are boiling hot to play in. And I can’t think of a period in time where cream dinner jackets ever looked good. Just go simple: all black, smart and modern.
Well, maybe. This part I sort of agree with:
You may have noticed that I haven’t suggested changing one thing: the music. The music has never and will never be the problem. However, as times change, we must change the experience of how we listen to it.
The thing is, this is rather a perfunctory comment. My experience last weekend provides an example, where the pianist wore exactly what this writer suggests: black, smart and modern, no tux, no suit, no tie and he talked to the audience in a nicely accessible way. But I was wincing all the way through and my companion was bored stiff. Why? It was the way the music was played: poor phrasing and articulation, rhythmically lifeless and banging too much out loudly. I would a thousand times prefer to listen to Grigory Sokolov who does everything "wrong" according to this writer. He wears white tie and tails, no social media presence, doesn't talk to the audience and no, you can't get a drink in one of his concerts. But it is the music that triumphs because of the astonishing way that he plays. Please let's not mistake the wrapper for the contents?

* * *

I suppose the logical envoi for today would be a clip of Grigory Sokolov. Here he is playing Le tic-toc-choc ou Les maillotins by François Couperin:


Will Wilkin said...

Thanks Bryan, for your usual thoughtful commentary on (mostly) "classical" music in context of our times. Myself enjoying a measure of separation from our times, I'm listening to some suites for viola da gamba by Conrad Höffler, and therefore have not clicked any of your embedded music today. And none of this denies my love of the music of George Harrison and Eric Clapton.

Regarding the relationship between the music and the wrapper, my imagination takes those images of gorgeous women in sexy dresses and combines it with my general thoughts and feelings (and remembrances) of great classical piano produce what is no doubt the intended response: interest and desire. Unfortunately for the artists, I don't have the money to act, which would mean buying CDs and looking for a concert tour date I could buy tickets for. And in perhaps unrespectable honesty, I confess that just as the female nude has been an essential subject in the history of visual and sculptural arts, so too would I enjoy watching these ladies play naked. And, well, who wouldn't? But I very much get your point, that is NOT what classical music is. It is rather the gaudy commercialization of it, but at least these ladies stoke the fire with class, which means $3,000 dresses and, presumably, genuine musical talent.

Finally, I like how you grapple with the dilemma in classical music --here and in many of your articles-- of how to sustain and grow an audience for serious music in a larger popular culture that is very superficial, anti-historical, of fragmented attention spans and spiritually void. Here I can only take cold comfort in recommending the book "Twilight of American Culture" by Morris Berman, which is generalizable to western or any other culture as it becomes vulgarized and forgotten in a rising commercialization. That tidal wave is too big for individuals and even institutions to stave, and ultimately must be suffered by our civilization. All we can do is batten down the hatches and attempt some islands of preservation of our heritage and traditions, taking a secular form of monasticism and separation from the larger trends, a deliberate and lonely counter-culture of adhering to what we know is precious and keeping it alive for those future generations that may finally be ready to have a cultural renaissance when the depths of vanity have become undeniable and some new basis for optimism can be found.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Will, for this very thoughtful comment. You pretty much called it.

Anonymous said...

George Harrison's jeremiad would be more convincing if Google didn't inform me that Paul McCartney's net worth is estimated at $1.2 billion. Despite the taxman, I am relieved to know that the Fab Four didn't go starving...

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh no, quite the opposite. And this is, of course, why rock stars tend to avoid this kind of statement: no sympathy! But remember that this song was written for Revolver which came out in August 1966 when the net worth of the Beatles was a tiny fraction of what it would later become. And they had spent several years struggling, making a pittance, playing unsavory clubs in Hamburg and so on. They were only three years into their recording careers and probably just starting to see some serious income. And then they find out that 95% goes to the Exchequer?

Will Wilkin said...

I smell smoke:

(just confirming your observations, Bryan, with Exhibit #3)

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Will. I had a post up a few years back titled "Naked Violinists" because of the inundation of extremely suggestive publicity shots. Had to take it down, though. Too much traffic.