Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

The Wall Street Journal surprises us with a fairly interesting article on an upcoming performance of Pierre Boulez' piece Répons and goes into some detail:
No Boulez work demonstrates this philosophical friction more than “Répons” (“Response”), a 1981 composition (later revised) for six pitched-percussion soloists, an ensemble of strings and winds, and live electronics, lasting 45 minutes. As the title suggests, the piece is based on the idea of call and response, though the organizing principles are intricate; and their set formulations are complicated further as the sounds are digitally manipulated in real time. Some of the perceived “responses” occur between the acoustic tones and their electronic reflections.
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One is tempted to say to this economist writing about modern art, "hey, you stop opinionating about art and I'll stop opinionating about economics!" But is there anything interesting in the article The Psychology of Overrated Art?
For as long as I can remember, the "My child could do that" critique of modern painting and sculpture has resonated with me. Broadly defined, I hasten to add, modernity creates great new visual art all the time; just look at graphic novels over the last forty years. But to my eyes, high-status painting and sculpture - the kind displayed in the "modern" section of museums - almost always looks like junk. When my little boy loudly declared, "That's not art!" at the modern section of the National Art Gallery, I thought of the Emperor's New Clothes and proudly smiled.
He then goes on to list some typical psychological biases. But we know that the psychological approach is not very useful, don't we?

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The Guardian has a story about a young protege assisting Lang Lang in a Carnegie Hall gala concert:
Pianist Lang Lang, nursing an injured arm, found an innovative solution to avoid missing Carnegie Hall’s annual gala on Wednesday – a young protege literally lent a hand.
The Chinese-born pianist, one of the world’s most recognizable classical musicians, was opening the prestigious New York concert hall’s season by playing George Gershwin’s classic Rhapsody in Blue.
But Lang Lang is recovering from an inflammation in his left arm that forced him to cancel several months of concerts. The solution: Maxim Lando, a 14-year-old US pianist, who studied in a music scholarship backed by Lang Lang, was asked to join him and play the left hand.
I don't think people realize the extreme physical demands that life as a touring virtuoso places on you. Having to learn and keep in your fingers a large repertoire of demanding music while touring the world is certainly not easy. Probably more musicians than we are aware of are struggling with injury.

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 The Future Symphony Institute reminds us of some problems with Historically Informed Performance:
Do we really want to hear Beethoven’s Fifth as it was heard at its premiere? Do we want to listen to 50 unevenly trained musicians, give or take, playing for four hours on weak instruments that are hard to play, in an unheated concert hall conducted by a deaf man on one rehearsal?
Let’s take a look at the issue from another angle: performance practice. These days there are a group of wand’ring minstrels (usually conductors) who travel throughout the world cloaked in a banner on which they’ve emblazoned the words “Historically Informed.” They give performances purported to be authentic reenactments of music from the 18th and early 19th centuries. We’re supposed to pay reverent homage to these musicians for their painstaking research and to feel the didactic thrill of their cause.
The whole piece is worth reading for its refreshing take on some thorny issues.

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 Via Alex Ross' blog I learn about this piece which sounds rather interesting: Plainsound Glissando Modulation:

The performers are Andrew McIntosh and Scott Worthington and the beginning at least reminds me of music for viola da gamba.

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Clemency Burton-Hill has prepared a daily classical music playlist and the project came out of a request from a local cafe for some suitable classical music:
Clemency Burton-Hill was recently asked by the manager of her local café to make him a playlist. They had been chatting, and he’d discovered she was a classical music broadcaster.
“He said to me, ‘Oh my God, I really dig classical music but I don’t know where to start.’” Burton-Hill recalls as we sit at a corner table in the same café in Kensal Rise, west London. “He’d noticed when he stuck on classical music in the cafe, his customers said they were more productive and it chilled them out.”
Wouldn't it be nice if a few more places had some discreet classical music instead of the generic stuff they often play?

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For our envoi today let's hear a performance of the Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven that is undoubtedly far superior to the one given at the premiere performance in 1808. This is Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the Proms in 2012:


Will Wilkin said...

Even to someone untechnical like myself, I appreciate there are layers of considerations when approaching historically-informed performance. My first response to your comments is to defend those conductors and players who attempt authenticity in their instruments, technique, temperaments, etc. However imperfect the realization and elusive the original performances lost in time, there is a special beauty and emotional transport in these brief escapes from our own time and place.

Regarding my own intermediate-beginner-level self-teaching of musicianship (violin, lira da braccio), I have been focused almost exclusively on baroque music, with special love for earlier baroque. And I intend to go even earlier with my lira and voice, into the sixteenth century. I've been reading about the evolution of the violin, how there was not a static and universal design but rather an ongoing and somewhat individualized (by luthier and by geography) varied development, such that a 1595 Amati-made-in-Cremona violin is not the same as a 1629 Cavarozzi-made-in-Rome violin, etc:

Eventually as I've journeyed through the learning described above, I came to join those insights into the understanding that the baroque-era (and earlier) artists whose work I so adore were themselves decidedly NOT engaging in "historically-informed-performance but rather making contemporary music with their latest instrument technologies. Absolutely their work grew out of their best use of traditional techniques and practices, yet, as we discussed Bryan in your recent article on the "Good and Original," they navigated a tension between building on the old while also being new and original.

And so today's scholar-musicians focused on historically-informed performance are necessarily doing something a little different than the originals they attempt to recreate, but that effort is something I deeply appreciate as a gift to our time, similar to how historians try to give us the flavor of the past yet must address us in our contemporary language and pass it through our contemporary sensibilities. The best ones do it in such a way that they do not impose today's standards on people and societies of the past, but rather let them speak for themselves and leave the judgements to an audience hopefully sophisticated enough to appreciate the original for what it really was, how it really was.

Bryan Townsend said...

Will, recall that I don't necessarily agree with the things that I put in the Friday Miscellanea! On the whole I am a fan of the Historically Informed Performance people. If I am going to listen to Mozart or Bach, I tend to seek out people like Trevor Pinnock and John Eliot Gardiner and Nicolaus Harnoncourt. But this article usefully reminded us that what we want to do is probably not restore all the faulty accidents of a typical 18th or 17th century performance, but rather recreate a kind of ideal, informed by study of what they were trying to do. Another issue is that our audiences are not 17th or 18th century audiences, so they are listening in a different way.

Will Wilkin said...

"...what we want to do is probably not restore all the faulty accidents of a typical 18th or 17th century performance, but rather recreate a kind of ideal, informed by study of what they were trying to do."

I like that!