The Israel Philharmonic has evolved along with the country. When Mr. Mehta first arrived, it was an orchestra of very uneven quality. “It was still mostly the orchestra that Huberman had put together,” he says. “The strings played beautifully, because they were from Vienna and Poland. But the brass and woodwind”—here, a pause in search of euphemism—“was not so good.” Jewish émigrés from Russia in the 1970s and ’80s brought a new excellence. “Thank God for the Russians!” Mr. Mehta says. “But we never hired them because they spoke Russian and carried a violin. They were all chosen after blind auditions from behind a screen.”Those Russians have all retired; they came to Israel in their 30s and 40s. Today’s orchestra is predominantly Israeli. “We have,” Mr. Mehta boasts, “probably one of the best woodwind sections today, anywhere. And the brass section is magnificent. All of that never used to be the case when I first joined.”
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I have to confess that a lot of the talk surrounding the British superstar conductor Simon Rattle leaves me a bit rattled. What I have heard of his work has left me unimpressed. But still... This review in The Spectator makes me think I really should have a listen to his Rite of Spring:
Now if only I could find someone to translate that into English for me.No masterpiece is harder to pull off than the Rite. So often it deflates midway and never regains its shape. Rattle made his name with the piece when he was at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, taming the brute, slowing it down, prising open its interior, allowing us to inspect its fangs, look straight down its snappy gob.Here, the beast was unleashed. Rabid brass, uncontrollable winds, strings scything through the rabble behind. Key to the pungency was the bite of the percussion, allowed to go to such extremes my eyes began to water. The LSO can come across as a bit slick. Last Sunday they were monstrous. Before letting loose their inner animal, they delivered an invigorating Firebird and a Petrushka that sounded (in the best possible way) like they’d passed the vodka round early.
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A commentator sent me this: Misattribution of musical arousal increases sexual attraction towards opposite-sex faces in females. Wait, what? Let's quote a bit from the abstract:
only women in the fertile phase of the reproductive cycle prefer composers of complex melodies to composers of simple ones as short-term sexual partnersWell, ok then!
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I always suspected this was the case: What music do psychopaths like? More Bieber, less Bach.
They don't know their Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal Lector was listening to Glenn Gould's recording of the Air to the Goldberg Variations by Bach. Not Mozart. And if you read the whole article it seems that they really don't come up with much in the way of findings anyway.Despite the film industry’s depiction of psychopaths, classical music is not their go-to soundtrack in the real world.“In the movies, if you want to establish in one shot that a monster has a human side,” said Pascal Wallisch, a psychology professor at New York University, filmmakers play a certain kind of music. There’s Beethoven in “A Clockwork Orange” or Mozart in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Wallisch and Nicole Leal, a recent graduate of NYU, wanted to find out if a preference for certain musical genres is correlated with psychopathy, a personality disorder characterized by manipulativeness and a lack of empathy.
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The Wall Street Journal has a big piece on the new "gatekeepers" in music. It turns out that, basically, three people control what we all listen to. Well, not you and me, but you know, everyone else.
Just a few years ago wouldn't have statements like these been greeted with, well, horror? Here is one of the tunes that Mr. Basa picks for our musical edification: "Bodak Yellow" by Cardi B:“It’s a brave new world,” says David Jacobs, a music-industry lawyer whose clients include the rapper Aminé, DJ Martin Garrix and Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis. “We’re consolidating 60 years of regional tastemakers, spread around dozens of markets around the country and the world, into one system. Basically, three or four people.”The most influential is Tuma Basa, according to several music-industry experts. The global head of hip-hop at Spotify curates RapCaviar. With around 8.3 million followers, the playlist sets the agenda for hip-hop the way New York radio station HOT 97 once did, says Larry Miller, who heads the music-business program at New York University’s Steinhardt School. “He’s the most important gatekeeper in the music business right now,” says Mr. Miller.
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Some sad news via Slipped Disc: a friend and colleague of mine at McGill University in Montreal, Winston Purdy, has passed away. Here is the more extended obituary from the university. I was lucky enough to have done a number of performances with Winston. We did a program of 16th and 17th century songs for voice and guitar from Spain and France that was broadcast by the CBC. But the most memorable was a performance of El Cimmarón by Hans Werner Henze. This is a kind of chamber opera for four musicians, baritone, flute, guitar and percussion, that takes up an entire evening. Everyone, including the singer, gets to play percussion at some point. It was a hugely challenging role for Winston and he did a terrific job. He was a very generous man. I recall learning a large set of variations for guitar by Petr Eben that required the performer to sing an old Czech folksong, the theme, while accompanying himself. Winston offered some really helpful coaching. I'm sure he will be greatly missed at McGill.
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And now the article we have all been waiting for from Forbes, How To Make It In The Music Business Today: Improvisation All The Way.
You should read the whole article. What interests me is the erasing of an important distinction. Imagine that this article was talking about the visual arts instead of music. I suspect that the point would be made that there are two rather different career paths: the one is commercial art where you design imagery and visuals for commercial advertising. The other is fine art where you produce aesthetic objects that are not for some immediate commercial purpose. I'm sure we all understand and appreciate that distinction. But notice that here, talking about music, the idea of producing musical aesthetic objects for no immediate commercial purpose is not even mentioned. Musical artists today are either commercial artists or they are nothing, is the implication. The really horrifying item in the article is that blandly stated statistic that, in a nation of more than three hundred million people only just over 40,000 are employed as musicians or singers. And they make an average of $34.56 an hour.Being a professional musician takes practice—lots of practice. But those looking to make a steady living as a musician have to pay much more attention to the networking and management aspects of their careers than they used to.Last year the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded that there were just over 40,000 people in the nation employed as musicians or singers. Their pay, the bureau says, stood at an average $34.56 per hour. But how do full time musicians go about finding work?At one time it was common for musicians to have managers who would book them jobs playing live. Established recording companies were also a source of steady income for some, and wages earned for recording music could help a professional get by. Now many musicians manage themselves, and recording companies’ revenue streams have been upended by streaming technology that allows consumers to access music cheaply or at no cost. And the money a musician can hope to earn from services like Spotify is slim.“Artists need to know a lot more than they needed to know twenty years ago or ten years or five years ago,” says Richard Kessler, dean of the New School's Mannes School of Music in New York. “They need to know social media, they need to know publishing … they need to direct their own careers.”
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I'm not sure that El Cimmarón by Henze stands up to the test of time. It was composed in 1970 and the musical language of that time sounds rather dated today. I have to say that it was a lot of fun to play, though. Everyone gets to play various percussion instruments and the guitarist gets to use a cello bow and to play the mbira or thumb piano. Here is a 2013 performance of Part One:
Henze wrote a lot of music for solo guitar as well. Here are his Drei Tentos from 1958:
Later he wrote two large sonatas for guitar based on Shakespearean characters. This is Ariel from the First Sonata played by Julian Bream: