Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Whetting your appetite with a picture from a travel article on Budapest. This is a local confection, Esterházy torte, with layers of almond meringue and buttercream frosting. Named, of course, after the noble family that employed Joseph Haydn.

Click to enlarge
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Here is an interview with Paul McCartney on his life as a bassist. Here is a sample:
It seems to be around Rubber Soul that you start to hear the basslines a bit more.
That’s right, yeah.
And that coincided with the arrival of the Rickenbacker.
Yeah, it did. Also, it coincided with us being allowed in the control room. It was very much us-and-them in the beginning, where you just entered by the tradesman’s entrance, set your stuff up, did your session, and left by the tradesman’s entrance. We were hardly ever asked to come up to the control room. Maybe at the end of a session. [Adopts posh voice again.] "Would you like to come up and hear it, boys?" [Switches to young awed voice.] "Oh could we? Thank you, mister."
It was really like that?
Oh yes, very much so. Tradesman’s entrance. You never entered through the studio until years later. And engineers had to wear shirts and ties. No trousers [laughs]. And all the maintenance men had white coats, very BBC.
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This is an interesting contrast with our posts on Sofia Gubaidulina: Steeped in Guns N’ Roses and Philip Glass, Missy Mazzoli is a leading composer of her generation
Mazzoli’s story is something of an American dream — from the time that she, as a high schooler, was teaching tap dance to children and one of the fathers put up a sign in the studio advertising piano, drum and composition lessons. “Oh my God — you can study composition?” she thought, and was soon taken under this teacher’s wing (he was a percussionist with the Philly Pops).
Now a teacher, and a leading woman in a field that still has too few of them, she has set out to provide role models for teenage would-be composers. The Luna Composition Lab, a partnership with New York’s Kaufman Center, provides mentorship, regular lessons and field trips to concerts for a small group of female-identifying composers between 13 and 19, drawn from every corner of the country. Now in its second season, the program is “a very simple pattern,” she says, “but I think it’s very effective.” As a female composer, she says, one is aware “I’m entering a world that is inhospitable to me.” Strong role models can make a huge difference for the next generation of black sheep.
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The fall from grace, or perhaps it might be better described as a complete erasure from history, of conductor Charles Dutoit, has created a bit of a problem for the CBC as regards recordings of perhaps Canada's finest orchestra the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal:
“We are aware of the serious allegations against Charles Dutoit and the OSM third-party investigation that is currently pending,” writes Emma Bédard, from the corporation’s public-affairs department, in response to an email. “And we have carefully considered our actions in light of this.
“As you know, the recordings of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra make up an important part of our Canadian classical repertoire on CBC Radio Two.
“While the allegations made towards Charles Dutoit are serious, we truly believe that removing these recordings entirely from our broadcasts would unjustly diminish the efforts of the many talented musicians who are featured in them. At this point, we are no longer crediting Mr. Dutoit as conductor.”
If there were a video, I suppose we might enjoy the sight of an orchestra playing along while the conductor was blurred out, like one of those anonymous witnesses.

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At a time when an inordinate number of prominent figures in the fields of politics, academia, entertainment and the arts seem to be falling like dominoes, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that much of our creative/intellectual elite are hopelessly incompetent, morally bankrupt, cowards or worse. Someone who contrasts with all that by being genuinely learned instead of ideologically blinkered is University of Toronto professor Jordan B. Peterson, like myself, hailing originally from Northern Alberta (and also, like myself, an alumni of McGill University). His public profile and influence is growing fast and is started to be noticed even outside Canada. Here is a typical article on the phenomenon from the Chronicle of Higher Education: What’s So Dangerous About Jordan Peterson? While not presenting him in a negative light, the writer does not quite grasp what is going on. There is a pretty good biography of Peterson and a reasonable sketch of his current popularity. It is very hard to excerpt the long article, but the intellectual shallowness of the writer comes out in passages like this:
To understand Peterson’s worldview, you have to see the connection between his opposition to gender-neutral pronouns and his obsession with the Soviet Union. He believes that the insistence on the use of gender-neutral pronouns is rooted in postmodernism, which he sees as thinly disguised Marxism. The imposition of Marxism led to the state-sponsored slaughter of millions. For Peterson, then, the mandated use of gender-neutral pronouns isn’t just a case of political correctness run amok. It’s much more serious than that. When he refers to the "murderous ideology" of postmodernism, he means it literally.
Peterson is not only a very learned man and also a very wise man, he also has a rare courage. The simple truth is that he is head and shoulders above virtually everyone he has been interviewed by or debated with, with the exception of fellow professors Jonathan Haidt and Camille Paglia. He is Canada's Socrates, speaking truths that most do not want to hear. His courage and wisdom have won him a tremendous following among young men in particular who find in him the moral compass that is lacking in contemporary society. It is likely that he is one of the wisest thinkers in Canada, which also makes him the most dangerous.

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The Globe and Mail has a lengthy piece introducing Verdi's opera Rigoletto ahead of upcoming performances in Toronto. They actually go into a bit more musical detail than usual in the mainstream press:
In Act I, you'll hear Caro nome ("Dear name"), one of the opera's many famous numbers. It's sung by Gilda, Rigoletto's overprotected daughter, who has just fallen for a man whose name she thinks is Gualtier Maldè (it's not). Gilda begins from the place of a young woman, properly flustered and blushing after being swept off her feet by this man; by the end of her aria, she's in full mating-cry mode. It's as though Verdi has written a musical version of a woman's sexual awakening.
A great soprano will seem to pant with anticipation in the first few minutes of Caro nome; Verdi writes stuttering, broken lines for Gilda as she describes her "Gualtier Maldè," punctuated by sexy upward portamenti (Italian for "carrying," when the singer slides between two pitches). Listen for the ease the soprano brings to the gentle jabs up to high Bs, and the stretchy, jazzy riff she sings up to a high C-sharp about halfway through the aria. The real test comes at the end, as Gilda sings her cadenza (an unaccompanied chance for singers to show off their best tricks); often the hardest part for the soprano is to stay in tune, so that when the orchestra joins her on her last note, it sounds magical, not twangy.
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Let's have a listen to Mazzoli's chamber opera Breaking the Waves:

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