Friday, March 30, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

I'm pretty sure I knew this: Going to a concert is better for you than yoga.
Watching live music is better for your wellbeing than yoga, a new study has found.
Experts came to the conclusion after volunteers were fitted with heart rate monitors, split up and sent to a Paloma Faith concert, a yoga session or to walk their dog.
Psychometric tests carried out before and after the activities — all of which are known stress-busters — found those who enjoyed 20 minutes of a Paloma Faith concert had a higher level of “wellness” than other participants.
I dunno, a Paloma Faith concert would probably make me agitated and disconsolate, but that's just me! Stravinsky, however...

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Slipped Disc has a brief excerpt from a Mravinsky rehearsal that shows what used to be done. As commentators mention at the link, he does not "lose it" but simply works on a specific section. Incidentally, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic has had only two conductors since the mid 1930s: Mravinsky and the current holder, Yuri Temirkanov.

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ONCE UPON A time, artists had jobs. And not “advising the Library of Congress on its newest Verdi acquisition” jobs, but job jobs, the kind you hear about in stump speeches. Think of T.S. Eliot, conjuring “The Waste Land” (1922) by night and overseeing foreign accounts at Lloyds Bank during the day, or Wallace Stevens, scribbling lines of poetry on his two-mile walk to work, then handing them over to his secretary to transcribe at the insurance agency where he supervised real estate claims. The avant-garde composer Philip Glass shocked at least one music lover when he materialized, smock-clad and brandishing plumber’s tools, in a home with a malfunctioning appliance. “While working,” Glass recounted to The Guardian in 2001, “I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him that I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”
I always wrestled with a great deal of tension between what people of expected of me as a musician and the kind of music I actually wanted to make and this is probably the main reason I retired as a performer. Now, whereas I have much less time to devote to purely musical activities, I feel no pressure one way or the other. The freedom is important to me.

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When I read fervid attacks on traditional culture such as this one excoriating the use of the word "maestro" I see them more and more as tired offensives by the ignorant.
Amid the manifold campaigns to make classical music more accessible, less patriarchal, to take itself less absolutely seriously and to crack a smile—if not a joke—the outdated term is getting slightly grating to read. It was already a lame joke in the 1995 “Seinfeld” episode “The Maestro.” That a composer’s press team, who presumably refer to him in conversation or writing on a semi-regular basis, would employ the term in such a way makes me wonder how far it goes—if I send him a birthday card this year, should I write it to the “maestro”? Penderecki is, of course, a giant of 20th century classical music, there’s even an asteroid belt named after him—but who gains anything from reaffirming this status every single time the man is mentioned?
I think the real problem here is that anything that smacks of or suggests an actual hierarchy of quality is now anathema. We are all equal, we are all equal... This principle used to have application and limits: we are equal before the law, have equal rights to practice our religion and so on. But it was expected that we would get different marks on exams, earn different salaries and have different fashion senses. Two out of three are more and more threatened. "Equity," if it were to triumph, would equalize our incomes and marks in school and university are already gravitating towards a norm of A for everyone. The use of a word like maestro indicates a recognition that someone should be respected due to their special, individual achievements. No, it does not reveal "a kind of uniquely fragile masculinity." The article manages to drag in the case of James Levine whose use of the word "maestro" is used to disqualify its use generally.

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Here is a case both interesting and troubling: Musician wins landmark ruling over ruined hearing.
According to Help Musicians UK, the leading UK charity for professional musicians: "The unfortunate circumstances surrounding Chris's tragic hearing loss reflect a growing number of hearing related issues, as highlighted in our 2015 hearing survey, where 59.5% of musicians said they had suffered hearing loss and 78% said working as a musician was a contributor to their hearing loss."
But you should read the whole article. It was a Wagner opera that caused the problem. I don't see anywhere in the article any reference to monetary compensation.

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We have a general policy here that we make no reference to politics unless it is to note the intrusion of politics into what should be a purely aesthetic space. I think that Musicology Now would be a far better place if they adopted a similar policy. Have a look at this post on the recent student protests:
This movement is all about voice and silence. Most modern social movements have been predicated on metaphorical understandings of voice that position it as both a site and as an act of agency.<1>  The current protests present a doubly agentive framework of voice, acknowledging the ever-mounting numbers of vanished voices silenced in gunfire, and the living voices that bear the burden of speech, of speaking, for them.
The problem here is not noticing the musical aspects and elements of a social phenomenon, no, it is rather the uncritical acquiescence in the political ideology that underlies it. Uncritical acquiescence is not what musicologists should be doing.

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If you want an example of what scholars should be doing, the Times Literary Supplement provides one: The problem of hyper-liberalism. John Gray writes:
For liberals the recent transformation of universities into institutions devoted to the eradication of thought crime must seem paradoxical. In the past higher education was avowedly shaped by an ideal of unfettered inquiry. Varieties of social democrats and conservatives, liberals and Marxists taught and researched alongside scholars with no strong political views. Academic disciplines cherished their orthodoxies, and dissenters could face difficulties in being heard. But visiting lecturers were rarely dis­invited because their views were deemed unspeakable, course readings were not routinely screened in case they contained material that students might find discomforting, and faculty members who departed from the prevailing consensus did not face attempts to silence them or terminate their careers. An inquisitorial culture had not yet taken over.  
...what has happened in higher education is not that liberalism has been supplanted by some other ruling philos­ophy. Instead, a hyper-liberal ideology has developed that aims to purge society of any trace of other views of the world. If a regime of censorship prevails in universities, it is because they have become vehicles for this project.
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Ludwig van Toronto has a big article on the problem of new music that covers a lot of perspectives. That being said, talking to composers about their work is not always illuminating as that kind of analysis is actually something they are usually better off avoiding! Case in point:
“I always see music as an act of communication,” says Christos Hatzis. In the world of art music, it is difficult to escape the weight of the past. “Berlioz was writing under the ghost of Beethoven,” he notes. As art music relinquished its place as the forefront of popular music, its nature changed. “It’s no longer at the forefront of innovation,” he says. “Non-classical composers are much more attuned to that situation.”
Yes, of course music is an act of communication, which tells us less than nothing. Yes, classical music has long-standing traditions, which we knew. I think what he means by the next statement is that art music gave way to pop music in terms of not only its public profile, but also its economic strength and even its position as the characteristic musical art form of the elite. But it is a non-sequiteur to go on to say that it is no longer at the forefront of innovation. It may or may not be, as that is a judgement that has to be made about individual pieces, not whole genres. Non-classical composers are more attuned to innovation? We could certainly discuss that claim, but it doesn't seem obviously true on the face of it. If by "non-classical" you mean people working primarily in the fields of pop, rock and hip-hop, I certainly don't notice a lot of innovation unless you think basing your songs on passages from decades-old r&b tunes is innovative?

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We should listen to something by Canadian composer Christos Hatzis for our envoi today. This is his String Quartet No. 1. "The Awakening" (1994) played by the Molinari Quartet in 2016:

I rather like it! Hey, while we are at that Molinari concert let's listen to them play the Quartet No. 16 by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe who is not afraid to include a dijerido in his instrumentation:


Will Wilkin said...

Artists with "real" jobs? Well although I played 2 Corelli sonatas at work today during a 15 minute break (and the playing wasn't bad considering my time with the violin so far --just under 3 years), I can tell I'll need to go through a few more jobs before I become any kind of artist!

Regarding attacks on the use of the term "maestro," you are correct is part of the general "leveling" attitude that disparges any kind of superiority, even if it is genuine and hard-earned. I saw it as an observer of the Yale campus where in the last few years they eliminated the term "master" from their colleges --on the idiotic and ahistorical and illiterate students' assumption that it had some connection to slavery and race, rather than an academic form of the kind of training and skill that earned my former business partner the title "master electrician." I sometimes call my choir director "maestro" to show respect and appreciation for all I learn from him. These are simply people who master their trade or field, and the term is valuable as a shorthand way of acknowledging it when referring to someone in whom that accomplishment is relevant to the topic at hand.

Regarding the Maoist mentality found on many college campuses today (not to mention Musicology Today), in my own youthful days as a student of history I read many books in (and outside of) university and thought back then that it made me smart and was "proof" of the "truth" in my far-left thinking. I loved academia even more than my friends who were actually employed therein --probably because they knew what was wrong with it, but I did genuinely love the inquiry and collegiate (cordial) debates. Now over the last few years, I've decided I am at heart a conservative yet do not meet any of the descriptors liberals and leftists might use to give themselves the illusion they understand what it really means. And also in the last few years I've decided that about all I know is that I don't know much. Hopefully some of the well-meaning kids in academia today (including over at Musicology Today) will someday realize that theory and jargon and ideology do not make one smart but rather only rigid and intellectually impaired.

And yes, my ears are often ringing, there's something to the idea that holding your face against a violin can affect your hearing.

Bryan Townsend said...

My orchestra player friends tell me that that most dangerous place in the orchestra is next to the piccolo! When I played mandolin in Don Giovanni the back of my chair was touching the tympani and the trombones were also right behind me though over a bit. You just keep playing those Corelli sonatas! If you have only been playing three years, then there is a lot of progress in your future.