Friday, April 27, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Let's start with something cheerful: US Conservatory receives massive $46.4 million gift.
The William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation has just written a little check to the San Francisco Conservatory.
At $46.4 million, it is claimed to be the largest ever given to a music conservatory for a new facility.
Mr Bowes, who died in 2016, ran a venture capital firm.
As a sign of the times, the comments accompanying the post include a lot of complaining about other things the money should have been spent on, the high tuition at the Conservatory, the lack of jobs for graduates, general political whining and so on. My alma mater, the School of Music at McGill in Montreal, also received a massive donation a while back in the 20 million dollar range. They too built a massive new building.

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The end of the controversy over that German music award is that the ECHO awards will simply be discontinued. A commentator sent me a link this week and the story is at Slipped Disc.
The country’s leading record prize will not be given again, it has just been announced.
The decision follows an international uproar over this year’s award to a rapper duo with an Auschwitz joke.
Yeah, well, that's what happens when many of the most prominent recipients return their awards accompanied by a press release.

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The LA Times has an article on an interesting event in 20th century music: Four radical and radically original pieces of music that blew up the modernist status quo in 1968. The article is hard to excerpt, so read the whole piece. This will give you an idea:
Fifty years later, “Raft of the Medusa” retains surprising power and feels especially daring, a precursor of such works as Julia Wolfe’s oratorio, “Anthracite Fields.” Henze’s oratorio also retains a freshness, since has been basically neglected until recently (in Hamburg it has been revived to mark its 50th anniversary).
On the other hand, the 1968 Bay Area-derived pieces by Riley, Berio and Stockhausen are ever with us (the Los Angeles Master Chorale performs “In C” in May). Their lasting impression is not so much of a new accessibility now taken for granted as inspiring an open-mindedness. Thanks in great part to them, 1968 can be seen as having broken down not only political barricades but musical ones as well. It’s fine to try new things, or not.
The four pieces are "In C" by Terry Riley, "Sinfonia" by Luciano Berio, "Stimmung" by Karlheinz Stockhausen and, oddly, "The Raft of the Medusa" by Hans Werner Henze. "In C" was the amorphous beginning of minimalism (the characteristic rapid repeated octaves in the piano at the premiere were the contribution of one of the performers, Steve Reich); "Sinfonia" was a post-modern mish-mash of Mahler, jazz and literary quotations; Stimmung was another kind of mish-mash of different musical styles, the names of gods and goddesses, harmonic overtones and various other complexities, all for six singers. "The Raft of the Medusa" is the odd man out, it is an overtly political oratorio, a requiem for Che Guevera. The truth is that each of these pieces is so very different and has had such a different kind of influence that their temporal proximity is of pretty minor significance.

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The Atlantic has a piece going behind the scenes at the awarding of the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Here jazz violinist Regina Carter is interviewed by David Graham:
Graham: I assume you heard Damn before judging. Were you familiar with it?
Carter: I heard it. It’s not something I’m playing always in my home. I am probably more familiar with Kendrick Lamar from To Pimp a Butterfly. I remember walking in—and here I am, an older person, it’s not really my genre of music. But I walked in and I think it was a video or something on TV and my husband was checking it out. I was like, “Oh, who’s this?” He’s like, “Kendrick Lamar, check it out, he’s pretty prolific.” I just sat down and it was like wow. I just felt like what he had to say and how he would say it, you had to really sit down and think about it and what does it mean for me? It might mean something completely different for someone else that’s listening to it. I felt like it was his experience as a black man in America—and a lot of peoples’ story, not just his story—and just trying to figure stuff out. It’s so poetic. I felt like if you took his lyrics and put them in a book, it would be great literature.
Carter was one member of the panel, along with music critic David Hajdu; Paul Cremo of the Metropolitan Opera; Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor of English and African American studies at Columbia University; and composer David Lang. Of course you can pretty much determine the results depending on who you choose for your jury. When I heard who had won, I just sat down and it was like wow. I felt that adopting the persona and vocal mannerisms of a teenager from Cleveland was the appropriate response. Like wow. Uh, this is how people on the panel express themselves? Like wow...

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 With a heavy sigh I present the following article from the New York Times: A Note to the Classically Insecure.
It’s sad but true that many people denigrate and distrust their own reactions to classical music out of fear that they don’t “know enough,” and that other, more sophisticated folks know more. When people leave the movie theater they rarely hesitate to give their opinion of the movie, and it never occurs to them that they don’t have a right to that opinion. And yet after most classical music concerts you can swing your program around from any spot in the lobby and hit a dozen perfectly capable and intelligent people issuing apologetic disclaimers: “Boy, I really loved that — but I’m no expert” or “It sounded pretty awful to me, but I don’t really know anything, so I guess I just didn’t get it.”
At least those people showed up. Many others are too intimidated to attend classical concerts at all.
Is this still true to any significant extent? In the last two or three decades have we not had a never-ending flood of articles all through the mass media telling us over and over again that classical music is not "better" (the scare quotes are integral), that people who go to, talk about and perform classical music are just snobs and out of touch with the music of today, that classical music organizations have to work overtime at achieving more "diversity" and "inclusiveness" and that concerts have to be reshaped to resemble pop performances. Isn't it lovers of classical music that have been made to feel ashamed because of their appreciation of music that is so obviously out of step with the times? I think I know where the real intimidation has been coming from.

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One more note about the Pulitzers: they took over thirty years to recognize the achievements of Steve Reich, not until 2009, and then they gave the prize for the wrong piece, the relatively minor work Double Sextet. What they should have given him the award for was Drumming and Music for 18 Musicians. So, a fairly extensive track record of being, well, wrong.

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Oh, all right! The envoi for today will be, slightly reluctantly, "In C" by Terry Riley. This is the first recording, not the premiere:


Will Wilkin said...

Well Bryan, although I noticed that "classically insecure" article in the NY Times (a week or two ago, wasn't it?) I regretted reading it as a waste of time and as a predictable sap of my spirit and morale, as virtually all news is. I had sworn I wouldn't read any news in 2018 but been slipping up to sometimes visit news sites just to browse the headlines without clicking any articles...except that one...whoops!

I mention all that as prelude to saying I feel much better since mostly abandoning the news. The news is bad for your health, mostly political and corporate propaganda, misleading and lies even when literally true (due to selective use of otherwise infinite data, and due to ideological coloring of whatever context might be provided in article or created by accumulation of other articles). By extension, following popular culture trends I think also tends to be bad for your health, by the same mechanisms of increased stress and outrage and feelings of powerlessness and disgust.

There is a parallel in my changing tastes in music and politics over the decades. Despite my early experiences of liking the Berio Symphonia and exploring music by Boulez and Schoenberg etc, I've fallen upwards quite a distance from my hyper-political ultra-left youth. Now as a monarchist who loves old opera and early music, I understand whoever it was who said conservatism is more an attitude than an ideology. I have to go back before the French Revolution to find much political thought genuinely "conservative." Of corse most composers have always been modern (for their times), exploratory, adventurous and innovative, which seems to be required in heavy amounts when one is in the business of "creativity." Even JS Bach, who is credited with summing up everything "baroque" and whose death supposedly closed the coffin on that style (actually many styles or at least a long morphology of style quite different at the end than the beginning) --until Mendelsohn exhumed Bach's music and especially since the revived interest in early music now blossoming all around us (in our ghettoes of classical music, anyway). It is funny how, as I grow more familiar with the western art music repertoire over the long range, how now I hear Mozart and Haydn (for example) as fresh and new, certainly breaking new ground from what was before them.

In all that is a paradox to me, in realizing how my own love of the baroque (and earlier) and what will be my search for the early sound in whatever music I eventually compose...will be contrary to the modernism (relatively speaking) of those composers in their own time, who were not using antique instruments and styles but rather the latest in both, however informed by what came before them, even when tradition was preserved and beloved.

Was any of that relevant to today's "Friday Miscellanea?" No idea if readers will think so, but that's what your article provoked in me.

PS: Slipped Disc has migrated into the "news" category for me, since it is mostly gossip and career-coverage of celebrity musicians and the big houses of music, almost devoid of genuine musicology.

Bryan Townsend said...

I know what you are saying, Will! My Friday Miscellaneas have been getting too "newsy". Next week I should have more time and I will get back to doing purely musical posts. I'm even thinking of one on Haydn string quartets.

Thanks, as always, for your observations.

Marc said...

You know who I haven't read this year? not once? Alex Ross. I vaguely wonder, what have I missed? but, as both you and Will have pointed out, there's only so much NYC-centered superiority that I can endure before simply shaking my head and reading elsewhere, whether its politics or music or the other arts. What would have been a perfectly decent essay the other day, on St George's Day, about the Catalan tradition of exchanging books and roses on their patron's feast day etc was spoiled for me because the writer began by pointing out that (am paraphrasing) 'these days of course women are given books too [in the past, the men gave the women roses, the women gave the men books] in order to better effect gender equality'. How many Catalan men have given their wives etc books because 'Politics'? tsk. It being Catalonia, maybe more than zero but, still.

Listened to a recording (Ian Bostridge, 2001) of songs by Hans Werner Henze the other day, so was interested to read about his Raft of the Medusa etc here. I knew nothing about him but ever since I discovered Hans Pfitzner I've been hoping for another fantastic discovery like Palestrina-- based on the songs I heard, eh, I don't think so but one never knows; hadn't realised that Raft was about or for that awful Che fellow. Having now read the Wiki article about Raft and its premiere ("... At this point, although Henze and soloists had arrived onstage, the RIAS choir started chanting 'Under the Red Flag we sing not' and left the stage..."), I can't think I'll appreciate it much. On the other hand, the libretto is apparently rather a pastiche, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing pensées of Pascal might be something not to miss.

Okay, I listened to a couple of sections of Raft and I'll stick with what's his name's, Cornelius Cardew's Smash the Social Contract when I need a shot of socialist tunefulness. It's in English, after all, and singable. Smash, smash, smash, the social contract....

Bryan Townsend said...

Alex Ross is a very knowledgeable and very in-touch fellow who is just a bit too enrobed by Manhattan sensibilities and ideologies, which makes what he says pretty predictable.

I organized and performed in the Canadian premiere of a chamber opera by Henze, El Cimmaron. It also had a political message of both anti-Americanism and anti-racism. At the time (the mid-1970s) I wasn't very troubled by either of those and I found the music interesting and fulfilling to perform.

Ah yes, Cornelius Cardew, whom I have always revered for the title of one of his essays: "Stockhausen Serves Imperialism."

Marc said...

I see El Cimmaron on Spotify, 'the autobiography of the runaway slave Esteban Montejo'. I'll give it a listen after work.

Am not going to begin reading Cardew but I may look at a bibliography if I can find one-- 'Stockhausen Serves Imperialism' is pretty amusing, sure.

Bryan Townsend said...

El Cimmaron has some nice bits, but you might not make it all the way through. Not sure I could, these days! A lot of stuff from that time can seem a bit dated these days. The part of the singer, enacting the life of Esteban Montejo, gets a bit overheated at times.