Saturday, June 30, 2018

Musicians and Jealousy

I was watching a video of Hilary Hahn playing an encore, the Presto to the Violin Sonata No. 1 by Bach, and I was shocked to see a whole bunch of comments to the effect that the violinists in the orchestra behind her were all bitter and jealous of her success and skill! Here is the clip:

And here is a sampling of the comments:
"If you look closely, you can see the jealous mofos in the background."
"Yep, and it's a little bit sad.. I don't even see a face with positive vibes in beteween the other musicians. :/ Just jelous little bastards."
"yup so obvious, their careers have gone nowhere and they are bitter"
"The envy in the faces of the violinists behind her....."
"The orchestra violinists may look jealous.. but none of them will ever reach Hilary's technical level."
Mind you, most of the comments are very positive. But these ones struck me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is astonishing how adept the commentators are at reading minds! This "mind-reading" ability is something that a couple of online commentators have been talking about lately: Ann Althouse and Scott Adams for example. Once you notice you start seeing it everywhere. Political writers are notorious for inferring the inner thoughts of both the people they oppose and those they agree with and this without a shred of evidence. This all falls apart when they are confronted with unidentified quotes that they often misattribute.

But back to the musicians. Non-musicians or non-professional musicians often mistake the expressions, or lack thereof, of orchestral musicians. The reasons for this are manifold. Orchestral musicians spend their working lives in front of the public, but not as exposed as the conductor or soloist. So sometimes you catch an unguarded or spontaneous expression. But most of the time they cultivate a neutral demeanor as being more professional. If you see a musician yawn onstage, it is more likely that they are relieving stress than that they are bored. Similarly, if they have a neutral expression this does not indicate that they are filled with burning jealousy. They usually have a neutral expression!

Also, in general, it is likely that most professional orchestral musicians are not jealous of Hilary Hahn, but rather respectful of her musicianship and technical accomplishment. I say this because this has been the typical attitude of orchestral string players I have discussed her with. A lot of them are fans. But at the same time, they are also highly accomplished musicians who likely spend more hours a week playing concerts than Hilary does. They are also very fine musicians and technicians. It would not surprise me in the least if a significant percentage of the seated violinists in the clip could stand up and give an excellent performance of either this or similar movements from the solo Bach repertoire. They all spend their formative years playing this stuff after all. Perhaps the performance might not be quite as perfect or as enthralling as Hilary's but most listeners might not even discern a difference in quality.

Are there jealousies in the musical world? Yes, certainly. But while there are all sorts of stories and anecdotes about what this soprano did or said about the other soprano (applies to pianists and guitarists and other soloists as well) instead of tarring all musicians or soloists with the same sin, it is probably better to assume that people with poor emotional control are more likely to be susceptible to jealous fits than more emotionally mature people. Musicians or not.

Now let's listen to that same movement played by a non-celebrity violinist. This is one of my favorite violinists, Kristóf Baráti, who is hardly known at all outside Hungary and eastern Europe:

This is Anna Savkina who just graduated from the Moscow Conservatory:

I could probably put up a dozen others if I looked! And this is not to diminish in any way Hilary's accomplishment, just to point out that, by objective evidence, there are lots of violinists that don't need to be too jealous!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Starting with something silly: Big guitar outside Hard Rock Hotel contains big typo
A 30-foot guitar installed outside of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in New Jersey was corrected after onlookers pointed out a massive typo.
The sign, installed Thursday at the corner of Route 30 and Virginia Avenue, contains the details of a Gibson Les Paul guitar, including a rhythm and treble pickup selector switch with a giant misspelling, "RHYTHEM."
In the original Greek it is spelt: ῥυθμός.
* * *

Here is a pretty long piece about how music (and the other arts) make their impact by setting up and then defeating expectations:
Contrary to the proverbial tree-falling-in-the forest quandary, a musical note that fails to materialize is at least as present in our brain as it would be had it actually sounded. That’s because neural substrates of imagined sound correlate with those of perceived external sounds. The more vivid the image of what must happen, the more jarring it is when that certainty is subverted.
Lots of little musical examples there, which puts this article head and shoulders above most other ones!
We found the brain recognizes and reacts to violated expectations in highly specific ways. Not only does it register a wrong event, it also—even more strongly—reacts to the missing event. Furthermore, both the cortical and sub-cortical responses to violated expectation—particularly when a silence replaces a firm and specific expectation—suggests a well-integrated network of brain activity that draws from experientially acquired schemas to focus the auditory system on expected events, and to immediately register and react to failed expectations.
Yep. All the great composers work with this constantly. I encourage you to read the whole thing, which is permeated with interesting musical examples.

* * *

Alex Ross has his annual piece on the Ojai Music Festival up over at The New Yorker:
The Moldovan-born violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, this year’s music director, had selected her programs long before December, but they spoke with eerie aptness to a town that had faced an apocalypse. The central composer was the twentieth-century Russian ascetic Galina Ustvolskaya, who wrote spiritual music of flagellating force. A world première by the Baltimore-based composer Michael Hersch harrowingly evoked the spread of cancer in a body. Works by György Ligeti and György Kurtág mixed bleakness with black humor. The concerts were heavy going at times, but Kopatchinskaja invested them with vital purpose.
The "apocalypse" he is referring to is the wildfires that came close to the town last December.
Not all of Kopatchinskaja’s ideas cohered. On the first night of the festival, she presented a program entitled “Bye Bye Beethoven,” which protested classical music’s excessive dependence on the past—the sense of being “strangled by tradition,” as she has said. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra, a versatile Berlin-based group that was on hand throughout the festival, accompanied Kopatchinskaja in a most unusual performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, in which the soloist was ceremonially swaddled in yards of fabric before she played. (Her arms were not constrained, fortunately.) Toward the end, the musicians enacted a rebellion against routine, throwing down their music stands and stalking offstage while a chaotic electronic collage of Beethoven excerpts swelled on the sound system. Kopatchinskaja battled on alone and then collapsed in defeat, as the back wall parted to reveal replicas of various composers’ tombstones.
The theatrics were arresting, but the message felt less than fresh.
Yes, that does sound rather 70s. The tour-de-force of the festival was likely the performance of all six of Ustvolskaya's piano sonatas in a single concert by Markus Hinterhäuser who, as Ross notes, in his spare time runs the Salzburg Festival. I think I may have put this up before, but here it is again. This time, give it a listen!

* * *

The weaponizing of music continues apace: He Writes the Songs That Make the Neighbors Cry ‘No More Barry Manilow!’
A Rite Aid spokeswoman said last week that customers had found it difficult to enter “a select few stores” because of loiterers, so Rite Aid was exploring various ways to make it easier, including the use of Barry Manilow. “We are in the early stages of exploring this approach and have not made any decision about the potential rollout of this to additional stores,” she said.
To tell the truth, I find this somehow more comforting than hearing they were using Mozart and Bach to drive away loiterers. But does the shift to Barry Manilow imply an improvement in the musical taste of the "loiterers"? Will they move on to Celine Dion next?

* * *

By chance I ran across this on YouTube. This is the kind of thing that never appears in the mass media these days: a half hour of conversation with Igor Stravinsky. Sure, you might see a composer interviewed on television, but it would be all cut up, interspersed with performances, rehearsals and scenes of him (or her) walking in the park with wind-blown hair. Oh, and for sure there would be one of those slick talking heads interviewing him (or her).

Apparently, in Hollywood in 1957, there was a serious shortage of piano tuners.

* * *

The Toronto Star launches a new series of heretical (their term) opinion pieces with one slagging the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven: ‘Ode to Joy’ has an odious history. Let’s give Beethoven’s most overplayed symphony a rest.
Western classical music usually thinks of itself as being apolitical. But the Ninth is political. Beethoven saw it as political when he wrote it in the early 1820s. And his fellow Germans, looking for a sense of identity, embraced it with fervour.
Beethoven’s Ninth became the musical flag of Germanness at a time when nationalism was a growing force in all of Europe. It also became a Romantic monument to the artist (Beethoven, in this case) as a special creature worthy of special treatment.
Franco-Argentine scholar Esteban Buch analyzed these intersections and the good-evil paradox in an insightful book, Beethoven’s Ninth: A Political History. Buch argued that the Ninth was the right piece of music at the right time — socially, politically and aesthetically.
But from today’s perspective we know that unilateral calls to world brotherhood in joy have a flip side, which is tyranny. We appreciate now more than ever that joy is accessible to everyone only if some people are taking antidepressants.
If you follow the link and read the whole piece looking for the argument, you won't find much more than I have quoted. The influence of this piece on music and composers is monumental and very complex and its political influence no less so. It is surprising to see all that reduced to the odd critique that, if this particular joy is not accessible to everyone, then it is a form of tyranny. If we apply a little reductio ad absurdum to that we might conclude that all great art, whether it be expressing joy or sorrow or existential despair or perhaps just sheer elegance, is also some kind of tyranny because it is not equally accessible to everyone. The writer, John Terauds, needs to look up "tyranny" in the dictionary and perhaps the word "aesthetics" as well.

What does the "odious history" of the headline refer to? Here is the relevant passage in the essay:
Adolf Hitler adored the Ninth Symphony. Musicians waiting for their deaths in Nazi concentration camps were ordered to play it, metaphorically twisting its closing call to universal brotherhood and joy into a terrifying, sneering parody of all that strives for light in a human soul.
Ah, odious by association! Hitler's favorite composer was actually Franz Lehár, but we don't hear anyone calling for a moratorium on The Merry Widow. I knew one of those musicians who spent time in a Nazi death camp and he would be shaking his head at the absurdity of attaching blame to Beethoven. Honestly has everyone completely lost the concept of moral agency?

* * *

I'm actually not a huge fan of the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven, especially of the last movement the "Ode to Joy," but my reasons are different from Terauds'. I just think that it was an error of genre to slap a half-hour long cantata in as the last movement of a symphony. But hey, what do I know! Let's give it a listen. The first movement alone is a spectacularly brilliant piece of music. This is the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Christian Thielemann:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina, Part 14

I see that I have not put up a post on Gubaidulina since April 9! Past time to continue this series which began in December last year.

The next piece in her series of religiously inspired works is In Croce (1979, revised in 1992). This was written quite quickly, commissioned for a performance in Kazan. The original version was for cello and organ, but it has also been performed with bayan and accordion replacing the organ part. Gubaidulina says:
In that particular combination I imagined the organ as a mighty spirit that sometimes descends to earth to vent its wrath. The cello, on the other hand, with its sensitively responsive strings is a completely human spirit. The contrast between these two opposite natures is resolved spontaneously in the symbol of the cross. I accomplished this first of all by criss-crossing the registers (the organ takes the line downward, the cello upward); secondly, by juxtaposing the bright major sonorities of natural harmonics, played glissando, and expressive chromatic inflections.
Here is a performance with cello and accordion with Julius Berger, violoncello and Stefan Hussong, accordion:

After a couple of intervening works, the next piece in the series is Offertorium for violin and orchestra which brought the composer world-wide recognition. The seed for the composition probably came from a casual remark by violinist Gidon Kremer, just becoming famous in his own right, when he shared a taxi with the composer after a concert in Moscow: "Wouldn't you like to write a violin concerto?" She made a study of what she called his "musical signature," the way he handled extreme contrasts and the transitions between them, but above all the surrender to and focus on the tone. In keeping with the idea of offering, the work uses the "Royal theme" from Bach's Musical Offering.
The violin concerto consists of three continuous movements. In the first movement the theme disintegrates step by step in a succession of variations: in each instance one single note of the theme is omitted at both the beginning and the end, until, in the second movement, which is not thematically related, only the pitch E remains. "You cannot be reborn until you have died." In the third movement, in the "Chorale," a seemingly new theme emerges one note at a time in the bass line of the harp and the piano which eventually--in the closing violin passage--turns out to be the original theme in retrograde. "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." [quoted from Kurtz, op. cit. pp 149-50]
The way the theme is orchestrated in the beginning, in pointillistic style with each note on a different instrument, is a homage to the other main influence: Anton Webern's orchestration of the Musical Offering.

The score was completed in March 1980 but not performed until May 1981. Gubaidulina's disfavor with the Soviet authorities (not to mention Gidon Kremer's refusal to return to the Soviet Union) meant that the score had to be smuggled out. Kremer, the dedicatee, managed to arrange a first performance at the Wiener Festwochen. The conductor was the Finnish conductor and composer Leif Segerstam. After this performance, which perhaps suffered from insufficient rehearsal time, the composer made some cuts in the work. The new version was given by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Charles Dutoit a year later and in this iteration has been enormously successful.

Here is a performance by Gidon Kremer with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit:

And here is a live performance by Vadim Repin, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Scott Adams Agrees With Me

A while back I put up a couple of posts on Kanye West because he did something that I thought was good and fascinating. I was told I probably needed an intervention! Lately I have been watching some clips from Scott Adams, who seems to have a refreshing take on a lot of stuff and, guess what, he commented on Kanye West's new album Ye. Yes, I know this clip is an hour long, but trust me, you only have to watch the first couple of minutes:

That was certainly a surprise. Yes, I've listened to some cuts from the new album, but the song that I am liking right now is from the older album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Here is "Lost in the World" which I find quite interesting:

That really doesn't sound like anyone else, does it?

We now return to our regular scheduled programming.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Richter: Handel

I've been captivated by Grigory Sokolov's Rameau on piano for a while now, but I just discovered a recording of Sviatoslav Richter playing Handel on piano and it is also simply marvelous: delicate, crystalline and transparent:

Oh. Wow. And it is from a concert! I used to think Handel was, well, boring.

Women Composers

The Guardian has a cluster of articles on women composers that is worth a look: Women composers: why are so many voices still silent?
Classical music is still a man’s world. Female performers in the entertainment industry learn this early. As a soprano, my career has been defined by playing muses – roles such as Cleopatra (in Handel’s Giulio Cesare), Susanna (in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro) and Rosina (in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville) that were clearly adored by the male composers who created them. Performing them came naturally – after all this is what I had been trained to do. But where was my voice, where was the female perspective? The answer was simple, by and large there’s isn’t one. Almost every portrayal of a woman in the entire regularly performed opera repertoire is constructed through male eyes. The dominance of male composers is, today especially, staggering.
Last week’s Donne – Women in Music report expressed this in stark statistics. Across Europe, 97.6% of classical and contemporary classical music performed in the last three seasons was written by men, leaving a paltry 2.3% written by women.
But why? Is the patriarchy of the music business, the crushing influence of their husbands, or society at large to blame for such a skewed situation?
The writer is soprano Danielle de Niese and the question is a fair one. While I have always argued against quotas and the social engineering of women composers into places of prominence, I have never had anything against women composers. When I was an undergraduate there were always student women composers, though not as many as men. The same in graduate school where I was often in the company of fine young composers, quite a few of whom were women. Right now I am still posting on my most recent discovery, Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina and I recently put up a post on her slightly older contemporary Galina Ustvolskaya.

The very next paragraph in the Guardian piece is on British composer Elizabeth Maconchy, about whom I have written here. De Niese notes that
[Maconchy's] favourite form was the string quartet, of which she wrote 13. In 1942, a Royal Albert Hall concert featured her work alongside that of Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky, and in 1952 she won a competition to compose the Coronation Overture. The piece, Proud Thames, was premiered at the Royal Festival Hall in London to critical acclaim. She was the first woman to chair the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain, and she carried on composing until she was nearly 80. And yet her work is almost never heard today and she is little known. Why?
That's a very good question! In the cases of Clara Schumann and Alma Mahler, she offers evidence that Robert and Gustav were oppressive figures. Women composers seem to have just lacked any kind of genuine social support and tended to be denied scholarships and other opportunities provided to male composers.
The mechanisms of the classical music industry have long been a patriarchy. Music is a living thing, and any composer lives via the oxygen of performance, on stage, over the airwaves and through publishing. Did all those concert promoters, opera directors, orchestra managers and radio controllers simply forget to provide platforms for women? Without a platform, music as a living art form dies.
This may well have been the case for much of music history, but I'm not sure it has been so over the last forty or fifty years. I really can't speak to bias in musical institutions in Great Britain which seems to have been widespread. But they also treated guitarists with equal disdain, at least according to Julian Bream, up into the 1950s at least. In my own experience in music schools and other institutions since the 1970s, there really didn't seem to be any bias and women composers got as much attention as men. Mind you, both men and women classical composers are pretty much ignored in the wider world. But it is astonishing to hear that only 2.3% of classical and contemporary classical music performed in the last three seasons was by women composers. Wait, I think I see the hidden factor. This statistic was for ALL classical and contemporary music. So it includes all the regular concert seasons with Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky and so on. If we just looked at contemporary music concerts I'm sure the numbers would be quite different. Why didn't they mention that statistic? Looking at the Bachtrack numbers, the closest I can find is this:
Top female contemporary composers
14. Sofia Gubaidulina 16. Kaija Saariaho 26. Sally Beamish
That is not quite as bad: out of the top 26 contemporary composers, three are women. Another article in The Guardian looks into this: Female composers largely ignored by concert line-ups. They have some numbers to back that up. If we are talking just contemporary music, then one would not expect a very significant difference. The article ends with comments from two orchestral managers:
The LSO’s managing director, Kathryn McDowell, said the orchestra championed the work of women. “Of the 12 young composers on our programmes this season six are women, and while entry to them is based purely on merit, we have seen a 50/50 gender split emerge for the past two years, signalling that the best composers writing in Britain today are just as likely to be women as they are men, which is exactly as it should be.”
Timothy Walker, chief executive and artistic director of the LPO, said the orchestra did “not make artistic choices based on issues of gender, religion or ethnicity” but was “strongly committed to supporting female musicians and composers”.
That kind of policy sounds exactly right. You can't just force a quota on musical organizations, but the search for composers of merit should not exclude women or any other group.

Let's listen to some music by Elizabeth Maconchy, particularly known for her string quartets. This is the Signum Quartet playing Elizabeth Maconchy's 3rd Quartet at Cadogan Hall during the BBC Proms 2013.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Violinist Anthea Kreston is a member of the Artemis Quartet and pages from her journal have been appearing at Slipped Disc for a while now. The most recent is about recording the Quartet No. 7 of Shostakovich.
Our recording location this week was in a charming, repurposed dance hall on the outskirts of Berlin. The herringbone wood floor, high ceiling and tall windows made for warm and clear acoustics, and the old stage is now an enclosed recording booth. This Shostakovich 7th is one of the first pieces I learned with this Quartet and, in fact was one of my audition pieces. As all Shostakovich, it requires both extreme power-playing and extreme stillness – endless, almost inaudible notes which (on a recording especially) must have perfect sustain, impossibly controlled.
I have recorded enough times, and with enough different people to realize that there are two main camps, philosophies. One is – I must control this, and present a perfect picture. The second is – perfection is the job of the people in the booth – my job is to play like I have never played before in my life.
I was lucky, this week, to be surrounded by people who believe the second, and not the first. Recording in this way (any way, actually), is exhausting. It is a combination of running a marathon, stopping frequently for high-intensity-interval-training, performing spinal surgery, and arguing a case before the Supreme Court. My feet ached, my arms and back felt like I had just mowed the lawn at Versailles, and my brain felt like I had just finished a chess match with Nikolić–Arsović. And that was at the end of day 1.
She really captures the experience well!

* * *

 One of Norman Lebrecht's crusades has been against corruption in music competitions and to that end he has a piece in The Spectator: You vote for my pupil, I’ll vote for yours – the truth about music competitions.
A young Korean, 22 years old, won the Dublin International Piano Competition last month. Nothing unusual about that.
Koreans and Chinese, raised in a school of hard knocks and rounded off in western conservatories, are winning most prizes. A few — like the phenomenal Lauren Zhang who made child’s play of Prokofiev’s second piano concerto in the BBC Young Musician of the Year — are prodigious talents with bright futures ahead. Dublin’s winner Sae Yoon Chon is probably not one of them.
His Prokofiev, an effortful shadow of Zhang’s electrification, trundled along at pedestrian pace with one or two stumbles. I was therefore surprised to see that Chon won. I also noticed that he is a student of the jury chairman.
While the unsuspecting pupils remain none the wiser, this kind of outcome has become familiar at international music competitions, of which there are 300 every year. You can count on one hand those that are fair, honest and transparent. They include the BBC, the Chopin in Warsaw and, latterly, the Tchaikovsky in Moscow. You can imagine the jurors’ conversations elsewhere — you vote for my pupil, I’ll vote for yours. Like Fifa’s World Cup ballot, this business is largely controlled by a bunch of time servers, in this case professors at major conservatories.
That's the basic argument, read the whole thing for the details.

* * *

The American Scholar has a list of the twenty-five best American symphonies:
That distinctly European art form known as the symphony began to flourish on American soil in the latter part of the 19th century. Not surprisingly, the earliest American symphonists composed in a style heavily indebted to Brahms, Schumann, and Mendelssohn, among others. Only with the advent of a certain insurance executive–cum–maverick composer named Charles Ives did the American symphony begin to truly come into its own.
In last week’s column about Walter Piston, I happened to list a few of the most essential American symphonies. Immediately I began thinking of works that I’d neglected to mention. So this week, let’s expand the list. For the sake of a nice, neat number, I am identifying 25 great works—hardly a comprehensive tally, and somewhat arbitrary. Looking over the finalists, I began second-guessing at once: Why no Virgil Thomson or David Diamond? Why Bernstein’s First and not his Second? Why not Ives’s Third? I have not, moreover, included symphonic works that do not bear the title Symphony; therefore, I have left out Samuel Barber’s Essays and Joan Tower’s Concerto for Orchestra. What do you think I ought to have included?
Go read the rest. The list includes a lot of pieces I have never heard!

* * *

The Pacific Standard has an interesting article on instrument-builder Caleb Byerly:
Byerly began making instruments in 2007, when he was a 22-year-old Christian missionary in the remote jungles of the Philippines. He was working in the mountains with the indigenous Tigwahanon tribe, largely isolated from the outside world. Byerly immersed himself in their culture, and, as an avid musician, asked them about their music. "We noticed that he really loves to play any indigenous instruments," says Eddie Payaron, a Tigwahanon teacher whom Byerly met in the Philippines. Soon, Byerly learned that the musical elements of Tigwahanon heritage had been taken from them by outsiders much like him. The elders spoke of missionaries from the mid-1900s who had admonished the tribe that its traditional music, used to worship ancient gods, was profane. The Tigwahanon artisans who built the time-honored instruments gradually lost interest in their craft, and the kuglong and its kin were lost.
* * *

Here is a somewhat philosophical article about the classical music tradition and the Future Symphony Institute:
The Future Symphony Institute, which launched in 2014 after around a decade of preparation, seeks to research the viability of classical music today, and put forth ideas and approaches to secure its future. It is, as talking to Balio makes clear, about finding ways to increase the audience for classical music, and because of its U.S. focus, it recognizes and accepts it must play to the market forces that dictate much of what orchestras there can do. (As opposed to the kind of government arts funding more common in Europe.) 
To me at least, tradition has become something to be embraced with caution, lest it look like you’re getting too cuddly with all those almost exclusively white and male figures that dominate the classical canon, and continue to dominate its programming. There’s also a wider issue—not only in the classical music world—of those promoting tradition doing so while spitting vitriol at newer art forms and simultaneously pushing some fairly right-of-center politics. However, in an effort to air out the echo chamber of criticism against the term, I got in touch with Balio to see whether it might not play a key role in the future of classical music. To argue against it in any musical genre, especially in classical music, would be not only difficult, but completely at odds with how art works. The question at hand is how it can be incorporated within the future.
Here is a passage you might want to debate:
The core difficulty with reconciling traditional aesthetics and ideas with the contemporary world is that, try as we might, no art is immune to politics. This is not to say that all art is political, but that all art will have political implications quite out of the hands of the artist. Common accusations that social discourse and identity politics, or leftist academics, hijack art and instrumentalize it toward a political aim fail to see this distinction. It’s not necessarily the art itself that is politicized—enjoying Wagner does not mean your politics coincide with his—but the social consequences of that art; what its existence says about broader social structures, and how we interact with it.
* * *

I was studiously trying to avoid even a hint of politics in today's miscellanea, but that proved to be impossible as nearly every article published on music these days, concert and record reviews aside, seems to be about music from a political point of view! Or complaining about music being too political. Or not political enough! Let's end with an envoi of the String Quartet No. 7 by Shostakovich mentioned in the first item above. This is a 1982 concert video of the Borodin Quartet:

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl'a7shn!

This is not directly about music, though I suppose it is music-adjacent. The CBC reports that two prominent plazas in Vancouver, the one on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery and the one adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, are going to be renamed. The former will now be known as šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl'e7énḵ Square and the latter as šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl'a7shn. Say it with me! Well, ok, they have a little video clip showing how each is pronounced:

Best of luck with the voiceless velar fricatives! This is just another in a long line of examples of multicultural virtue-signalling, but a particularly striking example. These names are from the Indigenous languages of the region from the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Indigenous groups are no longer referred to as "tribes" but as "nations." It always seems to come down to labels, names, designations. Perhaps we can next look forward to the theatre also being re-named. A while back they re-named the Queen Charlotte Islands "Haida Gwaii." Rather hilariously, Wikipedia says that the "nickname" for the islands is the Queen Charlottes. Perhaps the whole province of British Columbia needs to be re-named, referring as it does to the hated imperialist oppressors, the British, and that other hated oppressor Christopher Columbus.

I think that this kind of thing is just a symptom of the hollowing out of culture. First history and culture are either emptied of meaning or reinterpreted according to cultural Marxist theory. Then the fragments are re-labeled giving place to designated oppressed groups. I'm beyond being surprised at how long this can go on before everyone rises up en masse and says "hell, no!" But I hope it is soon. As a small act of personal rebellion I will not be using the designated names for the two public spaces. Instead I will just refer to them as "Plaza of the Hated Oppressor Number One" and "Plaza of the Hated Oppressor Number Two."

As suitable envoi, let's have some music of the Indigenous peoples of the region. This is "Victory Song" from the album Nootka: Indian Music of the Pacific North-West Coast, collected by Ida Halpern.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Reflections on Education

I think I posted this clip by Jordan Peterson a while back. It is really short, just four minutes, so have a look. Just ignore the little bit towards the beginning where they are trying to decide where his "rubric for essay writing" was posted. He gets right to the basic issue, which is, how to teach people to think:

I was reflecting on my fairly long (about thirty years) career teaching music and I realized that what I typically did was something quite similar to what he is talking about. Most of my time was spent giving individual instrumental instruction--guitar lessons in other words. I remember once being asked by a fairly bright student what it was I taught exactly. My answer "whatever you need." He found that a bit unsatisfying! But it was quite correct. Every time a student walked in the door I was presented with a variation on a single problem: what does this student need? For many it was simple technical instruction: how to hold the guitar, the best hand position, how the fingers should approach the strings, how to make a good tone, how to make different tones, and so on. Slurs, arpeggios and scales. But immediately following these issues were the musical ones: how to make a phrase, how to balance a chord, how to handle different tempos and how to do accelerandi and ritardandi. Then there is repertoire which brings with it questions of style and performance practice. Really, there are an almost infinite number of things to know and to know how to do. But each lesson was simply a response to what the student needed at the time. And yes, extremely labor intensive since the instrumental instruction model in music involves one professor and one student in a small room for one hour each week.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Peterson is talking about, I think. Sure, there are differences. For one thing, I rarely encountered a performance in the studio where there was nothing to say except, "A, good job." Every lesson was basically a taking apart of the performance and examination of the details with an eye to correcting faults and improving things. Apparently, while we still do this in music lessons, we, that is, universities (and before them public schools) have given up entirely on the idea of teaching people how to write. Peterson subtly implies that this might be a kind of conspiracy to rob people of the ability to think critically. He might be right. Or, on the other hand, maybe it is just incompetence and laziness.

I think that I have some writing skills. Where did I get them? Not from a classroom, at least, not that I recall. When I arrived at school for Grade One (there was no kindergarten where we lived) I already knew how to read. I don't recall how I learned, but I guess it was my parents. The basic idea of how to write I just picked up from reading. About the only thing I remember from all those years of English classes was in Grade Five or Six, I wrote a little thing in which I was using quotation marks to show dialogue and the teacher said something about how I was doing it wrong.

When I got to university there was an entrance exam where you had to sit in a big room and write an essay for an hour. Those who were bad were assigned to a remedial course. I passed and was put into an English literature class. They did assign a research essay, so I guess that was teaching us how to write. But I honestly don't recall the critiques I received.

I think I taught myself how to write by writing letters to the editor of the Globe and Mail when I lived in Canada and was under-employed for a year or so. You had to come in under 800 words, the subject had to be topical and you had to make an interesting point. I got so I could get about 40 to 50% accepted.

And, of course, writing this blog is another extended course in how to write.

Jordan Peterson's grim conclusion about universities is that, since they charge you a great deal of money and fail to actually teach you the most important things, like how to write, they are really instances of "indentured servitude" with students graduating $100,000 in debt. He doesn't use that phrase in this video, but it is in another one.

In the music department, I suppose we are more honest and do actually try to teach people how to play, performance majors at least. We just kind of gloss over that part where, when you go to the audition, there are two hundred other people auditioning for the same position.

After all that blather we really need an envoi. I just watched the new video, shot in the Louvre, by Beyoncé and Jay-Z called "Apeshit," but it is so astonishingly pretentious and narcissistic and so uninteresting musically that I think we should just ignore it. Instead let's have something by a really first rate musician. Mozart is the only composer I know of who wrote virtuoso concertos for himself to play on two different instruments, the piano and the violin. That guy was just way too talented. This is Ayako Uehara accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Fabio Luisi playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No 22 E flat major K 482:

Only 580 views on YouTube!

Iceland, AI, and Music

There is an interesting article in the Globe and Mail about an upcoming concert in their Luminato Festival: Icelandic musician Olafur Arnalds brings a techy twist on the classic concert to Toronto’s Luminato Festival. I continue to be astonished at the number and variety of musicians that keep coming out of Iceland which is a country about the size of a small city: population around 350,000!
Icelandic composer and musician Olafur Arnalds is bringing a small ensemble to the Luminato Festival in Toronto on June 24 for a concert with a conceptual and technological twist. Arnalds, who is best known for TV and movie scores (notably for the British series Broadchurch), makes melodic, melancholic, simple and repetitive music that’s on the line between classical and pop. It owes a debt to both the rhythmic minimalism of the classical tradition (think Arvo Part) and ambient electronica. The twist on his recent stuff is that he is using a couple of player pianos (mechanically operated) that are controlled by a computer algorithm.
That could be either really interesting or really, really dull. There is probably no shortage of composers out there taking inspiration from both Arvo Pärt and ambient electronica. What is interesting in the article, by writer Russell Smith, is that about halfway through, having run out of things to say about the upcoming concert, he skews into a discussion of artificial intelligence and art:
One thing AI does while attempting to create art is analyze it – often large quantities of it – in the most inhuman of ways. This in itself is useful to scholars. The recent field of “digital humanities” uses computers to speedily “read” (i.e., scan) and prepare complicated concordances of large bodies of work. You can get computers to digest all of Shakespeare, for example, and tell you not only how often he uses adjectives but in conjunction with what nouns or what genders or what dramatic situations. You can do the same for whole genres. Such analysis can tell you what characters are most likely to say in what situations in Western novels or in young adult novels about illness. It’s a quick way of seeing trends and themes that emotional readings might not give.
This is the analysis that AI art-creating is based on, and often the resulting statistics are more interesting than the machine-art itself.
Not too surprising that artificial intelligence is better at analysis than creativity, is it?

There are some clips of Ólafur Arnalds' music on YouTube. This is titled "re:member"

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tricky Mr. Haydn

I'm still working my way through the Haydn box (up to CD 122!) and, indeed, still in the baryton trios. I was just listening to No. 28 in D and heard a minuet I have to share. Haydn delighted in putting both players and listeners off-balance and sometimes he would even do it in the usually very staid context of a minuet. Here is the third movement of the Baryton Trio No. 28 in D:

Now doesn't that sound weird? Sounds like they just stop and add a beat every now and then. Haydn creates this illusion by fooling you as to where the downbeat is:

Click to enlarge

If you notice, the first note is tied over from the third beat to the first so that you think that it is a half note on the downbeat. But no. You aren't quite sure where the downbeat us until the eighth measure. And then it starts all over again. 

For Shame!

The Harvard Medical School, obviously at the forefront of, well, every good thing, has just admitted to a long-standing bias: Harvard Medical School ashamed of white male department heads.
The Harvard University Medical School has removed portraits of former department chairs from a lecture hall because the individuals pictured are not sufficiently diverse.
School officials confirmed Friday afternoon that the portraits of 31 medical school deans—which formerly hung in the school’s Bornstein Family Amphitheater—have been “dispersed” to various lobbies and conference rooms. 
All 31 individuals depicted in the portraits are men, and while one is Chinese, the other 30 are also white.
Good god! Now, grammatical errors aside, individuals cannot be "diverse" or "not sufficiently diverse" only groups, they obviously caught this just in time. This particular group of individuals certainly seems to lean male and white. Obviously, since this is 2018, this has to be an error. Now the solution for Harvard was relatively simple: just take them down, or rather "disperse" them (probably a prelude to immolation).

Alas, for we in the classical music community, the solution won't be so easy. After all, it is 2018 for us as well and just look at this representation of the top ten composers, according to the New York Times:

Again, good god! Not only no women, but not even an Asian! People of color? Hah! Obviously we have to take this down immediately. But then what? Do we replace it with something? What? And who?

Well, I'm stumped. All I can think of is more White Males: Haydn, Shostakovich...

Help me out in the comments, would you?

Music in the 21st Century

This could become a series, maybe. Despite the growth of wireless connectivity, there are still a lot of cables in the world of music. Hence, this article: How to Tell a Loved One They’re Coiling Cables Wrong. Satire or not?
Coiling cables is an everyday part of live shows. When done incorrectly, however, it can be heartbreaking to watch a loved one, or often time a band mate, make the same mistakes over and over again. Know that you are not alone and help is available.
Hmm, sounds like satire.
Suggest ways to improve. It takes about three minutes to teach someone how to properly wrap up a 1/4″, but you are certainly not going to do it; you’ve got to spend 20 minutes later unknotting and correcting this person’s work. Instead, refer them to youtube where there are a plethora of instructional videos with more being added every 5 seconds.
Intervene if necessary. “No! Ugh, c’mon! Gimme that, just go take some more drums out to the van.”
Or, maybe not...

Let's have some music! From the idyllic, cable-free world of the 18th century, another of Haydn's baryton trios. Blogger doesn't want to embed, so just follow the link:

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

I don't get over to Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog as often as I might, but I just visited and she has an interesting post on a new opera by Emily Howard about surveillance and invisibility and authoritarian societies. Gosh, I wonder what connection that could have to life in the UK? The work is called To See the Invisible.
My first full-length chamber opera To See The Invisible premieres this week on the opening night of this year’s Aldeburgh Festival, and we’re nearing the end of the production period. In the next few days we’ll have stage and orchestra rehearsals followed by the dress rehearsal and I can honestly say that these last few weeks have been a real eye-opener for me. Before now, I actually had no idea that there would be so many people involved in making an opera work. I’ve enjoyed working closely with librettist Selma Dimitrijevic, director Dan Ayling and music director Richard Baker for some time now, and in addition to this, collaborating with a wonderful cast of singers, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, a full opera production team as well the Aldeburgh staff over the last few weeks has been an amazing experience. That’s a lot of people and I’m delighted to have learnt a whole lot of new information.
Here is a brief trailer for the opera:

I had an experience of this myself in high school when one day, purely as a callous psychological experiment my "friends" suddenly decided to shun me. Rather an unpleasant experience!

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 I've been posting about Sofia Gubaidulina lately, and yes, I do mean to get back to that! Another fascinating Soviet composer was her older contemporary Galina Ustvolskaya. Alex Ross alerts us to a remarkable concert at this year's Ojai Festival with Markus Hinterhaüser playing her six sonatas for piano.

Shostakovich thought very highly of her work.

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Ludwig van Toronto has a piece about an interesting attempt to generate revenue for Canadian musicians. It's complicated so you should read the whole thing. But here are some figures on earnings from streaming:
In 2017, SOCAN collected $49.3 million in streaming royalties for rightsholders, a record high. But, while the three largest (Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon,) raked in about $14.2 million USD per day globally in 2017, the rates that artists receive are still low. Spotify, for example, pays artists a per-stream rate of $0.0038, and YouTube only $0.0006 per play. To put that into perspective, an artist on Apple Music would have to get about 200,000 plays per month to earn $1472USD per month. An unsigned artist on Spotify, the service with the largest market share worldwide, needs about 380,000 plays to make the same amount.
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Over at Nautilus, composer Philip Glass has some interesting reflections on music, dance and time:
 There are many strange things about music and time. When I’m on a tour with the dance company we work in a different-sized theater every night. The first thing the dance company does when we arrive is to measure the stage. They have to reset the dance to fit that stage. So you also have to reset the time of the music: In a larger theater, you must play slower. In a smaller theater, you have to play faster. The relation of time and space in music is dynamic. I have a range of speed in mind. If the players don’t pay attention to that, it will look really funny. You can see the stage fill up with dancers because they are playing at the wrong speed.
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The Daily Courier in Arizona reprints a hoary old tale about musicians and efficiency. Under the guise of a time and motion study I saw this same anecdote taped on the wall of the music department when I was an undergraduate! But never mind, it's still funny:
A managed care company president was given a ticket for a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Since she was unable to attend, she passed the invitation to one of her managed care reviewers. The next morning the president asked him if he enjoyed it. Instead of a few plausible observations, she was handed a memorandum which read as follows:
1) For a considerable period the oboe players had nothing to do. Their number should be reduced, and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus avoiding peaks of inactivity.
2) All twelve violins were playing identical notes. Their number should be reduced, and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus avoiding peaks of inactivity.
3) Much effort was required in playing the sixteenth notes. This seems as excessive refinement, and it is recommended that all notes should be rounded up to the nearest eighth note. If this were done, it would be possible to use paraprofessionals instead of experienced musicians.
4) No useful purpose is served by repeating the passage that has already been handled by the strings with horns. If all such redundant passages were eliminated, the concert could be reduced from two hours to 20 minutes.
5) This symphony had two movements. If Schubert didn’t achieve his musical goals by the end of the first movement, then he should have stopped there. The second movement is unnecessary and should be cut.
In light of the above, one can only conclude that had Schubert given attention to these matters, he probably would have had time to finish his symphony.
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From the annals of the truly bizarre (and from my alma mater): McGill music student awarded $350,000 after girlfriend stalls career. You need to read the whole thing, but this gives you an idea:
In late 2013, Abramovitz applied for a full two-year scholarship to complete his bachelor’s degree at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. Every student at Colburn receives a full scholarship, including tuition, room and board as well as money for meals and other expenses, worth roughly $50,000 a year.
If accepted, he would study under Yehuda Gilad, considered one of the best clarinet teachers on the planet. Gilad accepts two students a year out of dozens of applicants. To be chosen is virtually a guarantee of a high-paying symphony career directly out of college. After an exhaustive pre-screening process, Abramovitz flew to Los Angeles in February 2014 with his parents to do a live audition before Gilad and a committee of faculty members.
A month later, Colburn sent an email to Abramovitz. He had been chosen.
Except Abramovitz never got the email. Jennifer Lee, a fellow McGill music student and Abramovitz’s girlfriend at the time, did. They had started dating in September 2013, and within a month he was staying at her apartment almost full time. He trusted her. He let her use his laptop. He gave her his passwords.
Scared he would move away and perhaps no longer be in a relationship with her, Lee deleted the email. She sent the Colburn Conservatory of Music an email, pretending to be Abramovitz, refusing the offer because he would “be elsewhere.”
She also torpedoed his successful application to the Julliard School in New York! Years later, when Abramovitz did finally sudy with Gilad, the whole thing came out. Astonishing, and very, very sad...

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I feel we should hear some clarinet music now. Here is Mozart's "Kegelstatt" Clarinet Trio:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Frankfurt Radio Symphony

Last summer, while in Madrid, I had the opportunity to hear the Frankfurt Radio Symphony in a concert of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. I mainly went for the latter work, the Rite of Spring which I had not heard in concert before. I was very impressed. Recently I have been watching/listening to some of their performances on YouTube and continue to be impressed, not just with the orchestra, who are a fine group of professionals under the precise and enthusiastic baton of music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada (who was the conductor of the concert I saw), but with the production standards as well. In German they are known as hr-Sinfonieorchester, standing for "Hessischer Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra," which is the moniker they appear under on Wikipedia. Hesse is the German state of which Frankfurt is the largest city.

There are a large number of videos on YouTube with the orchestra and, if you have decent speakers and a good-sized monitor, you can have a fine listening experience. Mind you, you will perhaps become more familiar with the fingers of various wind players than is strictly necessary! Here is a performance of Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra that I watched last night. The conductor is Orozco-Estrada, born in Columbia, now resident in Austria.

Very satisfying performance by extremely competent players who seem to be fully enjoying what they are doing. Notice that they are in formal evening wear: white tie for the men and black evening dress for the women (of whom there are a large number). Here is a performance of the Symphony No. 5 by Shostakovich under conductor David Afkham (who I also saw in Madrid conducting the Spanish National Orchestra, of which he is the musical director):

Here they are with the Dvořák "New World" Symphony, again with Orozco-Estrada conducting:

And now the Symphony No. 7 of Shostakovich conducted by Marin Alsop:

Finally, one of their specialties, Beethoven, Symphony No. 7, again with Orozco-Estrada and notice how they have trimmed down the orchestra to classical proportions:

Honestly, who needs Netflix?

Monday, June 11, 2018

Haydn and the Baryton

You would likely be surprised to learn that the genre that Haydn composed most prolifically for was not the string quartet with sixty-eight examples, nor the symphony with one hundred and six. No, it was the baryton trio that absorbed his most extensive efforts with one hundred and twenty-six examples. Good heavens! Why couldn't he have written ten or twelve guitar trios in there somewhere?

The reason was that his patron Prince Nikolaus of Esterházy took up the baryton and wanted lots of music to play. Haydn leapt into the task immediately after having received a complaining letter in which he is "urgently enjoined to apply himself to compositions more diligently than heretofore," especially works for the baryton.

The baryton was an odd sort of instrument, basically a viola da gamba with sympathetic resonating strings. A copy of the prince's instrument is pictured above. The vast majority of the trios were for the ensemble of viola, baryton and cello, all lower register instruments. Haydn also crosses the parts so you aren't quite sure who is doing what. But, as usual, he writes a lot of lovely music, if of a slightly somber cast. Some of the best movements are slow. Here is Trio No. 14 in D played by the Esterházy Ensemble. The movements are Adagio, Allegro, Minuet:

And I apologize for inflicting on you either a new composition or, shudder, even worse, a new genre!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Peak Music

Over at Digital Music News (hey, I read 'em all) there is an article about when people stop being receptive to new music: So, When Will YOU Hit Your Musical ‘Peak and Paralysis Age’?
When it comes to discovering music, most people eventually hit a point of “musical paralysis.”  In fact, researchers have now pinpointed the exact moment when it’s likely to occur.
Did you know that you’ll likely stop discovering music right before you turn 28?  The strange phenomenon is called “musical paralysis”.  And researchers have found that users, on average, stopped discovering new music at 27 years and 11 months.
The research, commissioned by the streaming music service Deezer, surveyed 5,000 adults from the UK, the US, Germany, France, and Brazil.
Researchers found that music fans will first hit their “musical peak” several years before entering into a “musical paralysis.”  During the ‘peak’ age, they’ll listen to ten or more new tracks per week.  Then, they’ll stop discovering new music altogether.
They then go on to give some details about differences between different countries. No information about how they gathered these statistics so we can't judge their validity. I have heard some people say that most people's musical tastes are fixed forever at around age 17, but no idea where they got that from.

This is all, loosely, in the area of what musicologists call "reception history" or how music is received by listeners, whether aficionados or the general public. Musicians have quite a different experience as they don't just listen to music, but produce it. For example, while my interest in unusual (to me) kinds of music ebbs and flows, overall it is a continuous process that involves listening to music usually considered great or important (just now I am working my way through a box of 160 discs of Haydn), but that also involves listening to music I have long been familiar with (Beethoven, Bach) that also includes pop music (The English Beat, Cream) and music that I am not familiar with from contemporary composers (Sofia Gubaidulina). It also involves listening to music from non-Western sources (most recently a number of discs of Ravi Shankar) and current pop music (recently some oeuvre of Kanye West). I honestly don't see this process ever coming to an end! So the idea that people, most people apparently, just stopping the discovery of new music seems very odd to me.

Of course, most of us are very weighed down with work and a multitude of responsibilities to the point that we have little focus or concentration available to listen to anything unfamiliar. I suppose this also explains the very modest attractions of television that seems to require a nearly brain-dead audience.

A few questions come to mind: the researchers are likely defining "new music" as simply music that is unfamiliar to the listener. But does this always mean that is it just unfamiliar music in a well-accustomed genre? In other words, if you know the previous songs of Taylor Swift, will her new song count as "new music?" What about a song by an artist you have never heard of? What about a song in a genre you have never experienced before? Yes, it seems as if all the forces of commercial music are rallied against the intrusion of any genuinely new genre or style, but still, some may occur from time to time!

And what about the possibility of something genuinely new and fresh? Steve Reich's music in the 70s was very much new and different from anything heard before, but he won an audience that included people at a variety of ages and even some who were mostly listeners to popular music. In numbers, of course, these listeners were statistically insignificant.

I wonder a couple of other things: what was the actual motive or purpose of this research? How is going to be used?

Speaking of Ravi Shankar, let's listen to some of his music. This is the album Three Ragas. The first one is Raga Jog and Maestro Shankar is accompanied by Chatur Lal, tabla and Pradjol Sen, tamboura:

The Musicology of Ringtones

Or I could have headlined this with "the music theory of ringtones" but "the musicology of ringtones" just sounds more clickbaity. The Washington Post has an article up that is pure music theory: No, iPhone ringtones aren’t bad. They’re musically sophisticated. Of course the only reason this appears is because of the Apple connection. But it is a quite decent article explaining what is it about iPhone ringtones that gets your attention:
Consider the ringtone “Xylophone,” which consists of two lines — a cutesy melody on top supported by a constant pulsing layer underneath that sustains your attention. “Xylophone” is composed around the concept of syncopation — accentuating weaker beats to mess with a rhythm a bit and make it more complex. Think: “Buh-buh-bummm, buh-buh-b-b-b-buh” in the upper line, and “bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum” consistently in the lower line. These two lines may not seem to match up at first, but the melody fits awkwardly with the supporting tones underneath. The lower line features annoying pulsing beats, while the melody articulates beats that the second line doesn’t hit. In theoretical terms, we would say one line has isochronous rhythms — that is, they are evenly spaced and patterned. By contrast, the line with the syncopated melody uses non-isochronous rhythms. Together, these two patterns create a barrage that aims to unsettle the listener. This is a tune that Apple has stuck with precisely because we don’t want to listen to it.
The “Marimba” ringtone — which was the iPhone’s default for many years — also has two lines, but they fit together more harmoniously. Each one contributes in a more collaborative, less antagonistic way to the music. The base is made up of lower pitches, while higher, accented chords form the upper line: “Buh-buh-BUH-buh-buh-BUH-buh-buh-BUH-buh-buh-BUH.” Together they produce a rhythmic effect that’s similar to the pulsating line of the “Xylophone” tone.
Where “Xylophone” relies on syncopation, though, “Marimba” works through a related compositional element known as hemiola. A hemiola is a specific type of syncopation, featuring three beats where you would intuitively expect two.
I have to quote so much because the writer, musicologist Alyssa Barna, goes into a lot of technical detail. While I appreciate the analysis--so nice to see these days--it is somewhat hamstrung because of the built in restrictions on what you can say in the popular press. Mind you, she does share with the readers two correct technical terms: syncopation and hemiola (and even the unfamilar "isochronous"), so points for that. Go read the whole article.

One comes away with a bit of an idea that these ringtones were constructed to be interesting in a rhythmic way, but just how remains vague. Also the reader is mislead by passages like this:
[Hemiola is] a fairly common musical technique, one that’s been around for centuries, featuring prominently in the work of 19th-century composers like Brahms, Schumann and Tchaikovsky. It also regularly crops up in popular music — from the opening riff of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to the chorus of Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends.”
Well, yes, but that is like saying that alcoholic beverages were really popular at 19th century dinner parties--quite true, but misleading since alcoholic beverages have been ubiquitous since the pyramids were built! The rhythmic device of hemiola, which even after the detailed description: “Buh-buh-BUH-buh-buh-BUH-buh-buh-BUH-buh-buh-BUH” remains a bit unclear, has been used extensively in music since the Middle Ages. In different ways it was a part of musical textures from 1400 to the present. Along with syncopation it is one of the most fundamental musical gestures there is. But what is it exactly? I wrote a whole post on it quite a while back titled: Hemiola: It's Not Just For Hemophiliacs! Go have a read. Incidentally, I might have gone a bit off-track at the beginning of that post when I said that we start seeing the hemiola in 16th century Spanish music. It was very typical in that music and in fact, it is ubiquitous in Spanish music to this day. But it was used well before that, particularly in dance music.

The Wikipedia article is quite good on hemiola. They offer this example:

If you can read music, this is a lot clearer than "buh buh buh" but let me explain for the non-music readers. Hemiola in this example makes use of the fact that six is divisible by both three and two. So if you have a measure of music that contains six eighth notes, indicated by the 6/8 time signature, you can have three beats of two eighths each, or two beats of three eighths each. In the example shown, both are present at the same time. In Baroque music a cadence was often signaled by inserting one measure of three beats at the end of a phrase of several measures with two beats each. It gives you a nice effect. You can produce this yourself. Try clapping a few measures like this One Two Three Four Five Six. The bolded beats should be accented. That is your two-beats-per-measure. Then end with this: One Two Three Four Five Six, keeping your counting even, but accenting one, three and five instead.

There is a particularly effective and subtle use of this effect in flamenco music:

One layer is just 3/8 with nothing on the downbeat, the other layer alternates between 6/8 and 3/4. This is found in the bulerias and other places. Again, the Wikipedia article is pretty good and has a lot of musical examples.

Since link-rot seems to have claimed my musical example from my hemiola post, let's have it again. This is the first movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo which begins with some very nicely used hemiola in the solo guitar:

Three measure grouping, which is unusual. The first measure is 6/8, the second is 3/4, which is the hemiola, then the third measure is a compression of the first two measures. This same figure is then repeated at different pitches. Here is a performance by Pepe Romero. I think he plays that opening more crisply and rhythmically than anyone:

Incidentally, that old Nokia ringtone is from the Gran Vals, a guitar piece by Francisco Tárrega (it appears around the 12 second mark):

Friday, June 8, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

What's new this week? Annilese Miskimmon, director of opera at Norwegian National Opera has a piece in the Guardian about the problem of staging Madama Butterfly. The story is a sordid and brutal one of exploitation, betrayal and suicide, which simply means that it is an excellent example of Italian verismo opera. Ms. Miskimmon describes her approach:
As a modern composer who was as equally a man of the theatre as he was a man of music, Puccini refused to let the piece fail, even in the face of a disgusted first-night audience who greeted the onstage revelation of the child with what biographer Mosco Carner described as “an uproar of hisses, obscene sneers, [and] laughter”. They jeered at Butterfly’s perceived sexual licentiousness despite an unequivocal first act that establishes that she has understood herself to be legally married. This chaos continued in the theatre even during the stunning orchestral music accompanying Butterfly’s silent vigil for Pinkerton’s return. But despite the extremity of these reactions – which came as a shock for Puccini after a very successful dress rehearsal at which the orchestra had applauded him – the composer refused to dilute the brutality of the tale.
Therefore, to wallow in his orchestral beauty and ignore the hard truth of the libretto that inspired it is to disrespect both Puccini and the many real, anonymous Butterflies past and present who haunt every bar of this savage masterpiece. Puccini’s opera joins the long list of works of art that after years of unquestioning admiration are now problematic in our more enlightened modern times. But to continue to grapple with the story of Madama Butterfly, much as Puccini did himself, is to honour the empathetic impulse that inspired its creation: the strange and wonderful connection between an Italian opera composer and his imaginary geisha.
The attempt is to say that all is different now that the "metoo" movement has brought so many crashing down. But the moral landscape of the original was quite clear: Cio-Cio-san is the tragic romantic lead and Pinkerton the exploiting bad guy. Was there ever any doubt? This is pretty much exactly the narrative of "metoo" isn't it?

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Slipped Disc has a brief item about auditioning to busk on the New York subway. The comments, as usual, are quite interesting. As I recall, you also need a permit to busk in the Montréal Metro and lots of other places. Of course, these rules are often not enforced. In Montréal you sometimes saw musicians from the city's numerous music schools out in public trying to raise a little cash. I have seen violinists whipping off Bach solo suites, cellists playing Britten and all manner of ensembles.

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The Roanoke Times (of Virginia) has a hard to summarize piece by Benedict Goodfriend on the economics of regional orchestras. Let's let him set it up:
To understand the hierarchy of American orchestras it is instructive to parallel them with professional sports teams. One could call 20 or so U.S. Orchestras the major leagues. The high end of this group would be Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, LA Philharmonic and San Francisco, which pay average section player salaries of $120,000-$145,000. The lower end would include Houston, Dallas, National Symphony and a number of other orchestras paying in the $60,000-$80,000 range. All of these orchestras tour nationally and internationally. The minor leagues could include, at the triple A level, orchestras such as Rochester, New York, and Indianapolis, Indiana, down to single A level, with salaries of $20,000-$35,000, including orchestras like Richmond, Virginia Symphony, Jacksonville, and Charlotte. 
The departure point of my analysis was the simple question “What percentage of an orchestra’s budget is devoted to paying the orchestra members?”
The average percentage of the budget that pays the orchestra musicians (not including conductor or guest artists) is in the vicinity of 30 percent. Orchestra A pays 38 percent, Orchestra B percent 13 percent...yes it is not a typo, it is 13 cents on the dollar.
I encourage you to read the whole article. I found some of the analysis hard to sort out, but the general finding is clear: some regional orchestras treat their musicians pretty well, but others don't. In the latter case, it seems that the lion's share of the budget goes to the conductor and executive director. Hmm, I wonder who it is that makes these decisions?

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The New York Times has a lavish report on what they call an "interdisciplinary extravaganza" organized by Esa-Pekka Salonen to round off his three-year stint as composer in residence with the New York Philharmonic.
“The concert experience has become predictable,” the composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen said this week. “I’m not talking about artistic quality or content of the program, but the ritual itself. It’s quite predictable — and, visually, mostly dead boring, to be totally honest.”

Mr. Salonen, jet lagged after flying in from London and fresh from a rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic, was speaking at David Geffen Hall while preparing for “Foreign Bodies,” a one-night-only interdisciplinary extravaganza on Friday that marks the end of his three-year tenure as the orchestra’s composer in residence.

But the program isn’t only a showcase of Mr. Salonen’s work; he shares billing with the New York premiere of a violin concerto by Daniel Bjarnason, a video installation by Tal Rosner and choreography by Wayne McGregor. If anything, the evening is a manifesto for what Mr. Salonen thinks the 21st-century concert could — and should — be.
Oh, and drinks will be allowed in the hall — a rarity at Lincoln Center.
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Also in the New York Times is a piece on an unusual amateur ensemble:
The New York Times is a big place, full of people who have interests aside from journalism and are happy to share them. It’s one of the joys of working here.
There is a strong contingent of classical musicians in the building, many of whom play in outside groups for the sheer pleasure of it. It seemed convenient to band together on the premises during off hours.
I knew, from an orchestra we happened to be in together, that Laura Chang, deputy editor for The Upshot, played the violin. The grapevine sent us other musicians: William Davis, an assistant editor for News Platforms (another violinist); Aaron Krolik, a developer for Interactive News (a violist); and Margalit Fox, a senior Obituaries writer (a cellist).
We bonded in an empty conference room over Mozart and Brahms two years ago, gathering after work on a regular basis. We call ourselves the Qwerty Ensemble.
Go read the whole thing, it is too long to excerpt and contains all sorts of interesting glimpses of how people reconcile amateur music-making with their professional lives.

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Canadian composer, critic and music blogger Colin Eatock has decided to hang up his pixels:
For more than three decades, I’ve written for various newspapers, magazines, websites, and for my own blog, “Eatock Daily” (which you are now reading). But for the last year or so I’ve been wondering if I really want to continue reviewing concerts and writing about music.
In January, I respectfully severed my ties to the last few publications that would still pay me a modest fee for my work.  And now, I’ve also decided to stop posting concert reviews to this blog. 
Why? The demise of music criticism in the mainstream press is certainly a discouraging factor. However, I don’t share the view that some people in the business hold as to why this has happened. I don’t think it can be entirely blamed on declining print-media revenue, or on philistine entertainment editors who care only about pop culture. These are contributing factors, to be sure – but I think there are more deep-seated reasons.
I believe that our culture (and by “our culture” I’m talking about North America, and perhaps also Europe, to some extent) has undergone a fundamental shift. Expertise is no longer much valued in the cultural sphere; rather, it seems that the currently prevailing belief is that any one person’s opinion is as good as any other’s. Furthermore, if critical judgements are acknowledged at all, they are the judgements of the masses, expressed in economic terms: what is best is what sells the most.
There are some determined “elitists” who steadfastly oppose this trend. I wish them well, but I’ve come to the conclusion that to stand against this sea-change is to defy the incoming tide, as King Canute once tried to do. And even Canute knew when his feet were wet.
Well, I suppose I might be one of those referred to! For which I make no apology.

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Over at Musicology Now there is a call for papers for a special issue of the Journal of the American Musicological Society (JAMS) devoted to "Music, Race and Ethnicity."
The Planning Committee’s initial effort was to organize the special session on “Race, Ethnicity and the Profession” at the 2016 Vancouver AMS meeting.  What came out of the session supported and augmented many of the positions that were coming out of the responses to the blog post, the #AMSSOWHITE hashtag, and so on, in that was that there was a lot of professional despair out there about whether people of color had any real purchase on the profession. We already had Matthew D. Morrison's article in the 2012 JAMS colloquy, basically warning people that that that the profession seemed to be driving away some of its brightest scholars of color. Concerns were expressed that young scholars, particularly scholars of color, would be or had already been penalized for working on race, or for speaking out about these issues in their writing, or that issues of race and ethnicity were considered a peripheral area of musicological scholarship, which could in turn influence hiring, awards, and grant and subvention decisions.
Isn't this another instance of reverse causality? Perhaps musicology is not the most fertile ground for race and ethnicity based scholarship.
ED: The idea that questions of race are somehow not central to music and its history seems utterly untenable right now—both in the context of our discipline and in of our current political climate.
Is this true, and if it is, why is this the case? And what "questions of race" are meant?

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This has been a very talky miscellanea today, so let's have a couple of envois to end. First, a great aria from Madame Butterfly. This is Cio-Cio-san's aria "Un bel di vedremo" sung by Angela Gheorghiu:

And now, the same aria sung by Leontyne Price: