Friday, December 7, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

This will be a combined miscellanea today with some bits about my trip to Toronto as I am rationing time on my laptop due to my forgetting my charging cable at home. I had my first rehearsal with violinist Valerie Li yesterday and it went very well. Val is a terrific violinist, first violin with the Afiara Quartet, a really outstanding ensemble. Val is originally from Vancouver and attended the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, one of the finest music schools in the US. She and the other members of the quartet came together at the San Francisco Conservatory and later on at Julliard in New York. They just got back from a three week tour of Denmark. I met the quartet in Mexico when they performed a few times in our local festivals. They stood out for me for their superb musicianship, especially in the Beethoven quartets. So when I was looking for a violinist to record some new pieces, she was at the top of the list.

We rehearsed for a couple of hours yesterday and I was very pleased with how it went. Val is a meticulous musician and working on my piece "Dark Dream" for violin and guitar, I had some new insights into what is going on in the piece! How this piece came to be, something I will go into in more detail in another post, was first of all at the conceptual level, then later on I rewrote much of it intuitively. With new music, the details of interpretation will develop as you rehearse the piece. Val was very insightful in shaping phrases and the dynamic layout. Today I will meet her and pianist Todd Yaniw at the Royal Conservatory of Music where I will hear them rehearsing my older piece, "Chase" for violin and piano. I have only written two pieces for piano in my life, this one and a song for voice and piano from a couple of years ago. "Chase" is a pretty straightforward piece designed to be a bit of a romp for both instruments and easily enjoyable for the audience.

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The New York Times has a piece on creativity and asceticism. They recount how artists have often, in the past, been associated with hedonistic excess:
In classical Greece, in fourth- and fifth-century Athens, the major artistic prize of the era, for drama, was given under the auspices of Dionysus, a god of wine and ecstasy. Dionysus is a curious proto-patron saint of the arts, given the story of his birth. Zeus — king of gods, thunder god — wooed the mortal Semele. Hera, Zeus’ wife and the goddess of heaven, tired of her husband’s philandering, learned of Zeus’ latest conquest and convinced Semele to demand that Zeus reveal his true form — lightning — a sight Hera knew would kill her: No mortal can bear a god in full. Zeus assented, Semele died, but Zeus saved Semele’s fetal son, tucking him into his thigh, carrying him to term, earning the child the epithet “twice born”: to a mortal, to a god.
That there is something divine in the mortal act of making things is another part of the lore around creativity. The process of giving artistic birth is said to court a kind of violence that the maker must reckon with. Recent books have wondered about the tension between varieties of addiction and creativity, often by writers who themselves had been alcoholics, booze being a way to blunt or redirect the violence of making.
But the writer, Wyatt Mason, goes on to note that:
if it is fact that a kind of excess often accompanies the making of art, then there’s another kind of excess — less cinematic, for sure — that seems closer to the point: Artists, even the hedonistic ones, are fundamentally, one might say excessively, ascetic.
For the artist, though, asceticism isn’t a fad or a fashion or a mindful cleanse — a thumb of turmeric and a pinch of cayenne — prudently chosen. It is a regimen that evolves out of the need to do something unreasonable that an artist can’t be reasoned out of doing: work, demanded by no one but the self that makes it, because making is what the artist needs and knows.
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I have long been a fan of Esa-Pekka Salonen both for his conducting and as a composer so I am delighted to read that he will be the next musical director of the San Francisco Symphony. This orchestra, unlike many others in North America, does not change conductors on a whim. The current director, Michael Tilson Thomas, has been at the helm for a quarter-century. Joshua Kosman writes in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The 60-year-old Finnish musician’s arrival in 2020 to succeed Michael Tilson Thomas promises to be an exciting development on every conceivable front. It’s going to mean a high level of musical execution from an orchestra that already plays like one of the best in the world. It’s going to mean a healthy infusion of contemporary music and a broadening of the repertoire, and it’s going to mean a range of new approaches to the very structure of orchestral music-making.
It’s really something of a coup.
If that assessment sounds a little breathless, consider that it could not have been made about any other conductor the Symphony might have chosen. There are fine conductors out there, but there’s simply no one on the orchestral scene today who can boast the range of musical and leadership skills that Salonen is poised to bring with him.
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 They don't link to the story and I can't find it, but Arts Journal mentions a piece by critic Jennifer Gersten that sounds interesting:
Classical radio stations promote their programming as “calming and refreshing,” an “oasis,” or “an island of sanity.” Playlists on YouTube and audio streaming services have titles like “8 Hours Classical Music for Sleeping”; inexpensive compilation CDs offer “The Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe.” Jennifer Gersten, winner of the 2018 Rubin Prize in Music Criticism — identifies at least one reason why the industry keeps falling into this rut, and argues that the habit sells both the music itself and potential listeners very short.
Well, sure. The thing is that while I, and some of you as well, look to music for an enlivening, occasionally transcendental experience, a lot of listeners just hope for a respite from the hectic stress of everyday life.

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This item struck close to home: Canadian orchestra is forced out of its hall.
After decades of performances at its home base at the Royal Theatre, the Victoria Symphony has announced that it is being forced out of the Theatre due to exorbitant rental increases and curtailed access to booking dates.
Recent changes to rental fees and newly created priority scheduling policies and procedures developed by the Board of the Royal Theatre have created an untenable situation for the Victoria Symphony. ‘With the new policy our rent will increase by 100%, and combined with significantly reduced access to available dates in the Theatre we can no longer continue to offer our series of concerts,’ says says Chairman Alan Hollingworth.
The Symphony will pull out half of its season offerings from the Royal and take them to the Farquhar Auditorium at the University of Victoria.
I played the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo with that orchestra on that very stage. This isn't quite as bad as it sounds because the Royal Theatre is an older facility with frankly, minimal backstage amenities. The newer auditorium at the university is a better performing space.

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Ending with a bit of whimsy, Yuja Wang's agent, Mark Newbanks, has, according to Slipped Disc, dropped her because she is too "high maintenance."
The boutique artists’ manager Mark Newbanks has dropped the pianist from his elite list, apparently for being too high maintenance.
Mark erased Yuja from his website this month and she has reciprocated in kind.
This is an uncomfortable situation for an international artist, but she won’t be alone for long. The vultures are circling quite low in the sky.
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Which brings us to our envoi. One of my favorite orchestral clips, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting an orchestra of young students at the Verbier Festival. This is the last movement of the Symphony No. 5 by Sibelius:


Marc said...

The Gersten essay was at WaPo at the end of last month:


To relax, to enjoy one's leisure, is simply not the same thing as taking a tranquilizer, is it. But I haven't yet read the article.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Marc. I will have a read and probably comment on it since this is one of those issues having to do with reception and aesthetics that I find interesting.