Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

First up a whimsical performance where two comic violinists take on Hilary Hahn in a hula-hoop Paganini contest:

That's the Caprice No. 24, by the way.

* * *

Yo-Yo Ma on cello in the Montreal Metro with some chopped-off Bach and Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

Many years ago I played a few times in the Metro and believe me, you have to pick your location.

* * *

Back in Montreal I used to occasionally read Le Monde diplomatique for its interesting and intellectual perspective on things. Here is an article on The music of migration.
There has been a tectonic shift in global urban culture, with shrinking spaces for free musical expression in Britain. The old community pub culture is being replaced by an imperialist coffee shop culture where people are isolated with online social media, listening to pre-recorded music on headphones. You cannot sing in a Starbucks. In London, street music is controlled through licensing, often limited to solo performers; unlicensed buskers can be fined £1,000 and their instruments confiscated. Privatisation and enclosure also silence voices; a people’s choir in the rich university city of Cambridge can’t find a space to rehearse. And while religion in British cities used to be Christian and choral, churches are in decline and all community singing is gone; Islam thrives in those cities, but regards music, song and dance as haram.
This is partly a long-coming unintended consequence of the development of the technology to record and play back music. I find most public spaces these days very unpleasant solely because of the music--whether blasting or unobtrusive.

* * *

Speaking of public spaces I had a glimpse of the future recently. Waiting lounges at Toronto's Pearson airport are outfitted with hoards of iPads at nearly every seat. I tried one out and found it to be non-functional in interesting ways. There were a lot of the icons you find on your iPhone screen, but with significant omissions. No web browser, for example. This is presumably so unsavory characters can't view pornography. Is this what they do in libraries these days? There was a News icon, but no way of choosing what news. I got some outdated articles on George H. W. Bush's funeral from a paper in Texas. There was a CNN channel and some games, but the map icon was also non-functional. What is  creepy about this is that I can easily see authoritarian governments of the future tightly controlling all public access to information for their own purposes. No criticism allowed, of course. This is already the case in some nations. The public information and discussion space in Canada is already quite limited; all those little magazines that used to exist with a variety of different viewpoints seem to have vanished. There is a tiny bit of ideological variance between the Globe and Mail, along with the CBC the voice of the central Canadian establishment, and the National Post, the radical conservative upstart just celebrating its 20th anniversary. The Globe and Mail believes that caution and compassion is the solution to French President Emmanuel Macron's problem with weeks of riots over his fuel tax. Over at the National Post they see the solution to resistance to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's carbon tax in adroit handling of the rebates to affected parties. If you squint you can see that the National Post is slightly on the right and the Globe and Mail slightly on the left, but both are handmaidens to the oligarchy of Canadian big business. And that is what passes for public discussion in Canada.

* * *

For a diametrically different perspective on Yo-Yo Ma, we have a new piece by Alex Ross in The New Yorker: Yo-Yo Ma’s Days of Action.
The cyclone of exuberance that is Yo-Yo Ma tore through the Washington, D.C., area at the end of November. The cellist is in the middle of a sprawling tour called the Bach Project, which involves performances of Bach’s six solo-cello suites in thirty-six places, on six continents. Classical music has taken to attaching the word “project” to undertakings large and small. If two or more Brahms symphonies are played, it becomes a Brahms Project. The Bach Project, though, is deserving of the name. Most of Ma’s concerts are slated for large spaces capable of accommodating thousands. Each is accompanied by a Day of Action, in which Ma meets with local artists, community leaders, students, and activists, exploring how culture can contribute to social progress. In Washington, the venue was the National Cathedral. The Day of Action took place in Anacostia, the historic African-American neighborhood in southeast D.C.
I have to admit that I have never quite fallen under Yo-Yo Ma's spell. He seems an entirely serious musician and compassionate spirit who only wants to do good in the world and more power to him. Ironically, the one jarring bit in Ross' article is about the power of culture to do good:
The premise underlying the project—that “culture helps us to imagine a better future,” as Ma wrote in a program note—is open to question. It is far from clear that culture makes the world better. Put to wrong ends, it can make the world worse; Hitler and Stalin proved as much. In our own time, Valery Gergiev lends lustre to Vladimir Putin and Kanye West hypes Donald Trump.
Ah, that's the Manhattan intelligentsia ideology we were waiting for. Yes, Hitler, Stalin, Putin and Trump are all a much of a muchness. At least Yo-Yo Ma avoids such crude equivalences.

 * * *

The Spectator takes up the horrifying injustice of there being too many male instrumentalists in jazz:
The legislation of gender parity is also injurious to the music. I’ve exchanged a flurry of emails with Birmingham’s head of jazz, Jeremy Price. He observes: ‘The band leader’s choice of personnel is as important as the composing and the band leader’s playing. You choose personnel to fit your music and that’s the way it should remain. That a festival dictates or seeks to overly influence your personnel choices is way too anti-art for me.’ Yet if Price warns festival organizers against ‘searching for inexperienced female jazz artists to make up the numbers’, he’s ‘hung out to dry as a misogynist’. He describes the usual response as, ‘So you’re saying that women aren’t as good as men at jazz!’
* * * 

Let's listen to some Yo-Yo Ma for our envoi today. Here he is with the Cello Suite No. 1 by Bach at the 2015 Proms:


Christine Lacroix said...

Hi Bryan,

I thought of you while watching this:
I've actually never heard the song because I'm lucky enough to live far enough away! Good luck Americans!
Happy Christmas!

Bryan Townsend said...

One thing I noticed in Toronto is that they are still playing the traditional Christmas songs.

Merry Christmas, Christine, or should I say Joyeux Noël!

Marc said...

That Ed Emery fellow ("... in 2015, for services rendered in the left political movement, he was elected Honorary Member for life of the SOAS Student Union") is not quite as informed ("all community singing is gone") as he may believe himself to be-- of course he might be referring specifically to 'singing of people of the left political movement'. As long as-- I laughed aloud at the report of the People of the Left in Venice: nail up a manifesto! that'll show 'em! and he meant them to sound quite heroic, tsk-- he and they content themselves with such comic diversions they can do as they like, sure. Was tempted to buy that copy of the Le Monde Diplo to see what the poor refugees trapped on a Greek Island are doing, many of them, but I saved the £32 and contented myself with guessing that they are... singing.

One year when I was in high school I went to great lengths (airmail! par avion! how exciting those words were, fifty years ago) to procure the Diplo because, I guess, it represented the height of liberal, intellectual sophistication, pft; more fool me. Cannot recall if that was the year before or the year after I subscribed to Pravda (could read about four words of Russian but one flew the flag however one could and the cost was truly ridiculously small, presumably because the blood and sweat of the Russian people subsidized the thing); my poor long-suffering parents had to endure a certain embarrassment because of the 'Communist newspapers' that littered the mail box for so long. And to make things worse they tended to arrived in bunches of ten or twelve, not one each day-- this had to do with the vagaries of the postal services, no doubt, but my Mother was secretly convinced, I think, that there was a conspiracy to consign the entire family to wherever Red traitors were jailed, for what crime she could never fathom.

Christine Lacroix said...

I don't want to judge other people's taste but I hate being forced to listen to music I don't want to listen to in public places. There's a lovely café in Montpellier I can't go to because the music is so loud and agressive. I feel like I'm being hit over the head. Hope you're having a great Christmas season. Thanks for a year of hard work for the Music Salon.

Bryan Townsend said...

Marc: I too had a "communist moment" but I didn't subscribe to a lot of papers. I could read the ones my high school Social Studies teacher provided. I think it was a combination of Ronald Reagan and Karl Popper that cured me.

Christine: yes, I know some places like that. I think it is because they allow the 20-something staff to pick the music instead of imagining what the customers might tolerate.

Warm Christmas and Hanukkah wishes to you both!