Friday, January 4, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

In our occasional series of unusual instruments, here is a nice introduction to the Baroque trumpet by David Blackadder, principal trumpet with the historical instrument ensemble the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment:

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We have another entry in the unofficial "Piano Virtuoso Miniskirt Competition." It's Lola Astanova playing Chopin. It might also be an entry in a "Sparkly Shoes" competition.

Looks like Yuja Wang has to, ahem, up her game. Here she is with her Chopin:

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Music blogger and writer Jessica Duchen has a nice post up about who she is and what she does and why she is not doing New Year's resolutions:
Darlings, a very warm welcome to all readers, whoever and wherever you may be. JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. It's a relatively random and succinctly spontaneous collection of content involving words and music. 
I'm a writer with a musical training (academic/piano). In my twenties and early thirties I held jobs on music magazines, including spearheading the creation of the UK's first independent piano magazine. Later I was with The Independent as a music journalist and critic for 12 years. Now I juggle different kinds of writing: novels, librettos, articles, reviews, programme notes and more. I often give pre-concert talks and also present narrated concerts, often based on my novels (you'll find upcoming the dates in the sidebar). I enjoy the adventure of these different activities, and others besides: it keeps me on my toes, or at least my fingertips. And JDCMB is blog.
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Musicology Now has woken up and there is a new post on opera in the French provinces: The Politics of Opera in French Provincial Cities 1685 - 1750.
By exploring the locality of Lully’s tragédies, we expand the network of actors involved in the performance history of this repertoire to encompass singers, directors, and printers who operated beyond Paris, as well as government officials whose ideologies might have influenced the production of an opera. We also push issues of performance to the center, especially in instances where it might seem difficult or impossible to talk about the music: even though the scores of most provincial productions of Lully’s operas have been lost, there are clues in provincial libretti for alterations to Lully’s scores that diverged from how the repertoire was performed in Paris. The canonic narrative of French baroque opera – at least the narrative that we tend to teach in the classroom – often overlooks the locality of the tragédie en musique. We tend to imagine early French opera as a genre that was as rigidly centralized as the absolutist regime of the Sun King. By taking provincial productions of Lully’s operas into account, we gain a clearer understanding of how politics shaped opera – and vice versa – beyond Versailles in Old Regime France.
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Alex Ross has a piece up at The New Yorker on György Kurtág's opera on Samuel Beckett's play Endgame.
The final masterpiece of twentieth-century music had its première last month, at La Scala, in Milan. “Samuel Beckett: Fin de Partie,” an operatic version of Beckett’s “Endgame” by the Hungarian composer György Kurtág, is nominally a product of our time: Kurtág began writing it in 2010 and finished it last year, at the age of ninety-one. Yet the score harks back to the heyday of modernism in the arts, when a figure like Beckett could hold a cultured public tensely in thrall as he tested the extremes. Such authority hardly exists any longer: the age of the dark male genius is past. Given how much brilliant music is being made by new and different voices, the retreat of that cult is not greatly to be mourned. Still, Kurtág’s achievement is stupendous, particularly since this is his first opera and by far the most ambitious undertaking of his career. There are many musical monuments of old age: Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea,” Verdi’s “Otello” and “Falstaff,” Janáček’s “From the House of the Dead.” But no composer has ever taken so huge a leap so late.
I think what I enjoy the most about Ross' writing are the little obligatory asides like this one: "Such authority hardly exists any longer: the age of the dark male genius is past." Oh yes, no more dark, or light for that matter, male geniuses! From now on, only new and different voices will be heard.

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Anne Midgette, classical music critic for the Washington Post, has a fascinating article about the obscure niche of composing "royalty-free music" for purposes such as keeping us amused or tranquilized while waiting on hold on the phone:
I had been on hold with the IRS for 30 minutes when I noticed that the music wasn’t driving me crazy.
Background music can be a particularly noxious branch of the art of sound. The tinny elevator Muzak. The synthesized Christmas carols that fill drugstores for weeks. The buzzy sound in the background at the bus station. They’re all supposedly there to calm us and improve our frame of mind, and yet they all have the bright, inauthentic, chemical tang of an artificial sweetener. Indeed, background music is sometimes used as an active repellent, piped out of stores onto the sidewalk to discourage loitering. 
Davide Dondi, an Italian composer who has about 80 pieces represented on the Getty website, says it’s a hard business to break into. Dondi, a former graphic designer in the advertising world who plays bass in a cover band, decided three years ago to quit his job and become a composer, taking online courses and working with a private teacher. He said in an email that he works two to five hours a day, producing about six tracks a month that he shares on a wide range of royalty-free music sites. But with so much music available, Dondi said, companies tend to look at the top sellers first.
There's competition everywhere!

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One big trend this past year seems to have been the astonishing growth of tourism. A picturesque little town on the Italian coast, population 2,000, saw in the neighborhood of two million visitors! The Guardian has a piece on the record number of visitors to the Louvre last year: Beyoncé and Jay-Z help Louvre museum break visitor record in 2018.
The Louvre, the world’s most visited museum, broke all ticket office records last year with more than 10 million people viewing its Paris collection of fine arts and antiquities, boosted by foreign tourists and the interest in Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s music video filmed there.
The 10.2 million people who came to the museum in 2018 marked a 25% rise in visitors, beating the previous record of 9.7 million visitors in 2012. It is the highest number for a museum of its kind, ahead of the National Museum of China and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Over ten million people visiting a single, if large, building in one year has to be a record. When my ex and I visited Paris in 1991 we were rather exhausted when we got to the Louvre, having just come from the Musée d'Orsay and seeing a lineup, even then, decided to just pass it up.

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Here is a story about five classical music "projects": Beyond the Concert Hall: 5 Organizations Making a Difference in Classical Music in 2018.
As a brand new resource, the Composer Diversity Database represents — pun intended — a progressive step towards a more inclusive canon. The search engine offers over three dozen filters to help users discover new music based on composers’ gender identity, ethnic or racial background, instrumentation, or all of the above. Search for people whose work you might have been missing, or contribute a new entry, here.
Whenever I see that hackneyed phrase "making a difference" I always want to ask, was it a good difference or a bad difference? It could go either way, after all, and I don't think making a difference for the worst is a good thing. The example above would seem to be a difference for the worst. Instead of searching for music by anyone at all that might be good, you can exclude whatever groups you like, typically "dark male geniuses" I imagine! That leaves you free to just focus on the politically correct oppressed groups like women and visible minorities. Yay!

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 I suppose the logical envoi today would be something by Lully. Here is the Chaconne from Act I of Cadmus et Hermione:

UPDATE: By special request, a second envoi of Kurtág. This is a piece for violin, viola and orchestra from 2003:


Marc said...

Something of Kurtag's, please! for a second envoi, dear sir, after a 'stupendous' late in life first opera like Samuel Beckett: Fin de Partie: I listened to the twenty seconds or so of music in the La Scala production trailer and, eh, could be decent, could be Woman of Salt-ish; can't tell much from such a brief passage. If the modernist experiment is best represented by its dark male geniuses, and if we now reject dark male genius, then what is left to venerate? Hmm.

Anonymous said...

Brian —

“I think what I enjoy the most about Ross' writing are the little obligatory asides like this one: "Such authority hardly exists any longer: the age of the dark male genius is past." Oh yes, no more dark, or light for that matter, male geniuses! From now on, only new and different voices will be heard”

Mr. Ross desires to be politically correct; he wishes to be a “young Turk”; and he is gay.

Marc said...

I suppose the Lully researcher at least is dealing with historic facts, with artefacts of performance history, and not only operating in her cocoon of theory and ideology, so I'm willing to count that as MN 'waking up', sure (although the thesis, in two comparatively brief sentences ["on the one hand..." and "at the same time..."], satisfied my interest in the subject of Lully as political weapon). The preceding post, analyzing the musical program of Senator McCain's obsequies, returned MN to sleep, as it were, although were I in the mood I'm sure I could have found some amusement in the careful analysis of the selection and performance of Simple Gifts and its bearing on contemporary challenges to the progressive movement toward truly democratic musics.

Anonymous said...

“The final masterpiece of twentieth-century music had its première last month, at La Scala, in Milan. “Samuel Beckett: Fin de Partie,” an operatic version of Beckett’s “Endgame” by the Hungarian composer György Kurtág”


A masterpiece of twentieth-century music?

What new area of psychological sensitivity is being explored in this music by Kurtag?

Sorry but the music in this opera is formularized, arid, vacuous, feeble, banal.

Kurtag's works define nothing - because they are about nothing - and they are the products of the ravages of the last century, without offering any perspective. Kurtag is not someone who defines the course of music history because music history is not defined by totalitarian pundits, but by meaningful musical works.

Why is this sort of self-destructive, entirely hopeless nihilism still cultivated as important artistic deeds?

Bryan Townsend said...

Very interesting comments! I added a Kurtág piece as a second envoi on request. I'm not sure why, exactly, but where Gubaidulina's music always seems interesting to me, Kurtág's usually doesn't.