Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Here is a photo of the inside of a cello. An old cello, because if you look closely you might see that some vellum or parchment has been used to strengthen the central seam:

Click to enlarge
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An article in the Montreal Gazette celebrates the long and devoted career of music critic Claude Gingras who wrote for La Presse, the largest French-language daily in Montreal.
For many years, press conferences in Montreal on subjects related to classical music took place in the afternoon. This was possibly for a few practical reasons, but above all because Claude Gingras, whose first story in La Presse appeared in 1953, would not attend such events in the morning. There was little sense in provoking the ire of the best-read classical critic in the city, and no sense in disseminating information that would not appear the following day under his magnetic byline. 
Many readers thought that certain performers had a harder time of it in a Gingras review, but he never betrayed his perceptions. “Has Pinchas Zukerman decided to become a decent musician?” he asked in a strongly positive 2014 assessment of a concert by a musician who had not formerly fared so well. (Something tells me this is one rave that did not make it to Zukerman’s press kit.)
I can recall reading an enormous review of an organ recital that must have been 2,000 words at least...

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From CNN comes this report: Toto's 'Africa' to play 'for eternity' in Namibia desert.
Toto's "Africa" has come home, so to speak, thanks to an installation by an artist who plans to play the song on loop in a Namibian desert -- for eternity.
German-Namibian artist Max Siedentopf has set up the sound installation, called "Toto Forever," in an undisclosed location in the 1,200 mile-long Namib Desert.
The blog where I saw this item labeled it. "WHAT CRUEL NEW COLONIALISM IS THIS?" which seems about right.

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This is something we all wish did NOT happen during a performance. Steven Isserlis has a string break during a pizzicato passage:

That has never happened to me, but it nearly did. At the Shaw Festival in Canada one summer I was asked to play something at an after-hours gathering for the actors. Just as I was being introduced I opened my case to discover that my fourth string had snapped at the bridge! I had an old set in the case for just such emergencies and quickly slapped another 4th on. The show must go on.

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The Salzburg Festival calendar is up for this summer's festival and three of my favorite pianists are scheduled: Igor Levit, Grigory Sokolov and Khatia Buniatishvili. This year I am going to try extra hard to get there!

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Last year was the 100th anniversary of the death of Claude Debussy and among other events, there was an interesting book published by Stephen Walsh. I think we already linked to a review of it, but there is a new and interesting article on the book and Debussy: Debussy’s Radical Search for Simplicity.
As Stephen Walsh shows in Debussy: A Painter in Sound—published in 2018, 100 years after the composer’s death—Debussy craved this simplicity and directness, but he had trouble finding it in his own musical milieu. He admired older French music—its “clarity of expression, that precision and compactness of form”—but felt it had been corrupted by German influences. French color, lightness, and concision were at odds with the drama, severity, and burdensome forms of Bach, Beethoven, and, most recently, Richard Wagner.
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The New York Times has an article on the violin makers of Cremona:
Florencia Rastelli was mortified. As an expert barista, she had never spilled a single cup of coffee, she said. But last Monday, as she wiped the counter at Chiave di Bacco, the cafe where she works, she knocked over a glass and it shattered loudly on the floor.
The customers all stood still, petrified, Ms. Rastelli recalled. “I was like: Of all days, this one,” she said. “Even a police officer popped in and asked me to keep it down. I was so embarrassed.”
The people of Cremona are unusually sensitive to noise right now. The police have cordoned off streets in the usually bustling city center and traffic has been diverted. During a recent news conference, the city’s mayor, Gianluca Galimberti, implored Cremona’s citizens to avoid any sudden and unnecessary sounds.
Typically as journalism goes, they get a lot wrong. The article is titled: "To Save the Sound of a Stradivarius, a Whole City Must Keep Quiet" which gives entirely the wrong impression. The article conflates two quite different things: the need for quiet around the violin museum where they are doing high quality recordings of the violins for posterity, and the fragility of the instruments themselves. No, a barista dropping a glass is not going to damage a fragile, old violin! Here is another semi-truth:
A Stradivarius violin, viola or cello represents the pinnacle of sound engineering, and nobody has been able to replicate their unique tones.
Well, sure, every wooden instrument is unique because every piece of wood is unique and the 17th and 18th century Italian builders both perfected the design of the violin and made some of the finest instruments every built, which is why so many violinists play them today. The violinist I recently recorded with plays an Italian instrument from the 1680s. But there are other great violin builders more recently that also build wonderful instruments. Hilary Hahn, for example, plays a 19th century French instrument.

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Let's finish with some good news/bad news. Italian cellist Franceso Raspaolo was fined 50 Euros for traveling on the train with his cello! Slipped Disc has the story. And the good news? When I was booking my ticket to Toronto for my recording sessions in December the travel agent promised me that I could take my guitar on board and stow it in the overhead compartments as it was within the size restrictions of the airline (Aeromexico). I was extremely dubious based on many negative experiences with Canadian airlines. But they were absolutely correct and I carried my guitar onboard and stowed it in the overhead on both flights. I recommend business class as I don't know what would happen if you were seated in coach and there simply was no room in the overhead. Your instrument might get bumped to cargo at the last minute...

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For our envoi today let's hear Hilary Hahn on her 19th century French violin which sounds pretty good even if it is not a Stradivarius. This is the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor with Paavo Jarvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra:


Marc said...

I read that article in the Times and wonder what I'm missing. There have to be other recording studios with similar super-sensitive recording instruments and one doesn't hear e.g. about nine square blocks in NYC or LA being shut down to record Billy Joel's greatest hits.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes! It's journalism! Everything seems to be trending towards second-rate journalism. It's not that hard to build a sound-isolated studio, though it is not cheap.