Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Back in 2008 there was a fire at the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot that, while not reported at the time, destroyed hundreds of thousands of master sound recordings of artists since the 1940s. The National Post:
The extent of the loss, documented in litigation and company records the article cited, was largely kept from the public eye through a concerted effort on the part of the music label, the magazine said.
Many of the artists whose own material was reported to have been destroyed expressed shock.
“Oh my Lord … this makes me sick to my stomach,” singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow wrote on Twitter, posted with a link to the article. “And shame on those involved in the coverup.” 
Almost of all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost, as were most of John Coltrane’s masters in the Impulse Records collection. The fire also claimed numerous hit singles, likely including Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Etta James’ “At Last” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.”
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the issue with news media reporting that the masters, original recording media, are lost forever and Universal countering that very little was lost and the fire “never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists’ compensation.” The truth is likely that, while the original masters may have been lost in the fire, there are likely copies indistinguishable in audio quality from those originals.

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Jessica Duchen has a post up of an interview with composer/pianist Stewart Goodyear:
Absolutely thrilled to present a Q&A with the American composer and pianist Stewart Goodyear, who's in London today (QEH), Basingstoke tomorrow, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on Saturday and the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, on Sunday to perform his own suite Callaloo with the Chineke! orchestra. We talk inspiration, celebration, composition and golden ages...
Included in the post is a clip of the composer playing his own "Baby Shark" fugue:


The theme comes from a children's song that is a transformation of the ominous original from the movie Jaws. Doesn't the fugue remind you just a bit of the French neo-classic composers such as Poulenc?

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Musicology Now is rocking these days with a new post on alternatives to the traditional research paper.
The “problems surrounding the final research paper assignment,” as Knyt put it, have been well documented. Instructors report that students don’t possess the necessary research skills, are not prepared to engage critically with the material, do not understand the objectives, are not interested in their topics, don’t perceive value in the assignment, become overwhelmed by the scope of the project, or simply procrastinate. At the same time, few instructors are willing to abandon such assignments. In his 2011-2012 study of college music history classes, Matthew Baumer found that instructors placed a high value on skills associated with “the final research paper assignment.” These included the ability to find and evaluate sources, to construct a compelling thesis, and to write a substantial and well-documented research paper.
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Khatia Buniatishvili seems to attract a lot of attention and criticism these days. First of all, a snide little item in Slipped Disc where the comments are where the real fun is. The artist is accused of having a voluptuous figure, wayward musicality and supporting ultra right-wing Ukrainian nationalists. Classics Today has a review of the new Schubert album that says:
To call the pianist’s outsized dynamics and grotesquely exaggerated tempos in the C minor Impromptu a caricature is putting it kindly. One cannot deny Buniatishvili’s fleet-fingered wizardry as she subjects the E-flat Impromptu’s rapid scales to a smorgasbord of articulations and stresses, even though her approach seems better suited to Moszkowski etudes. In this context her robust yet sensitive shaping of the G-flat Impromptu surprises. So does her crisp delineation of the A-flat Impromptu’s main theme, even if her tempo adjustments in the Trio section are a mite theatrical.
I have to say, that of the two dueling pianists, Yuja Wang and Khatia, I slightly prefer her exaggerated Romanticism to Yuja's superficial agility. But that's just me.

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More accusations of "cultural appropriation" this time from the Mexican government directed at fashion designer Carolina Herrera:
On June 13, the Spanish newspaper El PaƬs reported that Alejandra Frausto, Mexico’s secretary of culture, sent a letter to Gordon and Herrera accusing both of cultural appropriation.
Frausto asked the team to “publicly” explain why and how the collection used traditional Mexican design elements. The secretary also inquired if Mexican craftspeople would be compensated for their designs.
The serape-printed knit dress approved by Vogue was called out as originating in Saltillo. Another “animal embroidery” motif repeated on a white gown came from Tenango de Doria in Hidalgo.
As Frausto explained, “In these embroideries is the history of the community itself and each element has a personal, family, and community meaning.”
Similar accusations were recently made in Canada toward a musician accused of stealing musical techniques from Indigenous artists. Legal issues aside, while you can certainly see characteristic motifs of Mexican (and Guatemalan as well, I think) designs in the collection, are we to assume all traditional motifs are now copyright in some way?

Click to enlarge
I think that underlying these kinds of disputes is a fundamental clash of cultures. On the one hand there is the developed world (what we might call "Western civilization") and its legal framework for the claiming of copyright within the context of free market capitalism. On the other hand there are the aesthetic designs and practices of traditional peoples outside that framework and context. These things are not going to blend seamlessly. A couple of very famous examples would be Picasso's "borrowing" of motifs from African masks and Stravinsky's use of Russian folk melodies.

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Here is the kind of dispute you can get your teeth into: Should the Pittsburgh Symphony play more new music? How do they choose?
Should orchestras play more new, diverse music? Or should they continue to program as they have for decades, emphasizing established ideals of quality and audience experience?
Proponents of new music argue that performing work by composers whose ethnicities and backgrounds reflect the diversity of the community should be a higher priority. A common counterargument is that art should be a strict meritocracy, i.e., that the best music should be programmed regardless of who the composer is. 
But then, who determines what is of artistic quality, really? So goes one of the more philosophically heated debates in the classical music world at the moment.
Apart from digging into the process the orchestra goes through in planning out new seasons and discussing the issue of how much new music to program, the article doesn't answer the questions, of course. This orchestra's solution seems to be to try and balance the new and the old, to seek out quality and to be constantly checking to see how the audience is responding. That's probably a good practical solution. Just don't get caught in the quota trap!

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This brings us to our envoi and today it will be double. Let's listen to the two up and coming women pianists we mentioned above. Tell me what you think of their contrasting approaches. First, Yuja Wang with the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky:


Second, Khatia Buniatishvili with the Piano Concerto by Schumann:


I think that's a reasonably fair selection? So let loose in the comments!

10 comments:

David said...

Bryan, in the Wang vs. Buniatishvili Battle, my vote goes to Sviatoslav Richter (Tchaikovsky PC 1 with Mravinsky and the Leningraders). Isn't life to short to battle? Opt for top quality that is available through the marvels of recording technology. [PS: If my comment triggers its own little battle, we might see a comment section that rivals the typical SD comments.]

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh! Sure, change the terms of engagement! I have a big box of Richter, but have not listened to the Tchaik 1. Will do so now.

I find the little marketing competition between Buniatishvili and Wang to be quite entertaining, actually. Not musically entertaining, but still...

Marc said...

I wonder if those Musicology Now pedagogues will be discussing the Gibson v Oberlin decisions? In any case, as silly as a couple of the non-written research paper projects may be, I don’t honestly know what one does (as a pedagogue) when one's students don't "possess the necessary research skills, are not prepared to engage critically with the material... are not interested in their topics, don’t perceive value in the assignment, become overwhelmed by the scope of the project, or simply procrastinate". As a pedagogue, however, I would be able to remedy the non-understanding of the objectives, I think.

Someone ought to undertake to program Stravinsky's Concerto for Two Pianos or Poulenc's Concerto in D minor for Two Pianos etc with Mesdames Wang and Buniatishvili. That would sell some tickets! (Did see that photograph of Hilary Hahn diving into water in a gown of some sort but didn't read to know the whys and wherefores; presumably something other than a demonstration that she would float, ahem, was underway.)

Bryan Townsend said...

There is a clip on YouTube of Khatia and Yuja playing a duet at a music festival, but I find it rather too, uh, stimulating to watch!

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Marc, John Halle was writing about the Gibson vs Oberlin decision recently ... and had ... some dot connecting he did between that and an essay at New Music Box ... I might eventually write a little about that.

Someone at Slipped Disc commented that with her chops Wang could play the Martinu piano concertos and that those concerti are not, unlike some other warhorses, spectacularly over-represented in commercial recordings.

https://johnhalle.com/burning-down-the-house-the-aesthetics-of-self-immolation/

The Baby Shark fugue reminds me more of Nikolai Kapustin's approach to fugue-writing than Poulenc, personally.

Didn't Taruskin somewhere suggest that the idea that only the art matters and not the artist's political leanings became popular in the 20th century because academics were reluctant to admit just how many pioneering modernist/avant gardists from the first half of the 20th century were openly sympathetic to totalitarian regimes?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

You know ... if we're going to compare the two pianists ... let's go with a piece they have both played, the Liszt Piano Sonata in B minor

Buniatishvilli
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPReaglBzx8

Wang (seems earlier in career before her sense of style as reported by the press was consolidated)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnPMXk_GaN8

Marc said...

Thanks, Wenatchee, for that link to the Halle essay, which I will read... but there is a queue.

"Didn't Taruskin somewhere suggest that the idea that only the art matters and not the artist's political leanings became popular in the 20th century because academics were reluctant to admit just how many pioneering modernist/avant gardists from the first half of the 20th century were openly sympathetic to totalitarian regimes?"

And I'd like to read that Taruskin, too, but only if someone else hunts down the source. :-) Doesn't it follow that if 'art is for art's sake' that such trivialities as politicking for one party or another don't matter? I've always thought of that tendancy in the context of the proposed distinction of an art object or event from objective beauty-- beauty as transcendant, along with truth and good-- but it should work just as well (if it works, I mean) so far as politics go, I imagine. Hmm.

Bryan Townsend said...

Ok, the Taruskin comment should be somewhere in the Oxford history or perhaps in an essay. I will have a look around and see if I can find it.

Marc said...

Began my week by giving the John Halle CD Outrages and Interludes a listen while walking to and from the market. Politics (in the broad sense, not 'partisan politics') and music, a few pieces interesting and/or with pleasant melody, several just progressions of sound set to propaganda texts that left my mind wandering to the more important points, local bird life, the explosion of the juvenile squirrel population, and idiot drivers of automobiles. At its best, amusing/interesting (am thinking here of The Twist and God's Love) ephemera. But I haven't gotten to his essay; post Missam, is the plan.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Marc, yeah, he's firmly in the left/green party/democratic socialist wing of things and discusses politics a lot.

His music is neither the best or worst stuff I've heard but he is a readable essayist. That from within a firmly left perspective he writes about the problems he sees in things like a fad for reparations or anti-racism as an ideological gambit that is used to disguise the ambitions of new composers who are willing to play the white supremacist canard over against engaging with a broader and more thorough history of the literate musical traditions makes him interesting reading. Defenders of traditional arts with more libertarian/conservative tendencies can give and have the impression that a social justice warrior/advocacy journalist mission doesn't get any critique from within left or liberal positions. Halle has been interesting to read as a counter-example of that perceived tendency.

So Halle writing that the Gibson vs Oberlin decision shows that bad faith stereotyped attacks on small business owners is dishonest demagoguery on the part of the liberal arts school is ... not how these things tend to get covered in online arts writings. He was not so surprised that one of the academics who was involved in agitating against the Gibsons turned out to be a music theory prof.