Friday, September 6, 2019

Friday Miscellanea


If you have ever played in the opera pit, you know what this is about.

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I somehow neglected to include this item in last Friday's miscellanea. Canadian Composer Julien Gauthier Has Been Killed By a Wild Bear Attack.

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The Violin Channel: Hilary Hahn is taking a one-year sabbatical from performing just to hang out. This could be a good model for young musicians who, I suspect, tend to drive themselves too hard and rarely take time to step back and re-evaluate.

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Oh, god, I just noticed, thanks to Jessica Duchen, that we are on the verge of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven. Brace yourselves for lots of concerts and new complete editions.

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Strike with the Band, an article at The Baffler, takes on some of the most challenging career questions in music.
Classical music is cruel not because there are winners and losers, first chairs and second chairs, but because it lies about the fact that these winners and losers are chosen long before the first moment a young child picks up an instrument. It doesn’t matter if you study composition, devote years to an instrument, or simply have the desire to teach—either at the university level or in the public school system. If you come from a less-than-wealthy family, or from a place other than the wealthiest cities, the odds are stacked against you no matter how much you sacrifice, how hard you work, or, yes, how talented you are.
You really need to read the whole piece. This is the core of the very pessimistic argument. I have to say that my experience was quite different. I came from circumstances just as unfavorable as anyone's but I managed to get an excellent education and graduated nearly debt-free. My career failures were due largely to myself and related to my limited conception of what sort of musician I was. Though I constantly struggled with money and had to miss out on opportunities as a result, I had a very fulfilling career in a number of ways and have continued my career in music with this blog and composition. No complaints! The problem with the article is that it is full of complaints and self-pity. If you go looking for musicians who are unhappy with their lot, you are bound to find some.

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The Paris Review has a very a propos article about how to listen to music.
Listening, for most of us, doesn’t feel like doing anything. It’s more of a sensation than activity, a dreamy, ill-defined feeling stretching through us. We’re often not aware we are doing it, or even fully conscious. We literally—when we forget to shut off the television or our Spotify playlists—do it in our sleep.
It doesn't feel like you are doing anything because you aren't! I have suspected that this is how most people listen to music--and it does tend to explain the career of a lot of pop stars. Sadly, after this promising beginning, the article slumps into a tired recital of bromides:
Ratliff believes that tone is where the humanity lies, where the emotion sneaks in. The tonal quality that a musician places around a note reveals something about them. It’s a confession: this is how I’m feeling right now. To understand tone, try blending your senses, seeing, feeling, and even tasting the tone. Ratliff suggests imagining the tone as a physical object. How close are you standing to it? How big is it? Is it fat or thin? What is it made of? Wood? Cotton? Melted chocolate?
Listening is an active skill. Departments of music have time-tested ways of training people how to listen that involve simple things like clapping back rhythms, identifying intervals and singing back notes and intervals. Higher levels involve writing down melodies and harmonies and singing melodies at sight. This is basic ear training. On still higher levels you learn the characteristic textures and structures of important pieces of music so that you can identify them from hearing just a fragment.

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The LA Times has a review of two Berlin Philharmonic concerts at the end of the Salzburg Festival (I knew I should have stayed longer!).
SALZBURG, Austria  —  There is so much being made about the mystique of Kirill Petrenko, the seemingly otherworldly 47-year-old conductor from Siberia who began his tenure as Berlin Philharmonic music director last weekend, that it hardly seems like mystique at all anymore. The fact that he does not sell himself has been made a selling point. He shies away from interviews and is said to be truly shy, a rare and you would think undesirable trait for a conductor. He is also said to leave his ego, if he even has one, at the stage door. Again, it is said (everything comes secondhand with Petrenko), that rather than genuflect before the greatest orchestral machine the world has ever known, as many a maestoso maestro has for the most sought-after job in the profession, Petrenko was genuinely surprised to have been selected by the players, who pick their music director themselves.
Read the whole thing.

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From just a few days ago, here is Kirill Petrenko conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in an open air concert of the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven:


(His conducting style reminds me a tiny bit of that of the long-time conductor of the Leningrad/St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Yevgeny Mravinsky.)

6 comments:

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

The Baffler piece reminds me of two things.

First, it reminded me that in his book A Composer's World: Horizons and Limitations, Paul Hindemith charged that the core problem with American music education in higher ed and at every level was that it was predicated on a basic lie, that any and every music student could become a virtuoso at the level of a Heifetz or a Horowitz and that there were jobs for all such music students when the reality was that the American music educational culture was primarily good at making music teachers who made more music teachers, the system was not geared toward encouraging people to be amateur musicians of the kind who could make a musical culture apart from work.

But when I minored in music in college I had a professor warn me that few people who study music land jobs in that industry but that if I find work that let me spend time with friends and family and still compose music that wasn't a bad deal. Not all music-making has to be done in the context of bills-paying career work.

Second, and thematically of a piece with that observation and of a John Philip Sousa style suggestion that the amateurs are where musical cultures emerge as much or more than professionals, The Baffler piece is in, well, The Baffler, and so the core argument is that capitalism is exploitive and that this is the over-arching theme across more or less any randomly selected article that will appear in The Baffler.

Bryan Townsend said...

I have heard the Hindemith book mentioned a number of times, but never got around to reading it. But that precise thought, that I was training students for careers as soloists or chamber musicians when the strong probability was that they would never find careers in those areas, troubled me for years until I quit teaching private lessons.

I had never read anything in the Baffler before, but I see you are correct. Capitalism is EEEEVVVVIIIILLLL!

My current two rules of life are:

1. Tell the truth, or, at least don't lie (stolen shamelessly from Jordan Peterson) and
2. Never vote for a socialist.

Marc said...

Yes, I wasn't familiar with the Baffler so expected more from the McMansion Hell woman's essay that I ought to have done; but our friend Nebal Maysoud did make an appearance.

Marc said...

At the 49 minute mark, Julien Gauthier's Symphonie australe, which I rather liked.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I think Hindemith's book is available as a freed pdf at archive.org, since it was published long ago enough to be in the public domain. I've quoted the book a couple of times at posts at my blog interacting with the ideas of a couple of musicians.

Yes, Nebal Maysoud got name-checked in The Baffler piece. I find myself somewhat disconnected at a couple of key levels from polemics for or against the symphonic and salon music traditions as a guitarist.

Given how much the deep pockets have shifted from "art" to "pop" music in the last seventy years, from Beethoven to Beach Boys or Beatles, there's almost a sense in which describing the inequities of classical music as emblematic of the inequities of capitalism has missed a train that left the station generations ago. Adorno was declaring opera a dead-in-the-water art supplanted by cinema half a century ago. It doesn't exactly mean he was right but it would mean that left/Marxist writers might want to take account for how one of the Frankfurt school pioneers was pronouncing the demise of highbrow sustainability half a century ago and more. Between Yesterday and Blinded by the Light we've gotten two films celebrating the Beatles and Springstein as assumed cultural touchstones (I find the Beatles and The Boss to be a bit overhyped, personally, though I'd take either over Justin Bieber, I suppose).

Bryan Townsend said...

I often have the feeling that a lot of the rhetoric coming from the left is very long in the tooth. As you say, Wenatchee, Adorno and Pierre Bourdieu said all this long ago.