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Classical Music's Ivory Towers Laugh Hard, Fall Over, Soil Pants



Updated: 2017-08-19T10:42:54.936-07:00

 



In Which I Am Clearly Being Baited

2013-08-16T22:24:10.090-07:00

It is, really, unthinkable that this could be anything other than a blatant attempt to lure the ol' Detritus Review out of the garage and out for a spin.Poorly conceived and, however implausibly, perhaps even more badly executed; fact-free and full of ignorant, knee-jerk platitudes about music; written without recourse to copy, style, or content editors?  Clearly a ploy.  There is no way the good people at the San Francisco Examiner; no...wait, who?Examiner.com launched in April 2008, to provide freelancers across the United States with a platform to share their knowledge and expertise through informative and entertaining content.Huh.  Well, there's no way that could go wrong.We have an in-house editorial team that provides guidance and mentorship to the contributors.Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence. Our network has grown to over 100,000 contributors, captivating our audience with interesting, entertaining, relevant content on a variety of topicsSounds like a low-paid freelance crap mill.  I should know; I used to be an editor for one.  Who, one wonders, is behind this paragon of prose generation?Examiner.com is wholly owned by The Anschutz Corporation, one of the largest sports and entertainment companies in the worldGosh, I sure hope someone there has opinions about music.Turns out I'm...no, no.  We're all in luck, One last plea for classical musicPeter Adams, examiner.com, August 13, 2012Composers of atonal music haven’t harmed classical music. They have killed it.Yawn.  I don't like apples, but I don't go around saying "apples have killed fruit."  I suspect that this is because I am not an idiot.They insisted that the audience was not important, couldn't understand it, or just did not matter.They did? I mean, this could be referring to the famous article by Babbitt, but it seems more likely that it's just a broad, sweeping generalization.This was the height of arrogance.Not like writing freelance articles addressing topics about which you are woefully ignorant!Even Schoenberg who basically invented atonal music did not much care for it and publicly wondered more than a few times why anyone would want to listen to it.This is the dumbest thing I've ever seen, and I saw Battleship.Figure 1: Possibly worse than Transformers.Also, your prose literally makes me sad.  Also, I am one of the arrogant assholes that likes Schoenberg, and I think I've read just about everything he wrote that's available in English, and I challenge you to back up your assertion with, you know, facts.Today, has any set of recordings sold as poorly as the complete collection of Schoenberg’s atonal piano music?This is just raw speculation. It might even be libel. And it's certainly fucking stupid; why would you equate sales with quality?Figure 2: Far better than that fucktard Schoenberg.This article is Sarah Palin showing up to a speaking engagement with a Big Gulp, except it's not clear to whom this red meat is being proffered.  Ha ha stupid libtards with your atonal music!As a teacher in Southern California, he told students in his composition classes that the best way to make a living as a composer was to write jingles and music for advertisements.This, of course, is no longer true, as movies and television are now much more lucrative avenues.  But that was never the point, was it?He taught students to write atonal music, but then said don’t do it.Most of his students, actually, studied traditional counterpoint, harmony, form, and so forth.  And, again, there's not even an ancillary quote to back up this nonsense.  And, yet again, this "mentored" prose is about the same quality as a third-rate quarterback's out routes.Figure 3: I hate your writing this much.  Too few listened, and audiences are now stuck listening to the same old hash of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and occasionally, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and perhaps when a conductor is feeling adventurous will drag out music by Mendelsohn, Vivaldi, Saint Saens, Schumann, or J. S. Bach or un[...]



I'm here for Microwave Cookery

2013-06-08T09:33:03.093-07:00

On a “musical thrill-ride” of a concert where “fistfuls of piano notes” were “pitted against [a] full-throttle orchestra” in front of “1,941 concertgoers” and…well, no less than the “interaction of such electrifying sonic events with our senses invigorate(d) and inspire(d), providing sustenance for both body and soul,” the Springfield Symphony Orchestra performed Gershwin (yeah!) and Rachmaninoff (double yeah!!). Concert review: Springfield Symphony Orchestra shines with Rachmaninoff’s piano concertoClinton Noble Jr., April 14, 2013, The Republican (MassLive.com)But wait, there's more!The meat in the expatriate sandwich (as it were)…I’m not sure Gershwin could be called an expatriate because of, you know, the definition of the word.…was...Yeah?!...Walter Piston's...Whoa? Who the fuck is Walter Piston? figure Walter Piston:  "I'll give you a TKO from Tokyo!"...was Walter Piston's Fourth Symphony, penned in 1950 for the centenary of the University of Minnesota, and as American as apple pie. If it weren't for the pure Rachmaninoffian awesomeness on the second half, I know I'd be long gone.  I've got a connection to the interwebs...let's see what I can find out.  Well, first, Walter Piston actually lived in France for over 2 years.  I don't know why I care about this expatriate meme, but I just do.And (b), his symphony is “American as apple pie”?  Because he’s an American?  Does this mean I'm going to like his symphony?  Because, you know, Harry Partch was born in America too.  In fact, his music began a complete rejection of European concert tradition (or so Wikipedia tells me).  What could be more apple pie-ish than that?I really don't know what to think.  My gut is telling me that this Piston piece is music I've never heard, and therefore awful.  But my brain is confused by your American comment.  America is the greatest country god ever gave man, but on the other hand there's Eric Whitacre.   figure gift:  The greatest music god ever gave America.  Unfamiliar American composer…it just doesn't add up.Rhodes gave a brief spoken introduction to the piece and played its opening theme, marked “Piacevole,”…I don't know...'piacevole' doesn't sound very Merican to me.…or “pleasing” by the composer, before giving a scrupulously rehearsed and deeply expressive reading of the entire work.Sounds quite punctilious.  But I guess I’m still hung up on this "I've never heard of him" thing.  “I know when audiences see a composer they don’t recognize on the program, they think ‘Oh, no! what’s this going to be like?’” Rhodes admitted.Thank you.  That's what I've been trying to say.  Let's just put some Beethoven on this concert and be done with it.Piston offered nothing scary to the concertgoer, Rhodes further quipped,…Scary? As in American, or not-American?figure book: Chapter 1: Don't Write Scary Music…adding that he doesn't play “scary” pieces because he doesn't like them, either.Yeah.  Who the fuck likes “scary” pieces?Light-hearted as that sentiment might seem on the surface, it is a very telling commentary on the excesses of the previous century.Or the biases of narrow-minded musical midgets.  Wait…was that uncalled for? Nope, you’re probably right.  Those asshat 20th century composers totally ruined music.  If I don’t recognize the name of the composer (gasp!) then who knows sort of unclean sounds could enter my virginal ears. Indeed, as Rhodes asserted, works by Piston and other Americans like him, Hanson, Schuman, Thomson, et al., became eclipsed by the music of the intelligentsia and the academic avant garde, and never achieved the recognition that their content and construction merited, because they were perceived as appealing, therefore populist, and second-rate.Their awesome music was eclipsed by the awful music that no one likes?  How on earth did[...]



It's very easy to criticize...And it's fun, too!

2013-04-27T10:24:35.418-07:00

Everyone knows that classical music attained perfection in 1873.  It's a scientific fact.  Why people persist in expressing independent thoughts about music after then is beyond me.  Review: Symphony’s chamber program falls shortKen Keaton, Palm Beach Daily News, Feb. 20, 2013That's too bad.  Unispired programming, less than perfect performances...I wonder who or what might be to blame?In 1918, Arnold Schoenberg...Wait.  That Arnold Schoenberg?...(yes, that Arnold Schoenberg)…Yes?…founded the Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna.This is true. His purpose was to present modern music to small audiences in a chamber setting, and often he or his students would arrange larger orchestral works for a chamber ensemble.I can see now why you mention Schoenberg's society. Chamber ensembles in chamber settings?  Bor-ing.He believed that hearing the notes in a more transparent setting would make the music easier to understand.Okay, that sounds like an interesting premise. So...?Though Schoenberg is best known for breaking the tonal system…Well, crap.  I can't afford a new tonal system. …by creating a new musical language, his efforts were not limited to the most avant-garde works.Oh, inherent bias, where would we be without you?[...]



Article loads more fun to read than it must have been to write

2013-03-10T20:36:15.778-07:00

Chamber Series puffs up to symphony strengthNaples Daily News, March 5, 2013In a small, but musical, community a pick up orchestra performed Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.  It's a difficult work for even the most esteemed orchestras, what with its lack of clean, clear solos, spice-less phrasing, and the preponderance of multimeasure notes.The work is forged from four movements actually praised for their dance attributes,...I know, pssh...figure 1:  Beethoven composing a symphony.  And saving the universe from, oh, let's say Juggernaut?But what does it mean?...meaning it’s nearly impossible not to shake your head or sway at some point.That actually sounds true.The grandly dark second movement even lends itself to headbanging, if you’re channeling ‘80 rock culture.figure 2: The perfect analogy.The woodwinds gifted the piece with clean, clear solos, and the flutes shot deliciously peppery phrases into the third movement. Its ubiquitous timpani sounded like loads more fun to play than it must have been.What's not to like about that description about the otherwise bland, yet arduous 7th symphony.A dozen violins and about nine of the lower-registers were making lush music, throwing phrases from upper to lower and holding a marathon multimeasure note behind the other sections in the final movement.In case that was unclear, the lush throwing music is right after the end of the beginning of the middle.The secondary theme of the Second Movement seemed to pose a few challenges in tone for the violins. Still, this section sailed through the treacherous finale so nimbly and happily the uninitiated would never know this isn’t a standing orchestra with a full schedule.figure 3: Happily the uninitiated would never know that he's not fingering a real chord.Sounds like a pretty incredible performance.  And for a pick-up orchestra!  Is there some sort of outrageous claim you can make that will perfectly sum it all up?We have heard this symphony live three times in the last four seasons — once from the Los Angeles Philharmonic — and this stands with the best of them.Of course it does.---------------------------------------------------------------------------Do yourself a favor and read the entire article which includes gems like "...and each of its parts deserves to be savored, if only for 10 seconds, in our mental echo chambers."[...]



Oversight(s)

2012-12-25T19:56:02.560-08:00

Observer reviews, articles contained duplicated sentencesCharlotte Observer, 12/18/2012At first I thought that the paper (or writer) had unintentionally printed the same sentence twice.  You know: in a row.But no.A freelance writer who wrote theater reviews and articles for the Observer from 2009 until this month repeated paragraphs from other publications in about a third of the articles she wrote for the Observer. Okay, a couple of things:1) It took three years to figure this out?2) Who wrote this correction?  No one -- not even "Charlotte Observer Staff" -- is willing to take attribution.     a) Detritus Review Reader Challenge! Can you rearrange this sentence to be less clear? I don't think I can.     b) "[A] third" is dreadful. In what writing guide, editorial style sheet, or first-year freshman composition course is "one-third" not merely preferred but mandated as correct?    c) I would either use "[month] 2009 until this month" or "2009-12" (you can quibble about "2009-2012" if you like, but even though most newspapers are read electronically, AP style still places a premium on column-inches and prefers any truncated form as long as clarity is maintained).These duplications violate the Observer’s ethical guidelines and contractual agreements with freelancers, which require that writers produce original material.Look, I'm not out to cast aspersions on this writer, the name of whom I will omit. But let's not be afraid to use the word "plagiarism" when it's appropriate. In fact, one could argue that this is precisely the case for which the use of that particular word is reserved.In the Observer’s review in April 2012 of “Stomp” at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Belk Theater, 13 of 16 sentences were the same as sentences in a review published in MIT’s The Tech in 2001. Among other reviews with duplicated paragraphs:...Blah blah blah.In some cases, the writer repeated a distinctive phrase from another publication; in others she duplicated multiple paragraphs verbatim.Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/12/18/3732343/observer-reviews-articles-contained.html#storylink=cpyAt first I was all like Jebus! at least plagiarize from Tommasini or Kosman or someone who knows how to, you know, write sentences and stuff (not that The Tech is terrible, but: come on!).Figure 1: Kyle: Jimmy, exactly what part of the fishsticks joke did Cartman write? Jimmy: Well, he didn't actually write... any of it. Kyle: Let me guess: you came up with the joke, and Cartman sat on the couch eating Twizzlers? Jimmy: Actually, it was potato chips. But then I was all like, hey! that's clever, since no one will ever figure it out--it's not like the entire internet is archived and accessible via a full-text sear...oh, wait.The writer, [redacted-ed.], also repeated paragraphs verbatim in three articles in two Observer-owned magazines, SouthPark Magazine and Lake Norman.I...wait. SouthPark Magazine?Coincidence? or an hilarious coincidence?[The writer] apologized and said the duplicated sentences were unintentional."I totally meant to replace the paragraphs I pasted in from other reviews with original material, and simply forgot to do it, repeatedly, over a three-year span. For this I am sorry." Figure 2: Perhaps the oversight was due to a wide editorial stance.In the end, what's important here is that editorial oversight works, albeit sometimes slowly, and-The similarities in the reviews came to the Observer’s attention through a reader who saw one of Bell’s reviews, searched on the Internet for other reviews of the same show and discovered several duplicated paragraphs. The reader called the Observer last week. That call prompted an examination...[the writer] is no longer writing for any Observer publication.Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/12/18/3732343/observer-reviews-articles-contained.html[...]



Expanding the Parameters, or All Antecedents Have Consequences

2012-11-18T21:31:20.086-08:00

Holiday classical musical performances beyond the 'Messiah'David Weininger, Boston Globe, 11/17/2012Goodness gracious, is it that time already?  Never too early to jump back into the shark-infested waters, as my mom always said.**May not be true.Soon it will be Christmas.Thank heavens for the Boston Globe.  Talk about news you can use!What should you listen to?Should?  Uh...This is not a simple question.No shit.  What I "'should'" listen to is, apparently, prescribed by to the condition that "soon it will be Christmas."  That's a whole thing right there.  Perhaps I'm not a nominally Christian white East Coast American male over 55 who gives a shit that it's almost Christmas?Oh, wait.  This is in a newspaper.  Well, I guess you have to write to your audience.Figure 1: The all-inclusive target audienceHistorically, Christmas...If I said that I didn't like where this was going, I'd be lying...but only because of who I am and the blog for which I write.  I'm ten kinds of strapped in and prepared for the least-researched sentence ever....has been an immensely prolific time for composers, especially (and obviously) for those writing for the Christian church.I submit that the sense of "historically" being invoked here is not really anything as broad as the word itself suggests.  It seems to me that, here, "historically" means "during the 18th century."There was actually a relatively short period of time, in a pretty small part of the world, during which most composers were employed by Christian churches.But, of course, people, places, and times not roughly related to "the last two or three hundred years of European-American history" aren't included in "historically."But, now, see: perhaps that's exactly what this article is after: breaking the Christmas concert paradigm.Figure 2: "Now Andy, if you let them take thirty, they'll take thirty-five. If you let them take thirty-five,they'll take forty. If you let them take forty, they'll take forty-five."Slow down there, Sator.  You're a little rusty at this.  Don't be so quick to--But this trove of musical riches is astonishingly easy to lose sight of, even in so artistically sophisticated a place as Boston.Wow, okay.  I can't imagine that this sort of self-congratulatory onanism is going to live up to my optomistic projection.Figure 3: The sophistication of Boston's cultural patrons is matchedonly by their class and dignity.It can seem as though holiday offerings are confined to endless renditions of the “Hallelujah” chorus and an all-too-small group of holiday favorites.Although we're all sick of the Messiah--and I am therefore sympathetic to this sentiment--the contstruction "it can seem" is so unbelievably rhetorically weak that I'm rather put off.  Instead of invoking a familiar sensation, "it can seem" could be used to justify any number of terrible, terrible sentences.  To wit:"It can seem like your friend's hot daughter really appreciates your attention."See?How to break out of this rut?By continuing to employ a string of weak grammatical constructions?One strategy is to explore a Christmas distant in time and space from our own,Figure 4: Does the rabbit-creature have a garrotte made of stars?  ...and this is an experience that early music ensembles are especially skilled at providing.I'm gonna go ahead and write this off as a segue to talking about specific groups in Boston this season, since trying to understand the logic of this sentence in the abstract, as the alternative assumes some kind of non-Euclidian rhetorical space with which I'm not adequately equipped to deal.Figure 5: If you thought of it, there are already hundreds of images of it.Two such groups are Boston Camerata, an ensemble of instrumentalists and singers, and the vocal group Blue Heron. This year, the former is presenting “The Brotherhood of the Star: A Hispanic Christmas,” while [...]



Jonesing for Sesquicentenniality

2012-11-11T18:28:27.714-08:00

Yeah, yeah. We’re busy. We’re busy with all kinds of important things. Since our last public service announcement, we have collectively produced at least eight babies (six others are probable), three ex-wives (Sator does not count the one in Haiti), ruined at least two businesses, wrote three dissertations (two of which are still in the works, or not), and, in our spare time, have been making plans for the upcoming zombie apocalypse. (If anyone has or knows anyone who has property in eastern Idaho and is looking to sell, please feel free to contact us via this site)Unfortunately, this means that we’ve neglected our duties to the Detritus Review and to our generous sponsors, to whom we are eternally grateful. (ASCAP has yet to send me any checks, so I am especially thankful) But rest assured, dear Detritusites, you have always been in our prayers. Not to say that you can’t take care of yourselves in these distressing times; but, rather, we feel it is our duty to keep the critics in check so you don’t have to. Wasted time falls short of the tree…or something.So, apologies all around.And believe you me, I know it feels like a hundred and fifty years since last time; which is why today I feel the need to make up for our…Wait. What’s that you say? Debussy’s sesquicentennial is this year! O.M.G. [sic] I know; he had a weird, misshapen head. And…what…there are no real plans to celebrate? That’s…what? Okay. Yeah. Yeah. But…oh, good. Whew! There was a piano recital on which the second book of Preludes were…who? Thibaudet? He’s pretty good, if I recall.He confidently handled Debussy’s structural challenges…By playing them, one assumes, because they are written that way. That and he is a confident pianist who is playing the piano.It’s almost as if the very idea of form is something like kryptonite to pianists—could it be that they writhe in pain just at the sight of rounded-binary? Either way, Thibaudet seems to have overcome this stereotypical weakness. Good for him. Otherwise form might’ve hijacked all the oil tankers, thus further impeding the average hog rider’s thirst for freedom.On the other hand, perhaps I’m overreacting. Perhaps structure, here, is synonymous with effect. [Thinks about it]Nah. That’s crazy!He confidently handled Debussy’s structural challenges, as in the gradual shifts of tone that give the effect of a mist lifting in the prelude “Terrasse des Audiences du Clair de Lune.”At least this wasn’t from the New York Times. Can I get a holler!Well, don’t that just pee down my neck and call it a broomstick with more words!His textural variety, from twinkle to velvet, was gorgeous in the “Suite Bergamasque” and the three “Estampes.”See figure 1.                                                Figure 1. Kepler’s famous Textural scaleAnd finally, let’s play a game.As he finished the last swoop up the keyboard in the final selection, “L’Isle Joyeuse”…Cast your vote now! What happened after the last swoop?A. Thibaudet played an encore by Chopin, spoiling the birthday celebration.B. One audience member finally stopped coughing.C. Leonard Bernstein made an appearance, combed his hair.D. A lifelong Hells’ Angel member made everyone uncomfortable with piercing irony.And now for the answer! If you guessed B, one audience member finally fucking stopped coughing, you’d be wrong.As he finished the last swoop up the keyboard in the final selection, “L’Isle Joyeuse,” a bald, bearded man in a T-shirt sitting near the front burst out of his seat with a whoop, arms in the air as if at a rock concert. You go, dude.                                          [...]



Critic Is Large; Contains Multitudes, or "Masters Are Masterful"

2011-11-03T01:24:48.810-07:00

Exploring Bartok's Legacy With Plenty of EnergyAnthony Tommasini, New York Times, 11/1/2011Let's leave aside (by which I mean: let's don't) that the title editor made the random choice to capitalize one of the prepositions and not the other. In virtually every style format exactly zero percent of prepositions in titles should be thusly treated, but maybe it's some new quirk in Chicago 16 of which I'm not yet aware; because, hey: if you didn't change a bunch of shit, why would you need to issue a new edition? It's not like every editor in the world is basically required to buy one every time you...oh, right.Figure 1: The University of Chicago, publisher of the aforementioned eponymous ubiquitous style guide. So that's how they fund their insanely wacky devastatingly influential school of economics.Master is a term applied too loosely in classical music.This is, unedited [by me: ed.] and verbatim, the opening sentence in this review; no words have been manipulated to make it appear more prominent than it is.To declare someone a master makes it sound as if an artist had reached some benchmark of skill and insight, and every performance said master gave would automatically be masterly.I'm not sure that "mastery" necessarily equates to "consistency," but, yes, that word is thrown around pretty casually.In fact great musicians work constantly and continually challenge themselves. Wow. Good thing I read the New York Times, because I just popped into existence about 45 seconds ago and thought that great musicians were, generally, incompetent but insanely fucking lucky.But: fine. Overused designator. Too-oft typed moniker.Maybe the definition of a master is elusive.Wow; that's award-winning stuff right there. You think you can find insights like that in the Post?Figure 2: The Post, winner of the "Miss Congeniality" award in the 2010 Best Partisan Rag Pageant.But somehow you know one when you hear one, as was clear on Monday night when the pianist Andras Schiff played a recital before a full house of rapt listeners at Carnegie Hall. Really? Let me get this straight, paraphrase-style:*"Man, people sure throw "master" around a lot; it's vague to begin with and overuse just makes it kind of meaningless and trite. But man! You should've seen this concert! Dude was a master."Know what? I got your master right here. Self-proclaimed is the way to go, unless you're going to wait for the Times to come around and, finally, declare you to be such.Figure 3: True mastery is characterized by subtlety.Become the ruling body.*We are aware of all internet traditions.[...]



Thank God! Orchestra Doesn't Play Strauss

2014-01-30T08:07:53.291-08:00

Review: ISO's guest artists cast spells with enchanting classicsJay Harvey, Indianapolis Star, Oct. 15, 2011I love "guest artists"! And who doesn't love magic.If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...if only classical music would resort to black magic...Music associated with enchantment begins and ends this weekend's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concerts, but the way the program's other major work was performed Friday was no less enchanting.Perfect.  Enchantment associated music, other major works that are enchanting too...and to think some people think orchestra programming has become stale.But this makes me wonder...what is 'enchanting' music? Google images knows everything, let's ask them!figure enchanting: Oh, dear God. No!Jonathan Biss, Bloomington-born and on his way to becoming world-renowned, played the solo part in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat...Okay, so was this the enchantment asscoiated music, or the enchanting music? I actually thought this would be more obvious. Silly me....with an elegance that didn't get too lofty to convey emotional engagement.It's a tough balancing act, all that elegance muddying up the emotional engagement. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, just leave the elegance at the door. It's just so damn elitist. His generally crisp, even articulation never overcame his focus on tone, which had a rounded, singing quality even in leaping passage work.Wait, crisp articulations and rounded, singing tone in the same performance!?  And an elegance that didn't screw up all that emotional stuff? Get the fuck out!But why, oh why, must two positive attributes of piano-playing (good articulation and focused tone) be mutually exclusive? Thank god for players like Jonathan Biss, who defy the laws of music criticism and are the exception that proves the rule.I wonder what makes him such a great pianist.A thoughtful artist with lots of individuality to bring to the classic repertoire, Biss crafted a first-movement cadenza that blended youthful vigor and studied reflection, its resonant climax aided by abundant pedal.If I've said it once...more youthful vigor and abundant pedal, please!The slow movement had just enough reserve as its delicate song poured forth,...Yes...er...uh? Wait...reserved what?...with the piano's quiet, single-line outburst near the end filling the hall. The consistent brio and polish Biss applied to the finale...I know, seriously. Someone really should edit those changes into Beethoven's score. I know he's the "greatest composer of all-time", but he really should know better than to leave the brio and polish out of this finale.I mean, how else is he going to produce an ovation?...produced a slow-building but insistent ovation...See. Were they standing?! I sure as heck hope so if they expected to cause a spontaneous (completely unplanned) encore....that resulted in an encore: the fifth of Beethoven's Six Bagatelles, op. 126.If I've said it once...audiences love brio and polish!figure Brio plaster polish: Who knew.In the concerto, guest conductor Gilbert Varga kept the balance and coordination of the orchestra keenly matched to the soloist.I should hope so. This was no surprise,...Oh really? Why?...given the controlled grandeur and sweep of the program-opener: Mozart's Overture to "The Magic Flute."Of course! If I've said it once, I've said it thousand times. If you can control the grandeur of Die Zauberflöte Overture, then you are more than ready for the balance and coordination of pre-19th century Beethoven.But that opera, from which they performed just the famous overture, is so unconventional, what possibly could they pair it with on this concert? A conundrum that has plagued orchestras for centuries.The unconventionality of that opera from Mozart's last year is nothing compared to the bizarre pa[...]



Complementary work deserves compliments

2011-09-30T10:02:25.386-07:00

Review: Harrell finds many subtleties in DvorakBruce R. Miller, Sioux City Journal, September 23, 2011In great contrast to me, I suppose.Antonin Dvorak wasn't interested in writing any works for cellos -- ...He wasn't?... he didn't think they were good solo instruments.He didn't?Thankfully, wiser heads convinced him otherwise and he produced the Cello Concerto in B Minor -- ...Ah yes, the masterful op. 104. The first and only piece for solo cello that Dvorak ever wrote, not counting the first Cello Concerto in A major, B. 10, his Cello Sonata in F minor, the Polonaise in A major for cello and piano, the Rondo in G minor (which he later orchestrated), the arrangements he made of his Slavonic Dances for cello and piano, or the transcription of Silent Woods for cello and piano, and later for cello and orchestra.Wiser heads truly did prevail....a piece that Lynn Harrell owned Saturday night performing with the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra.Don't you mean pwned?Bopping along...Bopping along? ...in his little red wagon?...with the orchestra's parts, he practically made the music seem as if it was one of classical music's Top 10.Which, of course, it's not. Pssh.To even suggest that this piece belongs in the same esteem as Eine kleine nachtmusik or the William Tell Overture (just the Lone Ranger part, not the rest, of course) is blasphemy. Classical music's Top 10 is a sacred, unalterable law of nature. I mean, would you really have Time Life Recordings remake all those cds?He got his cello to sing, too, mimicking Lori Benton's superior flute work and justifying the brass section's noble fanfares.The cello sang, copying the flute and justifying the brass? Sure, that sounds like orchestration 101 to me.The piece -- part of a Dvorak night -- wasn't one you'd go home humming, but it did have plenty of work for everyone to do.So, the Dvorak was more like Bill Lumbergh?figure superfluous Office Space reference, loosely tied to Dvorak: "Hello Peter, whats happening? Ummm, I'm gonna need you to go ahead come in tomorrow. So if you could be here around 9 that would be great, mmmk... oh oh! and I almost forgot ahh, I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, kay. We ahh lost some people this week and ah, we sorta need to play catch up."Harrell, in fact, gave his fingers such a deft workout you frequently wanted a camera on them to see just how he was able to zip from the melodramatic to the sublime.Precisely, a giant scoreboard with closeups, replays, and the 'kiss cam' in between pieces. Whatever I can do not to listen to the music.Harrell played well with all sections of the orchestra (even those that had some timing snags) but he was particularly chummy with the woodwinds.figure chummy: Lynn and the woodwinds reenacting the battle of Antietam. As I assume most woodwind sections do.The adagio showed they were willing to step up to their guest's level and compete. The horns did nicely, too.I'm sure the horns will appreciate the shout-out.And that chilling fanfare in the end? It may have been Dvorak's way of putting a button on a request,...A button?...but it certainly gave Harrell the rest he needed before launching into a more familar [sic] encore.Just as Dvorak intended. Subtly, of course.The rest of the program was filled with other Dvorak works...As all-Dvorak programs tend to do, from time to time.... -- the rather passive "In Nature's Realm," the more familiar Symphony No. 7 in D minor."Passive", "familiar"...sounds like a Dvorak concert to me.Still, it was the Lynn and Lori show that impressed.I love that show.figure Lynn and Lori: Thank you, pop culture.While the rest of the orchestra got a chance to shine in the third number, it was Benton's complementary work that deserved the compliments.Are we still talking about the concerto?Harrell may not have the[...]



Friday Quickie: Tales of Not-Quite New Music

2011-09-09T15:47:53.220-07:00

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra ReviewIain Gilmour, EdinbourghGuide.com, September 5, 2011The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra is well-remembered from its five-concert residency at the 2003 Edinburgh International Festival.Excellent. Sounds like repeat engagement would bring about a wonderful reunion.Neither memories nor growing repute from widespread touring were sufficient to draw a reasonable-sized audience to the first of its two concerts closing the Usher Hall run in the 2011 Festival.Hmm. I wonder what the problem was? Also, what's a reasonable-sized audience? How unreasonable could it have been -- was the fire marshal called?figure reasonably-sized: Seems to fit nicely.The choice of programme could have been a determining factor.Really...the choice of programme? I've never heard such an accusation before.Did they program symphonic U2? Because, there's no way I'd miss that! src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Kt5_gQyGrE8" allowfullscreen="" width="420" frameborder="0" height="345">embeddence U2: Note the presence of a singable tune. An evening devoted solely to Messaien and Bartok is not a sure crowd-puller.Oh, of course. Composers who, despite being dead (a major plus), had the misfortune of writing music after the era of good music had ended.That is no criticism of the orchestra or its English conductor Jonathan Nott,...Of course not. It's not their fault that music after 1900 is awful....who has just extended until 2015 a tenure as principal conductor begun in 2000. Nott encouraged and controlled the players admirably in the opening item, Messiaen’s Chronochromie.Encouragement and mind-control are indeed good tactics, but really, you'll catch larger audiences with Beethoven than you will with Messiaen.Conventional wisdom, I know, but playing the Messiaen well will never mean as much as not playing it at all.But since the orchestra has lost their minds, and are probably only performing in front of the cleaning crew and student composers, tell us a little about this piece.The work encapsulates two ideas – time and colour...Hence the name.... – and demands a big orchestra, with the usual percussion section enlarged by gongs, bells, glockenspiel, marimba, cymbals and xylophone.Wait. Gongs, bells, cymbals, and xylophone are unusual percussion?figure futuristic instrument: Observe the unusual shape and strange bends in this seemingly normal hunk of metal. For Messiaen sounds had colour and time was expressed by rhythm and duration.Wait...time was expressed by duration?! That's clearly some freaky shit.[snip]The orchestra produced every twist and turn in the score,...Against their better judgment, I'm sure....from “twittering” sections – reflecting the composer’s lifelong interest in bird song -- to “off-key” combinations with accurate sound and precise timing.Just think how much better this piece would have been had it been "on-key".Messiaen was a complex character – composer, ornithologist, church organist (for 60 years at Holy Trinity in Paris) and teacher. His spell as Professor of Harmony at the Paris Conservatoire may have had more influence on the development of modern music than his compositions – his students included Stockhausen, Boulez, Goehr, and Kurtag – though he was the first composer to use an early version of an electronic keyboard.And this is all very important and interesting, of course, providing that no orchestra ever play their music.[...]



Writing about Music Still as Awesome as Last Time I Checked

2011-09-05T15:25:49.659-07:00

Diamond season off to brilliant startD.S. Crafts, Albuquerque Journal, 9/2/2011Don't bother clicking the link; the Journal is, apparently, so awesome – one hopes this is due to its expensive and, ergo, excellent staff of wordsmiths – that they don't just give their advertising-soaked content away for nothing. You can sit through an ad for a trial version if you really want to.I find this patently fucking offensive. Let's just say I'll be getting my local arts coverage somewhere else from now on.I guess I could take the print version, but (as a friend of mine always replies when offered a subscription to the Austin American-Statesman) I have neither a bird nor a puppy.---Begin Digression---A few words are in order. Yes, it has been a long time; life intervenes. Sue us. Also, the Austin-based percentage of Detritus Review writers went from 50% to 66% to 33% to 0% in the short space of a year.* Doings, as they say, are afoot.*I was going to make a graph of this, but I didn't.Clever readers will have already surmised that I have relocated to Albuquerque, along with Mrs Arepo and the cat. (Yes, all bloggers really do have cats. No, you cannot see a picture.) All is well and the chile is excellent and near-daily.Figure 1: Chiles rellenosEnough.---End Digression---My first and only sojourn into the Albuquerque Journal's Pay-to-Read Arts Coverage was rewarded with the requisite Hacky Classical Music Review Title.Diamond season off to brilliant startOh, well played, sirs. Way to not fall into the dreaded let's-at-least-use-the-second-stupid-thing-that-pops-into-our-collective-head trap.The Santa Fe Concert Association commenced its 75th anniversary season in grand style, bringing to the stage of the Lensic Performing Arts Center soprano Susanna Phillips among others.If I were the arts director, I'd bring her to the stage by herself — as befits the featured artist — and leave the “others” sort of in the background. What? It was just a missing comma? Oh, never mind, then, newspaper-that-thinks-I-should-pay-for-its-awesome-online-content.Phillips, seen in August on public television’s Mozart concert, is quickly and rightfully becoming one of the most celebrated singers in the country. A veteran of three Mozart leads at the Santa Fe Opera, she sings two primary roles at the Metropolitan Opera this season.She does and/or will?Conducted by Joseph Illick, she opened the program with the “Four Last Songs” by Strauss.I'm a little confused about agency here; I admit that this might be my own problem.Figure 2: The crumbling ruins represent sentencesSomber songs about death are not exactly the most festive work to begin a gala opening concert, but from a performance of such radiant beauty there were anything but objections.Okay; no. It's not just me. Prepositions aren't interchangeable and/or to be omitted ad libitum. The first phrase, which has a prepositional deficiency so severe it likely has scurvy, gives way to a second clause implying that the performance was so exquisite it didn't even object to itself.With long, warm phrasing she gave heartfelt meaning to each of the poems. Illick carefully gauged the tempos of the predominantly string sonority to allow her a maximum of expression.One notes with interest that the author of the review is himself a composer; this is a nice insight.Phillips then returned for selections from Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2, “Lobgesang,” which includes chorus, soprano and mezzo-soprano.Selections? They didn't play the whole symphony? You stay classy, Santa Fe Concert Association.Here in contrast to the introspective Strauss, she let loose the full power and luster of her voice and shone brilliantly above the orchestral textures.Still working on that “diamond” thing, eh? Wa[...]



Concert ruined by programming Schumann

2011-06-23T07:15:34.663-07:00

The following article really isn't a bad article. I really should say that it is indeed a good review. This is the Anne Midgette I enjoy reading. She is a fine writer with an attention to argument and word choice that appeals to my particular tastes. But despite my favorable opinion of this review, it left me with a couple of observations I thought needed making.Music review: ‘Juggler in Paradise’ at NSOAnne Midgette, Washington Post, June 10, 2011Even in an article primarily dedicated to the work of a living composer, it appears that the relative dissonance is still the defining criteria of whether a piece is good or not.Augusta Read Thomas writes music that is dense and smart but also listenable.Oh, the false dichotomy...could there be a Detritus Review without you.So...only dumb music is listenable? And therefore, all smart music is unlistenable?Thick with complex rhythms, bright with textures, dappled with particular shades of dissonance alternating with snatches of melody, it doesn’t blatantly try to seduce the hearer, but it doesn’t want to be off-putting, either.This is an interesting comment. In the hands of a lesser writer, I'm not sure this could be read in any other way than to say, "this piece is dissonant, but not too dissonant".However, more intelligently written, I still think Midgette's point is simply to alleviate the dismissals of those who would, well, dismiss the music of living composers.There are melodies, but not pretty ones. Got it.Hers is emphatic music, making its points with a care that approaches the finicky, but it’s always looking over its shoulder to make sure that you’re following.Sure, why not. Although, I'm not sure I'd ever call finicky music emphatic.Its blend of intellect and accessibility makes her music very popular with orchestra programmers and conductors.Okay, so here's that sentiment again, of her music's smartness/intellect. Doesn't this immediately beg the question, what makes her music "smart"?Rather than immediately starting in with an assessment of her music's dissonance levels, why not explain the very opening sentence -- "Augusta Read Thomas writes music that is dense and smart but also listenable." You have three adjectives here...why must listenable be our only focus?And in this case, listenable seems to ultimately equal levels of dissonance and consonance.Of course, smart and dense in music are not as easily defined as I think is assumed here. I know I'm nitpicking Midgette here somewhat, but it seems especially frustrating when she has so many good things to say in her review.Also, I don't want to disregard this matter of a piece being "listenable". However, I do find that very word to an uninviting place to start. Are there really unlistenable pieces out there?It's an absurd sort of phrasing -- pieces of music whose sounds cannot be perceived by human ears, or cause so much pain to be safe for aural consumption?Fine, I'm being too literal. Like I said, I don't wish to ignore listenability. All music must grapple with it's accessibility and it's popular appeal, even if it wishes to disregard them.And this leads me back to Ms. Midgette's review of Thomas' concerto...[snip]The music, though, might not be so popular with audiences.Interesting. Her smart but listenable music isn't popular with audiences? Any thoughts?Eight pieces in two decades by one orchestra is an excellent track record for a composer in her 40s, yet it’s hardly enough to breed familiarity among the public.So, this isn't her fault? Is it that by new music standards, popular still equals rarely performed?Despite Eschenbach’s presence and the work’s presentation between two slices of Schumann (the “Braut von Messina” overture on one side, the [...]



Friday Quickie: That's not something you see everyday

2011-05-21T11:09:40.657-07:00

It's a slow news cycle here in the detritus world of music criticism. And as such...

Symphony in A minor a minor disappointment

Oh. Dear. God.

This week's Minnesota Orchestra concerts, heard Thursday at Orchestra Hall, mark the climax of its season-long Rachmaninoff symphony cycle.

I think the story here is that the Minnesota Orchestra has completely given up on programming good music.

Har har har...see what I did there?

Sorry, I'm sure some of you out there just love Rachmaninoff...but just admit it, you're totally wrong. Right?

Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3 in A minor is the composer's final symphony and one of the last of his orchestral works.

In fact that the only other orchestral work he composed (Symphonic Dances) was the only other piece he wrote at all until his death seven years after this symphony. Just saying.

As such, it is a nice pairing with the contrastingly youthful "Firebird."


Sure, what the hell.

The first movement opens in deep melancholy, perhaps expressing Rachmaninoff's sense of loss and of time passing.

Perhaps. But if you're basing this on the fact that you heard the Dies Irae, you should note that every piece Rachmaninoff ever wrote has the Dies Irae in it...or something like that.

So, how was this symphony "a minor" disappointment?

Wigglesworth missed the depth of emotion, stressing orchestral precision over passion, the result feeling somewhat cerebral and cold.


Well, that's not something you read everyday. Rachmaninoff -- "cerebral"? Surely you jest.

(image) figure don't see that everyday: It is just as true today as it was in his day. Amen.

----------------------------------

Actually, Rachmaninoff's music isn't not cerebral. It's just so much more common for his music to be inundated with superlatives extolling the emotional genius of his music. I mean, it's not like he's Bruckner or something.





Friday Quickie: Comparison wasn't not apt

2011-05-13T11:36:09.498-07:00

Making an analogy, or even a direct comparison, can be an illuminating device when talking about abstract concepts. Of course, some people use them in place of an actual point, but Richard Nilsen has a point...just not a good comparison.Symphony review: Singer Addis punks out on Mahler songsRichard Nilsen, Arizona Republic, Apr. 22, 2011“Punks out”?…Okay, how did Addis punk out on Mahler?Phillip Addis wasn't no Sinatra.Wait. Phillip Addis was not no Sinatra?So… Phillip Addis is Sinatra?The baritone sang Gustav Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer" with the Phoenix Symphony this week…Wait…the singer who's not no Sinatra sang Mahler?How’d he do?…and the performance was a major letdown.Well, Sinatra wasn’t known for his Mahler performances.Sometimes you wait a whole season for a particular concert, because the music scheduled isn't merely beautiful or entertaining, but promises emotional transport.I wish I had something clever to say here, but really, this is something unique that a symphony orchestra has the power to do but so rarely does. And this seems especially true since they rely so consistently upon the same pieces that have already emotionally transported me many times before.After all, that is why we who love classical music persist in a love for a dying art form: It can take us out of ourselves and leave us feeling the radiance of the universe.The art form isn’t dying, it’s just that people always insist on performing pieces that people already know they love.The classical music universe is definitely not expanding the way most orchestras program.It is almost a drug and we crave it.Exactly. But we digress.So, I’m assuming you love the Mahler “Songs of a Wayfarer” and you wished Sinatra were singing them? …And when something like the Mahler sits there on the calendar all year, beckoning us to wait for its April date, we hope once again for that emotional and spiritual fix.Oh, come on, Mahler’s on the calendar every year. But, I guess I know what you mean.Well, perhaps you can expect too much.If you expected Sinatra to sing your Mahler, perhaps you did expect too much.It wasn't that Addis sang badly.Oh. Was his diction good?Certainly his diction was good. Good. Music is all about diction.As if music were about diction.Wait? Music’s not about diction?But the Sinatra comparison is dead on:…Are you sure, because I can’t even begin to imagine why you’d compare this singer to Sinatra.…When you heard Frank Sinatra sing, you knew - or felt you knew - that he had lived every word of the song he sang.And there’s never been a classical singer who you felt this about before? Perhaps even someone who has sang the Mahler before?The emotional intelligence he brought to lyrics meant that even as his voice declined, his ability to put across a song never wavered.Exactly. Like when he sang:Come fly with me, let's float down to PeruIn llama land there's a one-man bandAnd he'll toot his flute for youI totally feel like he’s been to Peru, in a way no other artist could.And the emotional content in lyrics like:She'll have no crap games with sharpies and fraudsAnd she won't go to Harlem in Lincolns or FordsAnd she won't dish the dirt with the rest of the broadsThat's why the lady is a trampWhen he sang that, I could feel that this woman really eschewed the cultured, high-society conventions of her day...like not driving domestic automobiles.It was what was missing from Addis' performance: He never convinced us - never even tried to convince us - that the words actually mean anything. This seems fair. But did you really need Sinatra to make this point?The styles of singing (and the songs themselves) really don't[...]



The Greatest Review You've Ever Read?

2011-04-27T19:46:55.686-07:00

We here at the Detritus have come to learn that great music is great because it's aesthetically and technically stunning, makes money, makes people happy, is liked by more than 216 people, can run 40 yards in 4.2 seconds, and is written by someone famous and dead.However, these common criteria leave out, arguably, the most important factor...what's in here. [I'm pointing to my gut]Concert review: Blomstedt, PSO create a Brahms experienceAndrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 09, 2011We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to define greatness,…So true. And from what I can tell, it's pretty much an exact science nowadays...Like when Mel Kiper said of JaMarcus Russell, "Three years from now you could be looking at a guy that's certainly one of the elite top five quarterbacks in this league. Look out because the skill level that he has is certainly John Elway-like."figure greatest JaMarcus: The epitome of spending an inordinate amount of time defining greatness.JaMarcus Russell is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, right?…and classical music is particularly obsessed with it.Well, when you only listen to the same 10 or 15 composers who all died over 100 years ago, might as well rank them between sessions of masturbating over which conductor's phrasing of Mahler 4 was ejaculatory enough.Was that harsh? It felt harsh. Anywho...But so often it is a debate made away from the music in question…What do you mean “away”?… -- in a coffee shop or a classroom, in an article or a book.And you prefer that debate be made inside the music? Words are my tool of choice when I wish to communicate specific thoughts and ideas. Do you want me to make an argument that Beethoven's music is great with music? I’m not sure I follow.But what role does experience play?I’m going to guess that most of the people debating this have experienced classical music before. No?So Mr. Smarty-pants, how do you define greatness in music?As of late I have come to define greatness in music as any composition or song that, when listening to it, seems the best work I have ever heard.Like I said, defining greatness is pretty much down to science these days.When I am listening to a Beethoven Symphony, I can't imagine another that's "better."I’m not sure you’re actually familiar with the concept of a definition.But now that I think about it, our imaginations should be the first criterion for any good definition of the greatness of music.Same with Chopin's nocturnes and Wagner's operas, Schubert's lieder or Radiohead's albums.Radiohead does make the best Radiohead albums…although Muse releases pretty good Radiohead albums, too.No wait...neither of them releases very good Radiohead albums.But, hey, wait a minute.What if I can’t imagine a better piece, but I feel like there must be one. Is it necessarily so that imagination is greater than feelings?I don’t know, because I imagine that you have no idea what you’re talking about, but my gut feeling is that you’re absolutely right.figure greatest method of transportation: I can't imagine a more seaworthy vessel.Never mind…[snip]Moving along, Brahms' First Symphony was on the program (clearly the greatest symphony ever), as was his First Piano Concerto...I am happy to report that pianist Garrick Ohlsson is human.This was in doubt?He missed a note in his brilliant performance of the First Piano Concerto,...I really hoped you pointed this out to him after the concert. However, in his defense...figure concerto: Garrick Ohlsson won't let a little thing like the greatest piano concerto ever get in the way of sweet, sweet vengeance.…and it actually made me apprecia[...]



And once again, a day-time talk show has shown us the way...

2011-04-10T14:49:17.561-07:00

It's tricky business commenting on and critiquing the work of others, and I'm speaking of our work here at the Detritus and not just the role of the critic in general. I've read a lot of reviews in the past couple years and I'm starting to wonder if I can ever be satisfied.With that...Music Review: Richmond Symphony OrchestraDevorah Ben-David, Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 6, 2011The Richmond Symphony Orchestra wowed classical music aficionados during its Masterworks performance at the Carpenter Theatre.Well, surely this review will break the trend.However, I’m curious why classical music aficionados were singled out here. I guess the obvious implication is that regular music aficionados and general classical music patrons were un-wowed by the performance at the Carpenter Theatre.Intriguing, indeed."Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents for Orchestra," written by Haitian-American contemporary composer…I like what I see here. New music...and one and a half sentences without the need to snark.But yes, that contemporary music does tend to scare of those classical music novices.…Daniel Bernard Roumain, launched the energetic opening piece.A rough turn of phrase, to be sure, but you still have me. New music wows classical music lovers -- good news indeed!So, can I hope for more than a one sentence review? Some in depth history or analysis? And more importantly, that this contemporary composition isn't just viewed through the lens of some gimmick, and be allowed to exist by itself as a work of art?It was inspired by a 21-second dance shared by then-Sen. Barack Obama and Ellen DeGeneres on her TV show in 2007.Hmmm… er. I hope this piece isn't as lame as it already sounds. Sorry, Daniel. I’m sure it’s a great piece and all (I mean, it did wow classical music aficionados), but just because it’s contemporary doesn’t make it not cheesy.Remember, how we discuss music colors the reactions of others...and I'm not just alluding to critics. Contemporary music cannot just be another scavenger of the trash-heap of pop culture.But, how about alleviating some of my concerns that this is just some trite gimmick about “hope” and what not?His message is one of hope that the road to peace might be better served by dancing together than haggling over our differences.figure misunderstood: "It's trying to bringing love! Don't let it get away! Break its legs!"Who knew that the road to world peace went through a moderately amusing segment on a morning talk show.I guess I shouldn't talk since I did write my Will it Float? Symphony.And I do love when music is about all that hope-y, change-y stuff. It’s a powerful message, no doubt. One I’m not sure many composers have the courage to put out there.The composition, which was commissioned by the Sphinx Commissioning Consortium, is fundamentally a dance piece.Meaning people are intended to dance to it? How many dance halls employ full symphony orchestras nowadays?It appears to include a part of everything Roumain has met in his musical life in terms of the classical and pop world.Oh boy, a piece about world peace that bridges the divide (once again) between classical music and pop music.I’m sorry. I love new music.Snap out of it, Gustav.As the three movements of the piece unveil, the element of surprise is intriguing. "Dancers" begins with a banging solo…Is that “banging” as in awesome, or “banging” as in whacking stuff with sticks?…for the timpani and drum kit, so reminiscent of Afro-Caribbean melodies.I’m not sure which part that sentence is extraneous…the “so” or the comma, but we definitely need to lose one. And I t[...]



Anything written in A minor is bad-tempered gnashing of teeth*

2011-03-19T13:52:56.318-07:00

I know critics must hate it when we take them literally, but seriously, is there any other way to read this?

Georges Bizet’s only complete symphony was a breeze for Sitkovetsky. All he had to do was conduct,...

Is that all? Pssh, I could have done that.

(image) figure bizet: Compositional facial hair of the week.

...and he did it well, as in the other pieces.

But the Bizet, unlike the other pieces, was a breeze...what would you say made it so easy for Sitkovetsky?

He styled the melodies just right, marked effective, brisk tempos...

Well, that sounds like it might have taken years of training, not to mention a unique aptitude to style melodies "just right". So, that's not it...

...and shaped the structure so that it was just as much fun and enjoyable as the composer’s masterpiece, “Carmen.”

He made it as much fun as Bizet's opera "Carmen"? What an incredibly odd thing to say about his symphony. But still, that doesn't sound very easy at all.

Anything written in C major is always happy and spring-like.

So very true. But, is the Bizet Symphony in C in C major...? [checks the internets]

Why, yes, it is in C major!

So, therefore no matter what
Sitkovetsky did, the music would always be happy and spring-like, leaving him ample time to mark effective tempos. That Sitkovetsky is one clever SOB.

Sitkovetsky didn’t hold any of that back.

Wait, what kind of asshole would hold back C major awesomeness?

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*Find out what emotions are for all the keys here.



Friday Quickie: Performance took the miraculousness to a new level

2011-03-11T05:05:00.196-08:00

I'm pretty sure there are rational explanations for most of the review that follows. But just in case, I think we need to set some ground rules. Some simple guidelines to help us get through the perfunctory introduction and description of standard works of music: 1) They aren't miracles, and 2) orchestras do more than "offer accounts" of said music, but less than rewrite the emotional content of the music.Yes, I think that's a pretty good start.Review: Young Spaniard leads ISO through a fine programJay Harvey, Indianapolis Star, March 5, 2011A young conductor with an adventurous…Ooh… “adventurous”. I am a fan of adventure, so consider me very excited.…resume is on the Hilbert Circle Theatre podium this weekend, putting the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to the test with a couple of challenging American works.Challenging? American? Hmmm....No worries...still excited.But there is more than just the bracing novelty of hearing John Adams' "Lollapalooza" and Aaron Copland's "Short Symphony" to commend this program to the public's attention.I object to the classification of either of those works as novelty. Especially the Copland…I mean it has the word symphony in the title – how much of a novelty could it be?figure Lollapalooza Warning: Who knew Lollapalooza was written in Pakistan.I’m pretty sure that no offense is meant to either composer (I think), but I really am not sure what to make of calling American compositions novelties.But, that’s actually not while we’re looking in on this review…[snip]After the orchestra “presented a cohesive performance” of Lollapalooza…The 1933 Copland work, composed just past the crest of his high modernist period,…Okay, I’m not sure Copland ever had a “high” modernist period (well at least in the 20s or 30s). But whatever...…is less calculated to provide fun for either an orchestra or its audience.“Calculated to provide fun”? That’s an odd turn of phrase when reviewing a symphony.figure calculated fun: Modernism at its most fun.Are any of the Brahms or Beethoven (for example) symphonies calculated to provide fun, or do we just reserve that qualification for novelty works?It contains some elements of the popular appeal that would soon come to the fore in major ballets such as "Appalachian Spring" and "Billy the Kid."Yes, that’s kind of true. What exactly are those "popular" elements? And what makes up the rest of the elements in the piece? It’s post-“high modernist”, not very fun, and preceded his populist music, and...?But playing it may tend to reflect a love of labor more than a labor of love.Har har. That’s some good word play, but I have no idea what would make you say that. Do you have some reason to conflate his politics with this particular piece of music, or were you just looking for something topical, yet relevant to Copland to say?If so, nicely done.figure love of labor: Just as upset at all these fat cat teachers and their fancy 1993 Nissan Sentras as I am!So, now that we've fully established the history of this great, yet novelty work...what kind of performance did the orchestra offer?Despite some tentativeness in the fast outer movements, Friday's performance offered an admirable account, with some nicely pointed lyrical contrast in the second movement.An admirable account. Excellent. This seems like a great program so far, offering us a cohesive performance, then an admirable account…what else does the ISO have to offer us?Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter, in a return ISO engagement, offered a pert, frolicsome account of[...]



And Yet Another Orchestra Shows Incredible Balance

2011-02-27T17:22:24.143-08:00

Another harmless review...but I'm not sure why I have to say this, but composers write the music, not the conductor, or the soloist, or the players. At a certain level of musicianship, the music isn't demonstrably more sad or powerful or jubilant. Tempos change, and articulations can vary...but these alterations are often slight. This isn't to say that the Berlin Philharmonic doesn't perform Beethoven 5th Symphony better than the Albuquerque Community Orchestra...they most certainly do. But the music...it's just as fateful in the beginning, and as triumphantly C major at the end. And it's been that way for 200 years.So there.Young pianist Yuja Wang conquers Rachmaninoff in terrific Oregon Symphony concert – orchestra at the top of its gameJames Bash, OregonMusicNews.com, February 7, 2011Ah, good, a sports cliche...now I know this will be thoughtful review.Guest artist Yuja Wang brought her A game…I’m going to admit it up front, that this I’m probably only bringing my C+ game to this critique.But of course, you should still read on……to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday evening (February 5) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall…They have an Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall now? That’s convenient.…and created an impressive debut with the Oregon Symphony in her performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto.If only print newspapers had editors as attentive and fastidious as online editors…oh, wait.Wang played this demanding work with incredible precision and artistic panache.Panache is good. Precision…meh.Her opening statement showed right away that she had power and finesse,…Convenient then that Rachmaninoff put some powerful, yet finesseable music right up front.…but…My favorite part about the "but" construction in most of these reviews is the unnecessary juxtaposition of two usually positive things.She was pretty but smart too.….she excelled in creating the lush, rhapsodic atmosphere with a singing tone.Her performance sounds dreamy…do you have a favorite part?One of the most memorable passages… Yeah...…came in the second movement when she evoked a series of cascading waterfalls that opened onto a high plateau with an expansive vista.She did what now? She evoked a waterfall? On a high plateau? With an expansive vista?!Also, you said 'she'? Did the music not naturally evoke this image? If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that her interpretation added waterfalls to the music?She drew you a picture, right?Maybe she could’ve lingered a little more here or there,…‘Here’ or ‘there’? Are these real places, or are you making a sweeping generalization about the performance and hoping we just wouldn't care?…but she is only 23 years old, and I’m sure that her interpretation will change in the future. You're right. 23 year-olds don't linger as long as they should.In support of Wang’s performance, the orchestra brought its A game as well.So, we’re not grading on a curve then?Any chance there’ll be extra credit on this concert?figure bringing it: Joey Chestnut brought his A game when he downed 68 hot dogs and buns at the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.The series of duets in the first movement (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon)…Yes, duets. Can I just pick any two instruments from the list above for the duet? Or were there duets of every possible combination (not permutations, since order does not matter)? Meaning there were…(remembering 11th grade pre-calculus)…figure co[...]



Mozart the Certain

2011-02-04T09:25:33.732-08:00

If titles could cry, this one would be committing suicide by drowning itself in its own tears in a small, cold, windowless greenroom of the Vancouver Opera House.What can Mozart teach us about leadership?Brad FrenetteVancouver Sun, Community of Interest BlogNow, because the title is perhaps one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever encountered, I feel I need to provide a little background, so we don’t get the wrong idea. First, we should note that Brad Frenette is the general director of the Vancouver Opera, so already there’s a lack of journalistic standards and, perhaps, a conflict of interest. And second, the Sun’s Community of Interest blog describes its mission as “[…] featuring the opinions of tastemakers, community advocates and thought leaders from across Vancouver, Canada and the world […],” which means, if the title is any indication, that Brad is more of a tastemaker rather than thought leader. I guess, the wrong idea is already the correct one.[whew]Alright, let’s dig in.--So, what exactly can Mozart teach us about leadership? [tongue in cheek] Not that I expect an answer.There are many reasons why I am passionate about opera:That’s nice. Why don’t you list your reasons? Because, you know, they won’t be generic or anything.“Okay,” he says.…beautiful, emotional and inspiring music; literate, poetic language; grand and glorious productions on stages filled with singers, choristers and dancers; and very often, a link with important people and events in the past.So often—but not all the time, mind you—there’s a link (i.e., ?) with things in (of?) the past.Believe it or not, I, too, am passionate about the past. Like, it happened and stuff. But another reason I am passionate about opera is the relevance it has for our lives today.Because the general director of the Vancouver Opera is telling me that opera is relevant today, I should believe him. After all, he’d have no incentive to tell me otherwise, right?Fine. How is it relevant? Does it have something to do with Mozart teaching us about leadership?[Ha ha ha! I still can’t get over the title. It’s just wrong for so many reasons. Anyway…]Opera is certainly not alone among the arts in this ability to speak to us about our own times, but it is the art form I know best and about which I can speak with certainty.There’s certainly a lot of certainty going on here.  Certainly, when I encounter so much certainty, I am surely reminded, with certainty, of that without-a-doubt inspiring quip by the most famous of Jedi: “Only certain Sith Lords deal in irrefutable absolutes.”And after a bit about how the opera company works hard to help their audience appreciate its 21st century relevancy, despite its “powdered wigs and foreign languages,” this:But here I believe is the wonderful secret of my art form: opera is about the big things, the important emotions of all of us humans….and these “big things” and large emotions don’t change from year to year, decade to decade, or even century to century. Rarely, these days do I encounter such advocacy of classical-era (enlightenment) thinking. Maybe I should go bleed myself to alleviate the headache this is causing me.Sometimes these sweeping themes…That is, large emotions that never change.Sometimes these sweeping themes are rather personal: love and betrayal; estrangement; the distances created between families and friends and the bridges to span those distances.Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me! Me! Pick me!Yes, Empiricus?That means, som[...]



Audiences Pleased By Audience-Pleasing Music

2011-01-24T12:32:06.648-08:00

Recently, the San Antonio Symphony introduced a new music director. Let's check in and see how things are doing so far.FIRST TAKE: So this is how it is going to be with new Music Director Lang-Lessing — ……let’s say…yes?…programs of bold, vivid, purpose-driven and audience-pleasing music.I know, depressing prospect isn’t it.figure purpose-driven: Rick Warren knows why I'm here on Earth. I'm guessing to help get more tax cuts for rich people. Really, is there any other purpose in life?Though, it does beg the question what “purpose-driven” music is exactly.It is one thing to schedule such music,…Yes, that is “one thing”.But, is it difficult to schedule programs of audience-pleasing music? In my experience, it takes some real cojones to schedule music that isn’t audience-pleasing.…but another matter to deliver it with authentic, crisp precision and emotion like Lang-Lessing did in his first regular subscription concert.Wow, sounds like you guys are really lucky getting the authentic performances of audience-pleasing music while all the rest of us suckers are stuck with disingenuous concerts of meandering, inexact music.So what was this music so in need of some authentic crispness?The two Franz Liszt tone poems, “Mazzepa” and “Les Préludes,” sizzled with electricity at every turn of their musical stories.You guys got bold, vivid and authentic versions of the Liszt tone poems?! I’m so freaking jealous!But I thought you mentioned something about “audience-pleasing”?The performance of Antonin Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,”…Ah.…nailed every emotion from tender nostalgia and spirituality to triumph.Every emotion? Really? Now, I know that you must be exaggerating.Everyone knows that it’s not humanly possible to nail every emotion in the New World Symphony.figure care bears: Also nailed every emotion, and learned a valuable lesson at the end of each episode too!Sure, most orchestras get the nostalgia and triumph. But what about the submissive contempt of the Poco sostenuto in the third movement? Most orchestras cop out with no more than amenable condescension.OF NOTE: The solo star in the Dvorák symphony was English horn player Stephanie Shapiro, who performed the “Going Home” theme...Seriously, people, the spiritual is based on Dvorak’s theme, not the other way around.…performed the “Going Home” theme as if singing in a human voice. See, I like my English horn sounding like an English horn. I guess I’m just funny that way.Lang-Lessing extended the concert with a sparkling encore, leading the orchestra in one of the Slavonic Dances from Dvorák’s Opus 46.Truly purpose-driven...or was that audience-pleasing?And, in other news:Citing "budget constraints" but no red ink, Vallejo Symphony leaders have canceled the second half of the critically acclaimed orchestra's four-concert season and promised "rebuilding" on firmer financial footing in the months to come.That’s unfortunate. What happened?[T]he orchestra's board of directors on Jan. 13 voted to "cease operations for the balance of the season," a decision that came just days after the symphony's recent concert featuring several pieces of new contemporary music.Oh. I see.----------------------------------------And, thank you to our loyal readers for your patience. We apologize for the lack of updates in the recent months, and hope to post more often soon. Who knew that newborns needed so much attention?[...]



A New Year Quickie - Emphasis on structure robs music of forward pulse...Again!

2011-01-01T15:41:26.119-08:00

I am becoming more and more convinced that some critics just don't read their reviews before they publish them. Seriously, I'm pretty sure what follows doesn't actually mean anything.Although, when you take into consideration current day practices of music criticism...NY String Orchestra @ Carnegie HallEugene Chan, Queens Examiner, Dec. 31, 2010Current day performance practice of Beethoven symphonies...Okay, let me stop here and add that Eugene never once tell us which symphony the orchestra is playing. I guess I should be glad that he mentioned it was by Beethoven, because really, do you need to know anything else?However, I'm more interested in learning about current day performance practices of Beethoven symphonies...figure current day performance practices: Beethoven as performed by my iPhone.It's all yours, Eugene.Current day performance practice of Beethoven symphonies often emphasize fleet of tempo and attack.A couple of things, and I hate to be picky, but your subject and verb really should agree. Also, I think you mean fleetness (a noun), since it's sort of difficult to emphasize an adjective in this context -- or you have a superfluous "of" before tempo. And, I'm not quite sure what a fleet attack in music is. figure fleet: A clever play on words?But never mind, we're learning something here.Laredo's [the conductor] interpretation was slower and emphasized string playing that was plush in texture.Plush? The string playing was "a fabric, as of silk, cotton, or wool, whose pile is more than 1/8 inch (0.3 cm) high"? Plus, isn't "in texture" sort of redundant? Of course, we kid. Okay, his interpretation of the unnamed symphony was slower than you're used to, and featured a richer string sound. Sure, why not. An audience member could often hear Beethoven's orchestration,......and the rest of the time?...which sometimes was illuminating--...Illuminating is good. So what was illuminated by the sometimes heard orchestration (in this version that was slower and had sumptuous strings)?...for example about a minute into the fourth movement the interplay between first violins, violas and second violins.Good call. That is totally an awesome moment. And please, don't waste your time explaining further, because we all know exactly where you're talking about in this unnamed Beethoven symphony.At other times the emphasis on structure robbed the music of its forward pulse.Precisely. If only Beethoven had... . What's that again?[Rereads sentence] Okay?figure confused?: Just try and figure out my logic."The emphasis on structure" -- I know what structure is, although I'm not quite sure how a performance emphasizes it. Extra loud accents when themes begin and end?"...robbed the music of its forward pulse." -- So you're saying that music slowed down? Or is this a metaphorical pulse, as in the music lost your attention.Fuck me, this isn't clear at all.Maybe your conclusion will help clarify things.However, after an entire concert of chamber-like balances...Uh-huh. Symphonic music is always so inappropriately balanced?...and volume restraint,...Yes, the orchestra was too quiet, until......Laredo removed the reins off the orchestra at the very end.I'm a big fan of the orchestra is a horse metaphor. Really, it's just such a contemporary, accurate comparison. figure horse: See, a horse isn't a metaphor, it's a piece of art by Maurizio Cattelan.The symphony closed with crackling horns and sizzling strings as the music hurtl[...]



Mozart's Music Receives Zesty Performance -- It's About Damn Time

2010-12-20T15:48:12.616-08:00

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...let's leave musicology to the professionals. Professionals like Paul Hyde of the Greenville News.Review: Mozart's personality shines through in Greenville Symphony Chamber Orchestra concertPaul Hyde, GreenvilleOnline.com (The Greenville News), November 20, 2010Mozart, it’s often said, kept his personal emotions out of his musical works.Really? I've never heard this before.But you know, his music did always strike me as strangely formulaic... 4 bars--half cadence, another 4 bars--authentic cadence. Hard to cram emotion (especially personal ones) into that.Good call.figure personal emotion: If Mozart really wanted to add emotion to his music, he really should have just used emoticons like a normal person.Maintaining an Olympian detachment, Mozart the classicist never revealed his inner self as did many a Romantic composer, Tchaikovsky most notably.Money troubles don't rival the creative gold-standard of repressed homosexuality.But clearly the difference between the two couldn't be the increased used of chromaticism, larger, more opulent orchestrations, and the use of superliminal narratives.And if the Detritus has taught me anything, it's that with this kind of set up surely something will challenge this more than well-established premise (I mean, it is printed in a newspaper so it must be true).Yet Friday night’s all-Mozart concert by the Greenville Symphony Chamber Orchestra seemed to belie that notion.Ah, I see. Until now, it had been the performers (which have included the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, and musicians who actually knew Mozart) who failed to decipher Mozart's hidden message of personal emotion deep inside his music...that is, until the Greenville Symphony took a crack at the task.The works had a strongly autobiographical flavor.Who knew? I'm very excited to discover what deep meaning has been previously unheard in these mystery Mozart works.A listener could sense the man behind the music.This is very exciting.figure man behind the music: Why, the masons were responsible for the economic collapse, behind the JFK assassination, faked the moon-landing, and (from what I've read) are made up of humoid reptilians who run the world by replacing world leaders.Take, for instance,...Ooh. A "for instance". I guess an example would be nice. But really, Paul, we would have taken your word for it. ...the first piece on the concert, which took place at the Peace Center’s Gunter Auditorium.Is the location important our cryptographic discovery, or were you just throwing that in to satisfy those pesky 5 w's?Mozart wrote the three-movement Symphony No. 27 when he was only 17 years old.Excellent. We'll start with insights into the mind of the young genius. Just think of how different he must have felt, an isolated genius still under the shadow of his famous father and constantly performing in the courts of royalty. Nope, not just your typical youth full of hope and gumption.The sprightly work is clearly the work of a young man, a little superficial...A little superficial...wait, the young man or the work?...but full of youthful hope and gumption.This is quite the penetrating analysis. I'm not sure how you were able to ascertain these kinds of insights. I mean, hearing an upbeat, major mode symphony primarily in triple meter written by a teenager...how ever could you discern this image of a young man full of hope?But ne[...]



Happy Birthday Elliott! Again. Ugh.

2010-12-10T10:46:48.843-08:00

Another smattering of birthday celebrations; a few newly inked scores; and yet another chance for our critic brethren to reflect upon the miraculous music and career of one of the world’s most vital centenarian composers.New Yorker Elliott Carter’s 102nd birthday a perfect excuse to venture into his complex worldJohn TeruadsToronto Star, A Sound Mind, Classical Music Blog…with a title that says, “Eh, well, he’s 102; that’s something, at least.”As the title may suggest, this little puff piece, doesn’t…what’s the word? Puff.New Music Concerts was not able to get Elliott Carter to Toronto for tonight's celebration of his 102nd birthday at the Isabel Bader Theatre (the actual birthday is tomorrow).Downer. “Now that’s a concert I want to go to!”It's not just by virtue of longevity that Carter has become known as a connoisseur's composer.For those who may be new to the DR, “connoisseur’s composer” means no audience, often for a reason. And what that has to do with longevity, which is a virtue according to our author, I have no clue.Long ago,In a galaxy quite removed from today’s schmaltzy nostalgia for tonality…Long ago, when the art music world was in the thrall of atonal composition, Carter (like his French counterpart, Olivier Messiaen) developed his very own musical grammar.And all by himself!Figure 1: Who’s a big boy? Who’s a big boy? You are! I'm oversimplifying…No shit. Maybe you should mention that these guys were also atonalists.…but his music starts with a layering of diverse rhythms.First of all, “diverse rhythms.” Are you saying that he used both eighth notes and sixteenth notes? Or that the rhythms are more complex than that? Didn’t he exploit metric modulation with some notoriety in the 40s?Second, I learned metric modulation in third grade. So…For his sound palette, Carter assembled a catalogue of (unusual) chords……based on intervallic content, as in atonal set-theory, which is perfectly adaptable to serialization, which he did.…Carter assembled a catalogue of (unusual) chords, not a set of tone rows, as his serialist peers would usw [sic].Serialism is dead, therefore, Elliott Carter is not a serialist, right?The results are no easier to grasp at first hearing.His own musical grammar + diverse rhythms + unusual chords = the results. Fucking spot on, John!Like a lot of expressionist visual art, Carter's music rewards multiple visits and analytical listening.Okay, I am about to link to Wikipedia, which is something I usually hesitate to do, because…Well, it’s like this: while there are some awesome-smart people in this world, if I were ever to be charged with, say, murder, I would do everything in my abilities to avoid a trial and, thus, avoid being judged by my peers. Got it?In this case, however, I’m going to link to the Wikipedia article on Expressionism, because it took me nearly three seconds to find it, which only shows how little research it took to find something to the contrary (it’s also cited):[Expressionism’s] typical trait is to present the world in an utterly subjective perspective, radically distorting it for emotional effect, to evoke moods or ideas.Ahem. Either John doesn’t know what expressionism is about or Elliott is getting it wrong. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to judge for yourself.Hold on a minute! This is a concert puff piece, right? So why should I go, again?The Isabel[...]