From Tom Service's Guardian review of a Boulez tribute in London: "Harrison Birtwistle gave a speech in honour of Boulez that compared the continuation of serious music to the saving of the bloodline of Christ in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code."
Damn. I was going to run a fun little competition asking readers to identify the subject and author of the following musical description: "[Mystery work]'s opening gesture describes the shape of the piece; two grinding five-note chords in extreme low and high registers, followed by a two-part staccato, scherzando 'accompaniment' figure (also in extreme low and high registers) ascending and descending to meet in the middle register with a single six-note chord." But the answer can be found instantly by Google: it's Phil Lesh, of the Grateful Dead, describing Elliott Carter's Partita. Life was more fun before Google. Coming soon: Justin Davidson's Blood on the Floor competition.
November 08, 2005 | Permalink
Out-of-town orchestras offer Mahler symphony blowouts at Carnegie Hall on a more or less weekly basis. This season we're getting two Fourths, two Fifths, a Sixth, two Lieder von der Erde, and a Tenth Adagio. There is no greater bummer than a mediocre runthrough of this most emotionally unstinting of composers, so it was reassuring to hear the excellent Fifth that the Chicago Symphony put out on Saturday night. Daniel Barenboim, not known for conducting Mahler, supplied a freshness of vision that other conductors seldom retain on their twentieth or fiftieth traversal of the score. Tempos were well chosen throughout; the Adagietto was slightly on the rapid side, but rich in feeling. Passages such as "Leidenschaftlich Wild" in the first movement ("crazy horny") packed a lot of force, but didn't go over the top. Barenboim's intelligent handling of dynamics was crucial. So too was the incredible precision of the legendary Chicago brass, who got a well-deserved rock-star reception during the ovation. They still shine like a phalanx in the sun, as they did in the Solti era, but they now have more mellowness and nobility. No coarseness, no blaring. Christopher Martin seems like a worthy successor to Chicago's longtime lead trumpeter Adolph Herseth. Dale Clevenger gave a sustained lesson in truly great horn playing. Pedantic example of the art of control: when, in the return to Tempo I in the first movement, the tuba goes down to a low-low G-sharp, a fade to pp was carefully observed; often tubists can't resist the temptation to blat forth that lowest note. As in every performance I've lately heard, the third and fifth movements sagged in the middle; players need to have more fun with this music, grasp its essential absurdity. The solemn symphonic ritual should turn into a zany pops concert. First half: Schoenberg Variations. Edgy, ungainly, not the velvet-lined Schoenberg that James Levine supplies on demand.
What's the best Mahler Fifth on CD? I guess I'd pick Bernstein's DG recording. But I'm still fond of the disc which was my introduction to the piece, and which was also my first CD — Giuseppe Sinopoli's then brand-new 1985 recording with the Philharmonia. It's now available only as part of a box set.
Clarification: "Crazy horny" is a joke translation. "Passionately wild" would be more accurate, as Daniel Wolf observes.
I'm adding two new opera blogs to the roll: Well Sung (har har) and Maury D'annato. Also welcome Serhan Bali, who is blogging about music for the benefit of Turkish-speaking readers. I wish I knew what that Sibelius chart meant. And watch this space: Daniel Felsenfeld, critic, composer, author, is one of the liveliest musical minds out there.
November 04, 2005 | Permalink
Of all the merry insults that were thrown at Wagner by French composers trying to free themselves from his influence, the best, I think, was Ravel's; he once said that Wagner was a "very great musician," but that Meyerbeer was the better orchestrator. (Arbie Orenstein, A Ravel Reader, p. 432.)
November 03, 2005 | Permalink
Readers may recall the New York Philharmonic's surprising decision last March to appoint Chad Smith, drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as their artistic administrator. It turned out that this was a different Chad Smith, but it was a nice mental image while it lasted. Now Chad Smith has gone back to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, whence he came, and Matías Tarnopolsky, senior director for artistic planning at the Chicago Symphony, is replacing him at the Philharmonic. Tarnopolsky is a very smart musician-turned administrator, a committed twentieth-century and new-music advocate, a former schoolmate of Thomas Adès's at the Guildhall School of Music, a fan of experimental jazz. If I remember correctly, he is related to the Tarnopolskys of Argentina, most of whom were infamously "disappeared" during the military junta. Let's hope he has a chance to try out some new ideas at the Philharmonic. The job of artistic administrator can be a frustrating one: you float fabulously interesting proposals, which are then systematically shot down by the board, the musicians, the big donors, and the general power of the status quo. The LA Philharmonic is, notably, one place where that hasn't happened.
Update: Marc Geelhoed contradicts my claim that Tarnopolsky is a fan of free jazz. I hope I haven't dashed anyone's hopes for a Charles Gayle weekend at the Philharmonic.
November 03, 2005 | Permalink
I'm a bit busy this week, so I will distract you by sending you elsewhere, not unlike the President announcing a Supreme Court nomination and a bird-flu counteroffensive on consecutive days after the indictment of Scooter Libby. Greg Sandow is writing an on-line book about the everlasting Classical Problem. Sieglinde has a prose poem in praise of the divine Levine. Marion is one — congrats! The Overgrown Path is a pleasure as ever — see this post on Ligeti's top-five list. The death of Skitch Henderson makes me sad. Ionarts has background on the Robert Wilson Ring in Paris. I can't possibly believe ACD would like it. Speaking of Scooter, The Fredösphere has tried his hand at "The Song of the Aspens," and uTopian TurtleTop is contemplating a setting, but a full adaptation is still awaited.
November 02, 2005 | Permalink