Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

Some things about one's fellow man it is just better not to know: such as what music they like to make love to. According to Spotify this is the most popular selection:

That is so terminally boring it not only doesn't get me in the mood, it makes me question my will to live!! If you want an intro to your loving, this is more like it:

No need to thank me, just go and be happy.

* * *

Gidon Kremer is not one to mince words when he sees something not right in the music business. Via Slipped Disc we learn that he has decided to cancel a concert tour rather than put up with the shallow, sterile marketing ideas of the concert promoters:
I was particularly disturbed by the promoters’ focus on one “big name” only and the reluctance to consider others who would have treated the music with equal respect and professionalism. Not one of the substitutes I proposed was accepted. The Chopin competition winner and mature artist Yulianna Avdeeva was fortunately available on the required dates and would have been happy to play the two Chopin concertos originally planned, meaning that the programme, which also included works by Weinberg, Gorecki and Penderecki, would not have to be changed. She was wholeheartedly recommended not just by myself, but also by pianists of world-class calibre such as Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman and Daniil Trifonov himself. In fact, Daniil Trifonov was the one who approached me personally about finding a replacement. All these efforts sadly fell foul of marketing strategies.
 I think that the only good solution to this problem of celebrity-driven, shallow marketing in the classical music world is to cultivate more sophisticated appreciation of music in the general audiences. To do this there need to be capable music critics and educators working at communicating on a regular basis. Unfortunately the trend has been entirely the other way with music programs being curtailed in the schools and music critics being let go from mass media publications. Perhaps the blogosphere could take up some of the slack. Wouldn't it be great if a few music bloggers really tried to restore some level of critical commentary? Oh, wait, that's what I'm trying to do here at the Music Salon!

* * *

Amazon sent me an email titled "Hot New Releases in Classical". Of course we have to understand the word "classical" in that context not to refer to the dominant form of music in Western Civilization for the last thousand years, but to the small genre niche currently referred to as "classical". How else to explain that the first item on the list is this album:

What's my beef? Hey, they're playing cellos, aren't they? Yeah, but here is the track list:

CD Track listing
1. The Trooper Overture (Rossini 'William Tell Overture'/Iron Maiden 'The Trooper')
2. I Will Wait (Mumford & Sons)
3. Thunderstruck - Intro (Vivaldi Cello Sonata No. 4 in E minor)
4. Thunderstruck (AC/DC)
5. Hysteria (Muse)
6. Shape of My Heart (Sting)
7. Mombasa (Hans Zimmer from 'Inception')
8. Time (Hans Zimmer from 'Inception')
9. Wake Me Up (Avicii)
10. They Don't Care About Us (Michael Jackson)
11. Live and Let Die - feat. Lang Lang (Paul McCartney and Wings)
12. Street Spirit - Fade Out (Radiohead)
13. Celloverse (Original composition by Sulic & Hauser)

It's kind of like living in a future nightmare where instead of a "boot stamping on a human face - forever" (George Orwell), real classical music by people like Bach and Haydn has been replaced by pseudo-pop stylings like this.

* * *

I wonder how many people buying pop recordings realize how little the musicians actually get paid? Record company accounting is just as bad as Hollywood accounting as we find out in this illuminating article. Here is a little chart that shows just part of what is wrong with the business:

I wish someone would do a similar analysis for classical musicians.

* * *

There's a name for it! From the New York Times comes this article about misophonia which is an extreme sensitivity to certain sounds. I guess that musicians have a kind of trained misophonia. We spend years learning to listen very closely, which means of course, that it becomes harder to ignore sounds. Thanks to Ann Althouse for that link and for this one to a quote by Philip Pullman on why you can't write while music is playing:
For that reason you can't write with music playing, and anyone who says he can is either writing badly, or not listening to the music, or lying. You need to hear what you're writing, and for that you need silence.
* * *

The most interesting takeaway from the Grammy Awards show: Lady Gaga can sing!! And she can even do an excellent rendition of tunes from The Sound of Music:

Fixed the link! (I've always, secretly, liked her. Please don't tell anyone!) Tattoos are a bit distracting, though.

* * *

Here are some music students from the Louisville, Kentucky area. Doing a tuned percussion arrangement of "Kashmir" by some English band.

There was a time when students of this age would be playing Bach and Vivaldi... But we can't complain, right? Sure we can! Honestly, you don't need to spend class time on getting funky. Kids can do that on their own time.

* * *

Here is a rather sad turn of events: legendary pianist Ivo Pogorelich returns to the stage in London, but gives a very poor concert according to this review. The review links to an earlier article about the disruptions in his life caused by the breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent wars and unrest. Worth reading. He seems to have disappeared from the concert stage for some time now as this was his first appearance at this venue since 1999. I have very fond recollections of his career. On one occasion he came to Vancouver for a pair of concerts with the symphony at which he played, if I recall correctly, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. A music critic friend of mine attended both and had a funny story to tell about his colleague at the Vancouver newspaper. Apparently the fellow wrote a review after the first concert at which he complained about such and such. Perhaps it was too much liberty taken, or perhaps it was too little? I don't recall. But obviously Pogorelich read the review, because the next night, he did precisely the opposite! Pogorelich was at a level of mastery at which he could play a big concerto in many different ways, all superb. The hapless reviewer really didn't realise this. If Pogorelich is really playing so poorly these days, that is sad indeed. But I'm afraid that reviewers and writers have been getting him wrong for many years now, so...

* * *

Let's end the collection today with Ivo Pogorelich playing the Second English Suite by J. S. Bach. Rather well.

That gigue is just fiendishly difficult!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

John Luther Adams on Music and Politics

Pulitzer-prizewinning composer John Luther Adams has written a substantial essay for Slate, here. You should go read the whole thing. I suspect that my politics differs from Mr. Adams', but I very much appreciate his views on the relationship between politics and music:
As a composer, I believe that music has the power to inspire a renewal of human consciousness, culture, and politics. And yet I refuse to make political art. More often than not political art fails as politics, and all too often it fails as art. To reach its fullest power, to be most moving and most fully useful to us, art must be itself. If my work doesn’t function powerfully as music, then all the poetic program notes and extra-musical justifications in the world mean nothing. When I’m true to the music, when I let the music be whatever it wants to be, then everything else—including any social or political meaning—will follow.
From the titles of my works—songbirdsongsIn the White Silenceor Become Oceanit’s clear that I draw inspiration from the world around me. But when I enter my studio, I do so with the hope of leaving the world behind, at least for a while. Yet it’s impossible to sustain that state of grace for long. Inevitably, thoughts intrude: Sometimes I think about people, places, and experiences in my life. Sometimes I think about the larger state of the world, and the uncertain future of humanity. Even so, I’m not interested in sending messages or telling stories with music. And although I used to paint musical landscapes, that no longer interests me either. The truth is, I’m no longer interested in making music about anything.
These are very well-said and well thought-out sentiments about the nature of music and art. A rather cruder version of this view would be to say that a serious musician does not write musical propaganda. Or, when forced to by circumstances (as perhaps Shostakovich was under Stalin) he still tries to make it work as a piece of music, or make it ironic in some way. Music can be about something, but it doesn't need to be and the best music tends not to be.

Here is another fairly profound thought from the essay:
It’s only through the presence, awareness, and creative engagement of the listener that the music is complete.
This resonates with the Rilkian view that artists are witnesses to nature and the world and, in turn, listeners are witnesses to the beauty of art. A piece of music never played, never performed is like a poem unread or nature unseen and unfelt.

I read the essay to the end wondering if Mr. Adams' convictions about anthropogenic climate change might be stated clearly, but they only appear in one brief paragraph:
A plastic bottle among the rocks reminds me that there are vast islands of garbage drifting far out at sea. A strong gust of wind reminds me of the increasingly capricious weather, and of the storms that lash this and other shores with growing ferocity. The burning sunlight reminds me of melting tundra and expanding deserts, of diminishing polar ice and rising seas all over the earth.
As far as I can determine, all of these are half-truths (yes, seven billion people do throw a lot of plastic away, but no, polar ice is not diminishing and tundra does not actually "melt" and the weather is not increasingly capricious), held as true in a kind of religious manner by a large number of people. I am always reminded of that wonderful quote from Edward Gibbon:
“The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.”
But while our opinions on these matters may differ, I am deeply reassured by Mr. Adams' understanding of priorities and his true role. Art must indeed be itself and when it is, it will last far longer than music written as some passing piece of propaganda for whatever political purpose.

Let's listen to some music by Mr. Adams. Here is Dark Waves (2007) for orchestra and electronics:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Concerto Guide: Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 54

At the risk of possibly disappointing some readers I am going to skip over concertos by Paganini and Chopin that would come next chronologically (the first Paganini concerto would come before Berlioz, having been composed in Italy around 1818) as they are largely vehicles for virtuoso display while the other concertos we are covering, while also vehicles for virtuosity, are more than that. Perhaps this is my own personal bias, but I find mere virtuosity, that is to say fast scales and arpeggios racing around on the instrument, when protracted, to be some of the most boring music imaginable. Virtuosity is an essential element of a concerto, but for a satisfying aesthetic experience, there must be other elements of equal interest--at least! The eternal model for the concerto might just be the Mozart piano concertos that are always beguiling, surprising and structurally powerful as well has having enough virtuosity to keep them sparkling.

In 1845, Robert Schumann completed his one-and-only piano concerto, though there are two other works by him for piano and orchestra. The concerto medium was rarely the focus of Schumann's energies--compared to his enormous output of lieder, solo piano music and even chamber music, his concertos for solo instrument and orchestra are few, amounting to the A minor Piano Concerto, the Cello Concerto (also in A minor) and the very late Violin Concerto that took until 1937 to be premiered, due to its being buried by the dedicatee Joseph Joaquim.

The Piano Concerto is not only a fine piece, well-established in the repertoire, it has also influenced a number of other composers of concertos for piano. There are probably a couple of reasons for this: first, this is really the first important Romantic era piano concerto. The ones by Franz Liszt, while there are sketches going back decades, were not completed until 1849 and later. Second, Schumann uses a number of devices that were enormously influential, such as the striking opening with the hammered-out forte E in the orchestra answered by the big dotted-rhythm chords that descend over most of the piano's range. Here is what that looks like:

A lot of the energy of this piano phrase comes from its tonicizing in succession F major in first inversion, then root position, then D minor, then A minor, then F major in first inversion again and so on. This is brought to a halt by a very powerful V7-i cadence in A minor.

This kind of opening was later used by both Grieg and Rachmaninoff. Even the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky has an opening that echoes a bit the same idea: that the individual, represented by the piano, is no longer an equal partner with the orchestra, but may even dominate it. In the Schumann, Grieg and Rachmaninoff concerti, after a sonorous downbeat by the orchestra, the piano immediately leaps in and commandeers the movement. Even in the Tchaikovsky, while giving the theme to the orchestra, the piano accompanies them with such huge, resounding chords that it sounds easily as powerful as the orchestra itself. And in short order, the piano takes the dominant role.

So Schumann was not only first out of the gate with a Romantic piano concerto, he also hit upon some characteristic strategies that other composers would make use of. Apart from the commanding opening given to the piano, the other important innovation used by Schumann is the thematic transformation of the opening theme, given first to the oboe:

Then to the piano:

This whole statement is actually a 16-measure period with the oboe ending with a half-cadence and the piano with a perfect authentic cadence. This theme appears in different guises. In the piano in C:

A very abbreviated version in the Clarinet (in A):

And so on. The idea of using transformations of a single theme to unite a movement or a whole piece while not unprecedented (think of the Bach Art of Fugue) was rather an innovation used in this way and in this genre. It would be taken up by a host of later 19th century composers, very much including Franz Liszt.

Now let's listen to a performance. The attractive soloist, Khatia Buniatishvili, in her very striking dress, wasn't the only reason I chose this version. It is a particularly crisp clip both for visual and audio. Here she is with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mozart texted...

A religious friend of mine told me the other day that God asked her to tell me to read Ecclesiastes. Well, ok, probably not a bad idea. So I started to read Ecclesiastes. Then I told her that Plato emailed me to tell her to read the Euthyphro. I just hope it doesn't cause her too much cognitive dissonance.

In the same vein, Mozart texted me this morning to ask me to tell you to listen to some Haydn today!

Here is the "Surprise" Symphony, one of twelve symphonies Haydn wrote towards the end of his life for performance in London. It is wonderful when a great musician like Haydn is fully rewarded and appreciated for his life's work. Because so often the opposite has happened. The "Surprise" Symphony, No. 94 in G major, is so called because of the second movement, where a very innocuous theme ends with a jolting fortissimo chord.

This chord comes back a few times, rather unpredictably, and the movement keeps getting more and more forceful (and interesting). Haydn doesn't just play one joke on the audience; the whole movement keeps going in unexpected directions. It is Haydn's great virtue as a composer that the way in which he is creative and original is unpredictable. He turns things on their head in ways you can never anticipate. I will venture out on a limb here and say that most artists, even ones we highly respect, once they discover their "style", tend to be creative in predictable ways. If there is a watch in a Dali painting, it is likely to be melting; if there is a face in a Picasso sketch, the eyes are both going to be on the same side of the nose. Et cetera. But you are never sure what Haydn is going to do with phrasing, dynamics or harmony. But you know it will be unpredictable. Of course, he sets you up. Any other composer using a theme this trite sounding is not likely to be pulling the rug out from under you when you least expect it.

Now let's listen. Here is the second movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 94 in G major:

And something else we should listen to is Turn, Turn, Turn, by Pete Seeger, using text from Ecclesiastes:

Sunday, February 22, 2015


There are certain ironclad rules you have to follow if you want to be accepted by the PTB (the Powers That Be). The main one is that you have to not only accept, but enthusiastically endorse and support, the prevailing assumptions about the nature of reality that the PTB advocate. A couple of these that we are very familiar with from the world of politics are that the Greatest Sin of all is Racism. Another is that All Cultures are Equally Valid and the sub-directive coming from that is that All Music is Equally Good. A reliable foot-soldier in the ranks will always take every opportunity to push this Commandment.

What the heck am I talking about? Alex Ross, though usually an interesting writer who occasionally has something interesting to say, is one of these foot-soldiers in the ranks loyal to the cultural PTB and so he is always, not only careful, but eager to promote the Cultural Commandments. But since he is a sophisticated and subtle writer, he does so in clever ways. For example, he has just written an essay on Björk excerpted in the Guardian titled "How Björk broke the sound barrier". He remarks:
A few years ago, for a feature on a music blog, I asked Björk to make a selection of her favourite records. Her list included Mahler’s 10th Symphony; Alban Berg’sLulu; Steve Reich’s Tehillim; a collection of Thai pop, entitled Siamese Soul, Volume 2; Alim Qasimov’s Azerbaijan: The Art of the Mugham; Joni Mitchell’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter; Kate Bush’s The Dreaming; Nico’s Desertshore; Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back; Aphex Twin’s Drukqs; the Ranges’ Panasonic EP; Black Dog Productions’ Bytes and James Blake’s debut album, James Blake.
What’s striking about the list is not just the breadth of Björk’s taste – this is no surprise, given her obsessive curiosity about every corner of the musical world – but also the animated map of genres that materialises in the background. It is as though, in a reversal of tectonic drift, isolated land masses of taste were re-forming as a supercontinent. A grandiose howl of late Romantic agony; a juggernaut of 12-tone modernism; a cool minimalist dance through Hebrew psalms; off-kilter pop from south Asia; a virtuoso survey of Azerbaijani mugham; three defiantly idiosyncratic albums by female singer-songwriters; three pathbreaking electronic records; a raging tour-de-force of political hip-hop; a collection of dubstep ballads: Björk’s list circumnavigates the globe and, at the same time, it overruns the boundaries separating art from pop, mainstream from underground, primeval past from hi-tech present.
Let's take a few moments to unpack the assumptions underlying these two paragraphs and what they reveal about the Commandments of the PTB. This idea of "tell us your favorite records" is, of course, a very old tactic not terribly dissimilar from TeenBeat magazine asking George Harrison what his favorite color is. It creates a wholly illusory connection to the artist because it mimics what might have been a conversational exchange. Sometimes, in the case of the list Alex Ross provides, supposedly uttered by Björk, it also has an indoctrinating function: it is meant to teach us what sorts of music to value and why. It is in service to this propagandizing that Ross's prose gets so very purple in the second paragraph.

Now let's look at the details. If I had been in conversation and Björk had come up with this list I would have had some follow-up questions. Such as:

  • You have a wide variety of genres and artists there. Are there some you listen to more than others?
  • Do you spend more time listening to Mahler or more time listening to Public Enemy?
  • Do you find all this music equally appropriate? What sort of mood do you need to be in for Azerbaijani music? Is it a different mood for Mahler? Or Thai?
  • Is this typically the range of things you listen to? Or some weeks do you spend listening just to one kind of music? If so, what?
  • Do you like to take some time, days or weeks, to NOT listen to music?
  • Why do you enjoy such a wide range of styles? And do you enjoy them equally?
  • Do you like some because they are soothing and others because they are challenging? And which is which?
I would do this because I would like to penetrate the mindless listing of different things and try to discern some kind of critical attitude or judgment. We all have minds and the fundamental activity of minds is to evaluate and make judgements.

But look at Alex Ross' second paragraph, his commentary on the list. Instead of trying to make some sense of it, he just keeps underlining what he wants us to take away--what the PTB commands us to believe: that all of this music is equally important and valid because All Cultures are Equally Valid. This imperative overcomes any aesthetic judgment or personal taste. Thou Shalt Not Question This Commandment! How Ross sells us this ridiculous idea is by carefully selecting descriptions of the different musics that make them appear to be equally exciting, even if in different ways--and this very Diversity is another Fundamental Good.

Here are some of the descriptive phrases: "grandiose howl", "off-kilter", "virtuoso", "defiantly idiosyncratic", "raging tour-de-force" and so on. Of course these kinds of descriptive phrases are all of a certain metal: they celebrate the illusory freedoms of the 60s cultural revolution where we are all enjoined to "let it all hang out". The grandiose howling, defiantly idiosyncratic raging tours-de-force musics are actually not all that diverse after all. The virtues they stress are all 60s virtues that, no matter how tired they get, will still suggest youthful rebellion. Björk circumnavigates the globe so she can reinforce her, and Alex' and our basic assumptions about art and the world.

When you cite a list, with no specifying principles, that puts Mahler side by side with ethnic folk music and particularly offensive political rants, then you are saying that there are no aesthetic standards that "All Music is Equally Good". But you are also saying that only some styles and genres are valid. Only some are "authentic". Mahler is ok, as kind of a token art music composer, but he must be put on the same level as Public Enemy and Kate Bush. The one kind of artist or genre that cannot appear on the list are the kinds that I would pick. It is "cool" to do this kind of list that defies aesthetic standards. Doing what I often do, pick out the best of a genre or style, put different performances side by side and evaluate them, this is uncool. And, Thou Shalt Be Cool. But, alas, this whole cultural project of the PTB is to deny civilization in favor of doctrinaire commandments that are, as soon as you state them clearly, obviously wrong. Which is precisely why they must never be stated clearly. Which is why you must dress them up with a lot of purple prose.

As soon as you see someone saying things like this:
the animated map of genres that materialises in the background
 It is as though, in a reversal of tectonic drift, isolated land masses of taste were re-forming as a supercontinent.
 Björk’s list circumnavigates the globe and, at the same time, it overruns the boundaries separating art from pop, mainstream from underground, primeval past from hi-tech present.
Your Spider-sense should immediately activate. All this stuff about overrunning boundaries and reversing tectonic drift is to short-circuit your ability to think and evaluate. Honestly.

I'm not sure, at the end of the day, if the music even matters much. Not next to the Commandments...

I won't go on as I have already made my point, but it is interesting to examine statements like this one:
The partition of music into distinct genres, each with its own history, philosophy and body of technique, is a relatively recent development. Before a global marketplace emerged, with the advent of recording technology in the late 19th century, there was little talk of the classical, the popular and subdivisions thereof
Which is a beautifully nuanced lie. Music has, the whole span of Western Civilization, been created and listened to in different genres and sub-genres: Plainchant, Gregorian Chant, antiphons, graduals--these go back a thousand years and more. Yes, "classical" music has been turned, by modern marketing machines, into just another "genre", but the way Ross describes it in the quote above, is historically illiterate. I won't bother to dissect any more of this tediously long article.

Let's end with some music that would never find itself on a Björk list: an acknowledged masterpiece of classical music:

UPDATE: Browsing through the comments on the Guardian site for the original essay, this is the third comment:
this is very clever marketing, pushing the art/music crossover, in an age where brand identity is more important than ever, an album launch coinciding, roughly, with an exhibition at MOMA, a hagiographic book excerpt (Alex Ross being commissioned) serving as a press release - one of many doing the rounds right now to push the new release.
People forget that, despite her name checking of so called "serious music" composers, her enthusiasm for "experimentation," and the music press's efforts to align her with some kind of popular "avant garde," she is, at the end of the the day, a pop singer, it's pop, quirky idiosyncratic pop, but relative to other things going on (largely unnoticed by the mainstream) - it's just more of the same.
Yep. And it's the back-beat that gives it away.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What's in the Pipeline

I'm sorry, but there won't be much of a post this morning. I'm just too tied up with other business. But I thought I might share with you what I have planned for the near future at the Music Salon.

  • Before that, you might have a look at the comments on yesterday's Friday Miscellanea post as there were some interesting thoughts.
  • I have been exploring Prokofiev a lot lately. I never paid much attention to him, not sure why, but some comments by Nathan Shirley quite a while back piqued my interest and I am finally getting around to him. I knew the piano concertos a tiny bit from years back, but, apart from the Classical Symphony, his symphonies were terra incognita. But I have been listening to them this week and wow! Great stuff. So, I will be talking about them soon.
  • There will some posts on Schoenberg coming up as well.
  • I have a post on the ten best 19th century symphonies in preparation. This is surprisingly tough to do!
  • I'm also going to do a post on the neo-romantic composer Lowell Liebermann.
  • If you have any suggestions for post topics, don't hesitate to put them in the comments. Always looking for ideas.
  • That's about all I have planned at the moment.
Let's end with one of those Prokofiev symphonies. Here is the not-so-well-known Symphony No. 2, fascinatingly constructed with two movements, the second a set of theme and variations. Conducted by Neeme Järvi with the Royal Scottish Orchestra:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

Apparently in the UK they regard sex education as so important that classes in arts and culture are being removed to make room for it. I dunno, can't kids learn about sex in the traditional way, by necking at drive-in theaters like I did? Oh, right, no more drive-in theaters.

* * *

Did you know that one annual tradition at MIT is to throw a piano off the roof of one of the dorms? Why a piano? That's an easy one: if you throw an oboe or a viola off the roof it doesn't make much sound when it hits and nobody cries.

* * *

Let's see what Sinfini Music is cutting through this week. Ah, the Moonlight Sonata. I always wonder if we would listen to it as much and with such devotion if it had picked up a rather different nickname? Something like the Limburger Sonata or the Bratwurst Sonata? Jessica Duchen is a very knowledgeable writer on music; I wonder if they had her take those pills that make you stupider in order to write this piece for Sinfini Music? Too catty a remark? Let's have a look at what she says:

Why the name?

That title, naturally, is probably not Beethoven’s.
Certainly not Beethoven's, whose own title is Sonata quasi una fantasia.
Some associate the introspective, funereal quality of this music with Beethoven’s state of mind as he faced the onset of this cruel malady (his encroaching deafness). There seems, though, little limit to the theories on this sonata that abound; there may yet be further surprises in store.
Some associate every piece of music Beethoven (or anyone else for that matter) wrote with some biographical event or other. A particular horrific example is Maynard Solomon's book on Mozart that reduces every piece to a kind of psychological excrescence. Please, can't it just be music? And who says anything about the Moonlight Sonata is funereal?
The nature of the music, so strongly defined, speaks its message to every age.
And what "message" is that? What is so strongly defined about it? This kind of vague hand-waving is the stock-in-trade of mediocre politicians. By the end Jessical Duchen puts up some clips of different performances (but of course you have to sign up for Spotify to listen) and a podcast analysis of the work. But Sinfini, while probably good at luring you into purchasing recordings, continues to be hapless at informing you about music.

* * *

Also at Sinfini is another execrable article on how biased, prejudiced, blinkered and oppressive classical music is for not employing precisely the correct numbers of "women and people from black and minority ethnic (BME) and working class backgrounds." I guess the acronym for that whole thing would be WBMEWC! Oh yes, I'm sure that the BBCSO (British Broadcasting Corporation Symphony Orchestra) would be immeasurably improved if only they could get the working class background contingent up to, what? 40%? As usual, the truth that what we are talking about are mandated quotas, is concealed by the happythought word Diversity. Where is George Orwell when we need him?

* * *

This article from the Guardian is rather interesting. It makes the point that perhaps the reason that there are not more working class background people succeeding in the arts is that opportunities for them to learn their craft have been severely hampered by government cutbacks in education in cultural fields:
The arts sits in the eye of a perfect storm of failing social provision, substandard education systems and a heartless welfare state. In the past 20 years, government policy has decimated arts provision in the national curriculum. The introduction of tuition fees means higher education has come to represent a life sentence of debt, while cuts to welfare provision have removed any viable safety net for those without family money to fall back on. Meanwhile, the role of art and artists in our society is consistently undervalued by those in power. Last time I checked, actors, designers and directors weren’t the ones making those decisions in parliament.
Well, yes, if you keep telling people to go into computer programming because that is where the future is and keep raising tuition so no-one can graduate without a huge debt, then that would rather tend to discourage people from careers in the arts.

* * *

 Here is a truly provocative article by Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal about the positive aspects of post-modernism in music. I say provocative because, while I want to disagree with many statements and quibble with others, he makes some very good points:
Whatever you think of the radical relativism of postmodern cultural theory—and I detest it—the fact is that the coming of postmodernism has proved to be both liberating and stimulating to musicians of all kinds. It made it possible for minimalist classical composers like Mr. Glass and neo-romantic moderns like Lowell Liebermann to get a hearing in the concert hall and find their own loyal audiences.
Here is a track from the album that provoked this discussion, Really Love from Black Messiah by D'Angelo and The Vanguard:

One beef I have is despite all the talk about how post-modernism absorbs classical music into the mix, what I always hear, as in this track, is a little string noodling followed by hints of flamenco that inevitably drift into the usual funky back-beat pop texture. All this is just window-dressing on top of the usual pop stuff. In other words the structures of classical music have absolutely no effect on the style. Instead it is just used for a touch of 'local color'. Thanks, but no thanks... This sounds to me mostly like a jazzier version of Prince. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

* * *

Let's clear the palate with some actual classical music. Here is what I have been listening to lately. A really original piece of musical composition by Sergei Prokofiev, the Symphony No. 5 in B flat major with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra at the 2013 Proms. If you want to skip the introduction the performance begins at the 4:35 mark: