Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Apparently in the future, cows will be accorded the privacy that few humans possess today. Witness this photo from Google street view:


It is unknown why only the cow on the right has its face blurred out. Perhaps it is underage? Or an unindicted co-conspirator?

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Winston Churchill won WWII on four hours sleep a night, Cuban cigars, and the consumption of significant amounts of alcohol. This latter was on the advice of his doctor:


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Here is an item from Slipped Disc about the National Medal of Arts awards, to be presented by President Obama in an upcoming ceremony. Philip Glass gets one, but Steve Reich does not. As is very often the case, the comments are very amusing!

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Somehow I missed this review by Norman Lebrecht of a new book on Venezuela's music education program "El Sistema":
From the results I have seen in the U.S. and Europe, the system has yielded a playing elite. Performing with Mr. Dudamel as the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, the young musicians display precision and enthusiasm along with a sense of mutual responsibility and an appetite for reckless fun. To watch them in the pit at La Scala last summer, playing the consumptive tragedy of “La Bohème” as if from real life, was to witness music’s redemptive potential.
Mr. Dudamel, a vibrant man who commands widespread respect and affection, is the world’s most sought-after conductor. Other Sistema alumni include the Ulster Orchestra conductor Rafael Payare, the Tucson Symphony music director José Luis Gomez and the Berlin Philharmonic double-bass player Edicson Ruiz. All learned their music from scratch under Mr. Abreu’s beady eye. “You have to treat children like artists,” says Mr. Dudamel. “If you don’t, the action of art doesn’t work.”
The puzzle is the relationship between this successful program and the reality of the failing state that Venezuela has become. The review mentions this without really coming to grips with it.

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 The Gramophone's 2016 Recording of the Year has been won by Igor Levit for a CD of the Bach Goldberg Variations, the Beethoven Diabelli Variations and "The People United Will Never Be Defeated" by Frederic Rzewski. One out of those three seems out of place! But I may have just never given the Rzewski a chance for political reasons! It is a lot more interesting piece than the trite-sounding theme reveals. Here is the first part of a performance by the composer:


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The cultural war goes on apace... You didn't know we were in a cultural war? That's probably because it has been overshadowed by the religious war, nuclear proliferation and the War on Women! But, for sure, there is a cultural war going on and an interesting recent skirmish comes from Staatsballett Berlin, a ballet company with a strong classical tradition. The New York Times has the story:
More than 5,000 signatures have been posted on a petition started by the dancers of the Staatsballett Berlin to protest the appointment of the contemporary dance choreographer Sasha Waltz as one of the company’s next artistic directors. The announcement that Ms. Waltz and Johannes Öhman, now the director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, would succeed the current director, Nacho Duato, in 2019, was announced last week by Michael Müller, the mayor of Berlin.
The petition, posted in German, English, Italian and Japanese, states that hiring Ms. Waltz “has to be compared to an appointment of a tennis trainer as a football coach or an art museum director as an orchestral director.” It adds: “We respect the work of Sacha Waltz but find her completely unsuitable to lead our company. Sasha Waltz is a choreographer of dance theater. This form of stage dance needs other artistic qualities than those which a classically educated ballet dancer has developed and is dedicated to.”
I think that what this illustrates is pushback from artists who are firmly based in classical traditions wanting them respected and not tossed into a contemporary meatgrinder. On another level, it shows the potential problems with government support of the arts: at some point the appointments start becoming politically influenced.

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Here is an interesting article on move soundtracks: Why You Can't Remember What Modern Movies Sound Like.
...the problem has to do with temp tracks. Temp tracks are used by directors in early edits of a movie, as a replacement for the official soundtrack before it's made. However, a lot of temp tracks end up sounding a lot like the finished version.
Reusing old soundtracks is not new, but when all the new blockbusters borrow music from each other, it can end up repetitive and boring. Combine that with studios that refuse to take risks with the film score, and you end up with a soundtrack that's easily forgettable.
There is a fairly long video clip that analyzes Marvel soundtracks and illustrates quite well their formulaic lack of creativity. Dan Golding (who sounds Australian to me) has an interesting response titled A Theory of Film Music:



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I'm afraid that over the years I have become more and more disenchanted with the cultural, academic and social elites. They seem to have become more and more condescending as they become less and less competent and knowledgeable. This article by Nassim Nicolas Taleb explains why: The Intellectual Yet Idiot:
Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They can't tell science from scientism — in fact in their eyes scientism looks more scientific than real science.
The IYI has been wrong, historically, on Stalinism, Maoism, GMOs, Iraq, Libya, Syria, lobotomies, urban planning, low carbohydrate diets, gym machines, behaviorism, transfats, freudianism, portfolio theory, linear regression, Gaussianism, Salafism, dynamic stochastic equilibrium modeling, housing projects, selfish gene, Bernie Madoff (pre-blowup) and p-values. But he is convinced that his current position is right.
Heh!

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Here is an article about coming to love Mahler: Music That's Everything:
I never cared much for the music of Gustav Mahler. I tried to like it, but without success. The problem, for me, wasn’t that Mahler was modern or unapproachable or “difficult.” Somehow, and despite a natural predisposition against modernism of all kinds, I had learned to appreciate the music of Schoenberg and particularly Shostakovich. Mahler’s symphonies, though, which in one sense are much more approachable and “tonal” than that of modernist composers (he’s commonly categorized as “late Romantic” rather than modern) struck me as deliberately incoherent. Twenty years ago I bought recordings of all nine, listened to them dutifully, but with only the partial exception of the First Symphony, the “Titan,” couldn’t make anything of them. I’ve seen various ones performed on different occasions, but rarely with profit. His famous remark to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, endlessly recited in discussions of Mahler’s music—“The symphony is the world! The symphony must embrace everything!”—sounded to me like highfalutin hooey.
 Mind you, the reverse is also possible. Back when I was an undergraduate I loved Mahler. His lengthy melodramatic wallowing sounded Really Profound. But now I can't stand him. He just sounds neurotic and over-medicated.

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Here is article number 1,257 in a never-ending series about how classical music is All Different Now as the Younger Generation of Artists are Changing Everything. It's from The Independent.
“What happens in the space where genres, sounds and ideas collide?” asked the Barbican when it invited the German pianist and composer Nils Frahm to put together a weekend of music in July.
Here’s what happened: Frahm’s show sold out in minutes. The event was heralded by BBC radio DJ Gilles Peterson, who invited Frahm to join him on his Saturday show. The Guardian printed a huge profile. Even Resident Advisor, the online electronic music community, went along to review, acknowledging Frahm’s crossover appeal among DJs and club devotees. 
One thing didn’t happen. “Not one reviewer from the classical press came,” said Harriet Moss, creative director of a new contemporary classical record label called Cognitive Shift. “Partly because they don’t know where to put it.”
Actually, I think they knew exactly where to put it! Based on the maudlin bit of repetitive sludge that accompanies the article, sounding just like the love-child of Pachelbel and John Luther Adams, I think that one's best option was to avoid the concert! Just a safety tip, one way to identify things to be avoided is to look for the tell-tale meaningless mixed metaphor: "What happens in the space where genres, sounds and ideas collide?" Nothing good, my friends, nothing good!

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And that brings us to our envoi for today. We haven't put up a Sibelius symphony for a while and he is the perfect antidote to Mahler. Instead of confused, lengthy wallowing, we have crisp Northern symphonic goodness. This is the Symphony No. 6 in D minor, about as long as a single Mahler movement. Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, conductor. I think Sibelius said the opening was like the smell of new-fallen snow:


5 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

"Actually, I think they knew exactly where to put it!" Ha. I think I prefer the Chili Peppers to Nils ('his disregard for boundaries started at a young age') Frahm. If I lived in the city and had unlimited resources of time &c, sure, I might go out to listen and to 'subject myself to his manipulation', for an hour. But I'd leave as soon as I felt the least bit faint. (That Guardian piece is truly priceless!)

That three CD set of Igor Levit's Bach, Beethoven, and Rzewski variations is in my list. While I think that Messrs Rzewski and Dudamel ought to live in Maracaibo or Pyongyang or somewhere to experience the best consequences of the people being united, am going to give the Rzewski variations another go, too; and it's not as if one has to listen to lyrics (Cornelius Cardew!). Spent five minutes on vv 31-35 earlier-- was it last year that you wrote about this piece?-- and they're interesting enough for the time involved.

David said...

From this point forward you will be known as Bryan the Brave. You have dared to state a negative stance on The Music of Mahler! In the world of Classical Music, that is akin to saying "Voldemort" in Hogwarts.

To display my true allegiance, I will confess to having the same reaction. Some time ago, I thought I must be missing something there being no Mahler in my music collection. A $30 (Canadian!) box of the complete Mahler symphonies by Chailly and the Royal Concertgebouw allowed me to explore without a big financial commitment. I am afraid that despite my real efforts to appreciate the "everything" symphonies, I just can't. Give me Sibelius, Haydn, even Miaskovksy and Bruckner, but spare me the Mahler.

Bryan Townsend said...

You saw my comment at Ann Althouse?

Yes, I did mention the Rzewski piece quite a while back, but I really didn't give it a chance. The 3CD Levit box is pretty impressive. Just on my first go through.

@David: I've been mean-mouthing Mahler for quite a while now. I think I am supposed to duel Craig with conductor's batons at ten paces if I am ever in Toronto. Thanks so much for your support!! I can remember when each Mahler symphony came in a box of LPs: I used to have the 5th and 9th, but can't remember who the performers were. Right now I have them on CD with Kubelik and the Bavarian Rundfunk. I try occasionally to give them a listen, but I really can't get past the first minute.

Marc Puckett said...

A Facebook acquaintance linked to this-- [http://www.taubenwirtin.at/]-- and while my German is very very bad or non-existent it seems to be a production of a new opera buffa 'in the style of Mozart'. I paid attention only because these young people seem to be uninterested in Beyoncé, Taylor, Kanye, and Justin....

I did see your comment at Althouse; some of those folks seem to have a serious knowledge of rock music and its roots and antecedents.

Bryan Townsend said...

Ah yes, that's in Vienna! Lots of tradition there. Pop music is a huge area, especially if you include all the less-popular musicians, and true expertise in it takes a lot of time and knowledge.