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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Okay Just One More Post Before Bed

All times are Pacific:

9:57:31 AM Daniel Johnson: My dad had the news on in this room while I was asleep 9:58:28 AM Daniel Johnson: I dreamed Leontyne Price was assassinated 10:01:44 AM Friend: One sec, my boyfriend just arrived. 10:01:51 AM Friend: He laughed at your joke. 10:02:07 AM Daniel Johnson: hahaha it wasn't a joke, that's the sad thing 10:02:13 AM Daniel Johnson: that's just how gay I am

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I Am Sick and Tired of Writing About This Guy

And no, I don't mean Franz Schubert. But seriously, this has got to stop. First, the Timeseses Bernard Holland takes it upon himself to defend the concert hall against the likes of Cornelius Cardew, Earle Brown, and Christian Wolff, whose "1960s arrogance and self-absorption" was actually "damaging to music"—ah yes, who doesn't remember the 1960s as an era dominated by the likes of Cornelius Cardew, Earle Brown, and Christian Wolff! And what does this music-damaging oeuvre sound like? What pieces were performed? I guess that's not so important, since our critic declines to offer any description. What's important is "arrogance and self-absorption," but we might have guessed that: this is, after all, a Bernard Holland column. Well, the deaths of Cardew and Brown have ended their respective reigns of terror, but maybe there's still hope for Christian Wolff. Where can he look for a new aesthetic model? Hey, how about Radio City Music Hall, where the Rockettes put on a world-famous Christmas show each year? Well, I'm not exactly sure how this is even a musical event, since didn't the Rockettes tour with a CD in the orchestra pit one time and nobody noticed but the union? Holland isn't sure either; 875 words in this piece and only fourteen describe the music: "On its elevating orchestra pit Gary Adler and his players perform in high style." "High style," huh? Thanks! I feel like I was there. (For perspective, that is one fewer word than Holland uses to explain that the Rockettes arouse him sexually: "I like them especially with their antlers on. They can pull my sled any day.") [Shudder.] Now there's a piece about the deaths of brilliant young composers, which, as it turns out, aren't such a big deal after all. For instance, "Schubert died at 31. How much music did his early death deprive us of? Not a lot."

Friend #1: "Yes, no one talks much about the music he wrote 3 years after his death. You ever notice that?" Friend #2: "Me, I'm just relieved to see I'm not the only one who hasn't finished On Late Style."

Can anyone make a lick of sense out of this article? I'm starting to think he just bet somebody money he could get an incredibly filthy double-entendre into a New York Times headline.

Ugh, good night, everyone! New New Year's resolution: I will not put this goober's name in my mouth for another twelve months.

Robert Hurwitz vs. Master P

From SomethingAwful.com. Actually, I think they've got something here... I mean, Four Tet and DJ Spooky are nice and all, but how about "Proverb (Akon Mix feat. Akon)"? Somebody call Nonesuch Records, right now.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Maury Felice!

Maury D'Annato celebrates his one-hundred-thousandth-or-so hit this morning. My favorite My Favorite Intermissions, I have to admit, is the same one La Cieca quoted earlier this year:

The role, as we all know, is unsingable, and so unsing it he did.

But is that my favorite line from my favorite My Favorite Intermissions? Or is it, re: Debbie Voigt,

No, the top is not the same shiny thing it used to be, but neither is the statue of liberty and we still like her.

In any case, I quote both of those one-liners like thrice daily. Informed, discerning, funny, self-effacing, Maury is truckloads of the very best that opera criticism has to offer. Happy D'Anniversary!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Life Imitates Dargel

So I wrote this thing on my friend's blog about gay marriage and/or divorce, and when I was done I could not get "Move to Vermont" by Corey Dargel out of my head but it looks like it's not on his mp3 page anymore. Didn't it use to be? You'll have to accost him in the street and demand he sing it for you in person so that you have some idea what the hell I'm talking about. And then I wrote this other thing about Lisa Bielawa's Chance Encounter for the local paper. As usual, I'm guessing I got everything wrong, but I hope somebody out there sees it and decides to go to the concert.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Who Blogwatches the Blogwatchmen?

I don't follow Greg Sandow's blog, but I understand there are people who do, so I've always assumed there's something he does right and I'm just missing it. Gramophone cast a little doubt on that assumption this month by selecting for its Blogwatch feature an especially ill-informed and poorly thought-out piece on the music and legacy of Luciano Berio. Sandow's conclusion:

And in Berio's modernism, delightful as it now sounds to me -- and not just delightful; irreverent, too -- you run into a brick wall of limitation. Berio can twitter and burp all he likes, but the connections that he thinks he's making to the world outside classical music are all to highbrow theorizing, cultural, linguistic, and literary. You'd never catch him echoing a snatched memory of popular culture (unless you count folk songs, which I don't, because they're theorized, in Berio's world, as authentic, while pop culture, supposedly, is commercial and corrupt). So that's the boundary. He can giggle all he wants, and also cough and hum and murmur, putting sounds in free association with each other. But if I'd written a piece like this, and my free association took me to a fragment of Led Zeppelin, eyebrows would have been raised. Likewise, when Elliott Carter says that he's inspired (as, for instance, in his piano piece Night Fantasies) by the slither of unconscious thoughts in Joyce's writing, what he'll never do, as thoughts skitter in his music, is let them skitter toward popular culture (by, for instance, echoing a popular song), as Joyce does on just about every page. That's an odd, restrictive limit, typical of modernist music, but not of other modernist art. And it helps explains why modernist music has never had the appeal of modernist literature or painting.

Was somebody asleep at the wheel of the Gramophone? Within two days of this posting, Sandow had already received a reply correcting the basic error of fact underpinning this argument. Berio loved popular music, and his love was reflected in his composition. Commenter John Abbott wrote:

....yet Berio liked jazz, arranged Beatles songs (supposedly also influencing The Beatles prior to Sgt Pepper), and included all sorts of cultural references in works like Sinfonia. I always associate him with Umberto Eco, who loves mixing "highbrow" and "lowbrow" culture.

And Sandow replies:

I'd love to know more about this. I didn't know about the Beatles arrangements! But -- and maybe this is my fault -- I don't remember pop references in "Sinfonia." That Mahler movement, with the singing and speaking voices, struck me, last time I heard it, as quite notably Mandarin in its culture. I most clearly remember the Samuel Beckett text. I love Beckett -- he's one of my cultural touchstones -- but he's certainly not popular culture.

Err, Berio's Beatles arrangements are not exactly a secret; I'm pretty sure they're mentioned right in his New Grove entry. Here's Cathy Berberian singing "Ticket to Ride," three minutes into this clip.

As for pop references in the Sinfonia, yeah, it's your fault. Maybe listen a little closer to the stylings from Rod Swingle and his Swingle Singers, the gang for whom the piece was composed. Their vocal production is not quite as operatic as one might expect in an hommage à Mahler. Another pop-influenced Berio moment that comes to mind: the drumkits and brass hits of Laborintus 2. Great piece! Give it a listen.

Sandow goes on:

And the Beatles -- I've long thought that the interest in them among classical musicians back in the '60s has been misunderstood. For one thing, it didn't last very long. But mainly, people like Bernstein and Ned Rorem liked the Beatles because their songs did the same kind of things (with melodic and harmonic sophistication) that classical music does. So it wasn't that highbrows started liking rock. It was that rock musicians had started moving into classical territory. If Berio had arranged Rolling Stones songs, I'd have granted him a serious interest in rock & roll. Or if all these classical people had gone crazy for The Band, I'd agree that they had some understanding of rock. The Band's music is easily as sophisticated as the Beatles', but the sophistication derives entirely from American roots music, and isn't like to speak to classical music people who don't move easily on the rock side of the fence.

Why all this speculation about what Berio thought of rock? Let's Google "Luciano Berio" and rock; the first hit is Berio's "Comments on rock," excerpted in the anthology The Lennon Companion. A pity to see how much is omitted in this translation, but we get the idea--what does Berio like about rock? Its eclecticism, the simplicity of its materials, and of course the ease with which those materials can be reconfigured to assimilate Beatles-style avant-gardism. Artists mentioned: yes, Zappa and the Beatles, but also the Four Tops, the Grateful Dead and, guess who, the Rolling Stones.

(Non seq.: Find my new favorite Berio anecdote here.

The conversation was a kind of litany containing the great names of twentieth-century composition: Cage, Messiaen, et al. Then Rihm mentioned Sting. Boulez was shocked. Berio told him to go and listen to Sting's latest album, that he might be surprised.

Heh.)

Postscript--

So after seeing Sandow in the Gramophone, I sent another Greg, one of my Gregs, over to check out the post. His response was immediately to dig up an article in which Luciano Berio actively rails against the kind of "enforced ideology" Sandow claims was propagated by "the crowd [Berio] ran with" (nevermind who Berio actually "ran with"):

In 1968, Berio published an essay in the Christian Science Monitor titled "Meditations on a Twelve-Tone Horse." (available for purchase here.) This essay contains the following notorious passage: "Any attempt to codify musical reality into a kind of imitation grammar (I refer mainly to the efforts associated with the Twelve-Tone System) is a brand of fetishism which shares with Fascism and racism the tendency to reduce live processes to immobile, labeled objects, the tendency to deal with formalities rather than substance. Claude Levi-Strauss describes (though to illustrate a different point) a captain at sea, his ship reduced to a frail raft without sails, who, by enforcing a meticulous protocol on his crew, is able to distract them from nostalgia for a safe harbor and from the desire for a destination."

Sandow:

Serialism is taught in music schools these days -- or rather the history of serialism -- with great respect. Certainly it was when I was in music school. Nobody mentioned the derision of intellectuals like Levi-Strauss, which was as legitimate a part of the history as Boulez's excitement.

So true! Errr, except for the parts you misread, misremembered, or just plain made up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts

From the letters page of USC Trojan Family Magazine, winter 2007:

Opera Opprobrium My husband and I attended the April production of Miss Lonelyhearts at USC (Autumn 2007, “Arts & Culture,” p. 26). Appalled, disgusted, shocked and terrorized by the unnecessarily graphic and downright pornographic gestures, gesticulations, language and Christian-bashing plot, we were forced to leave after the first unfathomable act. We could only assume the director (Ken Cazan) had forgotten that this was supposed to be a student production for educational purposes, edifying and building the careers and skills of the finest young singers that come to USC. I did not see any “NC-17” posted warnings upon entering the theater, on the tickets, on the cover of the program, or posted on the doors, as there should have been. Audiences must be warned in advance – we have a right to know whether to expect graphic violence, graphic sexual scenes, objectionable language and adult situations before entering the theater. That is the law for movie theaters, rented DVDs and CDs for purchase today – why are Ken Cazan’s opera productions exempt from such guidelines? Were any children under 17 admitted to any performances of this opera? If so, he should be charged with endangering the welfare of a child with what he shamelessly instructed college students to do on that stage. Opera fans go to the opera to have a higher artistic experience than we can find in the movie theater or on television. We go to be uplifted, to be moved, to be taught, to laugh, to cry, but we do not go to watch the beautiful art form we so cherish be treated with irreverence, disdain, mockery, smut and hatefulness. While my letter only “officially” represents the opinions of two audience members who attended that performance, there were many more people who left the theater (in disgust) at intermission, not to return for the second act. Arts audiences need to stand up and be heard when they witness something that is an endangerment to students, audiences, university opera programs and the operatic art form in general. Many opera patrons oppose the downward-spiraling moral trend spearheaded by Cazan and other university opera directors. I urge those patrons to voice their opinions and protest a little louder when they are offended by the “entertainment” they see and hear on college stages. Perhaps then administrators and directors will begin to listen. Tricia Oney DMA ’07 and David Gibides VALENCIA, CA USC Thornton School of Music Dean Robert Cutietta responds: The Thornton School is one of the finest music schools in the country. As such, it is critical that we provide students in the opera program experiences that are not available at other institutions of higher education. Therefore, when the occasion presented itself for us to collaborate with the Juilliard School and the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati on a world premiere of an opera, it would have been irresponsible of me to deny our students this unique opportunity. As artists they had to conquer demanding contemporary music while creating characters for which they had no former role models. Professional opera singers will be confronted with this dual challenge, but very few schools of music are in a position to provide such an opportunity. We signed onto the project before the piece was composed (as is always the case with commissions and premieres) but we were aware of the story line. Ms. Oney seems to have missed the point that Professor Cazan did not write the story. Instead, it is the accurate portrayal of the classic 1933 book by Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts, by one of today’s major living composers, Lowell Liebermann. Prior to this production, the book has been made into a Broadway play and two movies. It is read and studied in college-level English classes at USC and many other universities across the country. Last, Ms Oney is mistaken when she states that no warnings about adult content were present. We took extreme measures to assure that audience members were clear that the performance contained adult subject matter and was not appropriate for children. This included a letter from me to all of our regular opera audience members specifically to make this clear. The mission of an academic institution is to provide top educational experiences for its students. The mission of an outstanding educational institution such as the USC Thornton School is to provide an unparalleled array of professional experiences that are not available at other schools. I think we succeeded very well in fulfilling this mission.

1) To all who had the misfortune to miss Miss Lonelyhearts: Aren't you kicking yourself now? I know I am. This show sounds awesome, all of a sudden.

2) To Dean Cutietta: Ummm, didn't someone else help the composer and the director adapt Miss Lonelyhearts? I seem to recall that the dismayingly prolific J.D. "Sandy" McClatchy, America's Librettist, had something to do with this. Let's give the man his props.

3) To Ms. Oney & Mr. Gibides: Kids, you just wrote a letter to the editor of your alumni magazine, complaining about a naughty opera staging. I mean, DMA '07? According to my calculations, that makes you wayyyy too young to be a bitter old person. Please, please get out more. Let's start with a stroll to the lovely Los Angeles Public Library and work up from there.

Okay, that's all. Fight on, Trojans!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Consider Yourselves Warned

The music of Martin Bresnick can be hazardous to your health! Tim Munro of eighth blackbird reveals the hidden dangers, here. He's all right, thank goodness.