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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Like New, Runs Great

Loyal reader Greg has found the perfect gift for the person who has everything. I apologize for pasting all of this up in your grill, but it's impossible to pick out the best part, and this has to be immortalized before it disappears into the Craigslist æthers:



I'm not sure one can truly "buy" an opera company, particularly if it is on the "non-profit" track...but hear me out.

I founded San Francisco Opera Baroque this year and produced a "gala" concert on Saturday evening, September 19, 2009 at the Victoria Theatre. The performance featured an all-Handel program of opera arias sung by some outstanding singers from around the state of California. The small period-style orchestra was superb and the dancing was lovely. A rather small, but appreciative audience was in attendance--and we picked up a couple of new "fans". This company is finally "off the ground" but there is a great distance to go before it can produce a fully-staged opera. Instead of being SF Opera Baroque it is still SF Opera B-roke! I am an unemployed church musician who dreamed of designing and singing in a Handel opera, and my desire led me to start this company. Although I feel capable of running this company, I am not in the right position financially to do so and truthfully I think I am "past my prime" as an operatic performer.

I am seeking one or more passionate lover(s) of Baroque operatic music to take over the ownership and development of this venture. The ideal person or persons who step forward to take on this exiting new project should be financially stable, be available for hard work, possess the ability to think creatively in seeking solutions, and be in a position to offer some degree of financial support to the development of SFOB. To facilitate the transfer of ownership of this company, I am hopeful that the new owner(s) can put up the funds to compensate those professionals who performed and/or worked on last week's production (a total of $10-15k, but I'm willing to negotiate something less). I am looking only to be reimbursed for my own expenses for setting up the corporation and the gala, which I believe is less than $1,000. No personal profit would be made in this transfer. The web address is http://www.sfobaroque.org.

If interested, please contact me by Email.
"I thought one did the fund-raising before one hired the professionals," Greg suggests, "but I understand church musicians have a different relationship to funding mechanisms than the rest of us." Heh heh heh. I just hope this doesn't turn out to be one of those Nigerian Baroque Opera Company scams.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How You Can Help in Iraq


Hey did you ever notice that when people complain about the difficulties facing people in the war-torn Middle East, the solution they come up with is usually "drop some more bombs on it"? Wouldn't it be nice if, instead, we could give them money and music and other things that actually improve life instead of ending it?

[If my politics are grossing any of you out right now, please keep reading, because I know the situation is complicated, I'm being tongue in cheek, and what I'm about to draw your attention to is something I think everybody can agree is a pretty good idea.]

Well guess what! Our friend, composer and activist R. Timothy Brady, has been at it for a while, and now is a perfect opportunity for you to help him.

You might know Brady as the composer of Edalat Square, a prize-winnin' opera about the execution of two gay boys in Iran; since then, he's founded the Soulbird organization to promote arts and tolerance in the places that need them the most. This summer, they put on Iraq's first ever new-music festival, featuring the Iraqi premiere of Terry Riley's In C(!!!), and now they're taking it to the next level by founding a school to serve as a haven for Iraqi artists in the relatively stable region of Kurdistan. From the website:
Concert halls, art galleries, and movie theaters have been completely destroyed. Walking to school while carrying an instrument and practicing piano at home can get you killed. This is reality for the majority of artists living in Iraq today. Hundreds have been targeted by terrorists and insurgents for torture and murder since the US-led invasion began in 2003. Some reports estimate as many as 80% of singers have fled the country....
If you thought you got picked on as an artistic type at your middle-American high school, it is time for a big fat Reality Check, or better yet a big fat Bank Check (TAX-DEDUCTIBLE). And if you don't have money, that's okay too—the Soulbird Arts Academy of Kurdistan is looking for CDs, scores, DVDs, books, electronics, or anything you can donate to help the cause.

I'm told Bang on a Can and their Cantaloupe label have already made a generous donation. Go indie classical!! How awesome would it be if the bigger labels stepped up to the plate as well?

More info here. Please give all you can, folks! This might be the most important arts-related charity I've ever heard of.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Matthew Guerrieri Wins Again

A lot of people have been bitching about Luc Bondy's new Tosca at the Met, none louder than Franco Zeffirelli—the vain and silly queen whose much admired production is being (temporarily, perhaps) replaced—who was crying about it before the curtain had even gone up on the new one.

Sweetie, age gracefully. Yes, you're going to die someday. That doesn't mean the rest of us have to preserve your turds in amber. Get over it.

Anyway, of all the zingers that have consequently been zung at the Zeff's expense, the best probably belongs to our beloved Matthew Guerrieri:

Personally, I don’t think anyone who cast Mel Gibson as Hamlet should be playing the “faithful to the author” card.
Oh. Snap.

Thank you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Other Condiment Pun News

In the new New Haven Advocate, a quick preview of the '09-'10 classical music schedule! Expect a season seasoned with spicy new musical blah blah blah [too weary to complete own hackneyed "joke"].

Kill Them with Sweetness

Quick rundown of congrats for the New Amsterdam Records-and-affiliated crowd of young composers:

The WNYC podcast doesn't seem to have put out a lot of episodes lately, so it was a pleasant surprise to find in my pod-hole an episode dedicated to Missy Mazzoli's Victoire! Listen to it (mp3 here, podcast RSS feed here) and tell me what y'all think. For me, one of the most satisfying features of the music is the canny use of electronics—and one of the most troubling is the integration of the clarinet. Sometimes I think it wants to be a trumpet? At any rate I feel that the place of the woodwind section within the bandsemble lineup, as I noted so long ago in my Free Speech Zone review, is its weak spot, its Achilles heel if you will. Listen yourself, enjoy, & tell me what you think.

ALSO, let's toss a bouquet of congratulations at Ted Hearne, who won the Gaudeamus Prize for his Katrina Ballads! (Via, probably, @dja?) Here's the thing: I am not that crazy about the Katrina Ballads. Why am I so resistant to a work that is so obviously well-crafted? I enjoyed the New Haven premiere of Hearne's Eyelid Margin immensely, but his political music makes me feel more harangued than provoked. A clearer example than this might be his piece You Have AIDS. No, no, you don't actually have AIDS! (I mean, unless you do. Get tested, everybody!) No, that's just the title of the piece. It asks the listener to assume the position of a South African man being apprised of the fact that he has AIDS by what must be one of the worst HIV Counselors in the world ("So, like I said, you have AIDS. / Am I going too fast? HIV. CD4. AIDS. Any questions?"). I guess the idea is to shock the audience into an awareness of the reality of the AIDS crisis in Africa, but when I listened to this sound clips, I felt more like I had found myself at the audience at LEASE: The Musical. As if there's something smug, or presumptuous, or, it seems unfair to say, condescending going on here.

"Unfair," because, what—are Ivy League composers not allowed to comment on events affecting Black America or the developing world? That's absurd. I'm not fully able to articulate where I'm coming from with this, which may be why I've allowed my attempt to qualify my congratulations run on about ten times longer than the actual congrats. What is wrong with me?? Do I just dislike this off-Broadway sort of idiom? Maybe that's it, is that it feels in some superficial way like a Urinetown without the intentional self-parody, or an I Was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky without, well, okay I'm not actually going to defend I Was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky:

John Adams – "Leila's Song About the Wise Young Women"
from I Was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky

I'm sorry. I'm obsessed.

And our final CONGRATULATIONS WITH EXCESSIVE QUALIFICATIONS (should I start drafting this blog before I post, so I know where I'm going before I get there?) goes to Corey Dargel, whose "Condi songs," Con Dolcezza, earned a tweet from that very special lady who makes me fantasize about going to one of those weird ex-gay camps where they teach you how to un-limp your wrist and then make you marry a lesbian, just so that the two of us could be forced into a sexless opposite-marriage, Rachel Maddow.

I actually love these songs. Almost a year after the election of Barack Obama, now that the people in charge of representing America to the rest of the world are less prone to making them totally hate us, and we can look back on Condoleezza Rice's tenure the way we look at pictures of a kegger gone horribly wrong ("I can't believe we actually DID that, dude we were so WASTED"), I'm hearing these pieces for the first time, and they've lost little of their impact—because Condoleezza Rice has lost little of her mystery. How did an intelligent, cultured woman end up rubber-stamping such a disastrous foreign policy? How did someone whose family struggled up from slavery join an administrative team that turned its collective back on the cause of equal rights for Americans? Dargel doesn't pretend to answer these questions, but he asks them more eloquently than I've ever heard them asked before, by generously and sensitively setting to music remarks that make Rice sound more like a civil rights leader than, say, a coldblooded conniving bureaucrat with the blood of innocents pooling about her Manolos.

But since I'm being a total bitch to everyone today, I'll also point out that this performance is a bit unsatisfying—I feel as if really pulling off a number like "Gospel Song" requires a vocal instrument with more gravity than this lady is able to muster. ATTENTION ALL SINGERS, please check out this piece! I want to hear a second recording.

Jesus, WHY am I so negative. Anyway, congrats again to everybody, and if you didn't already know that Naxos is picking up the New Amsterdam catalogue, the first releases are trickling out next month—including the debut from NOW Ensemble, and Dargel's Other People's Love Songs—so if you actually still buy records in a record store nowadays, you will suddenly be able to find them there! Hooray. Okay g'bye.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

LIVES OF THE GREAT COMPOSERS: Igor Stravinsky Bangs Coco Chanel

Receiving its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, it's... that OTHER Coco Chanel movie, the one without Audrey Tautou ("Would that make this 'Chanel No. 2'?" —a Greg):So, you're probably wondering: did any of this shit actually happen? Yeah well you can't prove it DIDN'T happen.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Notes on Notes on Classical Style

I should have noted, when it came out, this uncommonly intelligent review in the New York Times (via the Straussmonster). James Oestreich demolishes the Mostly Mozart Festival's fawning guide to the music of its namesake:

“Make of it what you will,” Mr. Vigeland writes, ending his discussion of the “great” G minor Symphony, No. 40, “there had until its composition never been anything like this symphony in the history of music.” “They had to rewrite the textbooks again after the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony,” he continues, as if textbooks had flooded out in the 16 days of 1788 between the premieres of the 40th and the 41st. “Stupendous,” he adds of the “Jupiter.” “Unbelievable. Beyond superlatives. Maybe simply: miraculous. This perfect piece,” and so on. I have no wish to denigrate the “Jupiter” Symphony. I would almost grant Mr. Vigeland “stupendous” if he hadn’t used the word so often elsewhere. But the rest of it raised the old hackles again. Now I was trapped. Feeling the need to sound a caveat, I thought it would be unfair to do so without reading the whole book.
Oestreich recognizes the Mostly Mozart book as one example of a larger problem, people who love Mozart so much that it results in spells of temporary stupidity. O Mozart, you're so fine, you're so fine, you blow my mind, hey Mozart. In case we had any doubts that this is a serious illness, here's Russell Platt in the New Yorker, suffering from a severe case of the Mozart Effect:
Why are Mozart’s symphonies more popular than Haydn’s? In a sense, the answer is simple: Mozart’s more accurately imitate the full range of human emotions; they can swerve from laughter to tears in the space of a single phrase.
Uh, are Mozart's symphonies more popular than Haydn's? I work at a record store, and nobody ever seems to ask for any Mozart symphonies before #38. On the other hand, I have ordered for more than one customer a complete set of Haydn's hundred. People want the London Symphonies, the Paris Symphonies; they want the Farewell Symphony, and all that jazz. God knows nobody's asking for Haydn's operas, and Mozart's Haydn Quartets are more in demand than Haydn's actual Haydn quartets, but I'm pretty sure symphonies is the one place he's got Mozart beat. Platt has just taken some conventional wisdom about Mozart and Haydn, plugged in the word "symphony," and then phrased his conclusion in the form of a question. The answer to his question is, of course, more received wisdom, but rarely is the genealogy of such wisdom so readily traceable. If Platt reads his own magazine, he probably ran across this nugget
Nicholas Kenyon, in his excellent new “Faber Pocket Guide to Mozart,” writes, “Other great composers have expressed the extremes of life: affirmation, despair, sensual pleasure, bleak emptiness, but only in Mozart can all these emotions co-exist in the space of a short phrase.”
—absently dropped it in his pocket, and forgot where it came from. Platt adds, as if it meant something, "It was Beethoven, who studied with Haydn, who brought the legacy of these composers into the Romantic age"; I'm not sure that I'm willing to accept such a lazy analysis even in a capsule review. Has any New Yorker reader who ever heard of the "Romantic age" in Western concert-music know it as anything other than the age that followed Beethoven? I guess I am willing to accept lazy Beethoven-worship when it comes from non–music critics, e.g. novelist James Ellroy in the OC Register. He totally gets a signed permission slip from me, even when he plays his new girlfriend
the Adagio of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata on the stereo and tells her, "This is how I feel about you." And means it. "Why does anyone pretend that this (Adagio) is about anything other than transcendent emotion and the seeking of the divine?," he says.
I'm forgiving this sentiment mostly because I'm pretty sure that the words "this (Adagio)" were probably "this fuckin' shit" in the unexpurgated interview, but also because I saw James Ellroy on Conan one time years ago and he (Ellroy) did this indescribable gesture that means to have a penis like a forearm, which gesture I still use in conversation today. He's hilarious, is what I'm saying, and he's mastered the art of saying just a little too much in interviews, being just a little too vulgar, without actually getting arrested. In fact, I love this interview so much, I'm going to forgive the usually reliable Tim Mangan his regrettable foray into silly "noir" prose in the lede and just thank him for bringing us something so awesome. Finally, while we're on the subject of Beethoven and the novel, you have to read this Matthew Guerrieri piece about various appearances of the Beethoven's Fifth ringtone in fiction. It is the OPPOSITE of lazy, digging up citations in books that you and I might never have thought of reading:
My favorite Beethovenian cell-phone adopter is Moxy Maxwell, the stubborn 10-year-old heroine of Peggy Gifford’s series of children’s books. From Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-You Notes: Moxy was so quick on the draw when she picked up her cell phone that Ajax often remarked that she would have made a first-rate gunslinger in the Old West. And this time was no exception. After the second but before the third note of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Moxy was saying “Yes” into the phone. “Yes” was what Moxy said instead of “Hello,” unless it was someone she didn’t know. If Beethoven’s Fifth stops after the first two notes, is it still Beethoven’s Fifth? Moxy does not have time for your trumped-up pop koans. But the joke only works if the tune is something everybody knows, once again both reinforcing and perpetuating the ubiquity of the Fifth symphony’s iconic opening.
Hooray! Well-written, well-researched, well-thought-out. More like this, please.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

We're Too Busy Singin' to Put Anybody Down

Scientific studies about music are ALWAYS THE WORST. Here's an experiment where they played human music for monkeys, and the sample of human music consisted of Barber's Adagio, Metallica's "Of Wolf and Man," some Nine Inch Nails (a piano instrumental off the fragile, in case you're wondering, but for some reason they don't mention the title of the song here, so I guess I have to go back and listen to both discs of the fragile to remember which tracks are piano instrumentals), and Tool's "Grudge" (or rather an excerpt from Tool's "Grudge," because even a group of caged lab monkeys don't have time for your three minute polyrhythmic drum solos). Sure, that seems like a pretty representative selection of music listened to by the human race! You've got your American post-Romantic, your American speed metal, your American post-industrial ambient, and your American progressive metal. Are we forgetting anything? Nah that's about it, I think we got our bases covered. But actually, if I do say so, I think that this specially composed "monkey music" is pretty excellent. I would definitely buy a CD of music for monkeys. (With the exception of Viva la Vida.) Via The Awl.