Sunday, November 4, 2007

"Surprise Me."

Bernard Holland, New York Times, 11/4/07:
How do I prepare for premieres? I read about the people and the circumstances, where the piece came from and what the composer eats for breakfast. If I have a score, I look at the orchestration. It’s nice to know how many crayons are in the composer’s coloring box. I don’t listen to anything. Surprise me.
Dan Johnson, blog, 11/4/07:
Jesus, and I thought I was lazy! Is this where the bar is set for classical criticism? I can't imagine the world's laziest pop critic actually bragging that he doesn't bother listening to a band's records before he goes to hear them play. It's nice that he wants to maintain the magic and specialness of a New York Premiere or whatever, but that's a small price to pay for journalistic rigor. For one thing, a listen on your home stereo or at the will tell you whether the flubbed moment you hear onstage is a slip of the composer's pen or of the fiddler's fingers, and you can assign blame/credit where it's due. That's just good sense. For another--as glad as I am that the critical pendulum has swung away from the attitude High Fidelity magazine called "Who Cares If You Listen?"--audiences should be, and in fact are, more charitable and more engaged with the composer's project than Holland seems to expect. People who shell out for Carnegie Hall tickets really do have some idea what they're getting themselves into. Most of them don't walk into Zorn hoping it'll sound like Glass, or vice versa. While reading about a composer or the origin of a piece can be a useful strategy too, it's far less useful than just using your ears. Paying too much attention to the intentions and techniques that go towards the construction of a piece can lead a listener straight into what Richard Taruskin calls the "poietic fallacy," or as Dr. David Thorpe put it (both re: critical reception of Arnold Schönberg), "This guy probably thinks his $100 Mishka shirt is pulling off some awesome look, but to most of us he is indistinguishable from a guy who just spent $7 at the worst thrift store in the world." Furthermore, reading too much about "where the piece came from"-- Hey, wait a minute. I just remembered something.
Bernard Holland, New York Times, 3/19/07:
Explaining why Elizabethan church music and pieces by the young American Nico Muhly were found together onstage at Zankel Hall on Friday requires intellectual gymnastics beyond my competence.
Dan Johnson, program note, 3/16/07:
Nico Muhly's Clear Music literally begins where Taverner's Mater Christi Sanctissima leaves off. An unaccompanied cello quotes a passage, near the end of Taverner's antiphon, in which the trebles soar to a pitch two octaves higher than the next part down.
Dan Johnson, blog, 11/4/07:
Hmm. So, maybe he doesn't always read about the people, or the circumstances, or where the piece came from. And he never listens. What, exactly, does he get paid to do? Show up to free concerts and then write about his feelings? Please, let's do our homework! Mr. Holland, we all care. Please listen.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still pissed off that Bernie dissed your boy Nico, heh?

November 5, 2007 at 1:19 AM  
Blogger Dan Johnson said...

Hey, thanks for dropping by! But I think you need to read Holland's review again if you think it's a "diss." He doesn't actually say anything negative about Nico's music. It's just sort of baffled.

(Nico's a big boy, anyhow. I doubt he needs me to stick up for him.)

My point is that I'd rather read a brilliant diss of the music I love than read a rave that is as lazy and inaccurate as a Bernard Holland review.

November 5, 2007 at 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh yeah, it was a diss, albeit a mild one, a little between the lines but easy to grok if you're not a lazy reader. bernie clearly did not buy the connection between the new music and the old, and since that connection was (apparently) most clearly effected in the program notes...well, that means you.

November 5, 2007 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Dan Johnson said...

Well, sorry I didn't grok that thing enough. I'd love to hear your own close reading! But I hope it is not unreasonable to suggest that critics, not readers, are the servants here--as "Bernie" might say...

Finally, can I just say I love anonymous comments! It's like tinted windows on a limousine. I always imagine there's a movie star inside. Gwyneth, is that you??

November 5, 2007 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Judd said...

"Grok"? Really? Anyway, sorry you've been outed as a lazy reader by an anonymous poster, Danny. I guess I won't bother reading your blog anymore.

November 6, 2007 at 12:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I’m paid for a social function and there’s some honest musical proposal I don’t like, I just say it. I could understand that if cabbalists think that some bestseller is sacred and if they have time to do it, they try to find secret combinations of letters and numbers. More problematic is the assumption that critics presuppose that critics are divine, that their texts require Da Vinci’s Code and that their pearls of sacred truth, encrypted in private language, are only accessible through intuition by the very, very few. Social function, no?

November 6, 2007 at 8:51 AM  

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