In this week's Time Out Chicago, but not online for free, is my article on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Beyond the Score series, with intriguing, fun, and provocative quotations from series host Gerard McBurney. (Here's the link, regardless.) That's the series which led to this fun post last January on Stalin's continued influence, and McBurney addresses that near-fiasco in the piece.
Alan Rich issues the accurate verdict, while throwing down the gauntlet, of the progress so far of Jay Greenberg, the teenaged composer whose new Sony recording has been the recipientof so much recent high-profile coverage. (The article that started it all, by Matthew Gurewitsch in the Times on August 13, is no longer available for free.) Rich is rightly peeved at Greenberg's outdated language and grab-bag method of composing. "Mozart composed in the latest manner of his day, not in the manner of 1904, or whatever its equivalent throwback at the time," he writes.
In his Fifth Symphony, you'll hear some tension-building a la Shostakovich's way with Russian folk song, some snappy Morton Gould-on-parade moments, and, in the opening of the final movement, almost exactly the same repeating string pattern from the finale of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. That's followed by some jaunty Shostakovich stuff from the Tenth Symphony.
For those who think Rich is too churlish and hard on the young man and wonder why in the world someone would bother criticizing someone at the beginning of a career, well, where do you think popularity comes from? It's manufactured by PR types and fawning articles bestowing the crown of the future upon someone's brow. Some have put that on Greenberg already. But if empty gestures like borrowing supersede finding one's own solutions, then the future of the art will become an echo chamber, and all that will be heard will be what has been heard before.
Critics can and should counteract these impulses when they think they're right. The artform deserves nothing less. (I should draw a distinction between Ives, whose borrowings make a separate artistic statement, from those of Greenberg, who recycles timeworn styles without advancing his own personality. Delineating that difference could be an entire article, or five.)
The same phenomenon that elevates Andrea Bocelli elevates Greenberg. The music sounds like something heard before, but is still strangely pleasant. Therefore, it must be good. Maybe it is, but its models are much more fulfilling, not surprisingly. (Please don't accuse me, or Rich, for that matter, of dismissing all borrowing. We've both found merit in some of Golijov's works, so that charge ain't gonna stick.)
What with all of DecSimp's free time before the concert season begins, I'm watching movies and reading books like I have rarely done since grad school. I'd like to say that I'm filled with the love of learning of a student, but that would be a lie. Basically, I have too much time on my hands. And that isn't pleasant.
Last week, I watched The Great New Wonderful (somewhat wonderful), the Marlene Dietrich/Gary Cooper comedy Desire (very wonderful and hilarious), The Fallen Idol (mostly wonderful) and V for Vendetta (wonderful, in a Hollywood Trying to Be Relevant sort of way).
The books can be found in the book list to the left.
"Singing for his dessert." Brandon Mayberry, young opera singer at the beginning of his career, decides to open a cupcake store. Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian (Nonesuch). Bonus: My review of the new DVD of Double Indemnity, in which I demonstrate my mastery over the declarative sentence. NB: A typo led to the word "ur-noir" appearing as "un-noir." Ur-noir makes much more sense. Trust me. All from Time Out Chicago, August 24-30, 2006.
I cooked for the first time last night. If you actually can cook, or are Italian, you may want to stop reading right now, as what I'm about to describe probably won't measure up to your lofty standards. I'm fine with that. We can't all be Virgil Thomson and whip up amazing French dinners in our cramped kitchens. (Read Vivian Perlis' remarkable Composers' Voices from Ives to Ellington for more on Thomson's culinary gifts.)
First, I made my own tomato pasta sauce by putting together tomatoes with some oil, salt and pepper. Was a cinch. Then I cooked some asparagus with oil, and a little more salt. Voila, dinner. (I boiled the spaghetti somewhere in there.) And I didn't singe my eyebrows, get burned, or otherwise bring bodily harm upon myself. The next step will involve actually opening the stove and cooking something in there. I currently use it to house my priceless art collection, since it's the only airtight space in my apartment. (Stoves are airtight, right?) ---- Happy birthday to Achille-Claude Debussy, born 144 years ago today in 1862. Mahler was born in 1860, Richard Strauss in 1864. Not a bad decade, on the whole, except for that pesky Civil War President Lincoln was leading at the time. M. Debussy, may your waves play, your girls be flaxen-haired, your festivals filled with sirens and your faun find what he's looking for.
Debussy, Bartok: EtudesFlorent Boffard, piano (harmonia mundi)
Schubert: WinterreiseChristine Schaefer, soprano; Eric Schneider, piano (Onyx)
Beethoven: Complete Piano ConcertosPierre-Laurent Aimard, piano; Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor (Warner Classics)
Good ForeverVon Freeman (Premonition)
Mozart: Piano Concertos 17 and 18 (K.453 and K.456, G and B flat), Symphony No. 33Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano and conductor, Chamber Orchestra of Europe (Deutsche Grammophon, iTunes download only)
"Maybe I oughtn't have come." "Maybe you oughtn't." Those lines come from the screenplay to Double Indemnity by Raymond Chandler and Billy WIlder. In 1944, who could have predicted that it would become the archetypal film noir? Barbara Stanwyck's uncaring stare through the windshield as Fred MacMurray kills her husband seated next to her shoots icepicks into the soul.
Double Indemnity is set in 1938, just about the same time as Gypsy, the Styne/Sondheim musical Ravinia produced over the weekend. Patti LuPone was Mama Rose, and what a Mama Rose she was. Conniving, grasping, rasping when necessary, she wouldn't let the world say "No" to her daughters. If her pitch was a little unsteady, and boy howdy was it ever, you'd never have guessed from her screaming fans. On the other hand, she had all the firepower she needed when she needed it.
All the King's Men is also set in that period, and what I'm taking away from all of this seediness is that maybe the world really was as hardscrabble and mean as my grandparents always made it sound. Except they always managed to find redemption in it, somewhere. The fictional characters above, not so much.
Francois-Frederic GuyBeethoven Piano Sonatas Nos. 29 (Op. 106 "Hammerklavier") and 30 (Op. 109) (harmonia mundi)
Colin McAllister and Derek KellerSolos and Duets for Guitar (Old King Cole Productions)
Apologies again for the lack of blogging lately. I'm keeping a bit of a low profile these days and indulging other passions aside from music. Some movies, much hanging out with friends, reading, that sort of thing.
I will be writing in this space about the books, such as Richard Powers' thoughtful The Time of Our Singing and All the King's Men, and any musical thoughts I have that don't wind up in print will end up here. Links to what is printed will be here, also.
I'm training for the Chicago Marathon, too, and ran 16 miles today, making 43 for the week so far. And no one was chasing me, either.