Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

In my tireless search for silly items to amuse you on Friday I sometimes turn up a real gem. Here are the twelve cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic playing an arrangement of the theme to the Pink Panther.

* * *

I'm not sure of the source of this quote, but it is too much fun to pass up:
Every socialistic type of government… produces bad art, produces social inertia, produces really unhappy people, and it's more repressive than any other kind of government. --Frank Zappa
I'm not sure I entirely agree with this. After all, the amount of really impressive music coming out of Russia when it was the Soviet Union argues against the first point: "produces bad art." Social inertia? One thing that socialism seems to do is reduce the vast majority to an equal state of poverty and despair while enriching the elite few. In order to do this a great deal of repression is normally required!

* * *

I have previously expressed the view that the supposed decline and aging of classical audiences is largely a North American phenomenon and much less the case in Europe. I offer as an instance the stellar success of the new Hamburg concert hall in Germany. Slipped Disc has the story:
Annual results are in for the first year of the Elbphilharmonie and they make pretty good reading.
A planned half-million deficit has turned into a surplus of 374,000 euros. Some 4.5 million people have visited the site. Tickets are in high demand.
One stat: for some concerts, the demand is more than 20 times higher than the number of seats available.
* * *

Here are some important statistics: Bachtrack has released the figures for classical music in 2017. The most-performed composer was neither Bach nor Beethoven, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!
Sorry, Beethoven, but the top spot for the composer with the most performances in 2017 has returned to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, while Hallelujah choruses will be sung around the world to celebrate that Handel's Messiah reclaimed its position as the top performed work. The Bachtrack database listed a similar number of events to the previous year, around 32,000.
The top six composers in order were Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Tchaikovsky. And let me give a shout out to composer number seven, Joseph Haydn! Shostakovich is number 16 on the list, two ahead of number 18, Vivaldi. There are lots more interesting statistics, so go have a look.

* * * 

Answering the important question "do composers picnic?" is this photo of Debussy and his daughter Chouchou in 1915:


That photo comes from an article in The Spectator this week about upcoming musical events in 2018.
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s Debussy Festival, taking place over two busy weekends (16–18 and 23–25) in March, is the first really sizeable statement from the orchestra’s new music director Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla. The most obvious bases are covered — La merImages and virtually all the chamber music — but there’s no sense of an exercise in completism. Instead, with music ranging from Wagner and Szymanowski to Boulez, Takemitsu and Tristan Murail, the festival attempts to map Debussy’s place in musical history. It’s all informed by Grazinyte-Tyla’s instinct for drawing musical connections, and she follows up on 23 June with a concert performance of Pelléas et Mélisande.
* * * 

Norman Lebrecht has an item about the shrinking world of music criticism that is worth a look. He links to a couple of previous pieces and notes how things have just gotten worse. I am more and more noticing a decline in simple literacy. Even in prominent publications like the Wall Street Journal or the Toronto Globe and Mail, I see more and more little things that signal a weakening grasp on how language works and the meaning of words. When someone uses a phrase like "woe betide" it is often in a context that shows an unfamiliarity with its use. Another example that drives me crazy is the constant misuse of the phrase to "beg the question." No, it does not mean that the situation demands that we question it. It comes from philosophical rhetoric and if someone begs the question, it means that their argument assumes the conclusion, a common logical error. If people cannot get these basic things right, then the higher level skills of aesthetic criticism are even more out of reach.

* * *

We have talked about what a classical music superpower Finland is these days, but today the Globe and Mail has a big piece on what a pop music superpower Sweden is. From the days of ABBA until now, when an amazing amount of pop songs are either written or produced by Swedes, or both, Sweden wields an influence well out of proportion to its population.
Sweden has infiltrated global pop for decades. ABBA ruled the seventies; Robyn and the Cardigans tore a strip off the nineties; Tove Lo and Zara Larsson carry the country on charts today. Countless North American hits, too, are written by Swedes you've never heard of. The root causes of the disproportionate dominance of this country of 10 million, however, are less evident. One clue can be found in a single, vastly influential studio that began ushering in a new school of songwriting in the 1990s, sending teen-pop artists including the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and Britney Spears flocking to Stockholm. Further clues can be found in Swedish culture itself, and the deep appreciation of music that's instilled in Swedes from an early age. "They're gods of pop music," says Carly Rae Jepsen, who regularly travels to Swedish studios, most recently for her forthcoming record.
* * *

Normally I am somewhat of a fan of Anne Midgette, classical music critic for the Washington Post, but her latest article on classical crossover has me squirming... This is where she starts to go wrong:
"Classical music is very particular about its categories."
It's that agency thing again that obscures what is really going on. No, "classical music" does no such thing as "classical music" is a mere intellectual abstraction. Rather, the people who create, perform and listen to classical music are the ones who are particular. And the reason they are is because it is extremely annoying to be offered something purporting to be classical music only to discover that the reality is some maudlin concoction with no real substance. It's like purchasing what you thought was a fine confection from your local patisserie only to discover when you cut into it that it was a Hostess Twinkie.

* * *

We really haven't said much about Debussy recently, or listened to much either. So let's rectify that with this performance of La Mer.  This is Claudio Abbado conducting the Lucerne Festival Orchestra:


4 comments:

David said...

Bryan, can we be frat brothers? I have long bristled when in conversation, argument and written word, speakers of the Queen's English have chosen to "beg" rather than "raise" the question. Thank you for making a statement and standing your ground. Undoubtedly, your readership will be a more enlightened bunch, much less likely to beg any questions from this point forward.(oops?)

Bryan Townsend said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! And keep bristling!

David said...

Bryan, the Bachtrack statistical summary item has some tiny points of interest. Notably, Mahler is not at the top of the most performed composers, hard as it is to believe. He came in at number 19, with almost 400 fewer performances than "your man" Papa H. Also of note is that Stravinsky has both the Rite and the Firebird in the list of compositions that are increasing in popularity. The list of compositions on the declining popularity includes some Beethoven (Egmont Overture), Brahms (Piano Concerto #1), Rachmaninov (Piano Concerto #2) and poor Saint-Saens (the Organ Symphony).

Of course, I realize that this Bachtrack stuff is really part of the celebrity distraction from what is truly important in this area of human endeavour: the music itself. I suppose that without getting swamped in the minutiae, it is fair to say that the world of classical music performance continues to be a changing area of cultural activity that has much to offer to those willing to hear.

Bryan Townsend said...

I'm just getting around to looking at more of the Bachtrack statistics. It is interesting what works are gaining in popularity:

Mussorgsky, Pictures at Exhibition Stravinsky, Le Sacre du printemps Stravinsky, The Firebird suite
Ravel, Piano Concerto in G major Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto no. 4 Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5 in D minor Respighi, Fountains of Rome Bartók, Miraculous Mandarin: suite Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra

The only ones on that list that surprise me are the Respighi and Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin (which I have never gotten).