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HOW TO FAKE A CLASSICAL CONCERT REVIEW

    Hey, kids! A fresh concert season is upon us, and your daily newspaper needs you! Editors have finally gotten over the silly notion, prevalent from about 1975 to 1995, that newspapers should waste money and office space on full-time classical music critics. For 20 years they squandered their resources on deadwood critics who claimed that only they were qualified to write reviews because they’d spent their lives going to concerts on their own time, collecting classical recordings, reading as much as they could about classical music, and maybe even playing instruments or writing their own compositions. How foolish! Anybody can review a classical concert. After all, cub reporters are routinely shuffled from the court beat to cops to city council. Why waste money on a one-trick critic when you can send a low-paid sports agate clerk to a concert to do some real reporting, rather than that silly pontificating that nobody wants to read? (Well, maybe a few old farts constituting the newspaper’s traditional core readership might care, but they don’t count; to survive, today’s cutting-edge newspapers need to be attracting younger, poorly educated non-readers!)
    So you say you’ve never covered a classical concert, let alone attended one, but you’re being sent to opening night at the symphony and you’re expected to turn around a review in an hour? No problem! Just follow these five easy steps, and your editors will be thrilled!
    1. To fill at least half of those 10 gaping column-inches of space you’ve been awarded, plug in a lot of background on the music. Nothing technical—jargon and arcane concepts are fine for the sports section and business page, but you’re in the features section, right next to that hard-hitting back-to-school article on trends in teen piercings. Keep it light, anecdotal, and personality-oriented. And if you don’t have access to CD notes or Internet sources so you can copy stuff into the review before you go to the show, relax! You can always crib from the program notes at the concert.
    2. Mention how many people attended the concert. Body counts are very important to editors. Don’t worry about putting this into the context of attendance at other classical-music events in your town; you don’t have enough space for context.
    3. Be sure to describe the gestures of the conductor, the swaying and facial expressions of various musicians, and the couture of any female soloist. This adds color and drama to any review!
    4. Always use the word “sublime” in relation to anything by Mozart and Beethoven, and describe everything written since 1910 as “harshly dissonant,” unless you’re covering the annual Kenny G pops concert.
    5. Devote whatever remaining space you have to an account of the audience’s reaction to the performance. Why sweat over forming your own opinions when you can take your cue from the crowd?

Classical Music,

ON THE BOARDS

    Actors are ambling back onto Tucson stages after the usual summer dry spell (but not drought; there’s always something playing in town). At the University of Arizona, the Arizona Repertory Theatre is reviving its fine production of Brighton Beach Memoirs after a summer estivation, and new shows are opening this weekend at Live Theatre Workshop and Top Hat Theatre Club, with the city’s other main companies, and a couple of new ones, tossing more scripts into the mix in the next few weeks.
    Already open is the latest melodrama spoof at Gaslight Theatre, Sinbad. Says my review in the current Tucson Weekly:

It takes a while for this high-seas adventure to get wind in its sails. Last Saturday night, the first scene was utterly becalmed; the humor as well as the acting seemed half-hearted. Things picked up as the evening progressed, but many previous shows have registered much higher on the company's spoofometer. Even most of the pop-song thefts and parodies seemed only tenuously related to the story. As is so often the case at Gaslight, the show got much more interesting when things veered out of control.
    Elsewhere in the Weekly, I preview the second annual Lesbian Shorts II: A Festival of Original One-Act Plays with a Sapphic Slant:
[Teresa] Simone, who is part of the five-member ensemble acting in this year's five plays, and doubles as the festival's publicity guru, says that the only thing the pieces have in common is that each includes a lesbian character or relationship as a central plot element. Some of the plays are quite serious; others are, well ...
    "One of them is What If I Don't, by Rebekah Lopata," says Simone. "It's set in the 1960s, and it's about a girl on her wedding day who's in the bathroom contemplating suicide. It's actually a comedy."

tucson-arts,

BACK TO THE BEACH

    I am, to be polite about it, most assuredly not a fan of playwright Neil Simon, but even I have to admit that his Brighton Beach Memoirs is a fine piece of theater. The University of Arizona’s Arizona Repertory Theatre is reviving its production of the play starting tonight. Read my review of the show’s opening earlier this summer, order your tickets, and see what Simon is capable of when he’s not content to be merely glib.

tucson-arts,

NAME THAT TUNE

    This morning the radio alarm went off at 3:55, as usual, and as usual I muted it within five seconds to avoid disturbing my wife, who for some reason wants to sleep in an extra hour. But those five seconds were enough to register what was playing, a chirping woodwind figure in a musical atmosphere of some tension and drive.
    “That was exciting,” my wife muttered.
    “Enesco,” I said, and shambled off to my morning ablutions.
    I’ve always been good at what in the LP days were called “needle-drop” tests, identifying a piece or composer within seconds of hearing some random part of a composition. Of course, there’s no way I’ll figure out a lot of oddball stuff, like a Havergal Brian symphony or Biber violin sonata, but there is a lot of off-the-beaten-path repertory I can get instantly, either through actually knowing the piece or recognizing the composer’s style.
    You can be adept at this game without committing a 2,000-disc record collection to memory. Sometimes you’ll recognize the melody right off, but more often it’s something more subtle that triggers recognition of a piece. It may be a little transitional passage that sounds generic on its own but may be just familiar enough to evoke the more individual passages around it; Beethoven and Tchaikovsky wrote especially distinctive transitions, although in Tchaikovsky’s case they can be more like vamps. It may be a particular style of orchestration that gives the composer away; both Shostakovich and Revueltas, for example, were fond of extremes, for example having the tuba and flute (or even piccolo) simultaneously stretch the timbral boundaries of a passage. Perhaps it’s just some “atmosphere” that’s unique to a composer, as with Mahler or Berg.
    It does help to have a very good musical memory, and I suppose mine compensates for other memory deficiencies. If I’m introduced to someone at a party or in a theater lobby, for instance, it’s as if some soundproof curtain comes down and I never even register the new person’s name. (I’ve reached the point at which I’m thinking, “I really need to pay attention and remember this name,” and I’m so busy thinking this that the name slips by … again.) Good music, on the other hand, never fails to stick between my ears.

Classical Music,

ARTICLE ONE

    The announcers at C24 out of Minnesota (a service known to you as Music Through the Night) are generally quite fine, but some of their tics and habits annoy me to no end. Case in point: As I was driving in this morning, John Zech introduced “the Overture in the Italian Style by Schubert.” Well, Schubert wrote two overtures in the Italian style, so you can’t describe this one as “the.”
    The current philosophy of classical announcing holds that you should keep technical trivia (keys, opus numbers and so forth) to a minimum so you don’t intimidate or confuse listeners, but calling one of several similar pieces “the” is a confusion and a serious disservice to listeners. What if somebody liked this Schubert piece and wanted to buy a recording? The overtures aren’t often recorded together, so the innocent buyer looking for “the” Overture in the Italian Style has a fifty-fifty chance of spending money on the wrong piece.
    Related rule of thumb: Never use “the” in conjunction with anything by Vivaldi. Whatever it is, he probably wrote 10 more in the same key.

radio-life,

STRUNG-OUT CORIGLIANO

    The latest issue of Fanfare includes, among many other things, my review of a new Chandos recording of John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 2, which earned its composer the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. It’s a 2000 expansion of Corigliano’s 1996 String Quartet, a version that takes full advantage of string-orchestra sonorities and never hints at its chamber-music origins. The symphony is coupled with a compelling suite for violin and orchestra from Corigliano’s score for The Red Violin, and you can read my full review here.

Classical Music,

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