posted by James Reel
One of the play openings I attended over the weekend was decidedly unsuccessful. The quality of the acting varied wildly, from quite good to frankly amateurish, and the tone of the production was similarly uneven; the director sometimes mocked his material, but not consistently enough to turn the whole thing into a focused parody. I’ve committed to reviewing this production, but because I have too much else to cram into the forthcoming Tucson Weekly, I’ll have to hold this review for a week. By that time, I suppose most of the actors will have settled more comfortably into their roles, so when my review appears it will no longer reflect what’s actually happening on the stage.
Theoretically, I should go back for an update this weekend, but I have commitments to something else that conflicts with every performance, and there’s no way I can get out of any of those commitments. (Indeed, I had to give up a gig narrating a piece for saxophone and piano at this Sunday’s Arizona Friends of Chamber Music “Piano and Friends” concert because of pressing duties elsewhere; all the better for you, if you go, because I handed the job to the superb Harold Dixon.) I have no reason to believe that the production will experience a complete improvement over the next few days, but by the time the review hits the street, nearly two weeks after opening night, it won’t be discussing quite the same show that will actually be on the boards. This is the only sort of situation that makes me miss working for a fast-turnaround daily paper.
posted by James Reel
Terry Teachout makes a case for abandoning books:
I wholeheartedly endorse pulling the plug on books you don’t like. … I expect a lot out of the books I read, and when they fail to deliver the goods, I toss them aside with a clear conscience and no second thoughts. Life is so very short—and so often shorter than we expect—that it seems a fearful mistake to waste even the tiniest part of it submitting voluntarily to unnecessary boredom.
This is fine advice that I just can’t bring myself to follow. First, I’m pretty good at judging the appeal of a book before I start reading, so I rarely have any reason to give up. But beyond that, I feel a responsibility to the author not to skim; I owe careful consideration to each word the author has put in place. Of course, as a journalist/critic (that is, non-creative writer) myself, I know perfectly well that words frequently get spewed out without much thought, in an effort to meet an impending deadline or merely fulfill an assignment accepted with little enthusiasm. Still, with each book or magazine I pick up, there’s a good chance that each word will be golden. Isn’t it pretty to think so?
In support of his aversion to commitment, Terry quotes Samuel Johnson’s dismissal of the notion that one must pursue a book through to its end:
This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?
Well, how are we to know that there’s only one thing worth knowing in it until we read it all through? The payoff may come rather late; this is a weakness of craft, but however late the thing worth knowing comes, perseverence is rewarded. And as for Dr. Johnson’s remark about the silliness of keeping acquaintances for life, this is one of the reasons Johnson was more admired than loved. I’ve allowed a few friends to fall by the wayside over the years, but I choose my friends as carefully as I choose my books, and I try to maintain fidelity to them as long as they remain interested in me. Good books, I think, are worthy of similar consideration.
Bad operas, on the other hand, I’m only too happy to abandon after one dull or inept act. Opera is, after all, one of the lower forms of musical expression, hobbled as it usually is by inept librettos and amateurish staging and acting. No point suffering through early Verdi when I could be home reading.
Now, if only I could figure out a way to get through my 10-month backlog of magazines, which I insist on reading cover to cover …
posted by James Reel
Next week I’ll have a flood of theater-related material in the Tucson Weekly—why does everything open at once?—but for today, it’s just a single preview of An Evening of Sholom Aleichem at Invisible Theatre:
Murray Horwitz misspent his youth in Dayton, Ohio, in the library. Not reading books, but listening to records. Some of those records would lead him to co-write the musical Ain't Misbehavin' in the late 1970s. One other LP didn't involve music at all, and it would inspire him years later to create not a big musical, but an intimate, one-man show that he's bringing to the Invisible Theatre next week. The disc presented actor Howard Da Silva reading stories by Sholom Aleichem, the Yiddish writer who lived from 1859 to 1916 and created, among others, the characters who populated Fiddler on the Roof.
Read the whole thing here
posted by James Reel
This is Day 2 of NPR telling us that there’s been no indictment yet in the the purported White House leak of C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame’s identity; it was such a slow news day Wednesday that the item led every morning newscast. I was just about to make a catty comment about this non-news reporting when I saw that Timothy Noah beat me to it. Thank goodness Harriet Miers took pity on reporters this morning and gave them something else to talk about.
By the way, Gerneralissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.
posted by James Reel
The latest announcer mini-challenge at KUAT-FM: how to differentiate, through careful pronunciation, the Aradia Ensemble from the Oradea Philharmonic. The first group is pronounced “ah-RAH-dee-ah.” The second is “oh-RAH-deh-ah” (not “day-ah”; there shouldn’t be a diphthong in that penultimate syllable). When spoken at a natural clip, the last two syllables of each name compress into “dyah.” So that leaves us with only the unstressed first syllable to get the difference across.
Of course, this fretting ignores the fact that the Aradia group, based in Toronto, calls itself an “ensemble,” while the Oradea group, from Romania, is a “philharmonic.” End of problem.
Which reminds me of the joke about two neighbors who couldn’t tell their dogs apart. So one of them bobbed his dog’s tail, and said, “OK, mine is the white dog with the short tail, and yours is the black dog with the long tail.” Such is life in public radio.
posted by James Reel
Writes John Lambert, “I don’t know what it’s like elsewhere in your area, but these online things are starting to make a difference as more & more commercial platforms fall by the wayside.” Lambert operates one of those “online things,” Classical Voice of North Carolina, a Web site dedicated to reviews of classical music performances in the Raleigh/Winston-Salem area. Lambert decided to launch his site when he saw the regional print outlets dropping their serious coverage of classical music. Lambert’s wasn’t the first site to take up the slack left by newspapers and magazines abandoning their commitment to arts coverage, and indeed the number of sites like CVNC is growing, if slowly. Here’s a perfect example of how New Media can step in to correct the errors and omissions of Old Media platforms.
Today, I’m pleased to add to the blogroll on the right a section called “Review Sites.” It’s a way for you to check the state of the arts elsewhere in the country, as covered by feisty independent critics. Here's a quick tour, of the sites, with descriptions in the operators’ own words:
CLASSICAL VOICE OF NORTH CAROLINA (John Lambert, administrator)
“CVNC, modeled on a similar site in San Francisco (SFCV) whose founder was of immense value to us as we got off the ground, exists as a direct result of a decision in early 2001 by Spectator Magazine to abandon coverage of classical music, which had been featured in its pages since 1978. Spectator dropped classical a month to the day after the grand opening of Raleigh's BTI Center for the Performing Arts, with three new halls, two of which were intended primarily for music (including opera) and dance. Within several months, Independent, the other major alternative and ‘a&e’ paper in the Triangle, asked its classical critics to abandon reviews in favor of ‘glitzy’ previews. A full discussion of why reviews and a decent calendar are important to artists and the community would consume all our space and more, but we'll take as a given the fact that readers of this document know, understand, and appreciate them. Since Indy 's critics were every bit as serious as Spectator's had been, it didn't take us long to get together, and with a lot of encouragement from our former readers and presenters and a few key arts patrons, we, collectively, decided that we needed to have something in place by the time the Fall 2001 season began, in order to fill the not-inconsiderable voids created by our former (commercial) employers. We started on a hope and a prayer, with no capital, and with no real awareness of what we were getting into. It took about ten minutes to decide that CVNC , which the idea was to become, could NOT succeed in print (due to prohibitive costs of printing and distribution and administration and ad- or subscription sales), and that SFCV would serve as a viable model for us. Indeed, we perceive that serious commentary on the arts—all the arts—will in time be found only in the commercial papers of our largest cities and online.”
SAN FRANCISCO CLASSICAL VOICE (Mickey Butts and others)
“SFCV is a not-for-profit enterprise supported by foundation grants and individual contributions. … From September 1, 1998 to September 13, 2005, SFCV has published, in addition to the Music News, feature pieces and weekly editorials, 2182 reviews of Bay Area performances by: 52 symphony orchestras (459 reviews), 89 chamber groups (267), 36 new music ensembles and programs (234), 39 opera companies (306), 29 choral groups (133), 15 music festivals (101), 33 early music ensembles (170), 24 chamber orchestras (88), 6 musical theater groups (14), world music (14), recitals (374), youth music (10), other (12).”
ARTS SAN FRANCISCO (ARTSSF) (Paul Hertelendy)
“Live-concert reviews from the San Francisco Bay Area of classical music as well as dance, theater and books, all emphasizing modern creativity (20th and 21st century) in the region.”
MUSIC IN CINCINNATI (Mary Ellyn Hutton)
“MusicInCincinnati.com is a kind of ‘keyhole’ on classical music in Cincinnati offering reviews, feature articles and news about events and organizations in Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and elsewhere. The author, Mary Ellyn Hutton, is a free lance writer with 20 years experience as a music critic and reporter, most of the time as classical music critic for The Cincinnati Post in Cincinnati, Ohio.”