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Cue Sheet – November 2008

WELL SAID

From the blog On an Overgrown Path:

How right Hopkinson Smith is about the need for virtuoso listeners. So much futile effort is being extended today on trying to reach non-existent new audiences for classical music when, what is really needed, is to develop, extend and challenge existing audiences.

Read blogger Pliable's further remarks on the subject here.

Classical Music,

WHY MANAGERS LOOK LIKE VILLAINS

According to this news item, the principal cellist of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra has been fired for the second time in a year. I have no idea what this is about, but the orchestra’s top manager is almost forcing us to take the cellist’s side with this kind of babble: “I do not consider it to be a firing. I consider it to be a termination.” What does that mean? It looks like obfuscation, and even if the management has good cause to dump the cellist, junk language like that is bound to make ordinary people suspicious.

quodlibet,

DISCONNECTED?

Greg Sandow announces:

I'm making a list—and checking it twice—of all the ways in which classical music doesn't connect to our larger culture.

I won’t reprint the seven items Greg has initially compiled; you can read it here. But when I look at the list, my reaction is, for the most part, so what? Consider this item: “Even when new music is played, much of it doesn't sound like the world around us. The sounds of popular music aren't much heard, though they were in past centuries.” Well, that’s only partly true. Nationalist composers like Dvorák certainly used elements of popular music in their concert works, but these composers consituted a mere subset. Very few major concert works by the leading 19th-century German and even French composers incorporated much popular music, and in the case of Verdi, the influence went the opposite direction: his melodies became popular streetcorner favorites in Italy.

Why, really, should classical music reflect contemporary popular culture, as Greg repeatedly urges? We don’t expect all movies or novels to do this, although many of course do. And in any case, what’s wrong with diversity? Why can’t concert-hall music provide an alternative to the pop elements that saturate our culture? Do we really want to live in a homogenized culture?

Do read Greg’s post and decide for yourself; also, pay attention to this comment (which is not by me), stating some good objections to Greg’s premise and points.

Classical Music,

THINGS STRINGS

Speaking of Strings magazine (see the entry below), I’ve neglected to post links to my contributions to the December issue. First, an article about something you may have heard here on KUAT-FM:

RACHEL BARTON PINE is out to prove that Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was not an isolated work of genius. She doesn’t quibble with the genius part, but the concerto, so unlike the earlier works of Mozart, didn’t come out of nowhere. And Pine has a concerto in hand to prove it: a work by Franz Clement (1780–1842), the violinist-composer for whom Beethoven wrote his own concerto. Clement’s work predates Beethoven’s by a full year. Pine, a 33-year-old Chicago-based solo violinist and chamber player, has recorded the D major concertos of Clement and Beethoven in tandem on a newly released CD, and their similarities are striking. In 1806, Clement conducted and performed the solo in Beethoven’s concerto, which the latter had written specifically for Clement. The two works bear out a contemporary description of Clement’s playing style: “indescribably delicate, neat, and elegant,” according to an 1805 Leipzig music journal. “It has an extremely delightful tenderness and cleanness that undoubtedly secures him a place among the most perfect violinists.” Contrast this with the style of another violinist close to Beethoven, Ignaz Schuppanzigh, a teacher of Beethoven’s who participated in premieres and early performances of almost all the composer’s string quartets, from Op. 59 on. Beethoven called Schuppanzigh’s playing “fiery and expressive,” although this may have come at the expense of playing in tune, especially in upper positions. Nevertheless, the violin writing in Beethoven’s quartets, tailored for Schuppanzigh, tends to be much more aggressive than what’s found in his concerto. “The French concertos of that time, by Kreutzer and Rode and those guys, kept the violin front and center with the orchestra just a backup band,” Pine says. “Clement and Beethoven take a more collegial or even chamber-music approach. People talk about how unusual it was for Beethoven to do that, but Clement did it first.”

That’s just the beginning; the full article awaits you here.

While you’re at the site, if you’re a working musician you might want to read an article I wrote about royalties and copyright, but I honestly don’t expect you to look at it if it has no practical application to what you do. (As if I honestly expected you to follow the links to the other stuff I write.)

Classical Music,

GUARNERI UPDATE

My organization, the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, has booked the Guarneri Quartet for an April concert here in Tucson, one of its very last before it disbands. But second violinist John Dalley has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and will soon undergo treatment, which will of course disrupt the quartet's tour schedule. For a good short news item on the subject, see this from the online version of Strings magazine. (By the way, that line about the group being featured in the February issue is a reference to a big article by yours truly.)

According to the Guarneri's management, the Tucson date should not be affected. Here's the message we got: "Commencing January 15, some February performance dates are currently being rescheduled. ... Your concert on April 22 will take place as scheduled. Only some dates in second half of February are affected."

That's good news for us in Tucson, and I do hope that eventually John Dalley will have good news as well. At least prostate cancer is one cancer whose treatment has a high success rate.

Classical Music,

MURDER, SEX AND TAPAS

Sometimes I worry (but only for a moment) about over-exposure. Yesterday a magazine editor sent me 13 assignments due at various points between now and next September, in addition to assignments I already have for that magazine, and others that are sure to follow. How much of me can editors and readers really stand in a single issue? And in the latest Tucson Weekly, I make a perhaps excessive three contributions.

First, a review of a murder mystery at Live Theatre Workshop:

A body lies just within the gates of an estate owned by a rather reclusive and no-longer-wealthy woman and her brooding son. Was the victim--the household maid--killed by the mother, who feared that the maid's sexual allure would threaten the son's impending marriage into a wealthy family? Was she killed by the son, a dark and perhaps unstable fellow who may have been having an affair with her? Or was she murdered by the manipulative and coarse chauffeur? Or by one of any number of other people within or outside the mansion? This is the stuff of classic murder mysteries, and specifically, it's the situation in George Batson's _Design for Murder_, a 1930s whodunit in the style of Agatha Christie, but with better fleshed-out characters. Oddly, now that I've seen Live Theatre Workshop's production of the play, I know the identity of the murderer, but I honestly can't remember the true motive for the killing …

You’ll find the full review here, before rolling merrily along to my account of a Sondheim mounting:

To wed or not to wed? That is the question for 35-year-old Robert, an inveterate bachelor whose friends are all married couples. He doesn't have a compelling reason for nuptials; his friends aren't the best practitioners of marriage, and he's not fully committed to any of the three women he's dating. But neither does he have a compelling reason to avoid marriage; at the very least, a wife would provide him with company--as if his friends didn't already give him all the company he needed. _Company_ is the early-'70s stage work with book by George Furth and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim that set the course for a new kind of entertainment: the concept musical. Here, the psychology and situations of the characters were explored in depth, while linear plot fell by the wayside. _Company_ wasn't the first show to do this (_Hair_, for example, was an important precursor, and you can see that soon at Arizona Theatre Company), but it was the first concept musical to seduce the critics and attract a serious audience. (Serious not being synonymous with large.) Is _Company_ too dated of a show to be presented, as it is right now, by the UA's Arizona Repertory Theatre? Well, the '70s are still recent enough to be a source of both nostalgia and embarrassment--check out the vintage TV commercials and PSAs screened onstage as the audience settles in, not to mention Nicholas Halder's pitch-perfect, skin-tight costumes. But beneath the surface, and beyond the comedy of manners made possible by the then still-novel sexual revolution, _Company_ explores relationship issues that remain relevant.

The full review lurks here. Then, over in the Chow section, I cover a restaurant that has good food but suffers from inattention to certain details, and a general lack of focus:

Tapas started out as Spanish bar snacks, small portions of all sorts of things--olives and cheese, sautéed potatoes, deep-fried squid, or whatever Spaniards felt like nibbling on to hold themselves together until their full late-night dinner. Variety is key to the tapas experience. Angelina's Ristorante in Oro Valley has seized on the idea of variety and taken it to extremes--not just in the menu, but in its very identity. Angelina's primary purpose seems to be sit-down tapas meals, but it's also a martini lounge (more than 60 concoctions, plus the usual cocktail, beer and wine options), a pizza palace (about 60 varieties) and a sports bar. Its concept is the embodiment of those extravagant dishes you find at high-end restaurants that mingle all sorts of flavors you wouldn't expect to be compatible (and sometimes aren't). Angelina's would offer a more satisfying dining experience if it didn't try to be so many different things, and I would advise the owners to ditch the sports-bar element. …

I’ve already gotten a semi-literate, marginally coherent e-mail objecting to the review from someone who seems not to have actually read it. Apply your superior brain power here.

tucson-arts,

About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.