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Cue Sheet


    You know it’s a slow arts week when my only article in the Tucson Weekly previews an event that celebrates activities best practiced in the privacy of one’s home. (Note to the cautious: This is not exactly family-friendly material.) What amused me about the organizer of this upcoming fetish ball is not that he thought I would portray him and his compatriots as wackos, but that he would come off as some know-it-all from Phoenix hoping to tell the poor benighted denizens of Tucson all about BDSM. It’s good for a Phoenician to understand his place, which is second to Tucson in all things other than bloat and pollution.



    A BBC reporter on NPR just now said that protesters were being removed from that Gaza synagogue "limb by limb." So they're being dismembered and reassembled at a remote location? Never trust the English with the use of their own language.



    Riffing on Allan Kozinn’s New York Times article on orchestras’ inability to rush hot new music onto their schedules, Greg Sandow's August 16 post makes this important point:

[Forget] the outmoded notion that where new music is concerned, only premieres are important. Audiences and composers don't think that way. There is no real prestige in giving the premiere of a work that no one else plays, and there is no loss of prestige in giving the second, third or fourth performance of a worthy new score.

    I’m the vice president of the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, which every season commissions substantial new works (not five-minute concert-opening trivia). After one of our premieres, I asked a member of the ensemble for which the work was written where else they’d be playing the piece in the coming months, now that they’d gone to the trouble to learn it. She paused, then said, “Oh. That would’ve been a good idea, wouldn’t it?”

Classical Music,


    In the August 15 New York Times, Allan Kozinn asks why American orchestras aren’t jumping to program exciting new high-profile compositions:

Pieces with … energy and appeal turn up all the time, as do works that find their way into the news. … The issue is whether orchestras can find the will and the flexibility to tap into hot works when they turn up, or whether their idea of exciting programming is simply to group repertory favorites under facile thematic banners, with the occasional premiere thrown in dutifully and the word "exciting" splashed across the brochure.

    The Tucson Symphony is as guilty of this as any other orchestra. For all of music director George Hanson’s talk of giving concertgoers something new, or at least unfamiliar, alongside comfy old favorites, the TSO’s programming is extremely cautious even under the best of circumstances.
    Two seasons ago, to celebrate its 75th anniversary, the orchestra commissioned a new work for almost every one of its main classical concerts and at least one of its chamber-orchestra concerts. This was laudable support for living composers and was an honest attempt to connect the orchestra (and its audience) to what’s happening today, rather than what was happening at the orchestra’s birth 75 years before (and, more usually, what was happening 75 years before that). But what we wound up with was a string of five-minute pieces that, for the most part, failed to develop into any sort of memorable statement. Since composers tend to charge by the minute these days, it would have been better if the orchestra had totaled the money it spent on all those little, innocuous items and divided it among three or four 20-minute works. This would have allowed each composer, and the TSO, to make a far more substantial contribution to the repertory. But five-minute curtain-raisers are safe, because the most conservative audience members can just sit there and grit their teeth (or come late) knowing that some lovely Tchaikovsky effusion will soon relieve their pain. (All the TSO commissions, by the way, were highly accessible.)
    This season, the TSO is crying poor, and so it has replaced almost every piece of music that involves royalties or rental fees with something “free” from its library. This is a huge mistake. It’s the cheap way out and, in the minds of the orchestra managers, the safe way out, because, they suppose, hundreds more people are going to come to a concert featuring both Beethoven and Tchaikovsky rather than one that includes Orbón’s Tres Versiones Sinfónicas, right? Don’t count on it. We can sit at home and listen to fabulous recordings of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Why spend the money and go to the trouble and inconvenience of attending a concert of such material? With no disrespect to Hanson or his musicians, there’s no guarantee that the TSO performance will be somehow better or more interesting than what we can get from a CD, so why bother? There must be something more to draw us to the concert hall—either a truly unusual point of view from the performers, a compelling new context for familiar music, or compositions we haven’t heard much before but might enjoy.
    Very, very few American orchestras are doing this, and that’s the main artistic reason they’re hemorrhaging audience and income. (There are non-artistic reasons, too, relating to the bad management that’s rampant in the arts world, but that’s another story.)

Classical Music,


    As much as I love the guy, Gustav Mahler isn't my idea of a summer-vacation companion. But two smart music lovers have spent some time at his place in the past few weeks, and are writing back with details.
     Alex Ross, in his August 14 blog post, recounts (with photos) his recent expedition to the no-longer idyllic hut where Gustav Mahler did much of his summertime composing, while over at Salon, Kevin Berger offers an essay on Mahler, his hut, and his late works, culminating in praise of the new Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9. I like the MTT SACD very much, although I’m partial to Benjamin Zander and the Philharmonia Orchestra on Telarc and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on Sony. Both Zander and Bernstein bring out the maximun angst, weltschmerz, and other things that sound like German words for cooking fat.
    Meanwhile, if you’re looking for truly summery Mahler music, I’ll point you in the direction of his Symphony No. 3, preferably in recordings by Bernstein, Zander, MTT, or Semyon Bychkov.

Classical Music,


    I’ve been snorting fine powder during the past few days. No, it’s not what you think; I don’t work for a rock’n’roll station. I’m talking about dust (I do, after all, work for a classical station).
    My wife and I spent the weekend moving things out of the front rooms of our house in preparation for the arrival of painters. That means getting cozy with draperies that have been collecting dust and dog dander for nearly three years, and moving books and bookcases that have stood unmoved for about a decade. I won’t go into detail about what lay behind the bookcases, except to say that if I hauled in some salt water I could open a beach.
    Yesterday, the workers started scraping off the Sensational ’70s popcorn ceiling (which had been applied after the asbestos era, thank goodness), and that means even more particulate matter is floating through my home. I’m vulnerable to allergies anyway, and none of this is doing my voice any good. It’s sounding scratchy, coming out at a higher basic pitch, and fading out on some end-of-sentence syllables, and my inhalations are even wheezier than usual. I’m not making excuses for poor performance, something about which Ikka Talvi has some amusing things to say in his August 14 blog post, merely taking an opportunity to observe that the voice is the most important tool at a radio announcer’s disposal, and the slightest change in the voice makes a huge difference in our performance.
    You can’t see my face or gestures; you can’t see me sit up straight in anticipation of some favorite piece of music or slouch in dismay when I’m confronting some piffle I can’t stand. The only way I can convey information, attitude and personality is through my voice. And because that’s all you as a listener have to go on, it’s probably easy for you to tell when something’s off—I’m tired, or distracted, or unprepared.
    Announcers have certain ways of faking it. Smiling helps; you can’t see it, but the smile does brighten our vocal delivery. Placement of voice in the mouth and throat helps control pitch and tone; at all costs, we’re supposed to keep our noses out of it, if we want to avoid that baby-girl voice so common among young women now (is this the downside of spurning cigarettes?), yet we can’t afford to sound stuffed-up and adenoidal, either.
    So I can understand why more than one announcer has confessed to me, “I can’t stand the sound of my own voice.” We’re hyper-aware of things that would otherwise pass unnoticed. But it does make me wonder why people who loathe their voices work in radio. Perhaps it’s because most of us are too ugly for TV.


About Cue Sheet

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