Monthly Archives: April 2010


As I’ve been busily wrapping up graduation requirements for my master’s at IU, I’ve been taken away from the blog, which is such a shame because there are so many things to talk about:

1) You too can inherit the World of Music, because Pierre Boulez has sanctioned it, and he has been filmed walking around European woodlands [see 1:41, below], obviously communing with nature in the great tradition of the great composers who came before him:

Boulez is such a strange bird, and definitely a genius on many levels, not least of which is the art of self-presentation.  I can think of very few other public figures who have seamlessly crossed the boundary from enfant terrible to conservationist of traditional society.  Not even Stravinsky, really – he was always sort of off in his own little world.  Boulez got the attention of classical music society early on and proceeded to cast a spell over it, backing down from his hostile positions (no opera, no Mozart, no this, no that…) according to a clearly structured time line.

Interesting, his development as a conductor though, no?

I might have to take back that whole “genius of self presentation” thing I said before… wow.  What exactly was he going for here?  I think it would be safe to describe the above as a combination of Stevie Wonder, Al Bundy and Asimo, the robot conductor.  It must have been all that electronic music he was writing at the time.

2) Another season of opera means another season of famous movie directors directing operas. This time it’s Terry Gilliam’s Faust and Mike Figgis’ Lucrezia Borgia.  Perhaps its a bit passé by now, but do feel free to chime in with your favorite ideas for movie/tv director – opera pairings.  Perhaps Roman Polanski’s Little Women?  Or how about Quentin Tarrantino’s Tosca?  Or perhaps James Cameron’s Ring Cycle?

3) Jennifer Higdon wins the Pulizter Prize in Music.  I’m generally OK with this, as I’m generally a fan of Ms. Higdon’s music, particularly blue cathedral and Zaka. One caveat though, is that I drove up to Indianapolis last year to hear the Violin Concerto, and to me, Higdon winning the Pulitzer for that piece is like Scorsese winning the Oscar for The Departed – right person, wrong piece.

[P.S. How about Martin Scorcese’s Gianni Schicchi??]

The New York Times article on this event includes a quote from Marin Alsop upon which I’d like to rhapsodize:

“I’m not sure when ‘accessible’ became a dirty word,” Ms. Alsop said. “I’m not of the belief that something has to be inscrutable in order to be great.”

And I’m with you, Marin, sort of.  Frankly, I do think that “accessible” is the most heinous term in the contemporary musical lexicon.  Because what does “accessible” really mean, the way that contemporary music commentators use it?  Non-offensive.  That’s really it.  Not “attention grabbing”, not “compelling”, not “potent”, “irresistible”, or even “powerful”.  All that “accessible” means is that a given piece of music lies above the x-axis on the scale of listenability to the “untrained ear”.  It usually amounts to some kind of watered-down fusion piece that is palatable enough for a large group of older-middle aged listeners to occasionally tap their feet to and proclaim, “oh, I liked that”.

Not that that’s what Jennifer Higdon’s music is, at all (I think it’s often many of those other things that I listed above).  But speaking of other buzzwords that I can’t stand in relation to music, I am sick and tired of hearing, mainly in academic circles, compositions referred to as “successful pieces”.  As in, “Composer X’s quadruple quartet for mixed pitched percussion ensemble is a really successful piece.  It works really well.”  Usually spoken with half closed eyes and half-flared nostrils.

The thing I can’t stand about that term is that it makes music sound like it’s a banker or something.  Which, again, is about the most that we can expect out of much of this music.  If it was really so successful, far richer vocabulary would come to mind when describing it.  The deliciously ironic thing is that, in the popular realm, this term possesses an entirely different meaning: a “successful” song means a big hit – and big money following.  I can assure you that people in academic music circles would never infer that meaning about a piece that they deemed “successful”.

As if it weren’t bad enough already

now conductors get to be visual artists by proxy:

There’s this great quote from a letter by Verdi sent to Ricordi:

… these blessed conductors always have something to do; and their vanity isn’t satisfied unless they undo even what is going well! It’s not enough for them to accept the applause on stage like other prima donnas, and to thank the audience from the podium if it applauds four bars of the prelude, as if they had written them! All of this is ridiculous!

And of course, there is that.  It’s naturally a symbiotic relationship, that one between composers and conductors (and performers in general).  I mean, how few of history’s (well, let’s at least say the 20th century’s) great composers have been as capable as their counterparts in the world of professional conducting?  This works out fine until you come across those conductors who really do hold the belief that they were the true CREATOR of the work playing in front of them.  Without even playing a single note of course, but that’s almost besides the point.

Conductors are sort of like mid-wives.  A composer could give birth to his/her creation without their assistance, but it just tends to be a whole lot messier.

Please note, I do not hold the above against Maestro Dudamel.  Clearly he is quite modest about this project, which he should be.  But to the people who came up with this schwindl: Really?  At least the money will go to a good cause.

Meanwhile, how often do you see a video that cuts between a serious Swedish language interview and a crazy Scandinavian woman full-out belting “This is My life”?