Yearly Archives: 2009

Blog Supernovae and Swedish Humor

While everyone has been mourning (ok well, at least noting) the passing of Alex Ross’s “The Rest is Noise” blog, in my own personally dorkish way, I am more upset about the end of Henry Fogel’s “on the record” blog.  I highly recommend the archives to anyone interested in orchestras or arts administration.  Mr. Fogel is a renaissance man, having been the CEO of the Chicago Symphony, the President of the American Symphony Orchestra League, and now Dean of Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts (can we say ‘major coup’?)  His insights are required reading for anybody interested in the behind-the-scenes governance of an American orchestra.

Meanwhile, amid all the hubbub of Dudamel’s new L.A. gig, did anyone realize that he renewed his contract as music director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra of Sweden?  So, you know what would be really funny?  If citizens of Gothenburg decided to parody this video:

by making their own video of regular (and increasingly awkward) Swedes-on-the-street coming up to the camera and saying, “We are pleased to renew your contract for the next 3 years, Gustavo!” or “We’d like to keep you on our payroll for another 36 months, Gustavo!”, or “Please don’t forget that we’d be happy to have you use our orchestra as a testing ground for your future projects on an additional triennial basis, Gustavo!”

I kind of doubt that they’ll do that though… something about it strikes me as extremely un-Swedish.  I don’t really know much about Swedish Humor, but if it’s anything like a Bergman film, it’s not very funny.


finally, an orchestra does something totally, apologetically AWESOME!!  The London Phil is officially the Best Orchestra in the World (at least in terms of programming)!!!!!!!!


It is so, so rare to come across any kind of worthwhile festival programming in the world of orchestral music these days, much less to come across an event that actually has an interesting and totally integrated media/publicity element to it.  Everything about this Schnittke festival Rules!!!  Go to their site and click on “Explore the Brochure” — how sweet is that?  Most websites for popular music or things that actually have some kind of economy associated gambling with them don”t have sweet features like that.  Not to mention that the actual brochure is brilliant — IT”S GOT THE BACK OF HIS HEAD ON IT!!!  I have this whole new wave of respect for Vladimir Jurowski – his commentary is brilliant.

Finally, there is hope for the world.

Even with unadulterated shit like this and this splattering all over the US press.

If you live in London, YOU MUST GO TO this festival.  I mean all of it.  Even screening”s of Schnittke”s films!!  It”s for the good of humanity.

Ouch, my neck.


Like many people who participated in the Infinite Summer, I just finished reading Infinite Jest, the sprawling masterwork of recently deceased American author David Foster Wallace (above).  I mention this for 2 reaons: (1) since people first began finishing the novel in 1996, it has been de rigeur to make said deed publicly known on the internet, and (2) because in my various post-Jest Infinite Internet Wanderings, I stumbled upon such a lovely quote by Mr. Wallace that I just had to share it.  This comes from a ’96 interview with the author, and let’s just say, I think it applies equally well to the world of serious music:

If an art form is marginalized it’s because it’s not speaking to people. One possible reason is that the people it’s speaking to have become too stupid to appreciate it. That seems a little easy to me.

If you, the writer, succumb to the idea that the audience is too stupid, then there are two pitfalls. Number one is the avant-garde pitfall, where you have the idea that you’re writing for other writers, so you don’t worry about making yourself accessible or relevant. You worry about making it structurally and technically cutting edge: involuted in the right ways, making the appropriate intertextual references, making it look smart. Not really caring about whether you’re communicating with a reader who cares something about that feeling in the stomach which is why we read.  Then, the other end of it is very crass, cynical, commercial pieces of fiction that are done in a formulaic way — essentially television on the page — that manipulate the reader, that set out grotesquely simplified stuff in a childishly riveting way.

What’s weird is that I see these two sides fight with each other and really they both come out of the same thing, which is a contempt for the reader, an idea that literature’s current marginalization is the reader’s fault. The project that’s worth trying is to do stuff that has some of the richness and challenge and emotional and intellectual difficulty of avant-garde literary stuff, stuff that makes the reader confront things rather than ignore them, but to do that in such a way that it’s also pleasurable to read. The reader feels like someone is talking to him rather than striking a number of poses.

That’s so beautiful it could have been written by Alfred Schnittke.  [Although Schnittke put the same thought quite elegantly with his famous statement, “the aim of my life is to unify serious music and light music, even if I break my neck in doing so.”]

Here we are 13 years later, and I have to say, I think that the situation has improved greatly, at least as far as music is concerned.  There’s plenty of really excellent serious stuff that is both interesting and entertaining.  Personally, I think most of that comes from people like Björk, Sufjan Stevens, and Animal Collective, but even students in Academe these days seem to have the “right” challenge in mind –  much more so even than when I started college in ’01.  This new state of affairs has been accepted with a rather defeatist sort of attitude by the people at the top, but that almost makes it even better.

There’s some good fodder for this subject in the recent Bitchfork review of Sufjan Steven’s new album The BQE (not to be confused with his other new album, which isn’t so much his new album, but arrangements of an old album of his):

it’s tough to know for whom The BQE project is intended. It seems doubtful that the work will find a second life in orchestral programs, and it feels equally unlikely that fans of any of his previous albums will be clamoring to hear this work live. As such, The BQE is probably best classified as an unusually successful vanity project, as well as evidence of Stevens’ restless creativity.

I personally think it’s more than that, but I can see where this reviewer (Jayson Greene) is coming from, because indeed, this album appeals to a pretty niche audience.  From an academic viewpoint though, a “successful vanity project” would basically be anything that more than half of the audience stayed awake through.  I think artists like SS have seriously expanded the audience for serious music — the question is, have artists expanded their definition of “serious music”?



P.S. Also from the same review:

In fact, until an electronic interlude crashes in about halfway through, The BQE could easily pass for the sort of palette-cleanser that might have opened a major orchestra’s subscription concert in the 1950s.

Um, actually no, it couldn’t — I’m sort of an expert on this subject, since in my interior mental life, I have in fact attended most of the orchestral concerts, night club acts, and cocktail parties that took place from 1932 – 1959.

Kudos to Naxos

for finding new reasons for children to hate classical music!

P.S. “Rococo” is a word that belongs in a song about as much as “inter-uteran”.

[Update: From the imdb episode descriptions for “Little Amadeus” (which is apparently German in origin):

Season 1, Episode 1: Solo für Amadeus

Amadeus is scheduled to sing in the choir on the Archbishop’s name day. Yet Amadeus must help his friend Kajetan with the problem of the robbed coach that was loaded down with cookies and chocolate for the event. Can Amadeus help his friend and be at Bishop’s celebration on time?

Season 1, Episode 9: Gift im Trunk

Ahoy! The Mozarts are on the way to Vienna by boat. Leopold and Anna Maria are there but where are their children? They are on the wrong ship! Will Amadeus and Nannerl ever see their parents again?

Season 2, Episode 7: Sternschnuppen

The children of Salzburg are playing in the snow. Pumperl joins in the fun and jumps on some ice in the river yet starts to float away. Can the children save the dog? And what has this got to do with the big telescope?

And what the hell does any of this have to do with Mozart????]

Tamino, ach mein Gott!

Dorothea Röschmann, soprano; Gustav Mahler CO / Abbado
Crystalline beauty, like floating atop the clouds.

Hilde Gueden, soprano; Wiener Phil / Böhm
Heavier, but with a full mode of expression, every note a deep moment.

Irmgard Seefried, soprano; Wiener Phil / Karajan
Would somebody please call the Humane Society to put this creature out of its misery?