Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, February 07, 2005


Alex Ross posts a link to his moving speech to chamber musicians on the need for enthusiasm and vigor and shpritzy joys as well as deep dark truths and beauties in the programming and promotion of classical music. Attitude and repertoire are words of the day.

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Attitude and repertoire are equally important to Francis Davis, who recently had a nice piece in the Village Voice on jazz repertory, which is facing institutional threats perhaps even more daunting than the ones staring at classical.

Davis comments that the American jazz and pop ethos expects musicians to put their own stamp on pieces in the repertoire, their own arrangements, their own sounds, their own style, often even their own tempo.  He remarks that the same isn’t true in classical music.  But it wasn’t always so: Bach writing versions of tunes by Telemann or Vivaldi, Liszt and Brahms writing variations on pieces by other people, Mozart re-orchestrating Handel.  They did this for the same reason that jazz arrangers take tunes by Gershwin and Ellington and Coltrane and make their own version – because they love the tunes and want to be part of them.  Composition in this manner is more of a community enterprise, less burdened by strictures of isolated individualism, while composers (and arrangers) still remain individualists.  Still happens some in classical, but it’s not central to the ethos.

Davis lavishes just praise on clarinetist and multi-instrumentalist Don Byron for combining jazz and hip hop. Byron has been blurring the lines between genres for a long time.  His collection “A Fine Line: Arias and Lieder” is a red hot fave – pieces by Chopin, Schumann, and Verdi sit next to tunes by Bernstein, Sondheim, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Roy Orbison, Ornette Coleman, and Stevie Wonder.  Byron shows that American pop and jazz hold vast melodic riches.  And he backs up his contention with gorgeous, energetic arrangements and playing.  His version of the Four Tops’ “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There,” a duet with pianist Uri Caine, never fails to give me thrills. 

I have this probably overly romanticized idea that music used to be whole.  Anything that got written down became “classical” after the passage of time.  J. Strauss and Sousa (and Offenbach?) were pop; now they’re classical.  The advent of recording has distorted this process.  We don’t need note-readers to recreate Spencer Williams’s “Basin Street Blues,” because we can always listen to Louis Armstrong’s gorgeous recording or Bob Wills’s great version or many many others.  But as wonderful as those recordings are, nothing beats hearing it played well live. Which is why music lovers want these institutions to thrive.  

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Lisa Hirsch is right on that the decline of arts education in the public schools is a probable root cause of the decline of financial support for music institutions. I blogged here about a treasured memory of hearing what I remember as Bartok string quartets in my school gym in 5th or 6th grade. Today, before reading Lisa’s piece, I was reflecting on how things change -- as things stand now my son is unlikely to have a similar experience when he goes to school.

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In other blogadelic news, Franklin Bruno got a flat and then later bought new tires.

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Like Ol’ Man River, music keeps on rolling along. Like Franklin’s car, musical vehicles need regular maintenance to keep them rolling. Here’s hoping.

Hey. Byron's _A Fine Line_ has been a red hot fav with me as well. I'm glad to hear someone else has picked up on how great it is.
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