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

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The other day for the first time in a while I listened to the Bebel Gilberto album Tanto Tempo Remixes (I've never heard the original album) and the Suba album Tributo (I've never heard anything "else" by him [this one is remixes & rerecordings of his stuff put out after he died]) -- two gorgeous dreamy artifacts of '90s Brazilian dance music, with that international dance '90s reverb-y sound. Today I got a collection of recordings from Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag by kids' music star Dan Zanes from the library, and was struck by the '90s dance-music reverb applied judiciously to guitars in spots.

Zanes's singing reminds me of Jerry Garcia. Several months ago I offended my hipster neighbors when I said this -- well-dressed hipsters don't cotton to Jerry comparisons -- but it's true. I've had this reaction to Wilco too -- two times when I've heard them on the radio I thought at first it was the Dead -- Tweedy is another Jerry acolyte as a vocalist.

Zanes is a sharper dresser than Jerry. And his Songbag album has nice arrangements. The singing doesn't suit me for this stuff (and I like Jerry!) -- too laid-back for how I imagine the material in my mind's ear. But I'm happy to see Sandburg getting some love.

* * *

On the recommendation of Gavin Borchert in this terrific article about taking classical music to where people are, I took the kid to a free marathon performance of all 6 of Bach's Suites for Cello at a church yesterday, performed by 24 cellists taking turns. We caught about half of the E-flat suite and half of the C-minor suite -- people were coming and going throughout, though most people were there a lot longer than we were. We left before the end of the C-minor because the kid was hungry -- it was lunch time.

I asked him what he thought of the music.

"I liked it and I didn't like it. I didn't like that we couldn't talk and we couldn't walk around."

"What did you like?"

"I liked the music. Yeah, I liked the music."

The music was gorgeous -- beautiful reverberant church, beautiful cellos filling the sanctuary, beautiful Bach, on-the-whole beautiful playing. And -- it was almost totally contemporary. Some of the dance tunes are clearly not in today's dance style, but the casual dress of the performers said, "This is our music; these are our lives; they go together." Because Bach wrote for the church more than for court or dance hall, his music still makes it into contemporary movies for internal mood-setting, and it has dated very little if at all. This was music of emotion and meditation, that followed the trails of memories, passions, joys, longings, regrets, reconciliations.

Would have loved to have heard more of the marathon; was joyed to hear what I did.


Hello, found your place via Alex Ross. Since Mr. Ross doesn't have a comments section, I'll inflict them on you. :-)

Fine, the classical business is dead, it's only for 90 year olds who only want to hear Mozart and Beethoven and so on ad nauseum with the "death of classical music" cliches, but frankly, the Seattle Symphony cellist is a bit of an airhead. I'll ignore why people get so freaking worked up about tuxedos on the players --it's like complaining that the Dead wore tie-dye, it's irrelevant-- and get to his whole "we have to let the whole business crumble".

Fine, it crumbles, then what? It's easy to destroy, but build it up again, not so much. I'm 99.9% certain it would look almost exactly the same. There's your kid's comment: "I didn't like that we couldn't talk and we couldn't walk around". Well, that's too bad! I don't expect children to sit still and be quiet, but there's no excuse for anyone past high school.

I come to concerts to listen to the music, to really concentrate on it, and so talking is out of the question --loud whispering is even worse-- and walking around, well, unless your kid is totally silent, that doesn't work either. Anything that distracts me from listening to the music and assessing both the piece and the performance is out of the question. Yes, you stupid dork behind me last week at the Los Angeles Philharmonic who kept opening his cough drops during the quietest bits of The Planets and then took to loudly turning the pages of his program, I'm looking at you.

It's one of the things I see all the time in surveys of 20-somethings and what they want so they'll buy a ticket to the symphony. "I, like, don't want to have to, like, sit still and not send text messages and not take pictures on my, like, cellphone cameraphone so I can e-mail it to my friend" and so forth, and that's simply an unbridgeable gap. My wish for silence and stillness trumps theirs for treating the music like background noise while they socialize. It has nothing to do with reverence, it has to do with the simple fact that most classical music has a wide dynamic range and I don't want to hear about your day at work during a delicate flute/harp passage. It really is that simple. *sigh* a curmudgeon at 47.....

Yes, concerts can become less formal in terms of dress up, yes, concerts can be less stodgy in terms of rep (though the desire for new music that doesn't sound like a movie soundtrack is overstated) and how it's done especially (short piece > concerto > intermission > symphony or orchestral showpiece), but the basic way of doing it won't ever change, I'm convinced of it.

As for the "I played in bars" stuff, well, bully for you, but what's always --*always*-- omitted from those kinds of thoughts is the fact that it works for Bach Cello Suites but not much else. How is a 90 piece orchestra playing Mahler going to be accomodated in anything but a formal concert hall? The high school gym, a club or whatever? That's a laugh. I'm not in to chamber music at all, I love big orchestras playing big music, going to hear the Turangalila Symphony in a brewpub is never going to happen. Nor should it...

Note: at that same concert with the program page turner, I took a friend (who's 48) who had never been. I thought he'd like The Planets because at the very least he'd recognize what John Williams stole some of his Star Wars music from. He didn't really enjoy it all that much and you know why? Not the clothes or the silence or any of that: it was because there was too much music. He didn't know any of it, of course, (there was also a ghastly Steve Reich piece and Yundi Li playing the Liszt Eb concerto) and that frustrated him. Yet, when I offerered to make him a CD of the Liszt and Holst, he declined because...wait for it...he didn't like to listen to music that much in his free time, it would have taken *gasp* EFFORT to even begin to meet the music halfway and get a basic grasp of it (he thinks in 2:59 musical bursts).

I wanted to smack him.
Just for the record, my kid was quiet during the music, and we left between movements in one of the suites.

I wasn't crazy about the "crumble" part of the interview -- what I liked was the cellist's determination to take the music where people already are and where they're comfortable -- because, there may be a significant population of potential classical music lovers who are intimidated by the rituals of a symphony hall, and Mr. Roman's experience seems to indicate that he has been able to reach some of them. And I must say that I wondered how he'd feel about the crumble if it meant he'd lose his salary.

Not everybody is going to like the music. Not all of the venues are going to be silent. I love the silent recital hall too (and I worried about my kid making noise, but it wasn't his first classical concert and he knew what to do). But I think it's great that Mr. Roman's playing the music in alternative venues.

You're right about symphonies. What alternative venue could they play in? Mahler in a stadium? Half time show at some superb bowl or other? Unlikely to work. But I love chamber music; I probably listen to it more than I do symphonic music. The point is -- the classical music tradition encompasses a huge range of stuff.

Thanks for your comment. I'd love to hear the Turangalila Symphony live someday.
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