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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

Click to enlarge. This is the most famous Chinese zither or qin, dating from the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD).
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I think the return to some kind of normality in the concert scene will be the real test of musicians' and administrators' creativity in the coming months. I am on the mailing list for the Palau de Les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia and they just sent me this email:


I for one would love to start attending some concerts for €5 starting next week! Alas, that is not going to happen where I live, I'm afraid, where the summer chamber music festival has been cut to a brief two weeks in the last half of August.

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This is not how I imagined the 21st century:


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Norman Lebrecht has some tart words for the music establishment during this crisis: WHY IS THE WIGMORE HALL THE UK’S ONLY LIVE PROVIDER?
In this week’s Spectator, Richard Bratby reviews ‘The musical event of the year’ – the Wigmore Hall lunchtime recitals that are played to an empty house and broadcast live on the BBC. It’s the only live music heard in this country for almost three months.
As Richard says: ‘Listeners were in tears. Comparisons with Myra Hess’s wartime concerts at the National Gallery did not seem absurd.’
But why was it only John Gilhooly’s initiative at the Wigmore Hall? Where were the state supported South Bank and the banks-supported Barbican? Was it beyond the wit of their idle staff to devise a Covid-era broadcast series?
And what about Classic FM and Scala Radio – why weren’t they relaying live music instead of exhorting listeners to relax and buy something?
And what of all those so-called entrepreneurial agencies and manager who keep lecturing the world on how to run music as a business?
Let’s not mince words: this has been an organisational falure on a massive scale for the whole of the classical music establishment.
Yes and on the European continent, as mentioned above, great efforts are being made to return to live concerts. But in North America it is nothing but cancel, cancel, cancel.

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Also from Slipped Disc a brief lament on the terrible situation of small ensembles in France:
 Les Arts florissants, Les Talens Lyriques, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Le Concert d’Astrée and other non-state French ensembles calculate that Covid has cost them more than 1,200 performances at a loss of 11 million Euros. Ther situation is becoming desperate.
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The New Yorker tells us about online orchestral practicing, which I didn't even know was a thing.
...almost every day on Instagram, Morgan Davison, a twenty-two-year-old bassoon master’s student at Juilliard, has answers for the bassoon-curious, providing her nearly thirty thousand followers with a running selection of practice excerpts from Francis Poulenc, Igor Stravinsky, and the gamut of bassoon-heavy composers.
Davison benefits from a years-old trend in the flourishing micro-niche of online orchestral practicing. In 2017, the renowned violinist Hilary Hahn posted an Instagram video with the caption “#100daysofpractice.” The premise was simple: for a hundred days, she would post a daily video of herself practicing, letting other musicians see how she prepared for performances. On one day, Hahn played a series of slow, precise double-stops from Robert Schumann’s piano quartet; on another, the athletic, isolated shifts from Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
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Over at The Economist (I read The Economist so you won't have to) of all places is an article on pre-Columbian musical instruments in Mexico:
One afternoon last December Arnd Adje Both, a researcher at Huddersfield University, in Britain, stood on top of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, in Mexico, and blew into a conch-shell trumpet, sounding a note that echoed in the plaza far below. Later this year—covid-19 permitting—he hopes to return with a group of colleagues to conduct an aural examination of the site using replicas of the ancient instruments dug up there.
Teotihuacan is a mysterious place. Once home to more than 100,000 people, at its zenith around 1,500 years ago it was among the biggest cities in the world. Its inhabitants, though, had no known system of writing.
This is not really "news" as there have been musicians and ensembles here in Mexico claiming to offer concerts of "pre-Columbian" music for many years. The fly in the ointment is that while they are able to re-create facsimiles of the instruments from images found in sculptures, no actual music notation exists. So it's all freejazz noodling.

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The Guardian bemoans the plight of classical musicians in Britain: 'We could go to the wall in 12 weeks' – are we just going to let classical music die?
From top to bottom, from big to small, from freelancer to staffer, from humble hall to grand auditorium, the world of classical music is facing its biggest crisis in living memory. Most musicians in the UK work freelance, even members of many big-name orchestras, so for them no gigs means no earnings. Some qualify for help for the self-employed, but many don’t. Conservatoires – employers of musicians, producers of future talent – are facing a financial crisis as overseas students stay away. All the backroom people who usually keep the show on the road, from agents to publishers, are haemorrhaging money. Concert halls and opera houses cannot earn.
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Wired tells us how those mosaic music videos are made:
FOR MOST PERFORMERS, social distancing means stopping. No more concerts or comedy clubs, no more plays or musicals. How weird, then, that one of the few bright spots of the pandemic has been the rise of a new musical-ensemble format: the virtual choir.
You’ve surely seen these videos, or at least scrolled past them in your feed: The singers appear in a grid, Zoom style. Each is clearly alone at home—and yet they’re all singing together, gorgeously and in perfect sync.
If you know anything about Zoom or its rivals, you probably sensed some fakery immediately. People can’t sing together over video chat. It can’t be done.
The problem is latency (audio lag): By the time your voice reaches the other singers’ speakers, the Internet has introduced about a half-second delay. Then they try to sing along with your already-delayed voice—and what you hear back is even further behind. It’s a vicious cycle of tempo dragging, and the result is always a train wreck.
The workaround: The musicians film themselves playing their parts individually, at home, on their phones. Then some poor, exhausted editor assembles their videos into a unified grid.
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My violinist and I tried to do a read-through of a new piece on FaceTime, but it just wasn't possible. What I notice about all these mosaic videos is that while they can put them in sync with the techniques mentioned plus a click track, the balance is pretty horrible because they can't hear one another and adjust.

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There are lots of great performances out there, so let's hear a couple. Here is the Mozart Clarinet Quintet in a concert from the Sudtirol:


Here is one of those live-streamed Wigmore Hall concerts with pianists Pavel Kolesnikov and Samson Tsoy playing music by Brahms, Schubert and Beethoven:




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