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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

Remember Musicology Now, the blog associated with the American Musicological Society? For several reasons it died an unlamented death a few years ago. It's back! I missed it, but as of March it has returned with a renewed mandate: Welcome to (the New) Musicology Now

The curatorial team hopes that, along with a revitalized web design, this fresh beginning will animate a renewed and capacious spirit of conversation about music. We invite readers and audiences alike to revel in the joy of sharing ideas, research, and sound, just as we ask them to turn to this online platform as a place to reflect upon music’s (and music scholars’) roles in engendering precarity, racism and racial inequality, ableism, and exclusion—in the past as in the present.

So, it's all about institutionalized wokeness? The old Musicology Now was a graduate student project, the new one will be curated by a professional team.

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Slipped Disc has an item on the woes of the Vienna State Opera:

The Vienna State Opera is caught between a rock and a hard place.

It wants to stay open but the audience is staying away.

This is Tosca yesterday – the safest of tickets in the safest of productions – and hardly anyone turned up.

A thicket of new Covid rules and rising Covid numbers have conspired to keep locals at home.

Tourists are kept away by lack of flights and strict entry controls.

An empty house is demoralising for performers. How long can Vienna stay open?

The photo at the link shows a half-empty house.

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At The New Yorker, Alex Ross has a piece on the flute: Claire Chase Taps the Primal Power of the Flute

Over the millennia, the flute has come to be seen as delicate, decorous, ethereal. Claire Chase, perhaps the instrument’s most imaginative living advocate, is bent on tapping its primal power. Since 2013, she has been commissioning scores for a monumental project called “Density 2036”; when it comes to completion, in the designated year, it will have added as many as a hundred pieces to the flute repertory. In the latest installment of the series, which had three performances at the Kitchen, in December, Chase was a solitary figure in an audiovisual storm, holding her own against roiling electronic textures and a barrage of video images. She made heavy use of her contrabass flute, which she has nicknamed Big Bertha; more than six feet tall, it emits tones of unearthly, breathy depth, suitable for an audience of whales.

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The Wall Street Journal has an item on listening:

We live with constant racket, but we have forgotten how to listen. And yet the part of our brain that is given over to sound—what Ms. Kraus calls the“hearing brain” or “sound mind”—is far bigger and more complex than any of our other sensory equipment. Hearing influences how we feel, how we see, how we move, how we think. It makes us who we are. 

The way by which we convert sound waves into electrical brain signals is indeed unusual: Within the inner ear are tiny hairs in a fluid; when external vibrations enter the ear canal, they agitate the fluid and cause the hair cells to bob up and down. Microscopic projections that perch on top bump and bend, causing porelike channels to open. Chemicals rush into the cells, creating electrical signals that the auditory nerve carry to the brain. Ms. Kraus’s descriptions of the process are rich in metaphorical imagery, giving us the sense that an ear is a cathedral with walls, roof and floor, with fountains of living (electrical) water. But while the science is clear, there remains a magical, awe-inspiring sense of wonder that somehow timing, timbre and pitch can become conversation, lyric and song.

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When it comes to the act of composition I tend to be old school--in fact, in the last year or so I have even reverted back to pencil sketches instead of using music software. Though once I have the basic ideas I do go back to the software. But I should probably have a look at where music technology is at these days and a good place to start might be a book co-written by Ethan Hein: Electronic Music School. The link goes to the syllabus for his current course.

* * *

One belated discovery for me this year was conductor Herbert Blomstedt, 94 years old! Slipped Disc has an anecdote about why he no longer uses a baton:

‘I once had a concert with the Vienna Philharmonic in Salzburg. And after a break from rehearsals I forgot my baton in the conductor’s room. Then you stand in front of a Bruckner symphony and think to yourself: run back quickly? Or ask someone to do it? So I went on. Such orchestras do not need a beat or a metronome, but a musician. And since then I have done without the baton.’

Asked what he will do on his 95th birthday, next July 11:

‘The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic have competed for it. The request from the Gewandhausorchester came a little earlier, so the Viennese are on my 100th. As you can see, I am optimistic here too. On July 11th, that is a Monday, there will be a special thanksgiving service in the Thomaskirche. No sermon, the music will speak.’

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Our first envoi is a piece written for flautist Claire Chase by Dai Fujikura:


Here is the Frankfurt Radio Symphony conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada with Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin Suite. The original pantomime was banned due to obscenity!

Here is the orchestral suite from the ballet Zéphire (1745) by J. Ph. Rameau with Les Arts Florissants conducted by William Christie.




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