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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

2022 is the 100th anniversary of the opera by Alban Berg, Wozzeck. This is likely the most influential opera of the 20th century and there have been several articles commemorating it. The New York Times has an interesting one on the power of the orchestral score: When the Orchestra Is the Star of the Opera.

“Wozzeck,” particularly in concert, is a study in orchestral sound, and this ensemble did justice to both its crushing density and eerie lightness — sometimes both at once, as in an early interlude layering pale strings and whispering but denser brasses. This wasn’t a shattering performance, but it was a dazzling one.

* * *


The Bavarian State Opera was planning a production with Teodor Currentzis and his Putin-bank funded Russian ensemble MusicÆterna.

Suddenly, that does not look like such a good idea.

"It is with great regret that we have decided, in consultation with Romeo Castellucci and Teodor Currentzis as well as our Munich and international co-production partners, to postpone the new production of (Georg Friedrich Haas’s 2016 opera) Koma to the Ja, Mai Festival in 2024 …"

I don't know that Currentzis' ensemble is funded by a Putin bank, but it would not be surprising if it were. It brings us back to the age-old question of the relationship between aesthetic objects, their content and their social context and it prompts me to wonder if we can turn it around? Are we supporting crappy pieces of art simply because they are supportive of (or propaganda for) things that we perceive as socially desirable? Fill in your own examples.

* * *


Germany’s culture minister Claudia Roth spoke at last night’s Ukraine fundraising concert in Berlin.

Among other things the Green politician said: ‘Music is the most effective, the most radical contradiction to war…

‘We must contradict this deadly, this unbounded madness, as loudly and as audibly as humanly possible. Precisely because we cannot stop the aggressor, because we cannot stop Putin, because we have no means of ending this criminal war in Ukraine right now, we need these widely audible signs of solidarity with the Ukrainians…

But: ‘We will not stop listening to Tchaikovsky and reading Chekhov. I don’t want to imagine a world without Russian culture, without Ukrainian culture, without our culture and therefore I oppose anyone who tries to instrumentalize or boycott culture. It’s the culture that makes us human.’

* * *

From that cultural resource, the Wall Street Journal: NYU Shakes It Off With Taylor Swift Class

The class was the idea of Ms. Spanos, an NYU alum. She pitched a list of musical megastars she could focus on, including Britney Spears, Janet Jackson or Tina Turner. Ms. Swift was at the top, she said.

NYU said students, many of whom want careers in the music industry, were expected to develop their writing, critical thinking and research skills, but also learn about Ms. Swift’s creative process and her business sense.

“Taylor Swift is one of the leading creative music entrepreneurs of the 21st century,” said Jason King, chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, NYU’s music program. “I would love for them to walk away from the course with a deeper understanding of who Taylor Swift is and why she matters to the history and study of recorded music.”

Hey, I'm the guy that delivered two papers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer at an academic conference in Huddersfield, Yorkshire a few years ago, so I'm all on board with the study of popular culture.

* * *

Piano prodigy, 7, says learning music in lockdown made her happy

Yanran from Bristol started to play the piano in 2020, when she was just five-and-half-years old, learning to read music before she could read her storybooks.

Since then she has passed her Grade 1 exams, won a competition, taught herself to compose music and taken up the violin.

Her father, Yuxing, a senior research scientist for an aerospace company, and mother, Huamei, have no musical background and are astonished at her progress.

I think the message here might be that the hustle and bustle of our daily lives might be standing in the way of the focus needed to develop new skills.

* * *

Alex Ross' new piece at the New Yorker is Revisiting Verdi’s Political Masterpiece.

An argument can be made that the greatest of Italian opera composers wrote his masterpiece in French. Verdi’s “Don Carlos,” the anomaly in question, is now playing in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera, with the original French text supplanting the Italian translation that had been used in previous stagings at the house. Although there is little point in debating whether “Don Carlos” outclasses “La Traviata” or “Otello,” the work is certainly Verdi’s most formidable political creation, standing alongside Wagner’s “Die Walküre” and Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” as an eternally topical study in the delusion and desolation of worldly power.

I have to admit that I have warmed to Ross' contributions over the last few years. I used to shake my head at the inevitability of his aesthetic judgements--in one place I averred that he would rather drive knitting needles into his eardrums than say something critical about a piece of contemporary music--but either he has gotten better or I have gotten more tolerant.

* * *

And to the envois! Even avoiding the repetitive stories about who was accused of what by whom, there was a fair amount of interesting material this week. First up, Wozzeck of course. This is the 1970 film version with English subtitles:

And Taylor Swift, "Shake It Off," of course:


Finally, Verdi, Don Carlos. This is the Barcelona production from 1997 in French, part one:

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