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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

Sometimes I wish I lived in Europe: One Opera, Three Acts, Three Different Stagings. I still have not heard any Wagner opera in an actual opera house and this looks like an interesting bet.

Each of the three acts in [Stuttgart State Opera's] new production of “Die Walküre,” the second opera in Wagner’s tetralogy, which opens on Sunday, has a highly different staging, each devised by a different creative team.

Three unrelated interpretations, overseen by three groups of directors and designers, performed by one cast and one orchestra, for a single audience. Cornelius Meister, the company’s music director, said the term used in-house to describe the situation is “multi-perspectival.” But it’s also been a grand juggling act, with overlapping rehearsals, many rounds of costume fittings and a mounting air of suspense, with the company only getting a clear sense of how — or if — the acts might coalesce at the first full dress rehearsal, two weeks before the premiere.

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I was thinking more about Marin Alsop's Beethoven 9th project: Marin’s Ode to Joy

The thing that always struck me about the symphony is that you have the sense that the listeners are enduring the first three movements in order to get to the choir. People didn’t understand that the way Beethoven opens the symphony impacts the way he ends it. It’s an arc. It’s a whole story. I want people to understand the narrative.

I have to admit to a bit of skepticism when conductors go off on projects like this--is the main goal simply pumping up one's career or are some real revelations to be presented? If listeners are indeed squirming in their seats waiting for the choir to come it, it is undoubtedly either because of pre-concert publicity or, more likely, because a hundred or so singers have been sitting silently at the back for almost an hour. I can't think of any musical reason why. And I'm trying to understand what she means by "the way Beethoven opens the symphony impacts the way he ends it." This kind of mysterious opening had been done many times, especially by Haydn in his oratorio The Creation as well as some slow introductions to symphonies.

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And Alex Ross has another excellent piece in The New Yorker, this time a review of the superb ensemble The L.A. Master Chorale’s Pyramids of Sound. A typical paragraph:

No less stirring was a performance of Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir, in February. This was under the direction of Jenny Wong, the Master Chorale’s associate artistic director, who wrote a dissertation about Martin’s choral music. The Mass was composed in the nineteen-twenties but withheld from circulation for decades; Martin explained that he had considered the piece “a matter between God and myself.” Wong has identified clandestine allusions to Bach’s B-Minor Mass, especially in the Agnus Dei. Her scholarly insights no doubt contributed to a rendition that was pristine in sound and purposeful in motion.

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Here is another take on this important issue: Fake artists are what happens when fandom dies It's a long and complex discussion, but here are some highlights:

Streaming music soundtracks our everyday lives. There are playlists for everything we do (study, fitness, relaxing, cooking, working, etc.). By becoming pervasive, music has lost some of its magic. The fandom that was inherent in people buying music because they loved it is gone. The biproduct of ubiquity is utility. In the immortal words of Syndrome from the Incredibles: “When everyone is super, no one will be…”

The problem is that, from the ground up, Western streaming is geared for consumption not fandom. From playlists through to economics, streaming is all about consumption at scale. Songs fuel consumption, not artists. Which is the breeding ground for mood music, of which ‘fake artists’ are but one sub-strand. 

In fact, mood music is the natural evolution of a consumption-first system. A system in which artists get washed away by streaming’s torrent of ubiquity. 

Add poor remuneration for mid and long-tail artists into the mix, and you have a perfect storm. Why? Because artists are compelled to diversify their income mix to eke out every extra dollar they can get from their creativity, with production music libraries being eager customers of their ancillary work.

What strikes me here is that we seem to be at the other end of a long, historic era, the beginning of which is around 1500. Music printing did things like reify music, turn it into a physical product that could be purchased and easily disseminated. One of the earliest beneficiaries was the composer Josquin des Prez who became widely famous through printed volumes of his music. He was the first example of the creation of a musical legend as stories of his genius and personality accumulated and were disseminated along with the music. Now we seem to be at the end of that era when the individuality, character and creativity of artists seems to be being leached away into the anonymous stream of "mood music."

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But we still have some rich musical personalities and The Guardian reviewed concerts by two of them. Igor Levit gave two concerts devoted to the repertoire on his recent CD that we reviewed here and guitarist Sean Shibe gave a spectacularly varied guitar recital:

The Edinburgh-born virtuoso Sean Shibe opened his recital – entitled “Baroque meets Minimalism” – with a selection from the Scottish lute manuscripts of the 17th century, remade in this guitarist’s own subtly ornamented and poetic fashion. In Bach’s lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996, every twist of counterpoint, each voice, was clear and unforced. For this part of the recital, Shibe used an instrument made by Simon Ambridge in 2011, a copy of the classic Hauser played by pioneer guitarists of the past, Segovia and Julian Bream.

He then switched to electric guitar, first to the cutaway Fender Stratocaster, then to a PRS Custom 24-08. You need to be an insider to appreciate the different specs, but enjoying the variety is part of the Shibe experience. Messiaen’s motet O sacrum convivium (1937) was freshly ecstatic, resonating around the building. In Pushing my thumb through a plate by Oliver Leith (b1990), originally for harp, now in a new version for guitar, Shibe used the tuning pegs to whoop slowly in and out of aural focus, a meditation on flux and inconstancy.

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How about some music? Here is the Ride of the Valkyries from Wagner's Die Walküre in a 2019 production at the Met:

Another of the pieces in that choral concert was the Te Deum by Arvo Pärt:

And let's have some Josquin des Prez as well, Here is his justly famous Missa Pange Lingua:

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