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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

For some reason I rarely link to this site, but this article looks quite interesting: Just how important is eye contact between musicians? And what does it signal?
From the players’ side, Rebecca Jones, principal viola of BBC National Orchestra of Wales, explains how eye contact helps the performance: ‘If a particular viola part is exposed and the conductor wants you to play more, they look at you to give you confidence. Some eye contact is friendlier than others – some conductors convey warmth with their eyes and that helps you play better; some glare and you feel they’re not happy with you – but generally, it is positive. You feel confident that they are aware of what’s going on in the music and are in the piece with you. If there isn’t any eye contact, it feels like it’s just them with their score.’

Most of the piece is about conductors and orchestras, but the example of chamber music comes to my mind. If you watch a lot of recent chamber music videos you will see, especially among younger musicians, a great deal of glancing at the other musicians combined with an occasional smile or nod. This phenomenon is a bit less common among older musicians. Here, for example, are the Alban Berg Quartet, who are certainly very aware of one another without obvious glancing:

 For comparison, here are the Emerson Quartet who visually monitor one another quite a lot. I'm not sure of the explanation. Is there a Juilliard class on how to create empathy with audiences by offering up visual signs of engagement in addition to actually, you know, playing the music?

Of course, if there were such a class, Emerson would probably be teaching it! I have played a lot of chamber music and I must confess I almost never look at my colleagues. With singers and wind players I can hear them breath before the first note. With string players I will probably at least have them in my peripheral vision or perhaps look directly. But after that initial glance I don't look directly at them. Why is this? Well, I am reading the music and also sometimes looking at the guitar neck if I am shifting. I don't need to be watching the other player(s) because I am listening to them! I can hear what they are doing and usually, what they are about to do. And this is a far better guide than watching them. Right? I think this whole "let's all be glancing and nodding at one another" stuff is for the audience, not the players. Am I right?

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Alex Ross has a piece on new and newly revived operas at The New Yorker: Malcolm X and Hamlet Seize the Opera Stage

On the same weekend that “X” opened in Detroit, the Met mounted Brett Dean’s “Hamlet,” a deft stab at a play that has long defied operatic adaptation. Dean’s two-act condensation, first seen at Glyndebourne, in 2017, avoids most of the obvious pitfalls of making opera out of Shakespeare. How can a composer set the words “To be or not to be” or “The rest is silence” without sounding faintly ridiculous? Dean and his librettist, Matthew Jocelyn, finesse the problem with a strategy of self-consciousness. When Hamlet enters, he’s muttering bits and pieces of the famous phrases—“. . . or not to be,” “The rest is . . .”—while the orchestra revels in eerie effects. This “Hamlet” is aware of its “Hamlet”-ness, and is also aware that its audience is aware.

Lots of interesting operas on right now. The Met is doing an early summer revival of The Rake's Progress by Stravinsky and Auden and you can hear Wozzeck in Valencia. Who would have guessed that opera would see such a return in the 21st century?

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Music and architecture can have some surprising intersections: India’s ancient temples that ‘sing’ thanks to intricate musical architecture

Within the Vijaya Vittala Temple in Hampi, South India are 56 pillars, each 3.6 metres high, which when gently tapped produce delicate musical notes.

Tourists have been travelling to the UNESCO World Heritage Site for years to hear the over 500-year-old temple’s mesmerising music.

The pillars, named SaReGaMa, are so-called after the first four notes (svaras) of the standard scale in Indian classical music – similar to the Western Do Re Mi Fa (solfège).

Together, they hold up the 15th-century ‘Ranga Mantapa’, a main attraction within the temple complex. Resembling an open pavilion, it was most likely used for music and dancing.

Across the hall, primary larger pillars are surrounded by seven smaller pillars that each ‘play’ one of the seven notes in the Indian classical music scale. Made of pieces of huge resonant stone, the cluster of musical pillars vary in height and width, in order to produce the different tones.

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And here is a never-ending debate: ‘Do we want music to be a pursuit only of the wealthy?’ Anger grows at PRS Foundation cuts

One of the UK’s biggest funders of new and emerging music, responsible for fostering the careers of artists including Sam Fender, Little Simz and 2021 Mercury prize winner Arlo Parks, has this week seen its budget slashed by 60%.

The PRS Foundation, which funds hundreds of aspiring artists and music organisations across the country – including a number of artists from groups underrepresented in the music industry – announced on Wednesday that its income would be cut from £2.75m to £1m from 2024 onwards, citing financial necessity. The decision was taken by its parent company and primary funder PRS for Music, which collects royalties for musicians when their music is streamed or played in public.

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Hmm, no obvious choices for envois today. I've just been reading about the Code Rossini in Tarkuskin's Oxford History, so let's have an example. Here is the overture to La Gazza Ladra wherein he demonstrates how to distill sonata form and how to steamroller the audience with the famous Rossini crescendo:

And while we are in Rossini territory, here is a potpourri of Rossini tunes put together for guitar by Mauro Giuliani around 1820 when Rossini was conquering Europe. The guitarist is Julian Bream who discovered these gems:

And finally, here is Hopkinson Smith playing the first Partita for Violin by Bach, the one with all the doubles:

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