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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

The New Criterion has an extensive (but not nearly extensive enough) review of this year's Salzburg Festival. Jay Nordlinger has been attending this festival for a long time and it shows:

The resident band at the Salzburg Festival is the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The vpo plays steadily throughout the festival, in concert and in operas—especially the latter. The orchestra has no music director, but rather an unending stream of guests. This summer, five conductors conducted the orchestra in concert: Christian Thielemann, Andris Nelsons, Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. 

A few years ago, I podcasted with Bronfman, and asked him about the Bartók No. 2: Is it the most difficult piano concerto? No, said Bronfman. He regards the Brahms No. 2 as harder, and also the Prokofiev No. 2. But he had a subsequent thought: he learned the Bartók No. 2 as a teenager, and the others later (as I recall). That makes a difference. It’s harder to learn a concerto later in life. 

Later in the week, there was an all-Bartók concert in the House for Mozart. This was a chamber concert, involving six musicians. The evening began with the Contrasts, that piece for violin, clarinet, and piano, which Benny Goodman commissioned in the late 1930s. Does it have some jazz in it? Yes, but so does other Bartók, not commissioned by jazz legends.

Our violinist for the evening was Isabelle Faust, a German. She is a smart, tasteful musician. That is the kiss of death: it sounds like I’m calling her boring. I am not. She is highly musical, and plenty soulful. But she is also smart and tasteful—which is good. Our clarinetist was Daniel Ottensamer, who belongs to a royal family. His late father, Ernst, was a principal clarinetist in the Vienna Philharmonic. So is Daniel. Daniel’s brother, Andreas, is a principal clarinetist in the Berlin Philharmonic. In the Contrasts, Daniel was smooth and adept. He moved, he bent, gracefully on the stage. He is athletic, even dancer-like.

Just a few tidbits--you should read the whole thing. The review just covers a tiny fraction of the concerts--which run about four a day for six weeks. I wept to see how much Bartók was on this year, because I particularly love Bartók and have not heard nearly enough in concert. Wept because I missed this year's festival.

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And while we are on music festivals: Venice Biennale Musica review – things old, new, borrowed and bleurgh.

It may not attract headlines the way that its visual art and cinema siblings regularly do, but the International Festival of Contemporary Music has been part of the Venice Biennale family of cultural events since 1930. It now takes place every year across a fortnight in early autumn, and the composer Lucia Ronchetti is its current artistic director.

Music theatre features prominently in Ronchetti’s own list of works, and it was no surprise that she made it the theme of this year’s programme. It was an appropriate theme for a festival in Venice too, for if the city was not actually the birthplace of opera, it played a huge part in the early development of the form.

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Here's a perennial topic: Shushed at the symphony: Is it time to clap back at no-clapping rules?

The typical classical music concert can seem full of arcane rituals that set it apart from everyday life. Many of these traditions might spark the curiosity of the uninitiated. But as another concert season begins and many institutions dream of attracting new listeners, it’s worth revisiting one chapter in the concert-going etiquette book that routinely brings the most anxiety for newcomers: those rules of applause.

When to do it. When not to do it. How to avoid being that person who gets peremptorily shushed and imagines a hall of 2,000 people glaring at them.

A colleague who recently began attending concerts after a long break and has been seeing them through fresh eyes recently asked me a simple question: Why do these applause rules exist? Why is a cathedral silence the expected norm? And in particular: Why is there such a fierce injunction against applauding between movements?

I'll skip over the article's straw man defence to present a different take. I am also going to skip over the historiographical analysis that attributes the "arcane rituals" to the evolution of concert etiquette in the 19th century as an aspect of the sacralization of art, music in particular. No, let me suggest a simpler response: these "arcane rituals" are neither arcane nor ritual. They instead just show respect to the performer and the composer. With the exception of opera, where different conditions apply, most multi-movement classical works do not really benefit from applause between movements. For one thing, the length of the silence between movements is one of the interpretive choices the performer makes. For another, composers usually work with connections and contrasts between movements, which can be seriously attenuated by applause. Applause is just one kind of sound that can interfere with the enjoyment of the music. Other ones include whispered comments to one's companion, coughing, unwrapping candies or cough drops and so on. Not to mention the horror of ringing cellphones. It should not be too hard to understand that non-musical sounds should not interfere with the musical performance--that is if you want to show respect for the performer.

I have attended a lot of performances in Europe in recent years and not once did I hear anyone applaud between movements. Even with a crowded large concert hall with audience members of all ages. And with concerts of Grigory Sokolov, no-one applauds even between pieces until he stands up. A concert with two Mozart sonatas framing a fantasia had no applause until the end of the first half--at which point the artist had to return three times to the stage at intermission to acknowledge applause. It is really just respect.

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Loosely related: Here's Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand (And Three Ways To Fix It).

I used to be able to understand 99% of the dialogue in Hollywood films. But over the past 10 years or so, I've noticed that percentage has dropped significantly — and it's not due to hearing loss on my end. It's gotten to the point where I find myself occasionally not being able to parse entire lines of dialogue when I see a movie in a theater, and when I watch things at home, I've defaulted to turning the subtitles on to make sure I don't miss anything crucial to the plot. 

There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but they are difficult to summarize so go have a look at the whole article. 

* * *

I've noticed that I've been listening less to CDs lately and I'm not alone: ‘There’s endless choice, but you’re not listening’: fans quitting Spotify to save their love of music.

It wasn’t just passive listening, but a utilitarian approach to music that felt like a creation of the streaming environment. “I decided that having music be this tool to [create] an experience instead of an experience itself was not something I was into,” she reflects. So she cut off her Spotify service, and later, Apple Music too, to focus on making her listening more “home-based” and less of a background experience.

You don't necessarily get more from a listening experience by having a huge choice. Sure, I've got a lot of CDs on my shelves, but I'm pretty sure that if I listened to one or two a few times with real concentration I would get a lot more than if I just picked several at random.

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I confess to an interest in the economic factors relating to culture so this was interesting: Sydney festival to suspend foreign government funding after mass boycott.

In December 2021, artists and producers engaged for the January 2022 festival began withdrawing after it was revealed the festival had accepted a $20,000 sponsorship from the Israeli embassy, to co-fund a Sydney Dance Company production featuring the work of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin.

An online protest and petition was led by a coalition of Arab and pro-Palestinian organisations, and artists and academics from diverse backgrounds.

I suspect that there is a great deal of behind the scenes funding by various nations that we usually are not aware of.

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Now for some music. I confess that I don't know the Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano by Bartók! Here is a performance at the Verbier Festival by Yuja Wang, piano, Leonidas Kavakos,violin and Martin Fröst, clarinet.

Here is a piece by Lucia Ronchetti for soprano, baritone and orchestra: Une leçon des Ténèbres.


And finally Deux Mélodies hébraïques by Ravel:




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