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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

The New York Times does a good job on a major composer: John Adams, an American Master at 75.

There is an easy argument to be made that Adams is the greatest living American composer. He is an artist for whom Americanness truly matters, as much as the tradition of Western classical music — both heritages treated not with nostalgia, but with awareness and affection. Whose DNA carries traces of Beethoven and Ellington, Claude Debussy and Cole Porter. Whom younger composers regard with a mixture of awe and fondness, and who, in turn, is quick to give advice and life lessons. And who has made opera, as the singer Gerald Finley said, “a force for social commentary.”

Some composers die young, but, luckily, some do not!

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And a new piece by Alex Ross in The New Yorker: How Radical Was Rachmaninoff?

Sergei Rachmaninoff, the focus of this summer’s Bard Music Festival, at Bard College, in upstate New York, was almost universally considered a throwback during his lifetime. Progressives scorned him as a purveyor of late-Romantic schlock. Conservatives cherished him as a bulwark against atonal chaos. Neither side saw him as innovative. In 1939, four years before his death, Rachmaninoff wrote, “I feel like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien.” Nonetheless, he enjoyed immense popularity, which he retains today.

This is a venerable meme in discussions of composers: you can look for innovative elements in supposedly reactionary composers or conservative elements in avant-garde composers. Both approaches can be fruitful because creative people usually have complexities that resist being shoehorned into a particular category. Just think of Schoenberg's essay "Brahms the Progressive."

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Here is a piece by Jay Nordlinger On the preservation of classical music. While interviewing Marilyn Horne they discuss the ups and downs of recorded classical music:

...singers today have many fewer opportunities to record than their predecessors did—fewer opportunities than their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, did. The recording industry is transformed. Who will pay for an album of, say, Schubert songs? A person can go to YouTube and hear Hans Hotter, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Fritz Wunderlich, Janet Baker, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau . . . Marilyn Horne.

Artists from a few decades ago were able to record vast repertoires while artists today struggle to get a relative handful out.

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Norman Lebrecht admits that even with his criticisms, SALZBURG HITS 96% ATTENDANCE.

The festival has turned in a dazzling result for this summer – a near-record attendance and 31.1 million euros at the box-office.

The alltime record attendance is 97%.

Even last year, as the pandemic lingered, nearly every concert I attended was close to being sold out. When I get over my current aversion to air travel, I'm sure I will be back in Salzburg.

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I'm often skeptical of "studies" but this one is plausible: Playing music in childhood linked to a sharper mind in old age, study suggests.

Researchers have found a link between learning a musical instrument in youth and improved thinking skills in old age. People with more experience of playing a musical instrument showed greater lifetime improvement on a test of cognitive ability than those with less or no experience, a paper from the University of Edinburgh has said.

Researchers found that this was the case even when accounting for their socio-economic status, years of education, childhood cognitive ability, and their health in older age.

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We start with some John Adams, of course. He had an early success with his Shaker Loops for string orchestra:

 And some Rachmaninoff. This is his Piano Concerto No. 2 with Evgeny Kissin:

And finally, Marilyn Horne with a Rossini aria, "Cruda sorte" from L'italiana in Algeri.

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