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In case anyone's interested, a short piece in this week's NYer by Alex Ross on the compositional skills of Jonny Greenwood, a trained classical composer who is also lead guitarist with Radiohead. I hadn't realised he was responsible for the There Will Be Blood score.

 

doinnnnng

 

Of course, Alex Ross is a diehard Radiohead fan.

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I'm going to quote this passage from a recent Gary Kamiya essay from Salon cuz it sounds like some stuff I said earlier:

 

"This doesn't mean there's no mastery or formal exploration in rock -- it's just usually in a different place. As great artists like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen demonstrate, the troubador's persona can be as complex as a Sonny Rollins solo. But only rarely is the complexity found in the music."

 

I'm going to link to the whole essay cuz it's pretty good:

 

http://www.salon.com/opinion/kamiya/2008/02/19/jazz_rock/

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Another Orpheus Chamber Orchestra concert last night that included a NY premier of Acana by Tania León along with Three Latin American Sketches by Aaron Copland (for compare-and-contrast, I suppose), Dame Felicity Lott singing Chausson's Poème de l'amour et de la mer, and Bizet's Symphony in C major. The Chausson was being pushed on WNYC to tout its live broadcast of the concert, which struck me as an odd emphasis since while lovely, it was the least interesting piece on the program. The León piece was very interesting, highly textured and evocative, and it was great fun to watch the two percussionists. And as always at Orpheus, I learned/heard something new: how similar the Bizet symphony is to Mendelssohn's Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Not just because the composers were both so young (as noted in the program), but for the notes, very often. Not a bad thing, actually.

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Since this thread has been revived and I have the book at hand, I thought it might be useful to type in an excerpt from the Preface to Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise, which is pertinent to some of the past discussion:

 

". . . . Ultimately, all music acts on its audience through the same physics of sound, shaking the air and arousing curious sensations. In the twentieth century, however, musical life disintegrated into a teeming mass of cultures and subcultures, each with its own canon and jargon. Some genres have attained more popularity than others; none has true mass appeal. Hip-hop tracks thrill teenagers and horrify their parents. Popular standards that break the hearts of an older generation become insipid kitsch in the ears of their grandchildren. Berg's Wozzeck is, for some, one of the most gripping operas ever written; Gershwin thought so, and emulated it in Porgy and Bess, not least in the hazy chords that float through 'Summertime.' For others, Wozzeck is a welter of ugliness. The arguments easily grow heated; we can be intolerant in reaction to others' tastes, even violent. Then again, beauty may catch us in unexpected places. 'Wherever we are,' John Cage wrote in his book Silence, 'what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.'

 

"Twentieth-century classical composition . . . sounds like noise to many. It is a largely untamed art, an unassimilated underground. While the splattered abstractions of Jackson Pollack sell on the art market for a hundred million dollars or more, and while experimental works by Matthew Barney or David Lynch are analyzed in college dorms across the land, the equivalent in music still sends ripples of unease through concert audiences and makes little perceptible impact on the outside world. Classical music is stereotyped as an art of the dead, a repertory that begins with Bach and terminates with Mahler and Puccini. People are sometimes surprised to learn that composers are still writing at all."

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Much contemporary pop music is just noise to me.

 

Then again, I have not listened to enough varieties of it, with sufficient repetitions, to learn enough to be able to make a considered judgment as to their merits. Isn't that at the bottom of all dislikes of any type of music? Or, for that matter, anything?

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Since this thread has been revived and I have the book at hand, I thought it might be useful to type in an excerpt from the Preface to Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise, which is pertinent to some of the past discussion:

 

It is a largely untamed art, an unassimilated underground.

 

 

We have done a remarkable job of resisting commodification, us lot.... I think only avant-garde poetry has remained as resolutely un-graspable.

 

I'm past having a view on whether this is a good or bad thing. I just want to write my notes and hope a few people here and there listen to them.

 

That said, we say the music is obscure, and it is, but Luigi Nono's Prometeo, one of the very most difficult pieces of the last 30 years, has just sold out 2 nights at the Royal Festival Hall next month. OK, this is the UK premiere 20 years after the piece was written, which is a disgrace, but that is still a real audience and in an aesthetically mainstream setting at that.

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One of the reasons a musical piece resonates with a person is its relevance to their experience or their lives. I believe any music that makes a connection with a person at any level that is relevant to their life or experience will move them. If we are talking about a musical artistic product, then it must have moved the artist. The question is how many other people connect with it? As one example, the anger in so much hip hop does not connect with me and so the music seems largely irrelevant, and so much noise. It is necessary to listen to a piece with enough attention to discover whether it moves one? How many people do that. How many people make a snap judgment on superficial hearing and lose the piece entirely?

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Alex, has it struck you how dramatically public appreciation of contemporary art has turned around over the last fifteen years or so? Shows which now pack the galleries would once have attracted tabloid ridicule and public indifference.

 

On the other hand, Matthew Collings in the current Modern Painters avers plausibly that this phenomenon does not indicate a deeper public understanding of contemporary art. And of course there are big market forces at work: there is money to be made.

 

But could something similar happen for contemporary 'classical' music?

 

ETA: I think there's been something of a shift in perception of avant garde poetry. Complaining that it doesn't rhyme or scan has been a very fogey-ish position for a while now.

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Two other things to note about Prometeo (one of them incredibly superficial):

 

1. Prometeo is in the "quaint" twelve-tone style. Enough water has gone under the bridge that this music now seems like mainstream classical in a way that much contemporary "avant-garde" (I hate that term actually) classical music doesn't.

 

2. Prometeo is a big piece with chorus and stuff. (Unless I'm confusing it with something else.) I think it's easier for people to accept those kind of big "event" pieces (and especially pieces with vocal music) than smaller strictly instrumental pieces.

 

I am positive that the imported production of Die Soldaten will sell out (or nearly so) in New York this summer. That does NOT mean that the mainstream classical audience here isn't incredibly conservative. It means that it will be promoted and perceived as an event.

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Further (and this is part of my point about it's having vocal music), Prometeo has extra-musical content that people can relate to. (Again, assuming it's the piece I'm thinking of.) That makes it much easier to swallow the music.

 

I've been to New York Philharmonic concerts where swarms of elderly (even to me) subscribers proudly walk out whenever anything post-WWI is played. (Even Prokofiev, for god's sake.) But I GUARANTY you that they'd stay for a performance of Survivor from Warsaw.

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1. Prometeo is in the "quaint" twelve-tone style. Enough water has gone under the bridge that this music now seems like mainstream classical in a way that much contemporary "avant-garde" (I hate that term actually) classical music doesn't.

 

Nope. Now that I've checked, I take back this point. I was thinking of an earlier piece.

 

(My other points remain.)

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I've been to New York Philharmonic concerts where swarms of elderly (even to me) subscribers proudly walk out whenever anything post-WWI is played. (Even Prokofiev, for god's sake.)

Prokofiev? Seriously? It never occurred to me that he was rad.

 

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