A la Mode

October 22, 2008

I inevitably talk a lot with classical-music composers and performers about how they get their stuff out there. With all the old and new ways we have of doing that, word of mouth — buzz, in the current cant — is still the ultimate medium. While the differences in fashion and classical music are significant (though RenĂ©e Fleming is doing her part to blur the boundaries), their promotional muscles are far more highly developed than ours. The guru of fashion blogging has this to say in an interview in today’s MediaBistro:

Do you think that online popularity is correlated to commercial success for fashion lines or designers?

Basically, what I think that everybody who is designing fundamentally wants is attention. More attention means more brand awareness. More brand awareness means more people who go to the store and says, “Oh, that’s by Thakoon, I read all about him.” I think that there are lots of ways that this works. It’s maybe not as ching-ching right away, but it definitely builds an awareness, a familiarity. It’s a TV commercial. It’s television. You know, there are three monitors in this world right now: on your cell phone, your television, and your computer. You’ve got to deliver that message. People are walking around, plugging in, and sharing. And sharing is a great thing, because it’s word of mouth. So fashion as word of mouth. We’re making it in the electronic world sound like it’s the newest thing since cream cheese, but it isn’t, that’s word of mouth!

It really is the same old dynamic, whether via old medium or new.

The Juilliard Does Berio

October 14, 2008

While le tout New-York was across the street at the Metropolitan Opera House hearing the prima of John Adams’s Dr. Atomic, I couldn’t bear to miss another chance to hear smaller-scale contemporary music in a place that seems to be cultivating it with a success that only increases. (I will hear the second performance of the Dr. Atomic production.)

It is gratifying to report that Axiom’s Messiaen, lauded here, was very far from being a one-off triumph. Last night’s tribute to the School’s former faculty member Luciano Berio was equally impressive in its virtuosity and its dedication to the music at hand. In a different way from Messiaen’s, Berio’s music requires a concentration on detail, especially melodic detail, that sometimes recalls the distinctions familiar in Baroque music between what is structural and what is ornamental. Or so it seems to me.

Those unfamiliar with Berio’s style can do no better than listen to performances by his first wife and muse, Cathy Berberian, for her singing is surely the ideal that every instrumentalist — even unto the very percussionists — would do well to keep in mind as a model.

But, speaking of models, I don’t know what Jeffrey Milarsky does to get these performances from the students, but it seems to work. Any idea that it’s mere self-motivation on the part of obviously gifted young musicians seemed to be contradicted by the testimony of the young soloist who, having finished her punishing part, came into the theater and happened to sit next to me. When I asked how much coaching she had received from Mr. Milarsky in performing her musical feat, she immediately and strongly suggested that his help had been crucial.

So, if you’re at all open to difficult music well performed — and performed by musicians who seem unconscious of its difficulty –, I recommend watching for performances by the Julliard School’s Axiom. Even if you don’t happen to like a specific composition being performed, you can delight in the skill and dedication displayed by the performance. And if an eloquent performance leads to an appreciation of the work being interpreted, it certainly won’t be the first time in music history that such a thing has happened.

I used to spend lots of time contemplating the conditions under which texts and music were distributed and elaborated before the unexampled strictures of modern copyright law. In fact there was a time when I got paid to do so in academic dress. But I was perennially struggling to fit our current legal situation into the stream of cultural history. It can’t be done.

More and more people are realizing that new media can bring — and probably will make inevitable — a return to the earlier view of “intellectual property” that enabled the great flowerings of creativity in the past. The Wall Street Journal takes up the cause in an intelligent way here.

You’re not just readers anymore.

One of the exciting things about cyberspace and the culture it enables is that Things Keep Changing. The changes are, with remarkable frequency, for the better. And, by the very nature of the new media, it’s easy to change with them.

When I began this site back in January, I took good, sober advice that recommended not having promiscuous commentary posted from the readership. Control was thus enhanced. But control (contrary to what some political philosophers will try to tell you) is not one of the higher virtues. Participation and mutuality, while not necessarily as tidy, can be much more generating of ideas and have great potential for bringing raw thought to greater refinement. If two heads are better than one, how much better all of yours together?

After eight months of this site, and plenty — plenty — of good comments from you, whether by e-mail or chance encounters on the street, in restaurants, or at those musical events so many of us resort to, I’ve grown to covet your ad libitum discussions here. Right here. It will cut down so much on travel costs to gather your comments and, besides, will make you beneficiaries of each other’s insights instead of my keeping them all for myself.

So think of RogerEvansOnline as a sort of digital Liberty Hall (my friends who run the Data Lounge already having taken the best name possible). But, like any home of liberty that wants to retain its freedom, R.E.O. will endeavor to retain its character of entirely positive advocacy of arts and letters. Personal attacks will of course meet with the extinction made so easy in cyberspace. It will be as though they had never been. (It’s hard to believe we ever settled for Wite-Out, a feeble attempt at cosmetic obliteration in comparison.) But I trust that recent months here, with all their gratifying reaction from thoughtful people of edifying aims, will have led to a site that will cause people to look elsewhere for that sort of thing anyway, so you who do come are just the thinkers whose comments the site and its readers are most likely to value.

So comment away!

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To comment, simply click on the title of the post in question to find the handy form that will receive your words.

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UPDATE: So it turns out that you weren’t as eager to comment as I thought. The dynamics of new media are never as predictable as we often assume. I’ll keep the comment facility up for a while longer, however, since I had been under the impression that it was much desired by some.

The Greater New York Chapter of the American Musicological Society met today, and I was able to attend the morning session. It gave unmistakable signs of great changes in the discipline of musicology.
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