More than a year ago, we saw that the Metropolitan Opera’s outreach into cinematic venues was having an effect on other presenters. But who thought the trend would extend so quickly to sacred choral music?

To see where the King’s Messiah is showing nearest you, go to this site.

And what does it say that Tennessee has four theaters showing the performance live and New York has none?

Seek and Ye Shall Find

March 24, 2009

the-search-peq3 From Kim Witman’s fine blog, I got the idea of sharing with you the kinds of search terms that lead people to this site. Many of them are an endless source of puzzlement to me. Today (a relatively slow day) these terms led people here:

goldberg parahia
watching television
roger evans,piano
“chicago symphony orchestra” overrated
tchaikovsky symphony 1
pauline viardot
shh silence
maria malibran garcia
roger evans venture capitalist

songs-disc Bridge Records is just about to release Songs of John Musto. Here are the liner notes that I wrote for the disc:

Has there ever before been a place or time that offered such glorious opportunity as American song now enjoys? The widest possible field seems to be open to it. Not only do its practitioners feel free to use classical tonality in its many guises, but all of post-tonality and post-post-tonality are at their disposal as well. 

Since at least Debussy and Vaughan Williams, our more cultivated composers feel free even to try medieval modes anytime they desire such variegated colors and more muted harmonic functionality; and every Western and non-Western culture now offers itself as a quarry ready to be mined — with universals like the pentatonic scale on the one hand and the specialized colors of local idioms on the other. While all this certainly represents a rich gift to our composers, it also calls for an unprecedented discretion, demanding taste judgements that even a stylistic eclectic like Bach — whose music could speak Italian, French, or North German as his muse dictated — might have found challenging.
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Quiet Zone

March 10, 2009


The contents of this space are usually so preoccupied with music that silence may get short shrift. This fact has been brought home to me by being placed in the midst of a few days’ quiet in what, for a touch of mystery, I will call an undisclosed tropical location.

I wonder how many others are in my situation. Without giving it much thought, I have spent a whole year continuously in urban environments — my usual place of residence being the über-urban island of Manhattan. After just a few days in this Eden where the loudest sound is made by the waves of a calm gulf, one feels as though a RESET button has been pushed. And how.

Getting back, already, to our habitual topic, I have to say that music sounds different somehow. Thanks to the miracles of iPod, the Naxos site, and other such modern dispensations of a gracious heaven, I can invoke practically any music I think of whenever I want it. And that’s a superb state to be in.

But I’m more surprised to be reminded what a different occupation reading becomes in an environment like this. It seems to have a completely different function from that of reading on a subway or reading while waiting for (or dreading) the phone’s ring. While that may not seem a particularly surprising reflection, who reflects on such things in the midst of all the din we so easily become accustomed to?

A most peculiar phenomenon I’m experiencing (and I hope this reveals no pathology) is that I keep seeing inanimate objects (a beach umbrella, a potted plant on a pedestal, a lamp-post) out of the corner of my eye and then looking to see what person it is. So accustomed to being surrounded by an infinity of human beings, my brain seems habituated to assuming that shapes are human until being demonstrated to be otherwise. This is curious. And it even happens over and over with the same objects.

Perhaps most thrilling of all is rediscovering the wonder that is sleep. Accustomed as I am to regarding sleep as an inconvenience that reduces the amount of enjoyment or work that one can get done, or as something to feel guilty for not getting enough of, it is a profound joy to be reminded that the aforementioned sound of the waves breaking has a completely different effect on the sleeping organism than rattling trucks, accelerating buses, or screaming fire engines produce. To wake from a sleep that is not merely reparative but that seems in retrospect to have been almost consciously enjoyable is a sensation to be treasured.

Ah! the delicious silence!

Now I have a Mahler symphony I want to hear with my restored ears.

Sleeping Beauty

March 2, 2009


Over the years, I’ve had many a reason for gratitude to the Metropolitan Opera. Tonight, thanks to the premiere of the new production of La Sonnambula, I can add the discovery within me of hitherto unrealized stores of willing suspension of disbelief. I had heard many complaints beforehand (mostly from people who were at the dress rehearsal, but also from two Met ushers who independently told me that the production was a mess), so at least I had the advantage of being forewarned. The recasting of the plot made no sustained sense whatever (which is strange, since the whole reason for ignoring the libretto’s plain sense was the supposed unbelievability of the opera’s simple little story).

But I had a great time on account of the music and the two leading performers. I’m also unashamed to admit that there were entertaining distractions for me in the wildly incoherent direction — like when, in a moment of chaos, the prompter was dragged out of her box to join the cast onstage.

I’ve already hymned Dessay and Flórez sufficiently here and here. And, about this time last year, I posted pieces on how the development of Chopin’s melodic style makes complete sense only in light of Bellini’s operas. These are, as it happens, among the most-visited postings on this site. (Somebody must have linked to them somewhere.) They can be see here and here. I bring them up now because it struck me tonight that, whereas in the past a pianist might safely look to bel canto singers for a guide to the cantabile that every pianist worth his salt pursues, nowadays the reverse might be requisite. Namely, we probably have more Chopin pianists who understand the long melodies and arc-shaped phrases of the idiom than we have singers who have mastered them.

What I like about the two principals tonight, however, is that — while some cavil at the timbre or size of their voices — they sing with a musicality that I’m convinced Bellini and Chopin would have recognized.

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