Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"A morning Scherzo , Slowing to Adagio"

From NY times

When I was looking through NY times, there were lots of news, but this was interesting to me. A morning Scherzo, Slowing to Adagio! If a reader doesn’t know the musical term, it would not make the one become interested. I like this title, Francisco j. Nunez, the founder and artistic director of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, a youth chair, starts his busy morning like scherzo, but as the time is going to dinner or later, his life tempo is getting slower like Adagio. Really quick lunch should be prepared, and those kinds of arranging finally make his dinner nicer. I think we could also apply this to our life, not just for daily life.. Time has been flying, and the end of semester is coming up. How was the beginning of this semester, and this almost finished end of this semester is really comfortable Adagio? How fast it is?

Monday, December 7, 2009

BSO 12/5/09

I attended the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert this past Saturday night. It was a wonderful concert with a program that included Bartok's Divertimento for Strings, Martinu's Violin Concerto No. 2 and Dvorak's Symphony No. 8. Christoph von Dohnányi conducted in Levine's absence.

I enjoyed each piece on the program, but did see something after the concerto that I had never seen before. Frank Peter Zimmerman was the violin soloist. His intense and beautiful performance created quite the ovation from the audience. The applause seemed to be non-stop, but then Zimmerman came out to play an encore. I expected to hear a fast, flashy piece that would excite the audience even more. Every encore I had heard up to this point was like that. However, Zimmerman took a different route and performed a slow movement from one of the Unaccompanied Suites by JS Bach. It created quite an aura in the hall. At the end of the encore, the audience was just as excited as when they heard the fast paced end of the 3rd movement of the Martinu. How interesting and intriguing I found this to be. Has anyone else been to a concert where the encore is a slow, beautiful piece?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

violist's heritage through music

In this past Sunday’s Boston Globe Arts Section, I enjoyed reading a fascinating article. The title of the article, “An emotional link to a nation’s past: Armenian composer’s powerful music brings trio of collaborators together,” says a lot in itself on the content of the article. In my new identity as a violist and violinist, I am always on the lookout for articles about either instrument, but finding one about viola is still more rare than those on violin. Also, the topic of music linked to one’s heritage also tends to grab my interest, and this article certainly fulfills this need.

The article discusses the recital this Tuesday, 12/1 at Jordan Hall, with Kim Kashkashian, one of the most famous violists existing today, Tigran Mansurian, who will play piano and sing, and percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky. Mansurian and Kashkashian have collaborated for more than two decades, and the collaboration continues with this recital, as it features pieces composed and arranged by Mansurian. Both of Armenian descent, their program pays homage to their heritage in including songs by famous Armenian composer, Komitas Vartabed. Kashkashian’s first exposure to Komita’s music inspired her so much to eventually create a recording with Mansurian’s music, as well. There is a rawness to the sound of Mansurian’s vocals that, as Kaskashian describes, “really let through the incredible depth of emotion and knowledge of the people, of the land, of the circumstances of the nation – its blood.”

Kashkashian relates the power of Komitas and Mansurian share in their music: “bring the ancient past into a form that modern Armenians – and Westerners – could understand and embrace.” The program they present this Tuesday will feature ancient religious chants arranged by Mansurian for viola and percussion, two groups of Komitas’s songs, four of Mansurian’s songs, and a duet for viola and percussion. The writer of the article also addresses Kashkashian’s “uncommonly expressive tone – shadowy yet lyrical – from the most introverted of string instruments.” I thought this was a fascinating description of viola, but I think it is often how listener’s think of the instrument. It is sandwiched between the upper voice violins and the bass voice cellos. Kashkashian’s description of her own tone and playing is inspiring: “The thing that any musician is trying to do is to take the expressive tool offered them and say something that is, on the one hand, as true to the composer as possible, and on the other, that expresses the deepest, innermost regions of their own hearts.” With this, I truly hope I will be lucky enough to attend this concert.

"Debussy's Homage, With the blanks Filled In"

from New York Times

When I looked through news, there was news about Claude Debussy, one of the fascinating musicians to me, and I was curious of what happened to him. It was about unfinished works.
Sometimes, unfortunately, there is no chance to listen to these kinds of great music to us because before finishing the last one, some composers pass away. I also imagine what is the end? How they could make progress on the music. Some people said the unfinished works should be left alone, but some people want to listen even though extra some touching is needed. The writer, Anthony Tommasini, was at one of those kinds of concerts. He said some details and his feelings from it. For me, the works that are made up by other musicians still made me feel some frustration sometimes because it is not original version, but at the same time, I appreciate I don’t have to miss that. When I remind that most of art such as paintings or architecture have reworked, it could happen.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Is there actually an answer?

Before this semester started, I wondered if this class would uncover an answer as to what the actual future of classical music is. Since about halfway through Hewett's book, I have been waiting to find out what his prediction is. He ends his book with the following:

"The essential fact about music, which is that it dies, and has to die in order for it to glorify this present moment happening now, is systematically denied in our passive musical culture, just as mortality is denied. The result is precisely the lack of emotional intensity that Jung observed in contemporary life, and which we can observe in those forms of music most symptomatic of the present day. Restoring that intensity is something we crave, but we never think that its lack may be partly in ourselves, and with the way we relate to music. Instead we instinctively delegate. In pop music and world music, we always look for performers with that mysterious daemon, and in art music we look for composers with some special 'vision' that will seize us like a revelation. But perhaps we've delegated for too long. Perhaps it's time to look to ourselves."

I think he makes some interesting points, first being that there really is no answer. If there were a clear cut solution, an absolute future for classical music, there wouldn't be a need for these books or for this class. The truth is no one really knows. It is virtually impossible to predict what will succeed and what will fail. Do we ever really understand why certain products become a phenomenon?

Also, the idea of delegation is a very real one. It is far too rare that people today want to take the reigns responsibility. A fair amount just want to tag along for the ride. It makes me think of a choral situation. When sight reading music or cutting off at the end of the phrase, it doesn't work if some singers wait for their neighbor to do the work. It is audible when someone poops out early and doesn't sing through the end of the phrase cutting off with confidence. I think this is what Hewett is saying about our future. We have to all be leaders rather than followers. Classical music isn't going to regain its popularity on its own. It isn't going to step out form behind the mask of violent movie scenes and images of decadent chocolates unless we do something about it. What it is we are supposed to do is not clear, but something is better than nothing.

Musicians have to have perseverance in order to be successful. We push ourselves and do all we can to fight for our spot within an expanding pool of people reaching for something that is diminishing. Are we being selfish? Should our efforts be focused on the greater good versus our personal career? Can we fully commit to both?
The more I think about all of this the more circles I find myself running in. Does anyone else feel the same way?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Expression makes comeback.’

When Classical period music compares with Romantic period music, it is obvious that it is sensation, and really new. And, it seems that the new genre was very welcome to people. My feeling to modern music is not always comfortable, comparing to that period’s people. I was curious of it, and come to think maybe that is the environment that supported the new music, which is the modern music to that time. After classical music time or already in, people became interested in nature, beauty, and enjoyment for human. I think maybe those phenomenon made people open mind to and understood very well about new music. So, I think what is issue to and surrounds me today could be related to my future favorite contemporary music. It also could be proved that people come back to the traditional structure as in the book. I don’t mean completely it goes back to original point. Just we need some connection to lead to or lift up the new genre, as the sensational invention has been really not too much sensational.

small, but vital audiences for contemporary classical music

This week, I'd like to respond to the following blog. I found the link for this blog when I was looking through Alex Ross's external links on his blog. This one was listed in the music business section, but I found it quite relevant not only to the future of classical music, but also specifically to our reading this week from "Music, healing the rift." Here's the link to the blog:


Greg Sandow, as I learned from his blog, is a music critic and a professor at Julliard. The title of the article I read on his blog is, "Left behind (3)." And, as he describes, the article can be described as: "Finishing my impulsive three-part series on how/why contemporary classical music -- as presented by mainstream classical music institutions -- isn't really part of current culture." I haven't had a chance to yet read the other 2 sections of this series, but he summarizes pretty clearly here what arenas he discussed before this third installment. 

Sandow compares the reception of contemporary visual art to that of contemporary music to demonstrate how much less receptive the general audience is still to new music vs. new art. For instance, he discusses how because contemporary classical music is still seen as "an oddball" branch of classical music, the general perception of what contemporary music embodies is somewhat out-dated. As he writes, "atonal music dominated prestigious composition in the 1950s, and still retains -- in the classical music world -- its dominant prestige, along with a sense of somehow still being new, even though since its dominance we've had waves of new styles, starting with minimalism in the 1970." This idea is not so far off from the thought question we had for chapter 7 in Hewett this week regarding modernist vs. neo-tonal music.

I found this imagery enlightening: the draw a museum like the MOMA can fetch for a general audience, with museum-goers lined about around the block to see a Jackson Pollack exhibition in comparison to a tiny audience for a contemporary music concert. As he writes, in the "excuses" section there are reasons for contemporary classical music to have less of an appeal then modern art, for instance, music takes time, it doesn't reflect the current times happening around it, etc. BUT, in his solutions section, his attention to the significance of "small, but vital audiences," in attendance at a classical contemporary music concert was refreshing for me and opened up some new thoughts about new classical music appeal. Perhaps classical music producers are far to concerned about appealing to a mass audience and thus over-sex the appeal of new music, or they program what people still think of as new music, or atonal as Sandow presents earlier. He argues that we need to present music to represents the current times and culture, and also to work with the perhaps small, but genuinely infatuated audience that does show up for a concert of new music. 

Monday, November 16, 2009


One of the ideas in chapter 6 of Music: Healing the Rift that I found interesting was the discussion on expression in new music. In particular, the ideas were based around the idea of either intentionally avoiding any expressive qualities in the music, or having oblique expression in the music.

I find these ideas interesting since, as a composer, these are issues with which I have to struggle in every piece. Expression in my music is a rather strange thing, and I don't always have an answer as to the role of expression in my music. Frankly, I believe that Stravinsky was right when he said that music is incapable of expressing anything at all; it is in fact the person perceiving the music who is feeling--music is simply the mirror from which those feelings are reflected. However, I realize that a person perceiving music is always going to have an emotional reaction to music, whether or not I intend one in my music, and so a strange conflict arises between the creative intention and the perceived intention.

I found recently in a piece I wrote for solo violin that this issue of expression became much more important to the way I write than is usual. When writing a piece, one is faced with the challenge of being a creator with an intention, but one also is faced with the role of the perceiver who is looking into the musical mirror and can't help but have a reaction. It was this conflict of roles that I found to be the greatest challenge in writing the piece; how to balance my ideas with my reactions to the actualizations of my ideas. In past pieces, this wasn't as much of an issue, simply because I was battling with other challenges of things like notation, clearly presenting ideas, etc. But in this piece, since the music materials were not as difficult and in some ways were more traditional, this conflict in roles came to the foreground.

To be honest, I am not entirely sure that there are any conclusions to draw based upon the experiences I had in writing this piece. The piece in many ways challenged the way in which I work, and I believe my work on this piece actually has presented me a situation with which I am going to be faced more intensely in the future. I have the sense the struggle of identity in the compositional process is going to be a prolonged problem of mine.

I know I haven't written much on what HTR had to say on these issues; however, I decided to write on this because I believe the text actually helped me articulate some of the difficulties I was having in this last piece, and I just thought I'd share this new development of mine since it found resonance with the readings.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mingling of cultures, and new genre.

I remember Platon said creating is a sort of thing to imitate another. When we think the world that changes and improves, it moves little by little. I think it means the next item is developed, copied, and modified from the formal item. For example, there is Mozart. Mozart himself is a great musician, but we also know his father made him traveled and experienced many countries and music, so he could create and applied the music into his own music, and recreated it. Another example could be found in other musicians, whose music has folk characteristic such as Grieg, Debussy or Chopin. With using the new resource, the music can be distinguished from other traditional style.

I examplfied just in classical music, but it is the same in any genre.
The idea of ‘breaking down barriers’ (p68) When someone tries something new first time, it could be not acceptable, but if it is tried and reshaped over and over, I think we would have another valuable thing. There was not Jazz, kabuki, musical or movie sound track in the past, but we have these now.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What it takes to get in

It is said that classical music is inaccessible to low-income citizens based on concert ticket pricing, but what is said about its accessibility to study it?

Here you will find information on what is needed to get into some well known institutions (I am using piano majors to unify this example)

New England Conservatory: http://necmusic.edu/apply-nec/audition/piano

Eastman School of Music: http://www.esm.rochester.edu/apply/aud_rep.php#piano

Oberlin Conservatory: http://new.oberlin.edu/conservatory/admissions/auditions/keyboard.dot

To sum it up, you need to have certain skills before these colleges take a second look at your application. Most people aren't born with these skills, and therefore have to learn them from a teacher. With years and years of study, one can get these skills.

Lets look at how much this education could cost. 5 years, $30 a lesson, one lesson a week. With 52 weeks in a year, that comes to $7,800. Now imagine if I used a number that actually approximates the actual price of a lesson.

It is simply not possible for a person interested, but not educated in music, to decide to attend music school half way through senior year of high school. You need years worth of skills and the money to pay for them. A public school student with good grades and various math / science courses under his/her belt has a fair shot at engineering school. The math / science courses needed to get into engineering school are provided by the public school, the music education is not.

We, the lucky ones, owe so much to our parents. They gave us the option to choose music school. Unfortunately, not all parents posses the resources needed to provide such options.

At the very least, early education must provide every student the option to move on to higher education, in all fields, free of preliminary costs. Hard work is the only thing it should take to get in.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

new classical music concert - appealing to a wider audience

This week, I would like to respond to a concert review I read in the New York Times. Firstly, the title of the article, "Creative Confections for Woodwinds and Strings," grabbed my attention. Indeed, as I learned from the review, this concert aimed to attract their audience via a catchy title, or fun party-favors, and then presenting them with intriguing, new music. For instance, the title of the concert was, “m&m’s: microtones & minimalism," and, "concert-goers received "martini glasses filled with complimentary M&M candies." Also, as reviewed in the article, "Flyers and announcements hawked the “American Modern-tini,” a custom-made concoction." The logic behind attracting an audience with fun, rather than telling them the basic facts of what they were to hear on the concert is an interesting form of marketing. I could see some classical music critics finding this method too directed to mass-appeal, and questioning why they couldn't simply market the concert for what is was: contemporary classical music. However, I think the American Modern Ensemble, the group behind this performance, were wise to present their concert as more of a party than a contemporary music concert.

I attended a student recital last spring where a friend of mine served the reception before and during the performance, instead of after the concert. While this broke some boundaries in terms of the standard concert template, with the reception as a reward for sitting through the concert, I thought it was an ingenious way to insure the audience enjoyed themselves, and hopefully would spark more new classical music fans. I know everyone left that recital feeling excited that they had been a part of such a great performance, and a welcoming atmosphere. The idea behind the American Modern Ensemble's Party/Concert encourages the same warm feelings. Too often people view classical music concerts as only open to the select few, and that someone who has not been exposed to this genre before would not understand or even know how to listen to a concert. As we've discussed in our class, this is a shame, but sadly it has been the standard for years. By turning concerts into something more approachable, hopefully more new audience members will be attracted to attending. Also, the venue the Ensemble used for this concert, as described in the article: "Galapagos, a brut-chic performing-arts space where communal tables rest on metal platforms that jut out amid reflecting pools," was an exciting venue for classical music to be heard. It also continued their theme of breaking down the boundaries between genres of music.

The repertoire presented on the concert by the American Modern Ensemble span the years 1968-2007, and offered a wide range of instrumentation. This also helped in keeping the audience's interest, for if nothing else, they could enjoy watching the varied techniques suited to each instrument. I wish I could have attended this concert to get a feeling for how this presentation of new classical music was received. They had the right ingredients to make this concert as enjoyable as possible, so I hope new audience members agreed with enthusiasm and that they will attend future performances by this ensemble and other classical music groups. 


Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Music Makes Winners"

I very much enjoyed having Dean Chin come to speak in our class this week. I feel like he touched on a great deal of things we have been talking about all semester. He also made me think about my musical past. Dean Chin and I actually graduated from the same high school, Norwood High. He mentioned the phrase "Music Makes Winners" and his distaste for it. This was one mantra of our music program. While I am not sure it was enforced or used as colloquially during my time at the high school, I do remember hearing it on occasion, and seeing it on pins sold at marching band competitions. I actually tried to look for some old paraphernalia or articles with the saying included, but came up empty handed.

Despite not hearing the phrase consistently, this was definitely an underlying part of the mentality of the entire music program. We were constantly encouraged to strive for the gold. There was a trophy case spanning the entire length of the hallway outside of the auditorium proudly displaying the multitude of medals won by various music groups over the years. It was virtually unheard of to not come home with a first place win. I will never forget one instance of this. It was my junior year in high school, and I was a part of the Madrigal Choir. We were not off to the strongest start, and at one point Paul Alberta (the Director of Fine Arts at the time, whom we all referred to as "God") came to one of our rehearsals. He bet us all a nickel that we would not received a gold medal at our MICCA competition. This of course affected us all in a big way. We went on to improve as a choir, and to win the gold medal in spite of Mr. Alberta's prediction. Following the win, he came into our rehearsal and gave us all a nickel. I still have mine in a frame in my room.

Another recollection from that same year was our trip to compete in Washington DC. We sang the best we could, and did not even place in the top 10 choirs in the Festival of Gold. Every one of us was extremely disappointed, including the director. It tainted the entire trip, and I remember hearing "Let's just get the hell out of here" from many, again, including the director.

Another question Dean Chin brought up was "Why are we musicians?" Do we do it do win? Maybe some people do. For some it's the prizes, the competition titles, and the fame. Others, including myself, fall in the "range of successful outcomes" volume. I believe that the majority of people fall under this category. Are there really enough prizes and first place wins for all the musicians in this world to have one? I doubt that. So why then push the younger generations on winning? Honestly, I was never one who cared about a score or a placement. I cared more about feeling good leaving the stage and knowing that we did all we could to be great. I try to encourage that way of thinking with the kids I teach now, though I am not sure they really get it quite yet. I think Dean Chin is right to be bothered by the "Music Makes Winners" slogan. Not all musicians will win, but that doesn't mean that they aren't musicians. It doesn't mean they aren't successful. Having a reminder of this in class was reassuring. Thank you for that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Conductorless, Self-conducted, Unconducted

In many respects, the concept of an unconducted chamber orchestra or unconducted large ensemble playing has been a given in my concept of music education. Doing unconducted projects in conservatory was something I just assumed was part of any solid musical training, especially for string players. I also had been to several chamber orchestra concerts that were performed unconducted - a performamce of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields on tour in Baltimore was perhaps one of my most memorable and profound concert experiences. I was a little surprised therefore in our last class discussion that the concept of an unconducted chamber orchestra was understood to be unique to Orpheus in New York City. I decided to look into unconducted chamber orchestras and find out if Orpheus was indeed the first such orchestra.

Orpheus indeed was not the first. In 1922 the Pervyi Simfonicheskii Ansambl' - First Symphonic Ensemble) was formed in the USSR (http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/orchestra/a-conductorless-orchestra.html). The founding of this orchestra was more political than artistic in nature, and it did not survive past 10 years. In 1951 the Prague Chamber Orchestra was formed. (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/PKO.htm) The idea has flourished since, and now many self-governed orchestras can be found from Orpheus in New York City to the Australian Chamber Orchestra in Sydney. Some establish leadership in a democrtatic way, as Orpheus does, and others rely on the artistic direction of the concert master. But the unifying component is the idea of chamber music interaction in large ensemble form.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Zander's pursuit

Maestro Zander is known as a top-rate conductor, and he should be just as known for his public speaking. His presentation on Ted.com (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion.html) would be one of his latest examples.

He is invited to talk on Ted.com to share his love for classical music, but more so, his conviction that everyone has an untapped love for it. He sits at the piano and plays Chopin's most famous prelude (No.4), deconstructs it in layman's terms, and plays it again. He urges everyone in the audience to listen while imagining a dear friend or family member that has passed away. He asks this of the audience to ensure that everyone take part in a similar experience.

If he would have asked them to focus on the aesthetics or technique, only a few would be able to truly appreciate the piece. Instead he asked us to imagine something dear to us, enabling us to give the piece our own meaning.

Some would argue that restricting listening to accepted music listening styles hinders the audience by stifling their imagination. While this can be true to a certain extent, it also provides guidance to some, simplifying this seemingly complicated music into a simple memory trigger.

Zander reduced Chopin's prelude to a nostalgic piece that everyone can relate to. He was able to captivate the 1,600 people in the auditorium...so does it matter?

Only a big name can fill seats at the BSO...

In response to Megan's comment on my recent blog entry about the developments with the BSO and its conductor situation - I agree that bringing in the "big names" in conducting has been what helped to fill the seats at Symphony Hall. With another delay in Levine's return, they have had to try to keep people coming to concerts somehow. There is no doubt in my mind that bringing Lorin Maazel in was what finally sold out the Beethoven series.

What doesn't help fill seats, however, is when assistant conductors do not impress the already dismissive audience, as seen in this recent Boston Globe article critiquing Julian Kuerti's interpretation of Beethoven's 4th and 5th Symphonies.

NYTimes Article On Audience Participation

Hey everyone,

I came across this article in the NYTimes, and I thought that it would of interest to all of you. Basically why I brought it up is because I think it fits nicely into some of the ideas we have discussed in class, particularly around the idea of a passive or active audience.

Also, I would point out another item of interest within the article: the acceptance and enjoyment of unfamiliar sounds.

"Don't screw it up!"

I have a cartoon that a player constantly keep reminding himself “ Don’t screw it up!!”
It’s the same idea as “ Don’t think of an elephant!” because it means that it is already thinking of elephant. There is still the same object, “ elephant”. One of what I learned in school is that learning music includes even playing on stage. Even if the music is well practiced, but different from playing in practice, that could be nothing. In the first piano seminar in this semester, the guest lecturer said how to prepare for playing on stage.

Record it
Play for friends or teachers
Play as possible as you can for audiences if there is any chance for public or in school.

I remember when I’ve sat in front seat in Symphony Hall once, how nervous the cellist was, but once the orchestra began, he seemed naturally to get into the music, and get comfortable. It’s so impressed to me. I know that musician should be like that, and only when a player is doing so, one’s real music can be presented. I hope what to play in my head naturally without any concerning or worry about performance on the streets, in the train and in the practice room is played on stage anytime in the same way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This is why I sing...

Every so often I have one of those moments where I think, "this is why I sing". Whether it is while performing a particular piece or mastering a certain technical issue, it is a time where I stop and feel comforted. It's not that I ever fall out of love with music, but it is definitely nice to have snippets of time where I am reminded that the pursuit is absolutely worth it despite the difficulties.
I had another one of those moments recently. Tom Meglioranza gave a concert here at Longy as part of the Unique Voices Concert Series. He is a baritone who had been around this semester attending classes and giving feedback as well as offering private coachings. I have learned a great deal from hearing his ideas and watching him work with fellow students.
His concert consisted of songs from around the time of WWI. Featuring pieces by George M. Cohan, Kurt Weill, Rudolf Sieczynski, Francis Poulenc, Claude Debussy, Charles Ives, Carrie Jacobs Bond and more. I had never heard most of the songs he performed, but loved the concert despite that. It is true that new works can be just as satisfying as the old chestnuts. Hearing his warm and welcoming tone and being pulled into the world of each piece through his wonderful characterizations reminded me of how powerful music can be. It can take you places. It can tap into carious emotions. It can serve as a reminder that your life is heading in a positive direction.
As an encore, Tom sang "I Love You Truly", at which point I was close to tears. It was just so lovely and moving, and I had that thought again. "This is why I sing." I definitely recommend making an effort to hear him if the opportunity should arise.
In the opening introduction for this weeks reading, Hewett writes the following about music: "It is the most insubstantial thing in human life, mere vibrations on the air; but viewed another way it is mundanely real, the basis of a colossal global industry, the thing that anchors people to the present moment and to each other." (Page 1) For mere vibrations, it sure does shake me to my very core.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Opening Night at Symphony

(It's from my blog for the first entry. at that time, I couldn't find this blog )

The Fall semester program starts on September 23 2009, Wednesday 6:30 in Symphony Hall.

Here is brief information about the concert;
James Levine, conductor
Evgeny Kissinm, piano
Ann Honson Piot, Harp

Program; Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture
Chopin: Piano Concerto No.2
William; On Willows and Birches, Concerto for Harp.

As a pianist, I'm really interested in this concert, because Kissin is coming, and the repertoire is a romantism. I am really a romantic music fan.

Fredric Chopin's Piano Concerto No.2 Fminor. It was composed in 1830, and has three movements; 1. Maestoso, 2. Larghetto, 3. Allegro vivace.

French Composer, Hetor Berlioz wrote Op.9 The Roman Carnival' 1843 completely, and scored , for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English hornm 2clarinets, 4 bassons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 4 trombones, cymbols, 2 snare drums, triangle, tympani and strings.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ann Hobson Pilot Farewell

Matthew Guerrieri of the Boston Globe gave a rave review to Ann Hobson's farewell performance:


After performing 3 concertos, Elliot Carter's "Mosaic," Debussy's "Danses sacrée et profane," and the premiere of John Williams's "On Willows and Birches," Pilot resumed, as per her request, the principal harp position for the closing of the concert with Ravel's "La Valse".

This performance was available not only in the concert hall, but also on public radio at Boston's WGBH 89.7 FM. The radio broadcast included an interview with John Williams. The interview discussed his affinity for trees and their influence on his new work.

In light of our reading this week on music and gender, it is difficult to mention Ms. Pilot without touching on what she brings to the BSO as an African-American woman in heritage and gender. There is part of me however, that wonders if society will ever get to a point where heritage and gender are part of who you are and not tied in to the definition of what you do. A brilliant [African-American-woman] harpist retired from the BSO and played a memorable concert in her final performance. Will the brackets ever be removed and the performance valued for its intrinsic worth?

The BSO Assistant Conductors

I am just wondering why it is that the conductors replacing James Levine these days are generally not one of the two qualified and capable assistant conductors on staff at the BSO. Ludovic Morlot , Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, and Joseph Colaneri have filled in for him recently, all big names, but I wonder why it is that the assistant conductors Shi-Yeon Sung and Julian Kuerti are so inferior?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Breaking the Gender Barrier

The title of our reading for this week, Music and Gender, reminded me of a story from a few years ago that I wanted to share. It's not really current news anymore except within the tuba community, but it is still a good story and shows one of the positive directions that music is going. In 2006, the Philadelphia Orchestra had an opening for the principal tuba seat and nobody could have predicted what would have happened. We know that the Philly Orchestra in considered to be one of the "big 5" in terms of US Orchestras (the others being NY, Boston, Cleveland and Chicago). So as it would be with any seat in the orchestra, the tuba seat was expected to have a massive audition number and it lived up to expectations with around 200 tubists trying out for the spot. The person that ended up standing at the end was Carol Jantsch who not only became the first woman to earn a tuba seat in a major orchestra but one of the youngest, being 21 years old and finishing up her senior year at the University of Michigan. To put that in perspective, Gene Pokorny, the tubist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been playing with Chicago almost as long as Carol has been alive. In a profession where tubists enjoy sitting in an orchestra they enjoy for as long as possible, the premier seats become even harder to get. It truly is an amazing accomplishment.

You can see one of the original articles on this here.

philly's fearless new leader

For this week, I want to comment on an article forwarded to me from my Mother. It is about the new President and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Having spent ages 15-19 in Philly, I have a special place in my heart and in my memory for the philly orch. As a high school violinist, I studied with members of the orchestra, and thus revered the ensemble at a level beyond words. I attended concerts weekly and loved the thrill of smiling to my teacher from the audience. I also interned with the main music critique for the Philly Inquirer my senior year of high school, and thus I learned how to listen with a more critical ear, in addition to the perspective of an aspiring musician. Because of this past "relationship" with the orchestra, I am always curious about their latest news and successes. This article was especially intriguing as it discusses their new CEO in a time when they are facing financial crises, and their new leader is a woman.


Allison B. Vulgamore, their new leader, was most recently the president for the past 19 years at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. She joins the Philly team at time when their financial situation is to stressed, it has been near bankruptcy, as according to the article. This is devastating news for thousands of fans, as the orchestra is an establishment long respected and attended by dedication listeners. Thus, the pressure on the incoming CEO must be outrageous, but the faith in Vulgamore is evident, as she has impressive past successes and credentials. 

In addition to her management skills, it's clear she also has a deep passion for the power of music. On a first quick read through of this article, I failed to grasp that last point, and instead wrote her off slightly as a too power-hungry business woman. But this time through reading, I caught some other intriguing tidbits about her life. For instance, she "took a sabbatical for six months and volunteered in Morocco teaching music in a boys' prison for two months with no instruments and no language, and reconnected with myself about the power of music and engagement. And I came back to Atlanta ready to shore up what I knew was its next chapter, and we've done that."

In my mind, that gives her much more credit for her dedication to music and why she even cares to help get the philly orch back on its feet = to insure a healthy future of music for the next generation of musicians and music-lovers, and to preserve a crucial institution in our culture. I'm excited to see where Vulgamore will take the orchestra in their next chapter. 


Without subsidy it might subsidie

This past week I struck up a conversation with a British fellow while waiting for the bus to come. We started talking about music in England and he brought up the fact that the Royal Opera House is heavily subsidized, however not enough for anyone that falls below upper-middle class. He followed with "It's funny how the poor pay for the rich to go to the opera". Of course, the fact is that it comes out of every tax-paying citizen's pocket, not just the poor. His comment made me think of how hard it is for classical music to reach out to a wider audience...even if it tries.

Classical music is expensive, and I can't see that changing anytime soon. However fresh we make it, whichever angle we choose to promote it (younger image being the latest), we are never going to change the fact that it takes years and years to learn how to perform it and that those years spent deserve a reasonable financial return.

We are not willing to lower the quality of our music, meaning the ticket price will stay in the same general area. Are we merely relying on the few that can afford to go to keep their interest in classical music? Is this our only hope for survival?

What do we care about more, making the best music or sharing our love of classical music?

I don't think we can choose, and so our concerts need to be subsized. Let's start making some calls to the ones that can't make classical music, but have a deep love for it...and deep pockets.

Study Questions for Hewett, "Music: Healing the Rift"

1. Although Hewett examines the entire musical realm, he defines his discourse in terms of Western classical music. Why?
2. Why is the term “world music” a misnomer?
3. What does Hewett see as a reason for the “unhealthily hermetic character” of modern music?
4. Why does Hewett see as ironic the attempt by modernists like Boulez to rebuild the musical realm?

Chapter 1 Depths and Shallows

1. Historically, in what regard has its social function been an important component of music’s identity?
2. When music began to be transported from one location to another, what new formal aspect was created?
3. As the Age of Sentiment shifted criteria from taste to sincerity, how were musical forms affected? The notion of “pretty”?
4. What was lost as certain features of music became highlighted for particular attention?
5. What ironies are suggested when Couperin is accepted into the canon while Liszt in not?
6. Is all folk music admired?
7. What is the artistic response to a middle class that does not want to be highbrow all the time?
8. “In traditional societies, music cannot be a matter of personal choice.” Why?
9. Enumerate other ways in which our Western conception of music differs from that of traditional societies.

Chapter 2 Words, Words, Words
1. In what regard is music “cultural fly-paper”?
2. As music evolved from a public to a private endeavor, what changes did it undergo? Conversely, what changes emerged in the public music experience?
3. Characterize Stravinsky’s and Schönberg’s opposing concepts of music’s content. Which 19th-century figures would agree with one or the other of the two composers?
4. How did composers and promoters respond to music’s becoming, increasingly, the province of professionals?
5. How did 19th-century musical trends develop in the 20th century?

Chapter 3 Things Fall Apart
1. How has classical music historically viewed the musical Other? In what regard is this view more complex that the view held by tradition musical cultures?
2. In addition to a gloomy Viennese mainstream, suggest a second vein in which modern music developed in the 1920’s.
3. Before Western music embraces a novelty, it customarily neutralizes it. Which musical cultures was Western music able to embrace readily? Which cultures, conversely, proved problematic? For what reasons?
4. As we read in Levine, “mass culture” poses problems for modern music. How was jazz regarded, positively and negatively, in the first decades of the 20th century?
5. Hewett suggests an underlying cultural agenda behind Schönberg’s 12-tone system. What is it? Why is his point curiously valid?
6. What qualities in Balkan folk music allowed Bartók to constitute his later compositions in a wholly different light?
7. In retrospect, what salient characteristic dominates the music of the 20th century’s giants?

Chapter 4 Multiplicities
1. How did fascism and Stalinism respond to the modern?
2. How did mid-century composers respond to the absence of a simple, agreed-upon ordering of music?
3. How do middle-class audiences frequently respond to compositions that lack melody, harmony, tempo, or form?
4. What is the ironic result of the cult of “pure” music?
5. How do composers like Carter and Ligeti manage, in some regard, to make their music a collective experience?
6. How is Boulez’s highly mathematical system problematic in a way that Schönberg’s is not?
7. How does one best describe the institutional unity shared by the highly personal constructions of modern composers? How does this differ from 19th-century Vienna, for example?
8. What danger do we court in our neutrality?

Chapter 5 Text, Body, Machines
1. Explain the distinction that Hewett makes between craft and technology in modern music.
2. In the first half of the 19th century, sincerity and simplicity were acceptable modes of musical discourse. What spectre arose in the second half of the century? With what unfortunate and enduring results?
3. What key elements of classical music composition does electronic music eliminate? What “metaphysical duality” is lost as a result?
4. How does a score differ from a blueprint?
5. In their attitudes towards the score, how do contemporary composers and performers differ from their counterparts who worked before the end of the 18th century?
6. The increased fetishization of the score has what result on performance?
7. What expressive need does the violence of modern music serve? What is its opposite?
8. Why did most mid-20th-century composers ultimately abandon attempts at styles of notation that gave performers more choice?
9. In what respects are the solutions of John Cage, Luciano Berio, and others, problematic?
10. How have some composers attempted to reconfigure the relationship between text, performance, and audience? With what result?

Chapter 6 Authenticities

1. In its futile attempt to reconstitute a historical unity, what result has modern music achieved instead?
2. In what respects have the paradigms of modern music changed in the past 30 years? What are some characteristics of the recently new plurality?
3. Since so few specifics characterize the bulk of modern music, is it sufficient for it merely to aspire to seriousness?
4. What traps make authenticity a slippery criterion?
5. What contradictions inhere in discussions of the authenticity of world music? Jazz? Baroque and classic repertoire?
6. When composers scrupulously avoid expressivity, what ironic result ensues?
7. When obliquity becomes a composer’s goal, what dangers lurk?

Chapter 7 Expression Makes a Comeback
1. What reasons does Hewett offer for spending more time on modernist music than on neo-tonal music?
2. At the start of the modern era, when tonality was seen to be not a law of nature but a convention, what changes occurred in its status within a composer’s available choices? With what results?
3. How does Hewett characterize sentimentality? How does minimalism avoid genuine sentimentality?
4. Hewett describes the music of several American composers. Which are you moved to investigate? Why?
5. How does Hewett distinguish between discourse and gesture?
6. What lay behind the 19th-century dream of a music without conventions? As modernism strove to realize that dream, what new conventions did it create?
7. What characterizes modernism’s fraught relationship with the past?

Chapter 8 The New Naivety
1. In modernism’s continuing dialogue with the past, what form of memory produces a deep discomfort?
2. What other processes tinge the “desire to re-enter a lost paradise” that characterizes the new tonality?
3. Repeated patterns, and references to tonality, make possible un-classical classical composers. For all that they reject, what do they still desire?
4. What function did the “web of allusion” serve during the period of common practice?
5. What does Hewett see as the result of a musical discourse consisting solely of evocations?
6. How have the sampler and the fader affected modern music?

Chapter 9 Rediscovering Music

1. When it seeks public funding, what double bind does classical music encounter?
2. When music loses its social function and becomes an autonomous realm, how do performers and listeners then participate?
3. How is modern music faring in its strenuous efforts to maintain the integrity of its realm and not be taken over by expressivity, evocation, words, and images?
4. Discuss the two parodic inversions that music has undergone in the past decade?
5. What is the unspoken assumption of their music that composers fail to question? Why is this dangerous?
6. Why does Hewett feel that Western classical music offers the last best hope for the future of music? How do you evaluate his reasons for denying comparable status to one or another of the rival claimants for musical “depth”.
7. How is Hewett able to state that classical music is both historical and contemporary?
8. Within the concept that music only serves us well when we submit to it, what advantages does classical music hold over other musical practices?
9. What results will ensue if and when we are able to make musical culture active again rather than passive?
10. What advantages are there to being musically bilingual? Why does Hewett embrace this condition?
11. Hewett invokes Leonardo and Jung to suggest an essential component that is missing from our contemporary experience of music. What is that component? How are we to compensate for its lack?

Music as a Language

The readings in Music: A Very Short Introduction were fascinating, and I thought that I would focus on those for this week's entry. In particular, I thought I would comment upon and dissect the quote that attention was called to in this week's reading assignment. The quote is by Phillip Brett, and it reads as follows: “ [music is] an enclave in our society—a sisterhood or brotherhood of lovers, music lovers, united by an unmediated form of communication that is only by imperfect analogy called a language, 'the' language of feeling” (pp. 122).

“Music is a language”—it's a phrase used ad nauseam by many when asked “what is music,” and it's a phrase that I have always believed to be false. Frankly, I don't always even think of music as a form of communication (perhaps the idea fits into the category of “transparent ideology”), although such an argument goes beyond what I want to talk about here—for now, I want to focus just on the idea that music is a language of some type.

The first word in the quote that I would point out is the word “enclave.” What is an enclave? It is “any small, distinct area or group enclosed or isolated within a larger one” (definition can be found here). This idea of an enclave of music lovers speaks of a number of different things. First, an enclave of music probably speaks of an enclave of a certain type of music; there are, in this view, probably many enclaves of music. Second, an enclave of music lovers—that is, this enclave is made up of people for whom the love of music is found to be larger than in the average person, thus the distinction. So, what is here is a group of people who love a particular type of music more than the average person—and furthermore, the idea of an enclave further connotes the idea that these people are in some way separate, as if shielded or insulated. Also interesting in this regard is the passage “a sisterhood or brotherhood.” Why the distinction made by the word “or?” Apparently, it is impossible for it to be both. That is rather fascinating, as it presents a further degree of separation.

Next, I would point out the phrase “united by an unmediated form of communication” and continuing through “by imperfect analogy called a language.” I find this phrase to be a bit peculiar, and I believe that it especially supports my general thoughts on music as a language. “Unmediated” connotes several things: 1.) that there are no established or agreed upon musical items/parameters/etc. that convey any particular thought or meaning; 2.) that there is no person/group/etc. who can define or establish such guidelines (it can be attempted, but not achieved—sorry music theorists and musicologists); 3.) that any such attempt must be in some way a form of censorship, causing things to now be “mediated.” Now, for this to a be a form of communication that “only by imperfect analogy [is] called a language” to me not only seems to be a stretch, but it seems impossible. To even be called an imperfect analogy is too generous.

The problem is that music is not attempting in any way to be a language—no, not even of feeling (in fact, let me point out a subtlety—music cannot attempt anything, even though we often speak of it as something that does; we are the ones who attempt, and thus we often have to explain, verbally, our music). As I would image one would notice from the readings, music, composed or performed, is actually a reflection of thought and feeling, not thought or feeling itself, and not the attempt of communicating thought or feeling—music has more to do with mirrors than it does with words.

“An Ensemble With Many Homes Finds Another”

from New York Times

When I was looking through music section of New York Times, I found a familiar picture.
The picture was ‘Pacific Quartet’, which I could meet them in Master class and Pickman Hall in Longy. It was about mostly their carrier and who they are, and there was one special thing that made me constantly think after finishing to reading it.

It was how to work on their music.

1. Start to get to know them, what their vibe is
2. How they get from one work into the next
3. their basic tempo, if that makes sense

and, they said that “ By playing a lot of it, we end up getting to play it better.”

The last saying maybe means “practicing a lot”.

Character, connection (where I am during playing), and the basic tempo, these three are their points. Character is like spirit for music, and to me, the second one is picture. I heard a conductor studies and analyzes score over hundred times. Completely understanding the score is also as important as practicing in practice room. My teacher advice me when walking, being in the car, or in any situation that I can think, Hum melody and think of my music. The last one, thinking the basic tempo sounds routine, but it is also one of the good points making progress on music. Sometimes too fast or not slow tempo, comparing with others is to make listeners feel disturbed to understand the music, and the character might be lost.

Polishing and creating spiritual music is still and would be like a homework to me, but these useful advice and endless learning such as reading article and news, catching the fashion in music, efficient practicing, going to concert, and listening to people that already have gone through the way such as a professor, or winner of competitions would be my guide for it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Opening Nights, Opening Minds

As I was reading the Boston Globe this morning, I came across an article by Jeremy Eichler entitled “Opening nights, opening minds”. Eichler discusses the bold opening seasons of both the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, and how this challenges this Boston Symphony to do more.

New York and Los Angeles both have new, young conductors with fresh ideas and motivation. Alan Gilbert’s opening program showed this by bringing in Renee Fleming to sing a Messiaen song cycle and also by premiering a new commission by Magnus Lindberg. In addition to this contemporary programming, Gilbert also chose to add a classic masterpiece of the orchestral repertoire, Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique. Los Angeles’ opening night was just as exciting. Gustavo Dudamel programmed a concert at the Hollywood Bowl which included an audience of 18,000 people. The program included Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which demanded an encore. The opening concert at Disney Hall included a John Adams premiere. Both orchestras have an exciting season of programs planned, which include a number of commissions. The new energies these conductors are bringing to the podium are attracting a much-needed new audience.

The BSO has some wonderful programs this season, but nothing as bold and fresh as those of the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics. Eichler suggests that BSO continue its “historic tradition of commissioning new works…..take the next step and bring on board its own composer-in-residence, to write music, of course, but also to help oversee its new-music programming, engage the community, and bolster the organization’s overall creative vision from deep within its ranks”. I agree that this could be a positive step forward for the BSO, and may help attract a new audience.

Eichler also says, “It’s also time to push further beyond the rigid structure of the Symphony Hall subscription season. As I’ve urged before, the BSO needs a proper off-sight new music series where adventurous works can be played for niche audiences; it also needs its very own mid-season festivals that bring a more diverse audience more deeply inside the music”.

The BSO needs to follow in the footsteps of the NY and LA Philharmonics, and find some new and fresh ways to attract an audience. NY and LA both have new, young conductors, but Levine and the BSO can still rejuvenate the audience in many other ways. When Levine began his tenure in Boston in 2004, there was an excitement about that season that he brought as the new music director. What can we do in 2009 to bring that excitement back to Symphony Hall?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra"

Sunday, Nov 15 3:00
at Boston Symphony hall from Boston globe

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is coming to Boston.
The program is:

BRAHMS Symphony No. 3
SCHOENBERG Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene
BRAHMS Symphony No. 4

The orchestra is one of the most outstanding Berlin’s three orchestras. Performing about 100 concerts a year internationally, the orchestra creates its benefit through broadcasting, ticket sale, and recording contracts. Also, several noticeable ensembles are included such as the Brandis and Westphalian string quartets, the Philharmonic Octet and the Twelve Philharmonic Cellists, made up from the Berlin Philharmonic's one hundred fourteen members.

Below is the brief background of the orchestra by orderly conductor with their important works.

It was founded in 1862 by Benjamin Bilse under the name Bilsesche Kapelle, and renamed and reorganized as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1882.

Ludwig von Brenner – creating significant musicianship

Hans von Bulow – concentrating on classical and romantic repertoire and attract internationally famous guest conductors such as Tchaikovsky, Brahmas, and Strauss

Between death of Bulow and the next conductor, Arthur Nikisch, the orchestra performed with popular guest conductors, Hans Richter and Richard Strauss.

Arthur Nikisch- lyrical quality for ensemble

Wilhelm Furtwangler – 1)continuing the formal conductor romanticism even during the difficult time, world war I.
2) the works of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Richard Strauss with his interpretation of Beethoven's Eroica, and also Debussy, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Schoenberg.

Leo Borchard – contemporary repertoire, and killed

Von Karajan-1) major classical and romantic symphonies, and twentieth-century works. New concert hall in 1963, 2) World widely Recording

There are so many opinions and thoughts concerning about how classic music survives and gets close to everybody, but I believe that the most crucial is how touching it is.


Second career for a musician?

Once, I was having an audition for the orchestra in Belgium. When I got into the warm up room I felt as if I my head was going to explode – there were around 80 violinists warming up at the same time. And there was only one spot in the orchestra for the lucky one. I didn’t make it to the final. Later, while I was walking down the corridor thinking about what didn’t work in my audition, I ran into a guy who, as I discovered later, was a former member of the orchestra. As we walked throw the city of Antverpen, he told me the story about his friend who was an oboist. His friend was a very good musician and like most of us, was trying to get a job at the orchestra. He auditioned many times but wasn’t able to make it, mainly because of unfairness of the judges because lots of times knowing certain people is important in order to get a job in the orchestra. So, after trying hard for a long time without any results, he gave up. He went to University and got a degree and now works as a lawyer.
Do you ever feel like you don’t get what you deserve because judges were not fair to you? A lot of musicians have to switch careers or work part-time jobs to sustain an income – is that something you are ready to do for the rest of your life? Have you ever thought about what would happen if you weren’t able to perform due to an injury? Do you have a backup plan?

Monday, October 12, 2009

dazzling dudamel

I was perusing Alex Ross's blog, and one of the first items he has is titled, "Dudamel begins". While Alex Ross does not discuss Dudamel for long on his site, at least not yet, he does include an image from the hollywood bowl where fireworks were set off alongside Dudamel's fiery conducting and the music of Beethoven's 9th. However, Ross also lists that Dudamel made his Disney Hall debut on October 8th, which was live broadcasted on an LA radio station. This announcement on Ross's blog reminded me of the excitement that was paired with the NY Phil's opening concert conducted by their new, young conductor, Alan Gilbert. 

Dudamel, the new star of the LA Phil is of similar celebrity-status to Gilbert. However, Dudamel is even younger, at the age of 28. It is amazing to me that a conductor at such a young age could win such a coveted post with the LA Phil. On the wikipedia page for Dudamel, his biography, personal life, and some external links are listed. The biographical section of his wikipedia entry spends a lot of time reviewing his Venezuelan heritage, which is exciting, because it gives credit to their incredible music education program with the Orchestra Simon Bolivar, which Dudamel also conducted starting in 1999. I have been intrigued by this orchestra ever since I became aware of it, because it is a uniquely high level of youth orchestra, and the dedication to artistic excellence for such a young group is somewhat unprecedented.

From Alex Ross's Dudamel plug, I decided to look at the LA times for any reviews of his debut this past week. The article I found, as linked below, was an amazing turn on standard classical music reviews. 

This article presented the opening concert as more of a paparazzi listing of the stars who attended the LA Phil's opening night and what the stars had to say about it. I guess this is LA, where celebrities run rampant and may want to attend a classical music concert, but I still found it surprising how positively they reviewed the concert and applauded Dudamel for his conducting skills. As listed in the article, "Celebs in the audience sang Gustavo’s praises. 

”Gustavo is the ultimate classical rock star,” said Quincy Jones. “What he brings to Los Angeles is a transcendence of musical talent. Classical is back, baby.” Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, were blown away by Gustavo. “I was sitting there mesmerized,” said Tom. “Truly, his talent is awesome. ”I find it fascinating that classical music can rise to this level of public esteem at this point in our history. It is very encouraging to me, however, that celebs will review this art positively, as it can mean more positive attention, support, and potential funding for classical music down the road. Also, I love that Dudamel, a classical music composer, has been elevated to a level of a quasi-celebratory simply for being great at what he does, which is not always viewed as the most accessible performing art. Also, the program he chose for the opening concert, a premier by John Adams, and Mahler 1, are not the most recognizable classical compositions for audience members to so universally enjoy. I hope this is the revival of a bright future for classical music, with two great American symphony orchestra's presenting young, hot talent to an audience that may have previously been uninterested in attending a classical music concert. 

Western Music's Faces

The readings in Music: A Very Short Introduction this week I thought were particularly interesting. As my last blog entry tipped off, I am very interested in the underlying philosophical themes presented by musical practice. In this regards, there were several items in the readings that I found relevant to my own thoughts.
In chapter 5, toward the end, Cook wrote of the orchestra in something of the terms of a business. Perhaps a corporate structure of management and workers comes to mind. Perhaps an assembly line, with notation as a blueprint, is the dominant image; in any case, the idea of a final product for consumption is dominant—whether or not the product is wanted or needed, it is produced. Another image is important, and that is the more religious image, where art is for art's sake, that a “masterwork” has intrinsic worth separate from its context of creation, as an object that exists. In both images, there is little room for the individual—it is all about what is made, and not about the making and the experiencing.
The idea of authenticity is intriguing—the idea of the pure authenticity of a score and of the pure authenticity of performance. As Cook illustrated, the understanding of authenticity as it has been applied—or has been attempted to be applied to music—is actually impossible. Why, then, try so ardently to achieve authenticity? Because there is a system of beliefs behind the music—beliefs of divine superiority, beliefs of permanence, belief of conforming, upholding, and reaching an ideal.
I find this intriguing, because one cannot escape seeing parallels between the systems of Western art music and Western religion—frankly, I think that this idea of art music is impossible without the Judeo-Christian practices of the West. Take, for example, the theory of evolution—it is extremely uncomfortable for many Western religions, because at its heart is the idea of change, of impermanence, that things weren't always the way they are, and that things won't always be the way they are—that, in fact, it is impossible for things not to change.
In terms of music, what does that mean for the masterpiece? What does that mean for performance practice? What does that mean for the composer's legacy, for the performer's legacy? What does it mean for the future of the art form?

The Met: Live in HD

Driven by a previous post of mine, To boo or not to boo? (about how the premiere of "Tosca" at the Metropolitan Opera was not very well received by audiences) I wanted to experience it for myself, and see if it really was worth all that booing.

Luckily, I found out I could "go to the Met" for just the price of a regular movie ticket. The Metropolitan Opera has a program called "The Met: Live in HD" that allows people from all over the world to go to movie theaters and public opera houses to see a live performance from the Met for a very cheap price. The thing to realize about this is that you get to experience the wonderful singing, music and staging without paying hundreds of dollars on tickets and traveling.

You don't just see the production either, you also get to see all of the behind the scenes details, which I found really interesting. There was a woman backstage interviewing cast members before the show, then at intermission there were mini documentaries with rehearsals, interviews, and various other tidbits. Between scenes the interviewer came out to chat with the main characters outside their dressing rooms, allowing you to see how surprisingly down-to-earth these brilliant performers are. It gave a really intimate view of what goes on backstage, and got you up close to the performers and scenery during the show, giving you a much better view than you would ever have if you were sitting in the audience - it was like I was there, sitting on stage.

When I found out that the Met was doing this live broadcast, I just had to get myself a ticket -but it was surprisingly hard. My local movie theater had sold out of them for both of the screens they had dedicated it to. After calling a few other places (all sold out) I ended up traveling a few towns over to get to the theater that still had seats available.

When I got there, I was the only person under seventy in the audience.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I am writing for the masses and I am not ashamed of it

Consider these types of musicians:

The historical musician:

Cares mainly about preserving the music that has been written long ago by introducing it to a new generation

The present day musician:

Cares mainly about connecting with the people with the music they can already relate to

The futuristic musician:

Cares mainly about writing / performing music that hasn't been done before by exploring untapped possibilities.

I consider myself a present day musician. My main attraction to music is its ability to bring people together. I would like to connect to as many people as possible, even if this means doing so through music that is popular. I happen to really enjoy popular music as a whole, as I enjoy different kinds of music. I suppose that if symphonies were enjoyed by the masses, I would write symphonies.

I also want my music to be part of a larger puzzle. The puzzle I am trying to solve is the one of helping people by doing what I love to do (write music).

I have boiled my idealistic aspiration into a practical one that will happen over time with a lot of hard work. I aim to write music and put on events that 1) feature speakers that are experts on issues our generation needs to deal with and 2) raise money for these issues.

The music is part of the product. I am going to music school to make a better product than I could have made otherwise.

Since social awareness is the ultimate goal, I can't justify spending most of my waking hours perfecting my instrument. However, it is worth noting that in order to make the 'best musical product' I need the people that do spend their time honing their instrument. I might also need to work with the historical musician and the futuristic musician, depending of what the audience wants to hear.

I urge you to consider the following broad categories and ask yourself which one you mainly want to belong to and why. It has truly helped me think about my career after graduation.

The Absence of James Levine

Conductor James Levine will be absent from all concerts at Symphony Hall and the Met for at least three weeks due to back surgery. This medical leave could easily be extended to several weeks. How will this affect the audiences in the upcoming performances? Are there audience members who only attend a BSO concert if Levine is conducting? A descending audience has challenged the BSO this season. They have offered new promotions and incentives, but I think the absence of James Levine will just hurt the audience numbers even more.

Levine’s programming in Boston is unique and quite different from his predecessor Seiji Ozawa’s. Levine really indulges in the “classical” repertoire and that can be heard in the upcoming cycle of the complete Beethoven Symphonies from October 22nd through November 7th. Levine has a specific vision for this cycle and is convinced the experience of performing this repertoire would bring the orchestra to a new level. Will the orchestra have the same experience without Levine, if he is absent from rehearsals and performances? The actual music will be the same, but I doubt the experience could be the same with a variety of guest conductors.

Levine has had to take other medical leaves in the past and it is well known that he is not in the best of health. Is he too burdened with role of music director of the BSO and the Met Opera Orchestra? How will he continue to do both? Levine’s contract ends in 2011 at the Met. I expect him to choose to continue only one position, but which one will that be? Which orchestra “needs” him more?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Virtual Future?

So... I finally had the chance to check out some of Eric Whitacre's blog that I had previously mentioned to the class in my post titled Blog Deficiency. It definitely has some pretty cool stuff on it.

One thing I came across that was particularly striking was a post regarding a virtual choir. This is Eric's second project of this type, and I think it is a neat idea. His first run at the choir was with his piece Sleep, one of my favorites. What he did was post a series of blog entries containing the idea, the sheet music, some instructions for singing, and a video with the piano playing and Eric conducting the piece. People of all voice types were encouraged to submit youtube videos of themselves singing their appropriate part of the song. Once the deadline for entries passed, the videos were all put together and posted as the virtual choir! Check it out!

While it has its faults as far as togetherness is concerned, I am definitely impressed. I am thinking of getting the music for the second project and submitting a video myself if I can find the time to do it.

This may not be something that will pull in new audiences or attract new people to participate, this is a new track for classical music to take. Could this idea be applied to Mozart or Renaissance madrigals? Would it would with instrumental pieces? It can definitely serve as a form of networking and of uniting fellow musicians to say the least. I wonder what Eric Whitacre would think about our class and what his thoughts on the future of classical music are. I do think he is doing his part to keep it alive and to be involved in new technologies to access a wider scope of people.

Thought this was definitely worth sharing. His website again is soaringleap.com.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

a wedding of classical standards...a win or loss for the future of classical music?

This past weekend I played for a wedding of a close friend of mine. The wedding was in Houston, and we had discussed since last winter my friend's interest in having me play for the wedding. She was intrigued by the idea of having a string quartet, but she wanted ideas from me on repertoire choices. Thus, in the early summer, I sent her some standard lists of wedding pieces that could be used for the prelude, processional, and recessional.

At first glance, these lists seem too standard to some brides. For instance, the pieces include, Pachabel Canon in D, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, Ode to Joy, among many other classical pieces the general public associates with wedding ceremonies. For my friend, Natasha, the bride, these pieces also seemed too cliche. She wanted to be unique, but still traditional in her music choices. I supported her in this thought process, but I was a little lost as to where to suggest she look for musical ideas. While I agreed with her that Pachabel can get old and tired, it is a beautiful piece of music and always pleases the crowd at a wedding.

When she checked back with me, after looking around for new choices, she had found a lovely idea for a prelude: Appalachia Waltz by Mark O'Connor. This piece has been a favorite of mine for a while, and even though I had never thought of it for a wedding, upon listening to it again, I realized that it could fit quite well in the ceremony. Natasha was still at a loss for ideas on the processional, but for the recessional, she liked the Charlie Brown song, "Linus and Lucy." While this is an adorable song, it seemed even more unsuited for her wedding than Pachabel. Also, in string quartet form, this piece would sound somewhat ridiculous. I warned her of this, but I didn't want to compeltely discourage her, as it was her wedding, and thus I wanted her to be happy with her musical choices. Luckily for me, the church vetoed "Linus and Lucy," as it wasn't appropriate for the sacred setting.

This led us back to the drawing board for the processional and recessional. I told Natasha to look back at the original lists I sent her and see if even though they seemed cliche at first, maybe now, with more thought, they may seem well suited to her wedding. After more thought, she did the unthinkable, and chose to have ultra-standard pieces: Pachabel, Largo from Vivaldi's Winter, and Jesu. I was pleased, but also shocked with her choices. She, who was so originally anti these standards, came full circle and more to pick the epitome of wedding musical selections.

The reason I bring this up in the blog is to look at it with the viewpoint of our class, and if it means anything, or nothing at all for the future of classical music. What I learned from this example, and perhaps what I already kind of suspected, is that even though classical music that is coined cliche or has even verged into the category of pop music, is still chosen to play a role in a siginificant milestone of their lives by the least likely people. This is perhaps good and bad: the future of some classical music lives on in certain cases, and is the first choice for mass gatherings of many willing listeners (weddings). However, this music is so standard, that even though it fits into the 'classical' category, some "high-brow" listeners may question if it has merged into a new category of pop-classical or even just pop music.

If the bride had requested we play contemporary classical music, like John Cage, who knows how the congregation would react, let alone if the church would even allow us to perform this music. In this way, the future of classical music question is still dodgy. But, if you look at the situation from a merely positive viewpoint and realize that despite our modern times, these standard classical pieces were chosen for a bride who likes to live ahead-of-the-times, then the future of classical music seems perhaps not so bleak.

A Welcoming Party with 18,000 Guests

In this morning’s New York Times, I came across an article in the music section entitled “A Welcoming Party with 18,000 Guests”. It was written by Anthony Tommasini and discussed the first concert of the season (this past Saturday) of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Usually, the orchestra performs their concerts in Walt Disney Hall and it is always a formal occasion, like many classical music performances across the world. However, this concert was a free community concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Obviously, a much less formal audience and atmosphere, but the music was only of the highest quality. New conductor Gustavo Dudamel, celebrating his arrival as the eleventh conductor of the orchestra at 28 years old, programmed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The title of the program was “Bienvenido Gustavo!,” and included, in addition to the orchestra, “a roster of excellent vocal soloists and a chorus of 200, a rainbow coalition of choristers drawn from the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers, the Our Lady of Los Angeles Spanish Choir, the Philippine Chamber Singers and other local ensembles”. There were also other non-classical musicians that performed for more than 2 hours before Dudamel arrived. They included Andraé Crouch, Flea, David Hidalgo, and Herbie Hancock (with actor Jack Black introducing him).

Mr. Dudamel, since arriving in Los Angeles, has reached out to the community in several ways, and has particularly been interested in promoting music education. He has conducted the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and has also started a program to provide students with instruments and orchestra training. Dudamel has been modeling this program after the music education system in Venezuela, where he grew up. One hundred students were selected to perform on this first concert of the season. “The students, mostly from minority neighborhoods in South Los Angeles, gamely played through an orchestral arrangement of the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by Steven Venz, and their families had pride-of-place seating in the first rows of the bowl”. What an amazing way to reach out the community and promote music education.

The concert was extremely well received and included a prolonged ovation. Mr. Dudamel then addressed the audience in English and Spanish. The finale of the symphony was then repeated, this time with fireworks. “At one point his name appeared above the proscenium in marquee lights: a Hollywood touch. But in Hollywood, why not?”

I find this whole production to be very interesting and intriguing. When does a symphony orchestra ever get an audience of 18,000, and one that is so excited and supportive of their music? I think orchestras across the country need to be aware of what is happening in Los Angeles and follow in some kind of foot steps. This may be the kind of event that will help save the classical music. Sure, it was not in a refined concert hall with amazing acoustics, but it was still an audience of 18,000 cheering for Beethoven. What is better than that?


Monday, October 5, 2009


I had some down time this weekend and I remembered that I wanted to try my hand at figuring out our friend on Wikipedia, Voceditenore. I never found something concrete but I feel as though I was able to make an educated guess and I'm pretty confident in that guess.

A quick walk-through with some links on where I got my information:

I started with just a Google search of the name Voceditenore and then cross-referenced some of the user pages that came up including Wikipedia, a blog, and a sub-site of Wikipedia that is for mobile phone users. The most common thing that kept coming up was the list of tenors that Voceditenore seemed to have a fascination with. And lucky enough the first result in my Google search was a site names Voce di Tenore that happened to have information on some of our friend's favorite tenors including Jose Carreras. After looking around the website for a little, I found the link for the editor's email: jeanpeccei@msn.com. Doing a search on Jean Peccei, I found a link to her editor profile on another website for Jose Carreras. She is from the UK and teaches English (linguistics), both traits of Voceditenore.

Baically, from everything I saw, I was able to deduce that Jean Peccei is our Voceditenore on Wikipedia and a search on her name on Harvard's web site turned up some hits (although nothing concrete, again).

On Notation

As a composer, I couldn't help but be particularly interested in the chapter on notation in Music: A Very Short Introduction. The idea of notation is something that, as a composer, one struggles with everyday in a way that is very different than the way a performer struggles with notation. I won't write too much about a performer's interaction with notation, as that is more familiar to most people than a composer's interaction.

For me, notation is a very fluid thing. The idea of notation as something equivalent to written gospel is nonsensical. Composition is at times for me more about the design of a dynamic, adaptable system that can yield a number of interesting, meaningful possibilities than about the preservation of any one particular thought or idea; I am more concerned about the spirit or the essence of a composition than in consistent and predictable material substance, a static object. Now, this isn't always the case—at times, I like a definite idea with a concrete implementation, but this is on a case by case basis, born out of what the composition is trying to be, on the impulse that gives rise to the composition. Of course, there are also matters of practicality—in electronic music, there are certain sounds that can only be achieved in concrete form, so a static object is the only possible outcome. However, notation, in general, is something that I treat with a certain disregard—it is not the music, and it is the product of a society that believes in the permanence of an object. I do not believe in the permanence of a musical object. I believe that possibly the only cultural truth (or at least, what is statistically consistent) is change.

To a certain extent, composition is inseparable from philosophy. I think that, as a composer in today's world, it is impossible (or at least, should be difficult) to be unaware of the philosophical underpinnings of the way music is composed. Notation, or lack of it if that be the case, is a very natural extension of a philosophical position.

For example, one of the many important developments in Western classical music is the allowance of performers to play “whatever they want.” This idea is often not appreciated. There is the reaction of contempt for this statement, that the composer is lazy or incompetent; there is a more willing reaction where the performer attempts to play, but it often takes on a very static character, and to my ears, usually sounds very much the same from performance to performance. The reason for both reactions is, in my opinion, a lack of understanding of the philosophy behind this music. Notation, as mentioned, is assumptive of the idea of permanence, of a single, static way that things should be. As it has been the primary means of communicating a musical idea in the West (and mixed with the idea of sacralization of Western music), it seems natural that a certain amount of static behavior would develop in the practitioners of music. The idea of a the player “doing whatever they want” is actually a knowledgeable and pointed attempt at liberating the performer from a system of musical behavior that diminishes their role and assumes, and sometimes encourages, a lack of creativity on the part of the performer, that they merely be a playback device. The composer is honoring the performer and offering them a larger role; it is a form of respect and encouragement.

Unfortunately, I think many composers have merely adopted improvisation as another technique in their academic bag of tricks, and unfortunately, many performers have in response developed what has become a stereotypical style of improvisation to match. But the underlying idea is an important one, and when I sit down to compose, I try to be keenly aware to what extent and in what ways I want notation to have an effect on a piece of music (including, for example, even the idea of authorship; notation is a way of owning a piece of music).