Monday, January 25, 2016

music in my ears

1. Concert on Wednesday at Herbst: cello recital. Not my usual fare, it's what was on. At least the cellist, a young Russian prize-winner named Lev Sivkov, was extremely good, full of character and expression. (His accompanist was Janos Palojtay, a name the impresario, who introduced the concert, couldn't pronounce.) After hearty renditions of Brahms (Op. 38) and Beethoven, part of the audience disappeared during intermission to save themselves from the 20C second half, which included a piece by Kodaly (which did not sound like anything by Kodaly I knew), an unaccompanied one by Khachaturian (which did sound like Khachaturian, all the more notably as "sounding like Khachaturian" ordinarily requires a very large and colorful orchestra), an adagio by Miaskovsky (which also sounded like him), and a sonata by Britten (which sounded as if Britten was feeling very modernist that day).

1a. Because this concert started at 7:30, it let out early enough for me to take the train, so I did. But rather than the trip being more relaxing than fighting traffic, I found it more tense and exhausting, partly because I kept being anxious about catching connections, and also because 2 1/2 hours to get home at 9:30 PM is just too long, especially when the alternative was a one-hour drive.

2. Jan. 25 New Yorker includes a memorial for Pierre Boulez by Alex Ross. Ross praises Boulez as a conductor (rightly so) and as a composer (well, he has the privilege of liking what he wants), but he also says that, as he gets older, he is "less inclined to take offense" than he did when he was young at Boulez's "often coercive" (only "often"?) musical polemics. Sorry, but I am unchanging on that one. Richard Taruskin in his Oxford History of Western Music (which I've been reading - more on that later) calls the Boulez attitude totalitarian - a particularly ironic tone to come from then-young men trying to put Europe back together after it had been torn apart by totalitarian politics. Ross says that in his youth he did dislike Boulez's polemics, but perhaps his lack of continued vehemence is due to the fact that he's not old enough personally to remember the extent of the caustic sonic wasteland when Boulezian musical politics held sway. I am old enough to remember it. I had a whole decade of learning modern music cramped and distorted by this toxic blight, and I do not forgive.

2a. Meanwhile, the same issue has a letter responding to an earlier article about the Ford Foundation by mentioning its 1960s support of "bright young composers like Philip Glass and Peter Schickele". I love seeing those names in conjunction, and if only I had seen, back in the 60s or 70s, polemicists extolling them as among the rising greats of music, as indeed they turned out to be, I'd have been a lot less puzzled and dismayed as a young listener.

3. Birthday party for my nephew. He's one, and had to miss much of the event because he got cranky and was put down for a nap. I was expecting just cake and ice cream, but my sister-in-law, who's Filipina, arranged for a full buffet of Filipino hot dishes. We nibbled at our food: this is a cuisine I have never quite figured out. Had to leave early, and left behind our unopened present: Boynton baby board books.

3a. And what I had to leave for was the Symphony Silicon Valley concert, which I was marked down for to review. Holidays are a slow season for me, so this was the first one for two months.

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