Monday, October 24, 2011

four musical events

1. Lecture on the SF Symphony's history in recordings, in honor of its centenary. Basically consists of lecturer Scott Fogelsong showing off his record collection. At least he manages to be entertaining while doing it. Takes an audiophile approach: the history of advances in recording technology as demonstrated by SFS. Biggest jump: the invention of electrical recording in 1926. Previously, recordings had been made by singers sticking their heads into the recording horn and yelling. As an orchestra could not stick its head into the horn, acoustic recording quality of orchestral music was very bad, mitigated only slightly by beefed-up orchestration, like having heavy brass double the cello and bass lines, in a desperate attempt to made them audible. Most charming piece in the collection: SFS's very first electrical recording - crystal-clear compared to the acoustic - made with the acoustic-era beefed-up orchestration, because they hadn't yet realized they didn't have to do that any more. Fairy-light Delibes ballet dance with oompah brass added; hilarious. None of the recorded excerpts were long enough to judge the quality of the orchestra.

2. Concert of the Sphinx Virtuosi, reviewed here. This is a chamber orchestra from a program that sponsors Black and Latino classical musicians, who play Bach and Mozart as well as they do Afro-American and Latin American composers. Best piece, a string quartet by Ginastera. The review gives me a chance to stick a pin in the Clarence Thomas attitude that special programs for minorities stigmatize them as inferior.

3. Exhibit at the SJSU Beethoven Center on "America's Beethoven," i.e. his popular image in the U.S. Peanuts cartoons, natch. Posters for movies featuring Beethoven and/or his music, including A Clockwork Orange. Readable exhibits of the most amazingly vapid 1940s music appreciation articles, giving me a sourer view of the golden age of the mass popularity of classical music.

4. Concert by the Palo Alto Philharmonic, a local community orchestra. Held in a theatre so small the back wall of the stage had to be taken down so the players could spill over into the backstage and fully occupy it. The audience part of the hall was no larger, so in effect everybody had a front-row seat. Then, in the middle of the concert, they brought out a grand piano and tried to fit that on stage, too. Uh-oh.

Pianist Peter Toth played Liszt's Totentanz in honor of Liszt's bicentenary birthday. It's a piano concerto consisting of a set of apparently randomly-ordered variations on the Dies Irae. In a hall like this one, any pianist will sound like Frederic Chiu. Then, Tchaikovsky's Pathetique. Interesting interpretation: in most performances, the third movement is incongruously cheerful, which is why audiences applaud at the end. This one wasn't like that at all, nor did anyone try to applaud. It sounded raw and desperate, wanting to convince itself of its own cheerfulness but failing. This not only fit better, but led smoothly into the finale. The disadvantage of this approach is that the movement can sound whiny and overlong, but in a world which likes Mahler, that's not a problem.

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