Saturday, April 14, 2012

reactions to Reactions to the Record, day 3

Last day. Nothing really contentious today. As on previous days, most of the time there are no more than 40 people in the room, most of them presenters. Are Irontongue and I the only non-experts in the world who find this stuff fascinating?

Student presenter invents color-based notation to transcribe tempo and note-length variations in Scriabin performances. Scriabin, who had synesthesia, or liked to pretend he did, would have loved this idea. I ask the presenter if Scriabin would actually have found it useful. Probably not. This is a tool for analysis, not a prescriptive notation.

Retelling of funny story about an argument between Fred Chopin and Jake Meyerbeer over what rhythm Chopin is playing his mazurkas in. Chopin says they're 3/4; Meyerbeer says he's lengthening the first beat so much it's 2/4. Chopin keeps beating three, Meyerbeer keeps saying "two." Chopin gets hot under the collar, throws Meyerbeer out of the apartment. So what's the answer? Presenter, in a fit of sanity, says we can't really know, we can't even reconstruct how the mazurka was danced in Chopin's time (though it'd be informative if we could), the one thing we can know is that Chopin's playing was magical and not subject to "idiot-proofing" rules.

Third presenter has collected hundreds of early recordings of this Rossini coloratura aria because people keep sending him more of them. Analyzing their ornamentations, he finds that, though each singer has her own individuality, they come in national schools. Until, that is, Maria Callas records her version. After that, everybody copies her. That explains a lot about why all classical musicians sound alike these days.

Attempt to tie the theory of Schenkerian analysis to a particular performing style. I've never claimed to understand Schenkerian analysis, so this one went over my head.

Presenter who spends most of his time playing an old Mengelberg recording of Schubert's Unfinished, urging us to listen to the rubato. Hard to miss; so much of it you could get seasick. But however misjudged the quantity and intensity sounds to my ears, Mengelberg always ends it at what seems to me the exact right moment.

Two presenters talk about the "dawn of the recorded era" pianist Frederic Lamond, who is reported to have said: "Haydn is the road to Heaven, Mozart is Heaven itself, and Beethoven is the God who dwells therein." And here I always thought it was Schroeder from Peanuts who was Beethoven's biggest fan.

Evening I skip out to hear the Palo Alto Philharmonic, a local community orchestra I've heard before. They're playing at Spangenberg, the most high-schoolish of all high-school auditoriums, long since generally abandoned in favor of better venues; I haven't been there for decades, probably. But with an orchestra this large (the high school's orchestra has joined them), it doesn't matter if there are any acoustics or not: they'll blast it into oblivion. Music: VW's Tallis Fantasia. Plenty of string exposure. Gratifyingly, parts of it are excellent. A new piece, a slow movement led by its composer, asst. conductor Lee Actor. Actually very good, and pretty well judged for the orchestra's skill level. Quiet parts sound rather like Shostakovich; louder and faster parts a bit like American nationalism. And, speaking of Shostakovich, his Fifth. Music director Thomas Shoebotham says in pre-concert talk that he wants to convey the Volkov subversive interpretation of this work's meaning. Does so by conducting really slowly.

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