Friday, August 14, 2020

catching up

Despite having all this time supposedly on my hands, I'm finding it challenging to remember or find time for the online music programs I've written down. Sometimes I don't even try to catch up later, but I did so for the Menlo festival. For the three weeks this would have been running in the alternate universe, they put up usually two videos a day. The run ended a week ago, and I've just now finished catching up, which is a good thing because I understand they're taking the videos down tomorrow.

Some of the videos consist of or include current social-media interviews, which can occasionally be worthwhile when they get off the mutual congratulations bandwagon and talk about music, but many are clips from performances from the past 4 or 5 years' festivals. And then there are the masterclass sessions from the same period. In each, two sets of younger performers play a movement they've been working on, and then the teacher, one of the senior performers, critiques them for half an hour.

I find that, even spread over days as they are when live, there's a limit to how much of these I can take. After a while you get tired of listening to the teacher yammering away about niggles and just want to hear the students play without interruption again. But these recordings - there's 12 of them among the video offerings - are supposed to be of the best sessions over several years, and I got through most of them, at least in part.

I thought it would be handy to be systematic and note which teachers I thought were not necessarily the best teachers, but the most agreeable to listen to, so that I'll be prepared for what to pick to attend when the festival resumes. Turned out I liked Jon Kimura Parker and Soovin Kim the best. The Calidore Quartet as group teachers were also fabulous. They were most likely to discuss broad aspects of the music in an interesting and coherent manner, and not focus as much as the others on minor points of performance practice, in many of which cases endless niggling left the performers sounding much like they did before. Too many did this, or concentrated on their own instrument to the detriment of the rest of the ensemble, or illustrated how passages should go by singing them, which is never edifying. The poorest was Keith Robinson, who couldn't express himself in words very well at all.

Also among the videos I liked the interview with hornist Radovan Vlatkovic, who talked lucidly about the slow movement of the Brahms Horn Trio he was then heard playing in; and the final collection of selections from the Young Performers Concerts, which included the first movements of Schubert's Death & the Maiden and Dvorak's American Quartets, and the whole second half of the Mendelssohn Octet, all delightful to hear.

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