Friday, September 2, 2022

BISQC, day 5; Oxonmoot, day 2; Watership Down conference, day 1

That's right: in addition to remote-listening to the Banff string quartet competition, I'm remote-attending two conferences, the Tolkien Society's Oxonmoot and a conference from the Centre for Fantasy at Glasgow celebrating the 50th anniversary of Watership Down. I wouldn't be able to do that if I were physically there; I'd be stuck at just whichever one I was at.

This morning's BISQC concert was the Canadian Commission, always the oddest experience of the week. The competition commissions a new work for string quartet by a Canadian composer, to be about ten minutes long, and then they have all the competitors play it in sequence in one marathon concert.

It takes quite a work to be tolerable listening to nine or ten times in a row, and this year's was much more agreeable than any of the works in the 21st century round. Composed by Dinuk Wijeratne, it's titled The Disappearance of Lisa Gherardini. She is not, as I initially presumed, some recent kidnapping victim, but the Mona Lisa of whom Leonardo made his famous portrait. But that's all I know about the piece: in what sense she's meant to have disappeared I don't know.

The music is roughly tonal, containing a lot of dramatic tuttis and expostulating solos. It didn't lend itself to much interpretive difference musically, and unlike last time everybody figured out that a couple solo passages for violin and cello were supposed to be jazzy. In fact, the cellist of the Isidore Quartet, who was Black, put on a pair of dark glasses at that point.

Which brings me to the way the performances did differ. Evidently the composer marks one spot as a place where the performers are supposed to interrupt the music, but exactly how to do it is up to them. Some uttered whistling sounds and hisses, others gave elaborate gestures silently, some combined both. Monarchs in the gesture department (they didn't make many unmusical sounds) were the Dior Quartet, who reacted physically to the music at several other points; and some of whom actually got up from their seats and moved around the stage during their solos. The violist of the Animato Quartet stood up, but she didn't go anywhere. Most amusing was the first violinist of the Agate Quartet, who showed off to his colleagues and the audience the ipad that he kept his music on, which was now showing an image of the Mona Lisa.

This is actually the second day of Oxonmoot, but there wasn't much on the first day except the trivia quiz, which is always fun. My favorite round was the sets of emojis intended to represent chapter titles from The Lord of the Rings. I didn't have any trouble with the cleverest, which was [airplane] [car] and, of course, represented "Flight to the Ford."

Today I only got to one full item, but it was most enjoyable: a copiously illustrated talk by Brian Sibley on the history of the marketing and merchandising of Tolkien. "[slide] You can get the One Ring! [another slide] You can get the two One Rings! If only Saruman had known about that." Another paper I was distracted during, others I was asleep during (most of Oxonmoot takes place in the middle of the night in this time zone), another was cancelled, and the panel discussion on The Rings of Power I skipped out on after it was clear that the panelists got further in the show than I was able to manage.

As for the conference on Watership Down, one of my favorite non-Tolkien fantasies, it's only 2 days long and most of the paper sessions are tomorrow. I missed the keynote speech by Adams's daughter, but two papers were available in recordings and I was able to watch them to my benefit. One was John Rateliff's defense of Adams against the criticisms of Ursula Le Guin; despite my fondness for Le Guin, I mostly agree with John. Mostly. The other paper was a fellow named Michael Mikesell who's discovered that there are two differing texts for Watership Down, both in print. They only differ significantly in one passage, and he was here to tell us about it. I have two copies of the book, and I hastened to check them: I have both texts. This will be of significance if I ever get around to the paper I want to write on Watership Down.

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