Posts Tagged ‘Penderecki’

Teaching high schoolers about the avant-garde

Wednesday, August 6th, 2003

So I’m bouncing between jobs at the moment - starting what will be my full-time job for the next two years next week - which is why updates have been sporadic this summer. I spent six weeks in June and July at the Governor’s School of North Carolina, teaching social sciences and Area III (”self and society”), which I also did two years ago. The neat thing about Governor’s School is that since all the concepts and ideas taught are twentieth-century, all the music that the orchestra and choral music students perform is contemporary stuff. This year some of the highlights for me were Pärt, Glass, Schönberg, and Penderecki. The Planets was also on the curriculum, to my surprise - I’m getting damn sick of “Jupiter”.

So the result is that lately I’ve been on a RIO kick (before and during Governor’s School I was on a free jazz, particularly Coltrane, kick). Current listening is In Praise of Learning - I really need to get me some more stuff with Dagmar Krause. I’m convinced that the only reason she has such a reputation as a “difficult” singer is because of “War” - really, aside from that song she’s not all that weird, at least not on this album.

Sigur Rós on Craig Kilborn

Saturday, December 15th, 2001

On second thought, I guess “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” is a pretty descriptive name; at least, it lets the listener know what the mood is going to be. But I’m sure there are still tons of examples that I could have used.

So Sigur Rós played “Njósnavélin” on Craig Kilborn’s show last night. I thought it was a great performance. I’ve heard the song twice in concert (I think), and I think it’s really beautiful. I’m quite surprised, though, that they would have been asked to play that particular song - it’s one of their sparsest, most subtle pieces, and it’s pretty repetitive to boot. My roommates certainly didn’t like it very much. Curious choice. In any case, I was sort of pissed because they cut off the last few minutes of the song - and with a piece that moody and laid-back, you’ve gotta have a proper resolution. Sigh.

“Counterproductive” (ie creative) titles

Friday, December 14th, 2001

Here’s something weird: in Classics Today’s review of Kaija Saariaho’s Sony release of “Amers”, “Graal Théâtre”, and “Château de l’Âme”, this is the first paragraph:

I do wish modern composers could write music without giving their pieces, shall we say, counterproductive titles. Graal Théâtre (Grail Theater, as if this translation clarifies any questions you might have) is simply a violin concerto. Amers (which means “sea-marks”) is a cello concerto. I suspect that the two works sound more like each other–that is to say, like Saariaho–than the former sounds like the Jacques Roubaud book that donated the title, or the latter sounds like a sea-mark, whatever that is. I don’t plan to read Jacques Roubaud in order to see in exactly what context these words appear, nor do I expect anyone else will either (assuming you read French); and even if I did, I doubt the experience would shed any special light on Saariaho’s violin concerto purely as music, which is of course the only thing that should concern us here. In the final analysis, such conceits (for that is what they are) accomplish nothing but to further alienate potential listeners, distancing them from the music before they’ve even heard a note, and sending them on a frustrating, irrelevant quest for some extra-musical answer to the question of what the music “means”. It’s a pseudo-intellectual indulgence we could well do without, although it’s only fair to note that Saariaho certainly isn’t in any way unique in this respect in the field of contemporary music.

This seems to imply that the reviewer wants all classical pieces to be named after what they are. As in, any variation from “Symphony #14″ or “Cello concerto #2″ is bad, and having any sort of creative title is a “pseudo-intellectual indulgence”. What really bewilders me, though, is the idea that creative titles will “alienate potential listeners”. Maybe me popular-music background leads me to believe strange things, but I’d think that boring old descriptive titles would do more to scare off potential listeners than a title like, say, “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima”.

The choice of that example is not fortuitous, incidentally; I’m listening to that Penderecki CD now, much to the distress of my roommate.

Revisiting my entire music collection

Thursday, December 13th, 2001

So I’m going through and listening to all my CDs in reverse alphabetical order by title. This is something I tried a couple years ago (though not in reverse order, that was a weird whim this time around), but I never did finish because I kept getting all these new CDs to give my attention to instead. This time around, I’m in a phase where I can’t afford to keep buying new stuff, so it should be a bit easier. I’m being pretty lenient with myself as well… letting myself listen to what I want, but when I finish doing that I move back to the ordered list. I’m in the middle of the W’s now… just finished listening to Wadachi by the Japanese band Compostela.

I’ve been reviewing a lot of the stuff I listen to as I go, but since Wadachi isn’t prog at all, it doesn’t really fit in. But I’d like to say something about it here… this is a fascinating CD, featuring a trio with two instrumentalists who play mostly saxophones, along with a tuba player (tuba-ist?). Apparently their music mixes klezmer influences with Japanese street music, but since I’m not really familiar with Japanese street music I can’t really comment on that. I will say that the klezmer influence is pretty obvious. But there are also some really neat departures from that overall style, including a piece that sounds almost traditionally symphonic before segueing perfectly into a bouncy klezmerish workout. There’s good stuff here… I’m impressed. I wasn’t taken by it when I first got it, but now I quite like it.

Other listening today is a new one that I picked up, a compilation of relatively short Penderecki pieces on EMI Classics that I picked up because it has “De Natura Sonoris” and “Capriccio” (and, of course, “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima”). The Governor’s School orchestra played “De Natura Sonoris” - just No. 1, I think - this summer, and it fucking blew me away, so it’s about time I got a recording of it. It’s as good as I remembered. Now, there was also a Lutoslawski cello concerto played at that same concert that kicked my ass even more (mostly because of the cellist, Tom Kraines - one of the Governor’s School instructors and a graduate of Julliard) - I’m going to have to go hunt it down as well.