The Guardian has a short profile/interview of the first classical soloist to be signed to Warner’s rock label. He sounds like a swell guy, and I don’t want to make any judgments on his music without hearing it, but a couple things mentioned in the interview make me curious.
Rhodes is also currently presenting his own primetime music show, Piano Man, on Sky Arts, in which he plays his favourite composers, all the while peering at sheet music on his iPad through trendy spectacles.
If he uses the iPad to explain the pieces, or reference the score, to the televised audience, then I think that’s great; I think it’s incredibly valuable for musicians to be able to explain what they’re thinking about as they convert a piece of written music into sound. If he’s just using it as a score…what the fuck does he need a score for?
The other thing that’s kind of bothering me is something that Rhodes probably can’t help. I’m all for changing the uptight appearance standards that soloists and conductors are held to, but if that becomes the conversation about you in place of your music, you come across like a Christian band trying way too hard to prove their “alternative” credentials. His album covers do not inspire confidence. This probably has nothing to do with Rhodes, and everything to do with lazy journalism. I suspect this is the case because of the way that the writer describes Rhodes: “Clearly, this is a man who has no need for added stimulation: it is barely 11am and he is already bouncing off the walls, a tightly wrapped bundle of tics and jitters.” I feel like I read a version of this sentence every time I read about a young (read: under 30) classical musician in a mainstream publication–it’s almost like they go in to the interview barely expecting a pulse, so anything more feels like a revelation.
2. tommasini’s hall of fame
Anthont Tommasini, classical music critic of the New York Times, has compiled his list of the 1o greatest composers of all time. His list:
I had a couple initial reactions to this list. The first was an appreciation of the long tradition of Western notated music–a tradition so long that you can make a top 10 list like this without saying anything remotely controversial. Of course, not everyone would pick this particular list, however it would be hard to take seriously an argument that any one of these composers does not deserve to be on the list because their music was insubstantial, or there wasn’t enough of it, or that it didn’t distinguish itself from the other music of its time. All of these composers had exceptional, rare talent and it’s only because we have centuries of music to pick from that we can make a list like this.
My second reaction was just awe at just how much music is out there, and how much I have to learn. Beethoven has always been one of my favorite composers, and I was extremely pleased that Tommasini placed him above Mozart. I’ve been blown away by Bach’s music over and over in the context of organ and compositional studies. But about half of the other composers only exist as uninformed, vague impressions in my consciousness. Brahms? Stuffy and heavy. Mozart? Monotonous and empty. Schubert? A complete unknown.
3. miami gets a new, gehry-designed concert hall
At first, I was all fired up to rant about Gehry becoming the go-to starchitect for concert halls, and why don’t we give other architects a chance and blah blah blah…then I actually read the article about the fundraising and construction process and decided that I was being a little bitch.
The picture above is actually the interior of the building. Miami blog Miamism gives a really good overview of the design of the building, what its goals are, and how it fits into the area.
4. conservative conservatory
The NYT published a story that looks a little more in depth at the New England Conservatory’s decision to sever ties with the fledgling El Sistema U.S.A. I’ve gotta say, this stinks to high heaven of an organization underestimating the extent of its commitment, then getting cold feet and backing out.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that El Sistema is supported by the federal government of Venezuela. It was always going to be a challenge for any music institution, or nonprofit organization, to provide the same level of support to a U.S. organization that is provided by the federal government in Venezuela. The decision to focus on training graduate students rather than directly establishing youth orchestras already was a compromise, and this public vote of no confidence by the New England Conservatory leaves the movement in a weaker position than before the Abreu Fellowship program was established. The program has only been in existence for two years, and that the NEC wants out of the partnership so quickly is a joke, and I can only believe that either the NEC severely underestimated the support it would need to provide to the program for it to have a hope of being effective, or that the organization was acting in bad faith from the beginning. I do not see a way that this does not reflect poorly on the New England Conservatory.
Above all, though, this is a missed opportunity. The NEC had a once in a generation chance (and it’s possible that another organization will take up this mantle) to radically redefine the mission of a top level conservatory. The conservatory’s president, quoted in the article, makes it clear that he wasn’t interested in that, “We really felt this was outside our mission altogether.” Music education has always been a part of the conservatory because so many professional, performing musicians also teach. This was different because it was an attempt to rebuild the musical infrastructure of the country on a societal level. It’s a shame, a shame, that the NEC had so little commitment to this organization in its crucial first years, and such a lack of follow through to see this vision realized.
5. on a lighter note
David Stabler, critic for The Oregonian, writes about an effective use of the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in the movie The Kings Speech. I think I’ll always associate that movement with the great children’s audio program Beethoven Lives Upstairs, but I think that it’s best use in film is in the opening credits to Tarsem Singh’s masterpiece The Fall: