Tuesday, May 23, 2017

El Gallo de Oro

I just got an email from the Teatro Real about the Rimsky-Korsakoff opera that I will see towards the end of the month. Looking forward to this:

Doesn't that look interesting!

Xostakóvitx en Valencia

I mentioned that the orchestra concert, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, was in an entirely different hall, the Palau de la Música, as opposed to the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía:

This is more of a conservatory with several smaller halls downstairs and it is the home of the Orchestra of Valencia. It is quite a lovely place with a huge glassed-in conservatory with restaurant/bars at each end:

The hall itself is a good size:

I'm amazed I got a ticket (purchased online a couple of months ago) as every single seat was sold:

I mentioned that the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic only takes on a new musical director on rare occasions. From 1938 to 1988 they were directed by Yevgeny Mravinsky, famous for his sober and restrained conducting style. Regarding the orchestra, David Fanning remarked:
The Leningrad Philharmonic play like a wild stallion, only just held in check by the willpower of its master. Every smallest movement is placed with fierce pride; at any moment it may break into such a frenzied gallop that you hardly know whether to feel exhilarated or terrified.
So, rather than furiously provoking them into playing as so many modern conductors do (*cough* Dudamel *cough*), Mravinsky had to hold them back. Their current conductor, Yuri Temirkanov, who took over from Mravinsky in 1988 and is still at the helm, has a bit of the same style. No baton, conducts with sober movements, occasionally looks as if he is about to dig a trench, and then a moment later is beckoning gently for more lyricism. The orchestra are really excellent. The opening overture by Glinka, from his opera Ruslan and Ludmilla, opened at a furious tempo and was impressive with its sheer orchestral virtuosity. They do not play with any feeling of antiseptic precision, but with gusto.

Next was the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich. The title of this post uses the Valencian spelling of Shostakovich, which I find extremely entertaining! It reminds me a bit of some Nahuatl place names in Mexico. The soloist was the young Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno who studied at that same Escuela Superior de la Música Reina Sofía in Madrid that I took a photo of the other day. She has recorded the Shostakovich concerto with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon. She played it very well, with precision, passion, delicacy, ferocity--all of which it demands.

Shostakovich was working on the Violin Concerto No. 1 at the time of his second condemnation in 1948 and the work was not able to be premiered until 1955, by David Oistrakh, the dedicatee. The structure is very unusual: the first movement is a nocturne the Oistrakh described as a "suppression of feelings"; the second movement, a scherzo, he described as "demonic"; this is followed by a passacaglia of profound feeling and the last movement is a devil-may-care burlesque. I don't think I have ever heard of a concerto with nocturne and burlesque movements. In any case, it is a remarkable piece of music, dark and complex, and it was very well played. Ms Moreno had to return and bow several times. She was playing an instrument by Nicolò Gagliano from 1762 and it seemed to me to be perhaps too smooth a sound. It was often like the smoothest velvet, but I think I would have liked a bit more crunch.

The second half of the concert was the Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky and I don't have a lot to say. I'm not sure you can say that this orchestra actually owns this music, but they certainly have an extended lease. Wonderful stuff and I was very happy to have heard the concert.

Here is a YouTube clip of Ms Moreno playing the last two movements, Passacaglia and Burlesque, with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic conducted by Yuri Temirkanov:

Werther at the Palau

My first night in Valencia was spent at the opera. I've talked about the Palau Reina Sofía a lot. It is part of the City of Arts and Sciences complex, so let's start with the rest of my photo tour. Skipping over some minor items such as the radio-controlled model boat club that meets at the other end of that lagoon from the science museum, we finally come to the Palau. Notice that that huge curvy bit on top just hangs there, it is not supported by anything you can see from this angle:

Click to enlarge
That shiny white exterior is made up of millions of tiny tesserae. They are used to finish surfaces throughout the entire complex, as you can see in this photo of the edge of the lagoon:

Yes, little ceramic chips, as in mosaics. The interior walls of the hall are also finished with ceramic chips, tesserae, but in blue, not white. I think you can see the light reflecting off them in this photo:

Here is another photo of the exterior:

Sorry, for the angle, but I can't straighten it out without losing part of the photo. What you are seeing, starting from the bottom is a restaurant, then some meeting and classrooms (the complex includes a training centre for opera singers under the patronage of Plácido Domingo) and above that, the big window is to the lobby where opera-goers hang out at intermission. Here is a closer photo of the lower two levels:

And from the inside, looking out, during the intermission. What you are seeing, from left to right are, way in the distance, the towers of my hotel, then one end of the science museum, the Hemispheric (IMAX theatre), the suspension bridge, and on the far right, the roof garden on the parking garage. In the foreground is another bridge, for cars and pedestrians.

Here is a better photo of the folks gathered below.

As you can see, they are enjoying a wide assortment of snacks and champagne:

What are those ropes, guarded by black-clad ushers for, you ask? Ah, those delightful refreshments are only for the patrons of the opera! Quite different from the Teatro Real, where everyone had equal access, on payment, to the intermission refreshments.

But let me finish my photo-tour. Here is a look at the other end of the Palau which is on a higher level:

This is the entrance to the box office and to the hall and that big pylon has a guide on it:

And here is a photo from underneath the pylon which gives an interesting angle on the architecture:

Here is a nearby poster for upcoming events:

What troubled me about that poster was that there was nothing about the symphony concert the next night. So I asked around and it turns out that I have been confusing and conflating two different places! This Palau is only an opera house (and training centre). The symphony concert is in an entirely different Palau a couple of miles away:

Good thing I discovered that!

Now, about Werther: I don't know Massenet much and, apart from reading the Wikipedia article, I don't know the opera, though I have some acquaintance with the book, by Goethe, that it is based on. It is a late romantic opera, quite successful outside and inside France--the premiere was actually in Vienna. The performance was very well done; the orchestra were excellent and the leading singers quite good. The tenor, Jean-François Borras was very good. He is also scheduled to sing the role of Werther at the Metropolitan Opera in New York this year. Not sure of his age, but he seems a young artist as he only debuted in 2012. I was less impressed with the female lead, Anna Caterina Antonacci who, frankly, seemed too old for the role. I thought this in the performance itself and only just now looked her up to see that she is in her mid-50s. Her voice revealed that hooty wavering that sopranos seem to fall into as their voices age. If I am being indelicate, please forgive me! I'm only a guitarist, after all, and have no special expertise in understanding the voice. But, for me at least, there was a bit of a mis-match in the two leads.

The production was a bit disappointing: here we are in this ultra-modern opera house and the production seemed all too traditional. Apart from the largely ineffective use of a large video screen (made to look like a huge mirror) that dropped down from time to time, the production could have been from decades ago. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Perhaps we don't want to inflict a post-modern production on Massenet! The opera is interesting enough. One commentary talks about how the character was a huge revelation to the public when the novel appeared in the mid 1770s. It was an entirely new kind of person, one not defined by the church or the old class system, but one who creates himself out of romantic ideals--and then kills himself, of course! But while the production was certainly adequate, there was nothing in it that seemed particularly noteworthy. This is rather ironic, isn't it? The really dynamic and creative productions are at the 200-year-old Teatro Real in Madrid while the somewhat stogy ones are at the super-modern Palau de les Arts that opened in 2005!

Here, through the magic of YouTube is a 2010 production from the Opéra National de Paris with Jonas Kaufmann as Werther and Sophie Koch as Charlotte:

UPDATE: I lightened up one of the interior photos as it was very dark.

Train to Valencia

Now that I have access to my iPhone photos, I can go back and fill in the gaps. Let me say right up front that my preferred mode of travel is definitely the Spanish AVE trains--mind you, I haven't tried all the others though I did take a short trip in a French TGV quite a few years ago. Access and security are efficient and easy, the trains are lovely and comfortable, much quieter than an airplane, they serve a snack and beverages and you get to see the countryside. What's not to like? Here is a slightly blurry photo of the interior and yes, those seats are comfortable:

This is the streamlined front of the train:

Streamlined because, did I mention this?--the top speed is 300 kilometers per hour.

The train to Valencia takes around an hour and three quarters (which includes two brief stops), a distance of around 400 kilometers. By the way, Spain has the second largest number of high-speed train routes by kilometers in the world. China is first and Japan is third.

The history of civilization in Spain goes back to the founding of Cadiz by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC, which makes it over three thousand years old. Travelling through the countryside you see that just about every square inch of land is in use. For the first half of the trip, there were mostly olive groves:

But for the second half, grapevines. Sorry for the photo!

And that's about it for the train to Valencia. I didn't take any photos on the return because my iPhone was out of juice.

I'm going to divide up the posts so the next one will be on the opera at the Palau Reina Sofía.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Travel Day

Today is a travel day, so you might or might not get a post this afternoon. Then, once I can upload the photos from my iPhone, I can catch up a bit with the concerts. Last night I saw the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, conducted by Yuri Temirkanov with Leticia Moreno, violin soloist. One interesting thing about this orchestra is that, since the 1930s, they have had two, count 'em, two conductors. The famous Yevgeny Mravinsky from 1938 to 1988 and Maestro Temirkanov from 1988 to the present. Honestly, the city of Saint Petersburg, which has been named Saint Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and Saint Petersburg again, changes its name more often than the orchestra changes conductors.

The Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, under various names, premiered seven of Shostakovich's symphonies, concertos by Prokofiev, the Symphony No. 6 by Prokofiev, and in 1955, with David Oistrakh as soloist, the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich. And a lot of other stuff, of course. But one could expect that last night's program which included an overture by Glinka and that same Shostakovich violin concerto as well as Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, would be played with a certain authority. And so it was!

To whet your appetite this is the first piece on the program, Glinka, Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila performed by the, at the time, Leningrad Philharmonic in 1965, conducted by Mravinsky. Blogger won't embed, so just follow the link:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Walk Around the Ciutat

Valencia is an autonomous region of Spain and speaks a language virtually identical to Catalan, which is closely related to Spanish and a bit less related to the Occitan dialects of French. For example, the City of Arts and Sciences, that I walked around this morning is in Valencian: Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències and in Spanish: Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. Last night, until I discovered that the little individual sous-titres screen in front of me could be switched to any of about ten different languages, I listened to Werther sung in French with sub-titles in Valencian.

So let me take you on a walk with me. This is the lobby of my hotel:

for all of these, click to enlarge

which is actually on the 4th floor of the building with a five story (why five and not four?--one level is underground) shopping mall underneath. This is the entrance to the hotel, on the roof of the mall:

As soon as you leave the hotel and get out on the street, you can see the City complex with the Palau Reina Sofía in the distance:

Looking back at the hotel/shopping mall complex Aqua:

The first buildings in the Ciutat that you come to are the L'Oceanogràphic on the left and the L'Àgora on the right. The former is an open-air oceanographic park, the largest aquarium in Europe, and consists of several buildings of which you can only see one in this photo:

Here is another one:

The Agora is an event centre and right now seems to be being renovated. Right next to it is a very unusual asymmetrical suspension bridge for cars that crosses over the Ciutat (which is built on the old riverbed of the Turia, which was diverted in the 1950s).

I didn't get a really good shot of it, but the next building is the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, which is a very, very large science museum with a capacity of 10,000 people.

The Ciutat is large enough to have its own mileposts, though this one gives walking times to various buildings:

Here is a poster outside the science museum with a quote from my favorite philosopher, in Valencian:

I think that says that "Doubt is the beginning of knowledge." We are getting a bit closer to the Palau:

But the next building is actually L'Hemisphèric which is a planetarium and IMAX theatre in the shape of a giant eye:

The "eye" actually opens for showings, though I'm not sure how that works. There is a kind of amusement "ride" on one side of the Hemisphèric that consists of getting into a transparent plastic sphere, then floating around on the water. You fall down a lot:

Looking back, from here you can see the science museum on the left, the suspension bridge, the Agora and on the right another very large building, L'Umbracle, a really huge botanical garden that actually is the roof terrace to a parking garage.

I did not get a good photo of it as I couldn't get back enough, but here is one from the web:

That is only about halfway through my walk, but I think that is enough for one post!

In Valencia

I was hoping to put up a bunch of photos of my trip here yesterday, but I foolishly forgot my iPhone cable, so I can neither connect to my laptop to transfer photos, nor recharge the phone. So when it runs out, that's it. But I got a lot of photos yesterday on the train which I will share when I get back to Madrid tomorrow. I do have my good camera with me, and I am just about to get out and start taking photos!

Last night was Werther by Massenet in the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía and I will do a review of it in a day or so as well when I have access to my iPhone photos. It was my first late 19th century French opera and I quite enjoyed it.

Just a note about the hotel: this hotel, the Ilunion Aqua 4, is about as complete a contrast to the one in Bologna as could be imagined. Weird name, I know. It is one of a complex of, I think, three Ilunion hotels, 3, 4 and 5, so called because they are in something called the "Aqua multispacio." It seems to be three hotel towers sitting on top of a five story shopping mall. The reception desk for my hotel is on the 4th floor. It is a very nice, very modern hotel. I have some photos on my phone I will share, but here are a couple from my other camera. The room:

The bathroom:

Let me just say that European bathrooms, the toilets at least, tend to make ours in North America look primitive and inefficient.

Here is the view from my window, not particularly high in the hotel, but you can glimpse in the distance the Mediterranean:

This the neighbouring hotel:

And this is the top of the five story shopping mall:

There is just about everything there from a Häagen-Dasz counter to Taco Bell to a Mexican cantina, to a Japanese noodle restaurant to a cinema, to a Nespresso store, clothing stores without measure, and on and on. A person with a shopping addiction would never leave.

The Palau where I will be attending another concert tonight, is right next door, which means that it is a twenty-five minute walk. It looms so large that, like mountains in the desert, you think you are just about there, but no. Strictly speaking it is three blocks away, but two of those blocks include giant traffic circles and the other one is about a mile long, extending alongside the City of Arts and Sciences of which the Palau forms a part. Here is an aerial view to give you an idea:

Click to enlarge
The Palau, containing the opera house, symphony hall, chamber hall, theatre and so on, is on the left.

So, without further ado, I am off to wander around with my camera. I was thinking of being ambitious and visiting the historic centre, then popping out to the beach (I even brought shorts!) and then a few photos of the Palau. But it is all so enormous that I think I will be doing well if I just take some photos of the City of Arts and Sciences.

Hasta luego!

Suitable music from Valencia could be music by the great 16th century vihuelista, Luys Milan, who spent his whole life in Valencia. This is Narciso Yepes playing the six Pavanas by Milan:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cultural Appropriation in Music

I don't have a "cultural appropriation" tag and I hope I won't ever need one. Canada, in the last couple of weeks, has been in a frenzy over supposed "cultural appropriation" from native people, or as we are to refer to them now, as indigenous people or "First Nations." The latest in a series of news stories and opinion pieces was published yesterday in the Globe and Mail, written by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, who is, according to the blurb, "an Anishinaabe writer and editor from the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, Saugeen Ojibway Nation. She is the founder and managing editor of Kegedonce Press, a publishing house devoted to Indigenous writers." Ok, so obviously someone with skin in the game. Her livelihood depends on both retail sales of writing by indigenous writers (why should that word be capitalized?) and on government and other grants and funding. But that is a poor argument, of course. We are all motivated by our own interests. Let's take a few quotes from her essay to get the idea:
This controversy continued into 2017, a year that, for Indigenous people, marks 150 years of colonial oppression. As the Canadian government unrolled its Canada 150 budget and agenda, Indigenous people across the country recoiled. Canada “150”? Really? To suggest that this country didn’t exist for us before 1867 is a punch to the gut – a half-billion-dollar, year-long celebration that hammers home the message, over and over again, that Canada depends on our erasure. The reality of our existence does not fit the official national narrative and so it must be dismissed, ignored and forgotten. Whether that erasure is attempted through the Indian Residential School System, the ongoing apprehensions of our children by Child and Family Services, the murder and disappearance of Indigenous women and girls, “starlight tours” conducted by police in Saskatchewan, the wildly disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s prison system, the theft of our lands and resources, the stealing of our stories or the inequitable policies of a party on Parliament Hill, the message is persistent – and devastatingly familiar.
Oh yes, all is not sweetness and light up north. Way back in the 1600s the French and later the English actually invaded what is now Canada and conquered the entire continent right across to the Pacific with not a whole lot of resistance by the native peoples. This is the historical fact. Ms Akiwenzie-Damm wants us, at this late date, to regard this historical event as something akin to an illegal act, but since it is not possible for the native peoples to undo it by force of arms, she is going to make us feel really, really bad about it.

Yes, this is Canada's 150th year as a nation and the celebrations have been criticised at great length by various parties. Canada, as a nation and not a mere geographical locale, was the creation of the British by means of an Act of Parliament in 1867, hence the celebration. This act united the remaining British colonies north of the rebellious American states and the nation has done pretty well. So part of the complaint above is simply a category error, mistaking the territory for the sovereign nation. The nation "Canada" did not and does not depend on the "erasure" of native peoples, but yes, it did and does depend on their defeat as sovereign peoples and their absorption into the new nation of Canada. Inasmuch as the writer resists this she is, to some extent, in a state of rebellion against Canada. But this is nothing new: the First Nations have been engaged in more or less open rebellion for decades now. And why? Because they never suffer any consequences, but instead are rewarded by "treaties" giving them resource concessions, funding, and just general looking the other way by the agencies responsible for public order. Viewed objectively, it is a pretty shocking record.

I recommend you read the whole essay and then continue to read the comments. What is very interesting about the comments is that they are 100% opposed to the views of the writer! The Globe and Mail, obviously is taking a position supportive of the notion of cultural appropriation from native writers, even in the face of complete disagreement by their readers. But never mind, they will simply keep pumping out the narrative until a majority of Canadians agree with it, then they will take a poll. That's how we roll in Canada.

Another interesting thing, and the reason for this post, is that we have not, up to now, raised any questions of cultural appropriation in music. That would be a pretty short debate, at least at present, after two or three decades of propaganda in the Globe and Mail, who knows? In music the cultural appropriation of techniques, styles, genres and so on is the basic practice. In pop music it has become the norm, the occasional case of copyright infringement as with the song "Blurred Lines" a couple of years ago, being very much the exception. By the way, the Wikipedia article on "appropriation" in art seems to be lagging behind this latest trend because it simply discusses how art appropriates from other art without getting all political about it.

Even in classical music there is a kind of color and culture-blind constant recycling of musical materials by everyone from everyone. You could write a pretty interesting dissertation on the appropriation of musical ideas and textures from black musicians by white musicians in the 1950s. Then this "rock and roll" was further appropriated by black musicians in Nigeria in the form of "high-life" music by people like King Sunny Adé. Here is an example:

Then, of course, it is appropriated back by other musicians! That's just how music works. It is remarkably immune to a lot of identity politics. If it doesn't sound good, no-one will listen to it anyway.

One thing about the essay by Ms Akiwenzie-Damm is how she ignores the fact that the very act of writing itself is an act of cultural appropriation by native peoples from their colonizing oppressors. Yes, it's true, the native peoples in North America had no form of written language before the French and English invasion. If we were to apply their principles of cultural appropriation, we should really ask for our alphabet back. If you want to get even more pissy about it, I strongly suspect that the flavor and texture of the prose of native writers, not to mention how they handle metaphors and even psychological memes about alienation, oppression, mythology and so on are all based on European models, themselves deriving in part from models taken from literature of the Ancient World.

One wonders when Canada's ruling intelligentsia will shake their heads and recover a sense of reality.

Here is Stravinsky happily appropriating musical ideas from Pergolesi, a couple of centuries earlier:

Friday, May 19, 2017

Memoirs of a Song-Writer

I never thought it would end like this: slumped over a case of Cristal as a bunch of Dominican hookers steal my cash and bling... I guess it was the drugs that did me in the most, that and my job. What's that you ask? Auxiliary utility drum programmer for Beyoncé. Yeah, that was me. I did some of the backbeats, just the ones on "2". Bob did the ones on "4".

See what I mean? Oh and I did the finger-snap programming in the intro too--just on the second beat, mind you. I was happy, sure. I wasn't at the top of the drum-programmer hierarchy, that was Joe "Sticks" Bonnini from Queens. But I had hopes! I was gonna move up, do ALL the back beats and then, maybe, I might get to program some fills. You know, those flippy little drum things that you put in between the backbeats, just for the rush.

But no, it all went wrong. Jay-Z had this idea for some really f**ked up backbeats in the new tune, "Single Ladies" and trying to get my head around those just caused me to lose it:

You hear what's going on with the second beat there? Me neither. Man, that's really messed up. It's so turned around that all the good stuff is now on the "1" and the "3"!

Anyway, I just couldn't deal, so I got myself to Vegas and just, well, drowned for, oh, six months. There's no coming back from that.

It's kind of like the story by Hemingway? The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber? Yeah, as soon as I got the courage to admit I just hated my job, that gave me the freedom to do anything. Unfortunately, my choice was Vegas, but whaddayagonnado?

[This, I emphasize, satirical item was inspired by the story from the BBC about how many people it takes to "write" a hit song these days (and so often, "writing" means, "programming the drum machine.")]

Friday Miscellanea

The Early Music Movement, or what we like to think of as "HIP" these days (Historically Informed Performance) has wended its way into live theatre. At the new Globe theatre in London, they are beginning to do Shakespeare in the original pronunciation. Here, let's let them tell us about it:

When they do the side by side readings, doesn't it sound just a wee bit like "Talk Like a Pirate Day"? In any case, what I wonder is, with the entire absence of recording technology in Shakespeare's day, how can we have such detailed knowledge of how they pronounced stuff? They give a nice accounting of the three kinds of evidence. The best part is that there are all sorts of puns and rhymes that are recovered in the original pronunciation.

* * *

Hunter S. Thompson's favorite LPs of the sixties? Sure, why not:
  1. Herbie Mann’s 1969 Memphis Underground (“which may be the best album ever cut by anybody”)
  2. Bob Dylan’s 1965 Bringing It All Back Home
  3. Dylan’s 1965 Highway 61 Revisited
  4. The Grateful Dead’s 1970 Workingman’s Dead (“the heaviest thing since Highway 61 and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man'”)
  5. The Rolling Stones’ 1969 Let it Bleed
  6. Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 Buffalo Springfield
  7. Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 Surrealistic Pillow
  8. Roland Kirk’s “various albums”
  9. Miles Davis’s 1959 Sketches of Spain
  10. Sandy Bull’s 1965 Inventions

I think I can agree on one or two of those...

* * *

Now I have to buy Sgt. Pepper's again... On May 26, a 50th anniversary edition of the iconic Beatles album is going to be released with all sorts of goodies. Allan Kozinn reviews at the Wall Street Journal:
they are celebrating its half century by releasing a new stereo mix in multiple formats: as a single CD; as part of a “Deluxe Edition” double CD or LP, with the second disc devoted to an alternative “Sgt. Pepper” built of previously unissued outtakes; and in a six-disc “Super Deluxe Edition” that also includes DVD and Blu-ray discs with a documentary and an immersive 5.1 surround-sound mix, two CDs of outtakes and a third devoted to the original mono mix, and a hardback book packed with recording details and essays about the music, its cultural context, and reception. The reissues are being released by Apple/UMG on May 26.
* * *

Tomorrow I pop over to Valencia, in a 300kph train, to see a performance of Massenet's Werther in the amazing Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (there she is again!) to be followed the next night by a concert by the Saint Petersburg Symphony in the symphony hall in the same complex:

Werther is loosely based on the book by Goethe that I think I may have read decades ago. It is a story of impossible love and the suicide of a young poet. The original novel spurred a rash of suicides sometimes called the "Werther effect." I don't think I have heard a French opera live before--remember I am mostly new to the genre--so I'm looking forward to it.

* * *

The abuse of cellphones in concert halls continues, to no-one's surprise: Baritone orders three phone users to leave Concertbegouw recital:
I attended a recital tonight (at the Kleine Zaal of the Concertgebouw) with baritone Christopher Maltman and accompanist Julius Drake singing Eisler’s Hollywood Songbook. It was a very fine concert – but Mr. Maltman stopped mid-concert in the second half to address three young ladies in the back of the hall.
‘You are directly in my sightline, and it’s clear that you do not want to be here. I can see you chatting and using your phone. If you do not want to be here, leave.’ The audience applauded warmly.
* * *

This is a odd story: things have gotten so bad between the musicians and the management at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, that the music director was kicked out of the building for carrying his daughter's violin case:
Since the Fort Worth Symphony went on strike last year, relations between musicians and the Bass Performance Hall have iced over. A colleague writes: ‘Musicians aren’t allowed to take their cases into the hall. Any of them…even FWSO whose home this is supposedly is. On top of that, the FWSO musicians aren’t allowed to use their own locks on the lockers any more. They have to get one from BPH, which many won’t do because you can’t trust a super-expensive instrument not to be stolen when someone else gave you the lock. So now when many musicians would previously go into the lobby to talk to the audience post-show, they’re just leaving instead. Loss of good will. Loss of connection.
* * *

Alex Ross has dug up a fascinating passage from 1936 Nazi arts policy:
“Because this year has not brought an improvement in art criticism, I forbid once and for all the continuance of art criticism in its past form, effective as of today. From now on, the reporting of art will take the place of an art criticism which has set itself up as a judge of art – a complete perversion of the concept of 'criticism' which dates from the time of the Jewish domination of art. The critic is to be superseded by the art editor. The reporting of art should not be concerned with values, but should confine itself to description. Such reporting should give the public a chance to make its own judgments, should stimulate it to form an opinion about artistic achievements through its own attitudes and feelings.”
So there you go, more encouragement for my project to return values-based criticism to the art world.

* * * 

Also from Mr. Ross is his review of the new palace-like concert hall in Hamburg:
The conventional wisdom in America is that concert halls have too often seemed like fortresses, and must become more down to earth. Such is not the philosophy guiding the Elbphilharmonie, which was designed by the Swiss firm of Herzog & de Meuron. It towers three hundred and thirty-five feet above the ground, the concert-hall portion of the complex resting atop a massive brick warehouse that formerly was used to store cacao beans. The glass-covered upper structure lunges vertically from the foundation in a way that somehow reminds me of Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II’s hilltop castle in Bavaria. Yet there are no gemütlich touches. The glass exterior is cool, undulating, shimmering; the brick walls below have an industrial, almost military look. Far from welcoming you in, the Elbphilharmonie glowers imperiously, as if prepared to repel a sneak attack on the Hanseatic League.
It cost 866 million euros! But every single concert since it opened in January has been sold out.

* * *

This explains so many things! Pop music is now written by committees:
A new study by Music Week magazine shows it now takes an average of 4.53 writers to create a hit single.
The publication analysed the 100 biggest singles of 2016, and found that only four were credited to a single artist - Mike Posner's I Took A Pill In Ibiza, Calvin Harris's My Way; and twohits by rock band Twenty One Pilots.
Ten years ago, the average number of writers on a hit single was 3.52, and 14 of the year's top 100 songs were credited to one person 
The best-selling song of 2016, Drake's One Dance, needed eight writers - but even that pales into insignificance compared to Mark Ronson's Uptown Funk, which took 13 people to create, leading Paul Gambaccini to brand it "the most written song in history".

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Let's have something from Massenet's opera Werther for our envoi today--written entirely by M. Massenet himself. This is Werther's aria "Elle m'aime" sung by Ludovic Tézier:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Odds and Ends

I wandered down to the Royal Palace today. I visited it last summer, but somehow missed seeing the Royal Armoury, which sounds interesting. Alas, they do not allow photos inside. There is an extensive collection of the arms and armour of Charles V (who was also Holy Roman Emperor) and Philip II. Both of these sovereigns actually led their armies in the field and so had personal armour and weapons. Here is a photo from the web to give you an idea:

Click to enlarge

What I really wanted to see was the famous dagger of Boabdil, handed over by the last ruler of the Emirate of Granada in 1492, but alas again, it was not on display.

I did get a few interesting pictures, though. You pass by the Teatro Real on the way to the palace and I took a couple of shots showing how big it is. Here it is looming over you as you come down a side street:

And again, from another street on the other side. They are in the process of cleaning the exterior, I believe.

The front facade is curved and on either side there are beautiful apartment blocks that follow the same curve. The opera is the building on the left:

Between the Teatro Real, the opera house, and the Royal Palace, is the Plaza Oriental and the centerpiece is a large statue of Philip IV. Both Galileo Galilei and Velazquez had a hand in designing it:

There are a number of entrances to the palace: this is the one facing the opera:

Notice the statues on top and the nifty coat of arms with the royal crown. As I said, no photos from inside the armoury, but this is what you see as you leave: the Plaza de la Armería with the main entrance to the Royal Palace on the far side:

As I was leaving this part of town I passed by an interesting building:

This is the Escuela Superiór de la Música Reina Sofía, another example of the queen's remarkable support for the arts. The motto on the outside reads "no aesthetica sin ethica" which means "no aesthetics without ethics." This is a lovely sentiment and one simply hopes it is true.

Spain has had some awful rulers, but it has also had more than its fair share of selfless and devoted ones of whom Juan Carlos I and his wife Sofía seem to be particularly outstanding examples. You really need to read the history of Spain in the 20th century to get a sense of this, but the short version is that after several decades of the repressive dictatorship of Francisco Franco, when he died there was a smooth transition to the rule of Juan Carlos I that survived one attempted military coup through his courage and good sense. He presided over the opening up of Spanish society and its joining the European Union as well as its healthy economic development.

Let's listen to a piece by Granados. Like much of the Spanish piano repertoire this has been transcribed successfully to the guitar. The Maja de Goya played by John Williams: