November 5, 2012

In memoriam Elliott Carter

Elliott Carter's sunny, playful, and inexhaustibly interesting music has given me countless hours of joy and happiness. 

May it do the same for you.

What a great life it was!

E L L I O T T   C A R T E R

R.  I.  P.

October 11, 2012

Mongoloids on the loose...

In the manual for Marantz CD player model CD5004, the initial overview of the remote control functions describes volume control buttons as "amplifier operation buttons".  A footnote at the bottom of that page explains this mysterious description to puzzled readers with the following promise:

The supplied remote control can operate Marantz amplifiers.

Six pages later, the reader gets additional details on how to connect the CD player's special remote control output to a Marantz amplifer.  After making this connection and changing the setting of the special switch in the back of the CD player unit from INTERNAL to EXTERNAL, one can use the remote control to operate the said amplifer.

But what about those lost souls who do not wish to use Marantz amplifers?  For them the manual provides the following reassuring note:

To use this unit without connecting it to the amplifier, set the remote control switch to “INTERNAL”.

If you buy this CD player, you will quickly discover that, with the above mentioned switch in the back set to INTERNAL, the remote control indeed operates the CD player - except for the volume control function!  Having reached the state of despair, you will call Marantz customer support and, with your mouth open, will hear a youthful male voice cheerfully informing you that the volume control function works only when the remote control operates Marantz amplifiers!

At that point, you will feel like a guy who married a gorgeous woman after having been told that she can fuck the mailman.  (Well, the guy thought, "can" does not mean "will".  And anyway, even if shit happens, as they say, I'd still get a quickie now and then...)  Alas, after putting on a tuxedo, saying "I do", and kissing the bride, the guy discovered that his newly-minted wife will fuck only the mailman!

And so, once again, you will have confirmed that today's world is a welcoming place for the likes of the imbeciles who designed that CD player, the cretins who approved the design for manufacturing, the retards who wrote the manual, and (most of all) the fucking mongoloids at the so-called high end audio magazine Stereophile, who wrote an enthusiastic review of this player without ever noting that it is all but useless to those who want to connect the CD player directly to a power amplifier.   (I suppose the delusional sociopaths at Stereophile have been too busy comparing the musicality of various power cords and gold-plated wall outlets to pay attention to such mundane facts...)

By the way, if you think that such cognitively disadvantaged specimens will never get a job designing Boeing and Airbus jetliners (and writing manuals for pilots and maintenance mechanics), good luck boarding that plane on your next vacation or business trip....

September 21, 2012


A writing exercise was well underway when I showed up late, again, for my third grade 
Russian language class.  The teacher, a large woman with the crudely chiseled body of a socialist realist public sculpture, looked happy to see the little fucker who often had more important things to do than to come to her class on time.  Had I missed the class, I could have pleaded illness or family business and avoid the failing grade, which now I would surely get because there wasn’t enough time left for me to do the required work.

August 12, 2012

In science we trust

Jogging Every Day May Keep Alzheimer's Away

ScienceDaily, May 17, 2002.

The risk of Alzheimer's disease decreased as the number of cigarettes smoked daily increased.
"Relation between nicotine intake and Alzheimer's disease",
British Medical Journal, Vol.302, 1991.

So, if you are worried about Alzheimer's, your best bet is to trust science and double your defenses.   Like this guy: 

August 1, 2012

Handsome Jan

There ought to be a law against parties held by graduate students in the humanities.  The world is full of misery as it is.  Why add another couple of hours spent on a rickety chair in a dimly lit room filled with old but still useful furniture and young but already useless people? 
       I went anyway because I heard that Alina was leaving the Ph.D. program to attend medical school.  By the end of spring she would move to another city, and after that the only way for me to get naked with her would be to become one of the cadavers in her first year anatomy course.  The party was my last chance.

July 8, 2012

Bon appétit...

It doesn't take F. Scott Fitzgerald to capture the essence of the lower Second Avenue on a hot and humid weekday afternoon: the sidewalk reeking of garbage, urine, and vomit (the last two courtesy of numerous pubs); the air dense with exhaust fumes from the endless traffic jam of crawling buses, delivery trucks, taxi cabs, rusted vans from Queens, and not yet dented SUVs from New Jersey.  And all this enveloped by the hazy mist of lukewarm condensate, sprayed from above by countless air conditioners sticking from soot- and grime-covered windows like long-neglected and constantly oozing pimples.  Just the kind of place to have lunch at a sidewalk restaurant.

June 30, 2012

Famous first words...

A few days ago I had my first (and hopefully the only) major surgery.  The reason was not life threatening, but the operation still required very deep general anesthesia.  After the surgery, when I regained a tentative and hazy post-anesthesia grasp on reality in the Intensive Care Unit, the first thing I saw was the love of my life being led toward me by an ICU nurse.  When she reached my bed, and before I could even stretch my parched lips into a weepy smile, the love of my life turned to the nurse and asked:  So, where is the plug?

June 17, 2012

Semantic grumbling...

In Russian the semantic connection between the verb which translates "to share" and the verb which translates "to divide" is syntactically explicit, i.e., the former contains the latter as a substring:
делиться (delitsya) and  делить (delit).  

In English the connection is only etymological (dating to something like the 16th century use of the verb "to share"), but the implication is still there:  To share X with others is to have less of X left for oneself, whether X is an object (a loaf of bread), or access to something (such as a computer, a car, or a mistress).*

With this in mind I find it remarkable that so many people who post digital copies of music recordings on the internet describe their activity as sharing.   After all, this activity reduces neither the number of recordings in their collection nor their access to those recordings.  My guess is that the pervasive use of "sharing" in this context is motivated by the desire to put a positive semantic spin on what -  in the case of commercial music recordings - is essentially an immoral act.  The kind of semantic spin that would be enthusiastically embraced by the OCCUPY EMI-BMG-SONY movement if there were one...**

After a bit of reflection I'm inclined to think that a semantically appropriate  way to describe the act of making a digital copy of a recording available to others on the internet is precisely the verb used in the FBI Anti-Piracy Warning on every commercial DVD:  distributing.  Whether the digital data file you make available on the internet contains some commercial recording or an amateur video of your bar mitzvah, you are simply distributing digital copies of the recording.   To call this "sharing" seems to me as semantically perverse as to call a beating administered by a loan shark's enforcer "debt negotiation".

 *  I refer here to sharing things (or access to things) that could be called "measurable", which automatically rules out cases where someone "shares" with others his wisdom, family troubles, or passion for sex in public places.
 **  Such semantic spins bring to mind a street protest I once saw in Manhattan on a weekday during business hours, when a group of unwashed, rent control-sustained social parasites (also known as "housing activists") carried signs saying HOUSING FOR PEOPLE, NOT FOR PROFIT!

June 8, 2012

greed... vandalism... high culture...

Imagine a restaurant which serves food in the following manner:  They begin by  serving you a part of your first course.  After you finish that, they clear the table and a bit later bring you the remainder of the first course along with a part of the second course.  And that's how your dinner continues, with each course being split between two servings.

The reason why no restaurant would ever dare to implement the above serving policy is obvious.   The very first group of customers would simply burn the motherfucker down without even waiting for dessert.  And afterward they would drag the owner to a nearby parking lot for a brief chat about the importance of making one's business model conform to some minimal standards of rationality.

There is one line of business, however, where the customers accept this kind of perverse treatment willingly, even enthusiastically.  The product in this line of business is "food for the soul", and it comes in the form of recordings of classical music.

May 13, 2012

A farewell to suspension of disbelief...

living in an unheated Paris apartment

who ignites the lust of every man in sight

This is not about making fun of people's appearance.  Eating can be as much of an addiction as smoking.  And the melancholy facts of biology, amplified by a few decades of gravity acting on the human body, will eventually make all of us look like a piece of luggage that's been through too many airports.

Opera singers are not immune to such realities of life.  If anything, they are further disadvantaged by certain necessities peculiar to their profession.  One is that a voice capable of soaring effortlessly and musically above the surging fortes of a full-sized orchestra requires years of singing less demanding roles before it settles into a refined and long-lasting instrument.  Which means that by the time opera singers become really good at what they do, their rosy-cheeked and milky-skinned youth is well behind them.  Another is that very powerful voices tend to come with refrigerator-sized chest cavities enclosed in bodies ample of hip and generous of bosom.

May 5, 2012

Great music, bad operas...

Watching an opera whose plot does not involve sex or murder (preferably both, in either order) is like attending a Hollywood party whose favors do not include cocaine:  there are vastly more rewarding ways to spend one's time.  Despite the nearly tautological certainty of this wisdom,  there is a small but distinguished group of composers whose neglect of the dramatic requirements of opera as an art form seems to border on the delusional.  From Beethoven's Fidelio to Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, Janacek's House of the Dead, and Dallapiccola's Il Prigionero, these are operas in which the characters do little more than deliver impassioned pronouncements on lofty topics, as if the principal business of opera is to serve as a musically enhanced vehicle for grandiose messages on timeless metaphysical, theological, or socio-political issues.  To paraphrase one of Samuel Goldwyn's immortal quips:  Messages are for Western Union.  Operas are for entertainment.

April 26, 2012

When smart people say stupid things II

I have become completely dissatisfied with [serialism's] narrow terms.  I found the palette of constant chromaticism increasingly constricting, nor could I accept any longer the limited range of gestures that always seemed to channel the music into some form or other of expressionism.  The over-intense manner of serialism and its tendency to inhibit physical pulse and rhythm led me to question a style which made it virtually impossible to express serenity, tranquility, grace, wit, energy.
George Rochberg, liner notes for the 1973 recording of his Third String Quartet issued on Nonesuch Records LP  (italics mine).

I happen to like Rochberg's 12-tone music (2nd Symphony, Piano Trio) and I have no problem with his decision to abandon serialism (by which he means only serial organization of pitch, not integral serialism of Babbitt, Boulez, and Stockhausen) in favor of (mostly) tonal composition.  But his attempted justification of this decision strikes me as borderline incoherent.

April 13, 2012

How history becomes "music history" ...

First, a bit of history in pictures:

A typical workday in a Soviet concentration camp ca. 1932

A typical workday in a Nazi concentration camp (Auschwitz) ca. 1942

Officers of Hitler's Wermacht and Stalin's Red Army enjoying a friendly smoke
in celebration of their joint invasion of Poland (1939)

Soviet Composer Dmitri Shostakovich 
9 years before the Pravda editorial attack:
Symphony No.2 "October" (1927)
(celebrating 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution)

6 years before the Pravda editorial attack: 
Symphony No.3 "First of May" (1930)
(glorifying the "proletarian holiday"
 and, again, the Bolshevik revolution)

7 years after Stalin's death:
joins the Communist Party (1960)

8 years after Stalin's death:
Symphony No.12 "The Year 1917" (1961)
(glorifying  the first Bolshevik mass-murderer Lenin 
and, once again, the Bolshevik revolution)

And now lets take a brief look at how history is transformed into "music history":

... in the end [Shostakovich's] art, as it now becomes increasingly clear, remained for many years the only artistic phenomenon ... which actively resisted the totalitarian regime.  We can say without exaggeration that dissent was an integral part of this great composer's creative output.
Mark Aranovsky, Muzikalnaya Akademiya 4, 1997, p.3  (translation and italics mine) 

At a deeper level,  Shostakovich's works had spoken the truth about the tragedy of his times and the evils of the system of which he was himself a victim.
Alexandra George, Escape from "Ward Six", University Press of America, 1998, p.388 (italics mine). 
*     *     *
With eloquent cocksuckers like these two never in short supply,  soon we will be told that atheism was an integral part of Bach's creative output (with his Passions vividly condemning the mixture of lunacy and cruelty in religion); that Wagner fought antisemitism by exposing its irrationality in his deliberately outlandish antisemitic pamphlets; and that Stalin's  vicious 1948 attack on "formalism" in Soviet music was secretly engineered by the CIA...

April 9, 2012

SCHOENBERG: String Quartet in D minor, Op.7

After years of trying to like Schoenberg's Op.7 string quartet I still perceive it as a mildly irritating exercise in compositional excess.  Its forty five minutes densely packed with feverish thematic development, frenetic piling up of counterpoint, and restless harmonic motion simply refuse to sum up to an aesthetically rewarding experience.  (Despite a committed and technically superb performance by the Borromeo Quartet from a 2011 concert at the Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston.)
I even thought that perhaps "compositional excess" is an uncharitable way to describe what might be a case of compositional despair felt by a composer who wants to keep things fresh and interesting with compositional tools that have been badly worn-out by two centuries of heavy use.  What if Schoenberg's constantly varied asymmetric themes, his restlessly crisscrossing voice leading (with its constant spray of non-harmonic notes), his fluctuating rhythms, his refusal to punctuate his "musical prose" with musically meaningful pauses - what if all this is meant to divert my attention from the fact that the music's inner core consists of essentially triadic harmonies moving in familiar ways along the tonic-dominant axes of D minor and related keys?

If my guess is correct, then perhaps sympathy rather than irritation is an appropriate emotional response to Schoenberg's struggle with tonality -- the kind of sympathy one may feel for the desperate efforts of a long married couple to camouflage the boringly predicable and worn-out anatomical reality of their sex life with romantic getaways, Victoria's Secret underwear, and assorted contraptions delivered in plain wrapped parcels from Babes in Toyland...

April 3, 2012

When smart people say stupid things ...

Imagine you are a composer who is a pioneer of non-tonal music.  You already know from  violently scandalous premieres of your works that the general concert-going public is not receptive to significant doses of dissonance (at least outside opera) because it associates dissonance with psychological and physical discomfort as well as with ugliness in general.  You are convinced, however, that the public's attitude toward non-tonal music can change as a result of greater familiarity with and deeper aesthetic understanding of your compositional idiom.  So you decide that one way to promote your creative direction in composition is to come up with a catchy slogan which will sum up your aesthetic goals in a concise and attractively positive way.  And the slogan you finally settle upon is ... emancipation of dissonance. [1]

Now lets put this slogan in perspective.  You know that most people hate a certain thing with which they have a variety of strongly negative associations.  And you propose to emancipate the very thing that they hate?  As a public relations strategy this is no less doltish than it would be for gay rights advocates to employ 'emancipation of felonious sin' as the slogan which sums up the political, social, and moral aims of the gay rights movement!

March 23, 2012

Why not make excuses for Le Nozze di Figaro?

Listening recently to a beautifully performed broadcast recording [1] of Luigi Dallapiccola's Il Prigioniero I kept thinking that stubbornly conservative audiences and lack of public funding are not the worst enemies of modern music in America.  That distinction belongs to patronizing, condescending, and (as we shall see shortly) largely incompetent music critics who think that discussions of important non-tonal compositions must begin with (a) veiled excuses for the work's idiom, and (b) smarmy assurances that despite its idiom the music has much to offer to lovers of Chopin and Verdi.
One American music critic, who attended the very production of Il Prigioniero I've been enjoying so much, described this opera as

... a bleak, 12-tone, boldly modernistic work from the mid-20th century ... [whose] 12-tone musical style ... is certainly complex - tremulous with astringent harmonies and fraught with skittish thematic lines.

Then, to assure his readers that the music does not call for doubling their usual doses of Zoloft and Ritalin, he added that Dallapiccola

...used the 12-tone language in a sensually lyrical way ... [with] intervals that produce plaintively consoling sustained harmonies. [2]

(How the poor reader is to make sense of an incoherent description of the music's  harmonic language as being both "astringent" and "plaintively consoling" was left unexplained.)

This kind of writing makes me feel as if I'm being set up for a blind date with a woman of stern looks and uncompromisingly difficult personality, yet whose acquaintance I'm promised to find rewarding once I get to know her well enough.  Such attitude would be annoying even in the case of genuinely challenging music (e.g., Helmut Lachenmann's Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern), but with works like Il Prigioniero - and even in the context of a newspaper review for non-specialist readers - it is simply unintelligible.

March 7, 2012

Elliott Carter: Night Fantasies; Au Quai

This is the first live recording of Carter's Night Fantasies that I've come across so far.[1]  As one of the co-commissioners of the piece (the others being Ursula Oppens, Charles Rosen, and the late - and sorely missed - Paul Jacobs) Gilbert Kalish must have played this music for quite some time.   His Night Fantasies unfold at a much quicker pace and, as a result, are not nearly as dark hued as what I hear in Paul Jacobs' well-known studio recording (Nonesuch).  But the thrill of hearing this piece played live by one of the outstanding interpreters of 20th century piano music really makes comparisons with studio recordings irrelevant.
    Because almost at the same time I also came across my first live recording of Carter's Au Quai - performed by by members of London Sinfonietta [2] - I thought that it would be well also to add this charming short piece to the blog's collection of  Carter's music.

1. Gilbert Kalish, November 2008, Lincoln Center, NYC.
2.  January 28, 2009 Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.

February 29, 2012

Three cheers for the brave new world...

When pianist Paul Jacobs died of AIDS in 1983, his New York Times obituary, penned by the then ubiquitous piano authority Harold C. Schonberg, mentioned only that Jacobs "died after a long illness".  In the context of an obituary for one of the outstanding American pianists of the post-war generation -- and in light of the fact that other obituaries from the same year dutifully reported heart attacks, cancers, suicides, and other specific causes of death -- Schonberg's wording sounds as vacuous and evasive as a report saying that J.F. Kennedy "died after a brief limousine ride".

Things have improved considerably since then, and not only at the New York Times (which now has openly gay chief music critic).  Some may even think that the pursuit of sexual glasnost in the classical music world has gone too far by pushing musicians toward pointless exhibitionism and general bad taste -- from Vanessa-Mae's soft-porn posters, to Yuja Wang's skimpy concert dress (with its clearly implied promise of a beaver shot for those lucky to sit in the front row), to Jeremy Denk's interview whose topics included "cute gay twinky boy composers" and "watching someone masturbate on the couch".

I, however, do not see such examples as in any way detracting from the dignity and nobility of classical music, if only because there has never been anything particularly dignified and noble about those in the business of creating and performing serious music.  After all, the list of important composers includes fellows who frequented whorehouses (Brahms), molested children (Saint-Saens), authored virulently antisemitic pamphlets (Wagner), and glorified murderous political regimes (Shostakovich).   As for performers, only Norman Lebrecht seems to have the requisite stamina for listing all those sadistic sociopaths, greedy opportunists, shameless liars, arrogant charlatans, and philandering husbands among masters of the podium, poets of the keyboard, wizards of the bow, and conquerors of the high C.  And let us not forget about opera, which offers some of the most imaginative music ever written to accompany tales of murder, adultery, incest, deceit, betrayal, promiscuity, and other similarly ignoble yet irresistibly entertaining manifestations of human nature.

In the end, this brave new sexualized classical music world of ours is really not all that brave.  The day is yet to come when Steinway & Co. will be marketing Ben Wa Balls for pianists eager to inject that extra ounce of ecstasy into their Chopin mazurka; or when beefy men in drag and high heels will be conducting scorching performances of Beethoven's Eroica and Mahler's 9th.  If this is the future, I face it with the serenity of a Buddhist monk.  Because when people make music, the only thing that matters to me is the actual music they make.  And music is one thing I've always enjoyed best with my eyes closed.

February 24, 2012

Big Questions

People who constantly obsess over questions like What is Justice? or What is Art? obviously need help; and they can get it in the form of multi-year treatment programs which combine personal counseling with group therapy sessions.  Although such treatment programs (known as graduate programs in philosophy) offer no cure, they teach participants a variety of effective strategies for coping with their debilitating obsessive disorder.  Those who complete such treatment programs tend to remain in institutional environments (known as colleges or universities), where they earn a modest income by sharing their difficult experiences with young men and women (known as undergraduates) in weekly encounter groups (known as introductory philosophy courses).  The social utility of this arrangement is undeniable, if only because it gives many young people an early opportunity to recognize the life-wasting potential of questions that are exceedingly general, hopelessly vague, and of no discernible promise to our quest for knowledge.

February 18, 2012

With music critics like these...

The job is daunting -- there are hundreds of takes.
Jeremy Denk on the editing of his studio recording of Ives' Concord sonata,
"Flight of the Concord", New Yorker, Feb. 6, 2012, p.28. (italics mine).

 [Jeremy Denk's] recent recording of Charles Ives piano sonatas ... displays a formidable technique and a fine combination of intellectual rigor and emotional depth.
John von Rhein, review of Jeremy Denk's debut with the Chicago Symphony (Beethoven's C-minor piano concerto), Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 2011 (italics mine).

Even without Jeremy Denk's charmingly confessional essay, an experienced music lover (let alone a music critic at a major newspaper) should know that studio recordings -- assembled from hundreds of snippets recorded over weeks, months, and sometimes even years -- can display no more "emotional depth" than a well-assembled microwave oven.  And the only "formidable technique" to be found in such assembled soundbites belongs to a skillful recording editor.

I hope the good people of Chicago are proud of their hometown newspaper which has generously provided this dolt with 30+ years of well-paid employment.

February 16, 2012

Four years later it is still about unbuttoned jackets...

Mr. Andsnes played the piece while seated calmly, never bothering to unbutton his stylish suit jacket.
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, January 19, 2008

... in his modest yet commanding way, without even unbuttoning the jacket of his suit, Mr. Andsnes brought out excitement, inventiveness and beauty in works by Haydn, Bartok, Debussy and Chopin.
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, February 16, 2012

What the fuck is it with Tommasini and Leif Andsnes' unbuttoned jackets (stylish or otherwise)?

February 2, 2012

Jeremy Denk

[Studio recordings] are manicured artifacts, from which the essential spectacle of human effort has been clipped away.  ...  I think about how precious live performance is, and how terrible it is that more and more performances aim to sound like recordings rather than the other way around.
Jeremy Denk, "Flight of the Concord", New Yorker, Feb. 6, 2012, pp.24 - 29.

I know Jeremy Denk's playing from broadcasts of his frequent appearances at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.  He is not a spectacular pianist (who is?), but he is an intelligent, reflective musician who often has interesting things to say about the music he plays.  And judging by his recent essay in the New Yorker magazine, he can be as eloquent at the computer keyboard as he can be at the keyboard of the piano.
      Denk's thoughtful and often disarmingly honest essay, which relates the perils of making a studio recording of  Ives's "Concord" sonata, is the most attractively intelligent way I can think of for a musician to promote his new recording.  I hope Denk's CD outsells Lang Lang.  I really do.  But I am not going to buy it.  In fact, I will not even listen to it for free (if my public library acquires a copy) because my attitude toward studio recordings, expressed frequently in this blog, is far more negative than Denk's wistful lament quoted above.  It is the attitude of bottomless contempt.

I feel puzzled by Denk's conflicted, if not outright incoherent, perspective on studio recordings: he laments their "terrible" effect on "precious live performance", yet proceeds to invest considerable time and effort in making one of those "manicured artifacts, from which the essential spectacle of human effort has been clipped away".  I am puzzled because Denk's live recordings of Bach, Ives and Ligeti (from the Aspen Festival, and also from his recitals at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston) show that he can give technically impressive, tonally seductive, and interpretatively compelling public performances of the most demanding music.  If such performances do not happen at every recital, that's just the price of trying to enrich music with "the essential spectacle of human effort".  Instead of spending hundreds of hours manipulating hundreds of takes in the editing room of a recording studio (and later lamenting the artificiality of the final product), Denk would be artistically much better off recording his public recitals (which can be done inexpensively these days) and letting the microphones hunt for those special occasions on which his playing, even if not note-perfect, fully communicated his love and passion for the music he chose to perform.

January 27, 2012


This may get my avatar pasted on many dartboards, but I think only a juvenile mind can be fascinated by music whose principal aim is to show how to keep an orchestra busy with a single triad for nearly half an hour at a stretch.  Which is what Bruckner's symphonies offer in abundance.  And for many elderly maestros these symphonies also offer a pleasurable and socially respectable way of regressing to the wide-eyed mindset of their teenage years - the years when metaphysical significance seemed to be attached to even the simplest pleasures, be they an 80-minute long Bruckner symphony blasted in the basement of your parents' house, or a 5-minute long handjob administered by your college sweetheart in the deserted basement of the University library.

January 24, 2012

Ilya Rashkovsky

In science and mathematics building on the work of others to obtain deeper discoveries and more powerful explanations is essential to progress in these fields.  But even if  your results reach much deeper and wider than those of your older colleagues, this in no way negates the value of the latter's contributions to the discipline.

In music, on the other hand, things can be strikingly different.  If someone takes the formal, stylistic, thematic, and harmonic elements of your compositions and uses them to create deeper, richer, and more powerful music, chances are good that he will get all the credit from posterity, while you will end up being royally fucked.  Your music will be all but unknown to future generations of music lovers because it will be ignored by performers, dismissed by composition teachers, overlooked by record companies, and denigrated (if mentioned at all) by popular accounts of the history of music.  

January 22, 2012

Delusional young pianists

Sometimes I think that many young concert pianists are simply delusional.  Surely they must know that, to attract the relatively small number of people who go to piano recitals and buy piano recordings, they must compete against countless other young pianists with similar training, talent, and technical endowment.  To make matters worse, in the concert hall these youngsters also have to compete against the still living "giants of the keyboard", and on recordings against the living giants as well as the dead ones.

So, what does the young pianist do to improve his (or her) odds in this brutally competitive market?  Does he try to intrigue you with a rare opportunity to hear a live performance of some unjustly neglected piano music of the past, say a passionate proto-Romantic sonata by Dussek or Hummel?  Does he try to ignite your curiosity with a rarely heard work by an important 20th century composer, such as the melancholy first sonata of Roger Sessions, or one of Stockhausen's haunting Klavierstucke ,  or perhaps Elliott Carter's moody Night Fantasies?  Hell no!  He expects you to spend your time and money to attend a recital whose program consists entirely of pieces that have been played and recorded ad nauseam by just about every great, almost-great, and far-from-great pianist of the century.  A typical example is Cedric Tiberghian's recital in Hohenems (May 21, 2011), where he played Beethoven's Moonglight Sonata, Ravel's Gaspard, and Schumann's Kresleriana.

Now let me get this straight: The young pianist expects me to dress up, drive across town, pay for parking, pay for tickets, sit for two hours in the auditorium, and then take a long drive back home - all for the privilege of hearing the fucking Moonlight Sonata played by some sultry-looking, carefully groomed, and fashionably attired skinny metrosexual twenty-something???  I would pass on this kind of recital program even if the ticket included a free backstage blowjob from the artist during the intermission.  And I consider myself a fairly typical pianophile...

The point of all this is not that Cedric Tiberghien's  playing of tired "masterpieces" shows him to be a bad pianist or inadequate musician.  On the contrary, I think he is quite good.  The problem is that there are too many other young pianists who are at least as good as he is.  And most of them seem to be equally delusional in their belief that they can attain pianistic glory by starting off with recitals consisting of sorely overplayed and numbingly over-recorded segments of the piano repertoire.

January 9, 2012


Years ago my then girlfriend and I had dinner at a once popular Los Angeles restaurant in the hills above Sunset Boulevard.  A few tables from where we were sitting I saw a muscled pygmy whose face looked annoyingly familiar, but whose name I could not recall.  A little later I almost choked on my lobster ravioli because I suddenly realized that the pygmy was a very famous action movie star.  Seen from a few feet away, however, this silver screen superman projected all the menacing authority of a bipedal hamster on a high protein diet.   After that sighting I never could watch the guy's movies again without laughing...