Archive pour August, 2010

Is jazz only for the smart ones?

30 August 2010

I just came across this compelling piece on A Blog Supreme: “You aren’t too dumb to like jazz“. It refers to the Jazz Boyfriend phenomenon, which I admit freely, I had never heard about before but makes some kind of strange sense nevertheless. Well, it seems that, just like you have sports’ widows (you know, the women in the lives of those men who spend countless hours in front of the TV watching hockey, football, baseball, etc.), you also have jazz widows, who can’t understand for the life of them why that “serious” music (jazz in this case but you must admit that we could just as easily substitute “classical music” for this and it would work) holds so much appeal to their better (?) half.

Are jazz (or classical music) fans so different from the rest of the crowd? I have often wondered. I have just had about enough of the “It’s too complicated”, “It’s not for me”, “Are you kidding? I’d never listen to that kind of music!” comments I keep on hearing. For years, I’ve been telling whoever will listen that you don’t have to classify music like this. I am very much of Kurt Weill’s opinion: “I have never acknowledged the difference between serious music and light music. There is only good music and bad music.”

Do I listen to jazz? Yes, of course… quite a bit, actually. For me, jazz has become just another branch on the tree of serious music and has now been around long enough to be codified, just like classical music is. Will I have a potential mate take a jazz/classical music compatibility quizz and then decide if he is the one? Maybe not… but, heck, it would be nice if he at least pretended to understand some of my infatuation with the genre(s).

Proof that jazz can appeal to the full spectrum of emotion, Bill and Samba by Lorraine Desmarais Big Band…


Getting high on music

27 August 2010

Years back, the Mozart effect was more a marketing gimmick than a scientific proposition. By the way, did you know (or care?) that they recently proved that the Mozart doesn’t really exist. (Gasp!) Whatever the latest results, I still believe that you can always find music that will soothe your soul, whether it’s Mozart, Tchaikovsky or Debussy, who cares…

The latest craze? Apparently, kids getting high while listening to music! Hello? Well, it seems that kids these days listen to MP3s that induce a state of ecstasy. As proof (!), a Youtube video shows a teen flipping out while listening to “music” – largely droning noise, rather. At the end of his article, the Wired journalist (a respected publication I must say) even warns the reader that “the following video is only for informational purposes and should only be viewed by responsible adults”. What is this very “dangerous” work? Steve Reich’s Eight Lines! This is meant to be taken as a second degree joke, right?

Well, excuse me while I go and get high on Philip Glass or Arvo Pärt, as performed by Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà…


Hear the difference

25 August 2010

I told you a few months back about the pedal harpsichord, an instrument built by Yves Beaupré, on which Luc Beauséjour now regularly works and performs. In this video, you can appreciate the very appealing colours of this instrument in possibly the most famous work for organ, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Celebrating Barber

23 August 2010

We have heard much about Chopin’s anniversary, quite a bit about Mahler’s, a little less about Schumann’s, but 2010 is also Samuel Barber’s 100th anniversary of birth. If the American composer is famous for his Adagio for Strings (used in numerous movies in recent years), he also is the author of an opera (Vanessa), various concertos (his piano and violin concertos are true gems of the 20th century)  and a ballet (Medea). One of his favourite works of mine remains Knoxville, Summer of 1915, a 1947 work for voice and orchestra. The text is taken from a 1938 short prose piece by James Agee.

We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child. It was a little bit mixed sort of block, fairly solidly lower middle class, with one or two juts apiece on either side of that. The houses corresponded: middlesized gracefully fretted wood houses built in the late nineties and early nineteen hundreds, with small front and side and more spacious back yards, and trees in the yards. (James Agee, Knoxville)

Barber very successfully paints an idyllic, nostalgic picture of Agee’s native hometown, as narrated by a child who seems, at times, to transform into an adult. The work has a very dreamlike quality and the free rhapsodic form parallels Agee’s own choice in developing his work.

Knoxville is considered Barber’s most “American” work, looking both at the supporting text as well as the imagery created by the music.


Your vote counts

20 August 2010

In preparation for the Gramophone Awards on October 1, readers are invited to vote for their Artist of the Year.  Two conductors on that very select list are closely involved with the Quebec musical scene: Kent Nagano, music director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of the Orchestre métropolitain and future music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

You have until August 31 to check the shortlist, listen to CDs and select the artist who has most impressed you over the past 12 months. Details are here…

Freedom of the press?

18 August 2010

We all agree that the music critic position is not considered a “dangerous” one. No chance to step on a mine, to receive a lost projectile in the heart or to be imprisonned in a forgotten jail. Nevertheless, ten days ago, Donald Rosenberg, music critic of the Plain Dealer, Cleveland eldest and most respected paper, was more or less sentenced to silence.

Let’s recall that at the end of 2008, he was politely “reassigned” to opera and ballet, after having covered for 16 years the concerts of the mythical Cleveland Orchestra (and even written a book about it). Rosenberg’s virulent reviews – mainly destined to Franz Welzer-Möst, music director of the orchestra, who is far from having a stellar reputation in the international press – caused much turmoil and the editor of the paper considered that Rosenberg, blinded by resentment, was unable to write a fair review.

Claiming age discrimination (he was replaced by Zachary Lewis, 25 years younger) and the damage of his reputation, the 58-year old journalist filed suit in court against the paper as well as the orchestra. After close to four weeks of trial, that included testimony and depositions from Welser-Möst, Christoph von Dohnányi and the music critic Tim Page, an eight-member jury ruled against Rosenberg on all claims on August 6.

The critic is still unsure if he will appeal the decision. One thing is for sure: this outcome once again addresses the very touchy question of freedom of the press.

An article from the Los Angeles Times on the matter and another one from Politics Daily

Let’s laugh a bit

16 August 2010

Everyone knows that divas constantly throw tantrums and are impossible to handle, right? Well, of course, not quite. I know a few that are very professionnal and, most importantly, real sweethearts. But I must admit that I just love anecdotes that grant me a chance to laugh (just a little bit) at some of their foibles. When, on top of it, we are talking about real stories that happened to superstars, I can’t resist… Don’t worry, I have no intention of keeping them to myself and I am sharing.

  • Near the end of a performance at Albert Hall one evening, the famed soprano Luisa Tetrazzini missed a top note. Greatly distressed, she ran off the platform, literally wringing her hands. Then, suddenly stopping, she raced back and, without saying a word, simply sang the single bungled note. The audience erupted with delight.
  • When Stella Roman was playing Tosca in Puccini’s opera she was supposed to leap to her death from a prison parapet and land safely off-stage on a mattress. Roman, feeling insecure one night, demanded two extra mattresses. She leaped, and the mattresses bounced her back on stage. She had to kill herself all over again.
  • During a performance of Rigoletto in Chile one evening, the audience was mesmerized by a feather floating down, languidly circling, from the building’s rafters. At the critical moment, Louis Quilico threw back his head in song, swallowed the feather, and promptly fainted.
  • So total was the absorption of Tito Gobbi and Maria Callas in their roles that when, during a full dress rehearsal three days before opening night, Maria’s wig brushed against a lighted candle and caught fire, she went on singing and continued to do so even as smoke poured from behind her head, and Gobbi rushed across the stage to put the fire out.

Alborada del gracioso

14 August 2010

Alborada del gracioso (Morning Song of the Jester) is famous among pianists for its impossible to muster double-note glissandi and very arduous repeated notes. Alborada is Spanish for “dawn” and refers to music performed during those hours, especially at festive occasions such as weddings. `

Manuel de Falla talks about Ravel’s Spanish music in these terms: “Ravel’s was a Spain he felt in an idealized way through his mother.” Many experts agree that Ravel’s attachment to his mother was undoubtedly the deepest emotional tie in his entire life. It is not surprising, then, that the Spanish character of Alborada is wholly genuine, with a percussive, insistant rhythm in the outer sections and the reflective lone guitar in the middle section.

It is played here with much conviction by André Laplante. To listen to the other pieces of Miroirs

Karaoke opera

12 August 2010

You never go to sleep before singing E lucevan le stelle or sing Carmen‘s Habanera in your head every time you meet a new man? Your friends constantly remind you that you should have completed your Cegep in music instead of administration? You prefer Broadway musicals? No problemo! I’m expecting you to show up, tomorrow night, 7 p.m., place Émilie-Gamelin, for Karaoke Opera, an event organised by Opéra de Montréal and The KARAOKE Channel, as part of the Montréal Pride Celebrations 2010.

The press release states: “Whether singing solo or with a group of friends, singers will choose from a selection of operatic arias in the style of Verdi, Bizet, Puccini, Mozart, Saint-Saëns and Rossini from works such as Carmen, Aida, La bohème, Tosca and others. Broadway selections include songs from West Side Story, Rent, My Fair Lady and more.”

So, I’ll see you there? Don’t count on me to step on the stage though and sing at the top of my lungs. (I’d be perfect in the accompanist’s role but I’m off the hook, technology will replace me!) I’ll be there to cheer you on though.


The Concert

10 August 2010

The film had been loudly saluted in Europe so I seized the first chance I got to see The Concert (with English subtitles in some cinemas), a Radu Mihaileanu movie.

The story is as as extravagant (some moments are truly unplausible but we go to the movies to escape the real world, right?) as it is delicious. The movie is essentially the story of Andrei Filipov (Aleksei Guskov, particularly expressive with his eyes and hands), the once famour conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra, whose carreer was abruptly interrupted 30 years ago under Brejnev when he refused to let his Jewish musicians go. He is still on the paylist of the Bolshoi however, but this time as janitor. One late night he is stuck cleaning up the director’s office, he intercepts a fax from the Théâtre du Châtelet, an invitation for the Bolshoi to become quick replacement for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He gets the crazy idea to make this opportunity his own, and to bring his own team of old friends (who all have tedious jobs) on a Parisian tour.

Together with best friend Sacha (endearing Dmitri Nazarov) and the help of one time adversary Ivan Gavrilov (Valeriy Barinov), an ex-KGB agent who ruined Filipov’s career, they raise funds and sponsorship and finally make it to the stage of the mythical French hall. Will Filipov be able this time to lead a complete performance of the Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with the help of Anne-Marie Jacquet? That is the (easy to answer) question.

The Concert won the Cesar for Best Music Written for a film and Best Sound, and it’s not difficult to see why. The ensemble cast is more than convincing (François Berléand as Châtelet’s manager Olivier Morne Duplessis is a pure joy to watch), the music is of course great (and made me love  Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto once again). Through the laughs (numerous), the director was clever enough to integrate a (soft) critique of the communist system, a reflexion on the neccessity of filiation (the young violinist has never known her parents) and, of course, the importance of music. The scene in the restaurant in which Filipov explains what the concerto and music mean to him is remarkable in that sense.

I was certainly not as shaken when I left the theater than after viewing Polanski’s The Pianist (a very different story, of course) or even as sweetly moved then after Les Choristes. Nevertheless, The Concert is a movie that reconcilies anyone with the musician herewithin, wheter you are a professional or a simple music lover.