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Analysis, Criticism & Commentary: March 2008 Archives

Stravinsky - The Second Exile

Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America, 1934-1971 by Stephen Walsh

In glorious discord over Stravinsky

Few things are more fun to savour than a good old artistic feud, says Rupert Christiansen

The fallout can take several forms, from the vitriolic spat (Vidal v Capote, Oasis v Blur) to a purely intellectual combat (Wilson v Nabokov), to the serious lawsuit (Ruskin v Whistler), to the soured friendship (Lennon v McCartney, Vargas Llosa v Márquez, Theroux v Naipaul).

But the most interesting variety is the one that pitches competing conceptions of the truth, as when Mary McCarthy denounced "every word" of Lillian Hellman's account of her communist fellow-travelling as "a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."

Stephen Walsh and Robert Craft haven't gone quite that far over the matter of Igor Stravinsky, but they've come pretty close.

There's something of All About Eve to the story of Craft's attachment to the great Russian composer, and something of Boswell's relationship to Dr Johnson. A brilliant American music student, Craft latched on to Stravinsky in the late 1940s, becoming his secretary, minder, gatekeeper, amanuensis, conducting assistant and surrogate son.

Read more about this at the Telegraph website:

Stefan Sanderling

Florida Orchestra struggles to create balanced program

By John Fleming
St. Petersburg Times

The Florida Orchestra is in a terrible bind. On the one hand, music director Stefan Sanderling and the orchestra want to – need to – play contemporary classical music. An endless stream of standards by Beethoven, Brahms and the Russians is a programming strategy that leads to artistic oblivion.

But whenever the orchestra sprinkles some relatively new music into its concerts, such as a couple of 20th century French works heard in masterworks programs this season, it turns off a significant number of audience members. These usually are subscribers, the most loyal listeners the orchestra has.

This season, I have received quite a few letters from concertgoers complaining about mildly adventurous works by the likes of Messiaen, Dutilleux, Harbison and Helps, and I expect the orchestra has, too.

"We truly were not impressed with this display of contemporary music,'' wrote Carol Enters of Clearwater after hearing the Helps Symphony No. 2. "If, indeed, maestro Sanderling is impressed, let him mount a series all his own, so that those who appreciate such presentations can enjoy them .?.?. and those who do not will not have to suffer through them.''

This sort of response undoubtedly has something to do with the 2008-09 season's masterworks schedule, which includes just two works by living American composers, John Corigliano and Samuel Adler, and not a single premiere.

Read more about this at the St. Petersburg Times website:

It's Tough to Like Good Sound


The Swift Boating of Audiophiles

By Michael Fremer

The "Want to make an easy $1,000,000?" e-mail wasn't a scam from Nigeria but an alert from Paul DiComo, late of Polk Audio and now of Definitive Technology, about a double-blind cable-identification challenge made by The Annoying Randi, a magician and debunker of paranormal events who goes by the name of "The Amazing Randi."

I should have hit Delete and resumed my vacation. But a few months earlier, Randi, without the slightest provocation, had attacked me on his website and the revenge fantasy of relieving him of a million of his bucks filled my head.


At deadline time, yet another anti-audiophile piece appeared, this time in The New York Times' Arts & Leisure section, written by opera critic Anthony Tommasini, titled "Hard Being an Audiophile in an iPod World." Here's an excerpt from yet another letter to the editor that I felt obligated to write:

"The iPod is no more responsible for 'thinning the ranks of audiophiles' over the last decade than cheap, fast food has depleted the ranks of gourmets, or cheap wine has 'thinned the ranks' of oenophiles....Consumers are demanding higher quality food and seeking out better wine. Why? Because gourmet food and fine wine continue to receive enthusiastic coverage in the mainstream press and people who appreciate them are respected, while quality sound gets ignored, or worse, gets the kind of treatment you've chosen to give it this week – a perverse, gleeful dismissal – and audiophiles are looked upon as either 'odd' or 'deluded' for paying the same attention to sound that others pay to food or wine, or clothes, or cars, or you name it, except for sound. ..."

Read the complete account at the Stereophile website:

Is Conducting An Art Form?

Nigel Kennedy

Nigel Kennedy criticises "egocentric" conductors

By Robyn Powell and agencies

Violinist Nigel Kennedy has criticised star conductors for their egocentric behaviour, for being more interested in promoting their image, than spending time with an orchestra.

Kennedy said some conductors spent only a few weeks with an orchestra. He told The Times: "How many will develop an orchestra rather than feeding off its achievements? They're straight off for the dollar. Round the corner to get a better job. All they're interested in is strutting about, wielding a bit of power.

Nigel Kennedy denounced conducting as an art form

"A conductor can galvanise the troops and evolve an artistic programme and identity of style. If they only give five or ten weeks a year [to an orchestra], how can they do that?" However, he declined to name any specific conductors. But denounced conducting as a form of art for his preference for playing music. "Why would you want to stand there waving a stick when you could be playing an instrument?" he said.

Read more about this at the Telegraph website:

BBC Proms Not Inclusive Enough

British Culture Minister Margaret Hodge

Culture minister criticises Proms

by Peter Apps

Culture minister Margaret Hodge stirred up a storm on Tuesday by criticising the annual promenade classical music concerts in London's Albert Hall as not inclusive enough for a modern multi-ethnic society.

The Last Night of the Proms each September sees hundreds of concertgoers in the hall and across the road in Hyde Park waving flags to patriotic songs like "Land of Hope and Glory," "Jerusalem" and "Rule Britannia."

But challenging the arts sector to better reflect modern Britain, Hodge said they were reaching too narrow an audience.

"The audiences for many of our greatest cultural events -- I'm thinking particularly of the Proms -- is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel that they are a part of this," she said in a speech to a London think tank.

[See for yourself: Schedule for the 2007 BBC Proms]

Read more about this at the Reuters website:

Tales of Music and the Brain

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

The Musical Mystery
By Colin McGinn

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
by Oliver Sacks
Knopf, 381 pp., $26.00

Music is so ubiquitous and ancient in the human species – so integral to our nature – that we must be born to respond to it: there must be a music instinct. Just as we naturally take to language, as a matter of our innate endowment, so must music have a specific genetic basis, and be part of the very structure of the human brain.

An unmusical alien would be highly perplexed by our love of music - and other terrestrial species are left cold by what so transports us. Music is absolutely normal for members of our species, but utterly quirky. Moreover, it is known that music activates almost all the human brain: the sensory centers, the prefrontal cortex that underlies rational functions, the emotional areas (cerebellum, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens), the hippocampus for memory, and the motor cortex for movement. When you listen to a piece of music your brain is abuzz with intense neural activity.

Read the complete review at the New York Review of Books website: