Thursday, December 29, 2011

these are a few of my favorite things (this year)

Think of this more as a lazy reminder of things I wrote this year, rather than some kind of apotheosis of year-end greatness. It's me wanting to write a blog post but not really in the mood to say anything new or enlightening.

1. musikFabrik: Easily the most underrated new music ensemble in existence. They turned many of the best concerts I saw into events, not only mastering insanely-complicated music but then playing it while doing some crazy, crazy choreography. See: Rebecca Saunders' Chroma and Poppe/Heiniger's Tiere sitzen nicht at MaerzMusik; Stockhausen's Sonntag in Cologne; an awesome Musikfest concert (technically 2010). Take a glance at their 2012 schedule: all the music you want to hear in New York but never do (Jakob Lenz! new G.F. Haas!).
Somebody needs to bring them to America, asap.

2. Toshio Hosokawa's Matsukaze. I'm just going to go ahead and say that I think this is probably the best opera I've ever seen. I am hopelessly addicted to the unofficial recording I was lucky enough to obtain; the score is a dreamworld of fascinating, beautiful complexity; and Sasha Waltz's gorgeous choreography along with Barbara Hannigan's singing just sealed the deal. Needs to come to the U.S. (Lincoln Center Presents, I'm looking at you).

3. The Berlin Philharmonic. Kind of goes without saying. The best was, as expected, Simon Rattle's Mahler -- particularly the Second and Third, but the Second actually took place last fall so doesn't really fall into this year's best-of. I also recently took in a great concert led by Pablo Heras-Casado in the Digital Concert Hall.

4. Worms' Nibelungen Museum -- totally awesome, well worth a trip if you're trekking across the country.

5. The MaerzMusik festival. I have particularly fond memories of Justė Janulytė’s Sandglasses, Chroma, and Michael Vorfeld's Light Bulb Music

6. Lucia Ronchetti's haunting re-composition of Cavalli's Giasone: another transcendent Gesamtkunstwerk experience, this time on a small scale.

7. Anna Prohaska's breathes the air of another world, in Schoenberg's Second String Quartet: a major talent on the rise.

8. The Hamburger Bahnhof got run over by some reindeer: my numerous visits to Carsten Höller's Soma

That's all, folks. See you in 2012, the year classical music dies.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

end of line

The semester is, for all intents and purposes, over. Yes, I've got a French final on Monday, and I still need to print out and put a Haydn paper in a mailbox, but my first term in grad school is basically done.

What about all that juicy academic insider knowledge I promised you? I apologize for that one; turns out my time needed to be a bit more focused on learning that insider knowledge for myself before I could disseminate it to the rest of the internet crew. But I might as well try to let you know what I did the past four-ish months, so I'll at least have an alibi for not having blogged that much.

Things are a little bit different for me this year because I am actually not teaching -- due to the warm generosity of the Royster Society, for which I am eternally grateful -- so I can't give you the downlow on what it's like to be a TA. It also freed up my time a bit to take some extra things -- French 101 and a music theory independent study where I basically re-learned all the analysis skills I should have known in the first place (still on the docket: 18th century counterpoint, serial stuff). First-years in UNC's program take two seminars per semester as well as a year-long methodologies course. As I mentioned before, I took Afro-Latin music as well as the late instrumental music of Haydn. What that ended up being, research-wise, was two lengthy papers. Let's break it down, for those still paying attention:

1) Textural Networks in Haydn's Opus 76 Quartets

Take a listen. Hear that beginning, a cello solo? That's not normal -- it's actually the only Haydn quartet which starts with a solo that's not the first violin (did I just blow your mind?). Anyway, if you listen closely, you'll notice that Haydn seems to be going for a fugue, and then shies away. The voices enter in ascent -- cello, viola, violin 2, then violin 1 -- but we never get anything approaching a fugue. It's a weird joke, and to an extent one of texture, of how the instruments interact with each other. The bulk of my paper is tracing these textural oddities throughout this quartet, and then going on to expand that study beyond the G-major quartet to the entire Op. 76 set of six quartets. I ended up proposing the idea of a textural network, that Haydn considers texture as a primary structural element and weaves together textural elements so that they reference and play off of each other over the course of the six quartets. It's just another way of looking at what is a truly incredible opus.

The personal why of writing this paper was a deliberate attempt to do more of what I tend to shy away from: stick-to-the-music, note-y analysis. It's one of the skills I need to develop more, so this was a great opportunity to get to know some awesome music and write about it without getting into politics, gender, cultural capital, and all those other fun buzzwords I spend a whole lot of time normally talking about.

2) Dialogue and Stereotype in Hans Werner Henze's Cimarron.

So what does Henze have to do with Afro-Latin music? Not a bad question. Henze lived in Cuba for several months in the late '60s and wrote two pieces, with libretti by Hans Magnus Enzensberger -- El Cimarron and La Cubana, both based on documentary novels by Miguel Barnet. This paper was more of my regular style, using critical theory by Bakhtin and Homi Bhabha to unpack some of the problems -- but also acknowledge the strengths -- of music which appropriates the identity of an escaped Afro-Cuban slave for Henze's and Enzensberger's political purposes. I'm honestly not a huge Henze fan, but I think the Cimarron is a fantastic piece, and sits in a cultural moment that also gave us Peter Maxwell Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King. However, there is some borderline racist stuff going on in there, and most people haven't addressed it. So I did.

So those were my seminar papers. The methodologies course was also awesome. It's divided into 2 or 3 week mini-units, within which the first-years learn a skill set or theoretical concept from a different member of the musicology faculty: bibliography, interrogating evidence, pop music ethnography, how to re-interpret Schubert like a badass, cultural transfer. Next semester we're doing a mega-unit on the Rite of Spring, and some stuff on new music to boot. Seminar-wise it'll be all about Copland and 15th century Italy (no, not together); and I'm also going to be doing an independent study on the Sacred Harp, during which I will dip into the astonishing resources of our very own Southern Folklife Collection.

I'll be in New York next week to work on some upcoming special projects as well as see My Brightest Diamond/yMusic/The National, Iestyn Davies, Contact! (hey, it's been almost two years since the last one I went to!), Stile Antico, and maybe more. I'll keep you informed, as always.