Tuesday, February 21, 2012

following up

"Bridging Genres and Generations on the Fly." New York Times, February 5.

"New Kind of Online Dating: Classical Competitions. New York Times, February 12.

So there you have it: two pretty decent reasons for my recent lack of blogging. In all honesty, they were mostly written long before my last blog post -- I've just been inundated with work as of late. But I did want to follow up a bit on each of the two pieces, as I have done in the past, since usually only a hundredth of the crazy things swirling around in my head makes it down onto the page and into print.

So, first things first: yMusic. Even though I am very much aware of many of the players in the ensemble -- Nadia Sirota factored into my undergrad thesis in a major way -- for whatever reason, yMusic completely passed me by until the build-up to their album release last fall. They raised funds via Kickstarter, which is becoming an important method for getting money for classical musicians. The album, in case for some reason you haven't heard it, is great, but what's almost as interesting as "the music itself" for me is their working method, which is how I approached the article. Classical music has been too long marketed as a kind of monolithic "Here is the Composer Genius, and there is the performer who will worship him if he is worthy," but the fact is that the performer who is not the composer is a relatively new phenomenon. I'm fascinated -- journalistically and academically -- by the various bleedings-over of composer and performer, whether it's groups like yMusic which take a very active role in the compositional process, or collaborations like those of Nico Muhly/Sam Amidon, or veritable composer-performers like Corey Dargel or Gabriel Kahane -- or Son Lux, for that matter.

Writing this piece involved talking to some of my musical heroes, and I had many, many fascinating conversations that couldn't make it into the piece. Pretty much all the famous people never got to speak -- I'm still kind of stupefied that I spoke with Annie Clark, Shara Worden, and Justin Vernon aka Bonnie Bear -- but in a way that's almost a good thing, because what they all said was that yMusic was the real talent, and the ones really deserving of star status. I am grateful to Gabriel Kahane, Judd Greenstein, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Richard Reed Parry, Ryan Lott, and all the members of the very busy ensemble for sharing a bit of how their musical lives work. It's a fascinating process, and one I am more and more intent on exploring further. As I've said before, people are talking a lot about this music, but they're not talking about the things that are really interesting: issues of musical authorship, issues of genre/style distinctions, issues of how the musicians define themselves versus how the press defines them, issues of performance practice, issues of construction of musical communities, issues of venue, I can go on, and I will at some point, in extreme length.

The Ecstatic Music Festival is, of course, still going on; the yMusic concert is archived on the Q2 website here; and Son Lux has released an instrumental version of We Are Rising which is well worth checking out.

Alas, I didn't get to bring in any scholarship in the yMusic profile, but I did get some musicology trivia into my competitions piece. The Thalberg-Liszt battle is definitively documented in Dana Gooley's excellent new study The Virtuoso Liszt, which unpacks the role, politically and socially, of Liszt in 19th century aristocratic society. There is much (but not enough!) good scholarship about musical competitions -- I also looked at Joseph Horowitz's The Ivory Trade, which tells the story of the Van Cliburn Competition, and Tia DeNora's s must-read Beethoven and the Construction of Genius, which has a chapter detailing the 1799 piano battle between Beethoven and Joseph Wolfl. The Prix de Rome, a composition competition, is also a fascinating prism into French musical culture -- one of UNC's own, Annegret Fauser, has a great article on the role of women in the Prix.

This was also a very fun article to write. You can look at the full playlist of wed pianists here. I mentioned three performances which I thought were particularly audacious and inventive:

Vladislav Boguinia prepares his piano

Derek Johnson lays it down on electric guitar

And an unnamed man does one hand on the keys, one on the strings

It was great talking to David Lang (whose Death Speaks I am dying to hear, so please record that quickly!), Andrew Norman, Hilary Hahn, and Jeremy Denk, whose voice didn't make it into the piece but is one of the wed judges. The results for the Lang competition will be announced in early March; Hahn's will be announced on June 15th (given that June 15th is my birthday, I'd better win).* All the Orpheus/WQXR Project 440 is still available to take a look at here; you can listen to Norman's Orpheus 440 commission, Apart, Together, here; and Orpheus will be performing its next 440 commission, by Clint Needham, at Carnegie on March 24.

That's all for now. I leave you with Pleyel's Hymn, which has been haunting my scholarly dreams as of late.

*No, I did not enter.