Hello Vftp friends and fans:
First- the final installment of our top 20 of conducting is done and will go up soon. Apologies for the delay.
It has been a very, very hectic and intense couple of weeks at Vftp Intl Road Headquarters. This time last week, I was putting the finishing touches on what turned out to be a very exciting program of Dvorak and Shostakovich with the Wilmslow Symphony. Readers who spend more than their recommended daily allowance of 25 seconds exploring the blogosphere will know that topic number 1 of most music bloggers these days (or at least the great Greg Sandow) is “what’s wrong with classical music?” Well, you read it here first- I am now going to reveal what is wrong with classical music (hint- it has nothing to do with clapping or not clapping between movements, ticket prices, age groups, “the model” or serialism).
The first half of that WSO concert was dedicated to Dvorak’s great orchestral triptych- Nature, Life and Love. That is what is wrong with classical music. Dvorak wrote the 3 parts of this work as a carefully interconnected whole- together, they form a sort of manifesto of his philosophical outlook on life. Readers may recognize the 3 parts of this work as the overtures “In Nature’s Realm,” “Carnival’ and “Othello.” Or you may not. That is kind of the point.
So…. How does this piece illustrate what is “wrong” with classical music? Well, I’m a music guy. I have played and conducted in a fair number of concerts, and been to a fair number of concerts. As a cellist, I have probably played Carnival 50 times. Conducted it just twice. In concert, I’ve probably heard it another 50 times. I’ve probably heard “Nature’s Realm” in concert twice. Othello……
And how many times have I played/conducted/heard this piece as Dvorak meant it to be heard? 20? 4? 2?
Not only that- of the 90 or so musicians playing last Saturday, not a single person could remember ever hearing or playing a complete Nature, Life and Love. Everyone there had played/heard/seen Carnival more times than they cared to count.
The Decca recording of the great, great Istvan Kertesz recording of these three great overtures is close to definitive, but for one flaw….
The 3 overtures are spread across 2 discs. None are next to each other. People who love Dvorak enough to buy a double disc of his symphonic poems and orchestras (performed by one of the greatest Dvorak interpreters in history) hear this important work chopped up into feeble, pointless bleeding chunks.
Really, people- this is what is wrong with the music world!
We treat people who love music with all their heart like clueless idiots. We turn thoughtful masterpieces into trite 9 minute tambourine concertos. The three overtures together are infinitely more interesting, compelling, challenging and rewarding than hacking through Carnival for the 9 millionth time while not getting the tambourine to play softly enough that anyone else can be heard. Nobody I talked to last week had EVER played Othello. Everyone had played Carnival. Carnival is a hoot (if you tame the tambourine- he was good on Saturday), but Othello is better, and Carnival is a scherzo, a mid-point in a larger story. It isn’t meant to stand on its own.
The second half of that concert was Shostakovich’s epic and completely amazing 7th Symphony. It merits at least 10 more blog posts. What genius and humanity. How blessed are we as musicians to get to study and perform such transformative music? I am still in awe of it. The whole performance was special, but the orchestra found something for the last chord that I shan’t forget- what a final all-consuming roar! That kind of power doesn’t come from lips and arms. It comes from your guts and your soul- the WSO found both.
This week, I have been in darkest Kent, working with the incomparable Kent County Youth Orchestra. There are many reminiscences of past KCYO courses throughout this blog. Just search KCYO or Kent. This week, we are doing a rather titanic program- Elgar’s In the South, Lyadov’s Eight Russian Folksongs and Tchaik 4.
Whether anyone else has noticed, I cannot say, but I have worked my tuckus off this week. Somehow, I feel like the winds of spring are blowing in the promise of a memorable concert. It is tough, tough times for the legendary county youth orchestras of Great Britain. We lost a day of our weeklong course to budget cuts this year. That said, the passion and commitment of young people conquers all. Head honcho Geoff Dixon also hires the greatest sectional coaches on the planet. Put leading members of the Philharmonia, London Philharmonic, London Mozart Players and Royal Opera Orchestra Covent Garden in front of talented and eager young players, and anything is possible. Tomorrow’s audience will have no idea what the musicians lost out on because of the tough fiscal times. Let’s hope next year, the students can get the same intensity of opportunity their predecessors had. They deserve it, and there must be a sponsor out there who can facilitate it. Come on people, check books out! If a young person is ready to spend their vacation playing oboe 10 hours a day (with chops swollen like you can’t imagine) instead of robbing the local off-license, you can at least make sure they are getting as much coaching and tuition as kids five years ago got.
It’s been a funny week for me, because I’ve been just doing the final, final listens to my two new CDs (one of chamber Mahler, the other of Gal and Schumann Symphonies), before the masters go to the factory between rehearsals. I got the Mahler edit at 11 PM last night and was up till well after 2 AM listening (it goes to the factory tomorrow), before a long, long day of rehearsal here. (Top tip, if you want a good night’s sleep, don’t listent to too much late Mahler with headphones following the score like a lasar right before bed). All along the way, there have been booklets to check (on schedule, please!) and fires to extinguish. One might wonder how it feels to go from listening to the mega-polished studio recording of a world-class professional chamber orchestra to an early rehearsal of a youth orchestra getting to grips with a piece like In the South or Tchaik 4 for the first time?
I can assure readers that it is actually a good thing.
A youth orchestra course is a bit like strapping a sleeping hippo to your shoulders then trying to run uphill as fast as you can with great accuracy and style. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and quite a load to carry. It isn’t pretty, except that, without warning, you will find yourself and said hippo racing up the hill like an olympic sprinter after a makeover in the coda of In the South. The transition from drudgery to ecstasy is pretty amazing (if fragile). Eventually, you realize the hippo has woken up, grown wings and is flying you to the mountain top.
We’ve now finished our “course” and all that remains is the dress rehearsal and concert tomorrow. The final rituel of each week is something called, perhaps with a tint of irony, “Music at Night.”
Music @ Night is a sort of improvised young people’s vaudeville show. You really have to be there. Some in past years have been truly jaw dropping in their audacious insanity. This year’s was only marred by its brevity. I was looking forward to a good 2 1/2 hours of madness, and was done in 70 mins.
Here are some random thoughts on KCYO Music @ Night, 2011:
1- As a young man, barbershop singing will always win you street cred with both teachers and chicks. Only the chicks really matter.
2- If you play the violin with as much gusto as you dance to Queen, you will go far (but please don’t fade out in guitar solos- some of us spent long hours transcribing those as kids)
3- Co-educational 2-players-per-axe bass playing is probably the future of the instrument
4- It’s not the song, it’s who sings it
5- There is nothing, nothing, nothing funnier or cooler than jazz flute. Thank you Will Ferrel.
6- That was simply and certainly the greatest rendition of 3 Blind Mice by a violinist on the oboe that the world has ever heard