eccomi

Bard summer, post 3

As always, there's a lot to tell about what happened since my last post, and I as I have this excuse not to read for my paper (not that I am not enjoying it, mind you; I would have never actually expected myself to enjoy reading about Tchaikovsky's music this much; but can one do without procrastination one in way or another?), here you go!
It's pouring outside, and we just ran to the computer lab from the Olin Hall, where a Graduate Conducting Program Thesis Concert took place:
It's a shame the audience was so scarce, as there was really something to hear! I only got to listen to the second part of it unfortunately, but I did enjoy what I heard. The last person to conduct was Chang Yu, and in a sense it left me with the feeling that she was actually a headliner. Although she is 7 years younger than me, you get a feeling that a mature musician is dealing with the orchestra. She made it really sound as a unity of instruments, not a collection of isolated sounds; the volume and passion were very impressive. And I loved how she put Hector Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture at the closing of the program: in the programme note Chang Yu writes that Berlioz was very much ahead of his time, and then she plays the pieces chronologically to have first Mozart, than Schumann and Brahms, then her own composition; and finally you realize that she was carefully building up the tension – and when we get to Berlioz, she makes the Overture sound indeed very drastic and radical, very late-20-century.
Speaking of the programme notes,
They are written by the conductors taking part in the concert, so as to cover all the music pieces that are being played (they overlap, and the writing quest is divided so as not to).
I get the feeling that writing about music in a 'popular' way, i.e. being prepared to do the public musicology thing, is part of the training, of which I very much approve :) I cannot say I was particularly fond of the approach to writing though, as it turns out to be mainly biographical with only a few exceptions. Boy do I know this is hard. I just wish there were more people capable of doing it the right way (I would say that out of English-speaking writers my idol is still Julian Budden; and the way he manages to sneak in the biographical hints where needed is also very endearing ;)).
At this point you are probably wondering why I missed the first part of the concert, and the answer is closely related to the public musicology matters. The answer is, we went to the pre-show talk with Leon Botstein about The Wreckers. (And BTW here's the picture from the opening night:
This is curtain call, and the person walking is Leon Botstein. You can also spot James Bagwell, who was the chorus master for the production, stage right – although maybe you really cannot in this picture as it didn't turn out very clear, sorry.)
A lot of you have been asking me primarily about the music and how I liked it. Well, here's a funny thing for you: what Botstein was saying about how this music works is almost word-for-word the same thing that I was telling Masha after the first tech rehearsal that we went to. I was kind of flattered to see that we see eye-to-eye on this.
So what Leon actually said, is that Smyth (BTW her last name is not pronounced like 'Smith', but like 'Smite' with a 'th') revels with eclecticism and makes it her own. While you can clearly hear not just influences but, let's say, stylistic quotes, quotes of solutions from the leading German composers of her time (primarily Strauss and Wagner), but also French and English, and she also relies heavily on motives drawn from folk songs, one wouldn't say her composition style is 'not original'. She is very much in the vocabulary of her time (which is early 20th century – the first and only full performance of the piece was held in the UK in 1909), and she uses it as a code or as a language (I feel it's a little bit the way the rhetorical figures were used in baroque music). Botstein compared Smyth's music to movie scores, the way you would use codes for emotions and situations in a soundtrack to make the audience instantly 'get it' (while my comparison was rather with musical theatre, especially European style, where you would have certain pop culture cliches travelling from one production to the other so as to invoke a deeper context). In that, Smyth's music is very effective: when you hear the 'Tristanesque' second act, and you feel the lovers' longing for each other, or when a flirting-and-teasing scene comes up and a character bursts into a seguidilla.
There is a funny thing I should say about this opera, too. See here. As you can see, when they did a Wagner-themed SummerScape here at Bard way back in 2009, they surrounded him with Jewish composers. It was a way of reconciliation through music, as music, not biography, is what stays. And here there was this 'Wagner meets Bizet' moment. And you kind of can hear how their music blends together in perfect harmony (I mean, aesthetically ;)).
To me personally, experiencing The Wreckers was quite curious and it kind of came in the right moment after Chausson's 'Le Roi Arthus' but... I cannot tell you anything else as the computer lab is closing and I must RUN.
More later!
Never with the ' absolutely'. Know what? I have something to tell that you in particular might appreciate. I didn't have the time to put it in this post and probably it's no good saving it for the next one, so here goes.
One of the questions from the audience was, what were the main influences on Smyth. And when answering it, Leon said, among other things, that with Smyth you probably cannot tell for sure, because you do not have, like, someone else's score with her comments at hand - unlike with Bloch, where there is a full orchestral score of Siegfrid with Bloch's notes, and you can tell that for his first opera, which I gather would be Macbeth, he drew the inspiration there.
Thanks! Great!

By the way, afaik, "Macbeth" is Bloch's only opera.
I'd like to have a look at that "Siegfried" score, because I never thought of that connection when I was listening to this "Macbeth".
I stand corrected ;)) You're the expert on Bloch, not me!
But I thought this an interesting thing to know anyway. I am not sure whether you can get hold of any scans of the score anywhere or anything, though.
I'm not. I jjust happen to know that one. :)
Most probably not. Scores from private collections of any composer of renown (even if Bloch isn't exactly as famous as Debussy or Wagner) are usually stored in archives and accessible only for research and with special permissions. I wonder how imslp manages to have so many historical scans uploaded.
The older the score, the lesser the probability it is protected by copyright. I mean, what is important in the case of historical manuscripts is not the copyright on such and such work by composer X or Y, but the value of an antiquarian manuscript, the handwriting, authenticity, its being a primary source for study etc. And, of course, you know that the older the score, the more fragile it is - it may get damaged or even destroyed just by a light touch.
But the more fragile it is, the more reasons to digitize it, huh?

BTW there's a great guy here on campus who makes me think a lot about you. His name is Jared and we hang out together a bit, and I really do wish you guys could meet. I must think of a way to arrange that, seriously.
You're right, as almost always. But it's not so that anybody can do that... or there are special techniques to do that.

If you must, than perhaps you should think first about connecting us in social networks. For the moment I see no way to cross the great pond.