eccomi

Bard summer, post 9

The Bard Music Festival, or BMF, was dedicated to Carlos Chavez and his world. 'The first time we have a festival about someone who is not exactly a household name', as Leon Botstein put it. But while Chavez is not really well-known, his world, the world of independent Mexico, Latin American culture, mestizo identity and the nationalistic music, certainly is talked about a lot.
Before we go any further, I would like to say a few words about the word nationalismthat is so widely used in American musicology, and sounded so freely throughout all Festival events and panels. What totally struck me is exactly this. People say it not as something bad (if you say 'nationalism' I instantly start thinking fascism, putting down Untermenschen, being hostile to anyone who is different and so on; I would downright faint had anyone called Tchaikovsky a 'Russian nationalist' in Russian), but as something neutral, meaning 'someone who supports and develops the culture of a certain country' or 'someone interested in the concept of Volksmusik and involved with developing it'. In that sense, say, Bartok or Dvorak become nationalists. And even a figure as disinterested in politics as Tchaikovsky is regarded as a person writing a nationalist kind of music, with the 'Birch Tree' theme in the Fourth Symphony, romans music and so on. Such use of this word definitely does not agree with how I feel, but then again, I come from a different country and have a very different background. Maybe it is OK to take the power out of this word by using it simply in this, not its political sense. Maybe. But I am having troubles with it.
We talked about it with Peter Laki, and he brought up a famous quote from Dürrenmatt's Romulus der Große (you can read it in Russian here, BTW):

Vaterland nennt sich der Staat immer dann, wenn er sich anschickt, auf Menschenmord auszugehen.


(Every time a country is preparing to kill people, it calls itself Fatherland.)
This is very much how I feel. But! When we are talking about Chavez, who was indeed very much involved with politics and building a specific Mexican identity, this word is probably relevant: he did see his country as a nation. A nation of 'polyphonic' origin, with a very mixed background and a unique culture.
(There was a panel discussion on the opening day dedicated to the idea of nationalism in music, and AFAIK no argument of this kind was made; probably I'm just trying to make things more complicated than they are.)
The festival was very carefully programmed. I am not sure I can explain how this effect is achieved, but if you do go to all (or at least most of) the concerts, you do learn a lot, and you do come to realize and hear things you didn't expect yourself to master. First, each concert is centered around a Chavez-related topic, such as Latin American identity, song culture of the country or modern academic music, but covers primarily the 'and his world' part: Chavez's music is surrounded by that of his contemporaries, opponents, friends, people who influenced him, people who lived in the same countries and so on. Second, the way the program itself is built is such that it channels an idea – your opinion is carefully shaped (and the fact that Maria and Alex and I, three totally different people with drastically different tastes, constantly agreed in our views, only proves how masterfully it is shaped).Say, the very first concert was called Chavez and Mexico's Musical Heritage. It showed literally that: Mexico's musical heritage, from the 17th century on. And it is not to say that the heritage was in any way 'bad', but most of the 'normal' European music sounded very secondarily and, I cannot find a better word, cheap. It was clearly not a source of inspiration – and by the intermission you were quite convinced that the only hope for Mexican music was indigenous and mestizo music, not that.
But before you could despair about the death of Europe, you got the second part of the concert, wither very daring and fresh music written in the New World. True, Chavez's compositions made less of an impression than those by Revueltas (whose Ranas and Toccata (sin fuga) were wisely put as the last two numbers), but you could still feel that he was going in the 'right' direction and was far more advanced in his approach to music than most – that is, impressive or not, Chavez did start to look as the right composer to make the world turn around him.
(There was another surprise for me at the first concert:

Julián Carrillo created his own theory of microtonal music called 'The Thirteenth Sound'. As Wikipedia tells, this therory was

described by Nicolas Slonimsky as "the field of sounds smaller than the twelve semitones of the tempered scale." Carrillo developed this theory in 1895 while he was experimenting with his violin. As he placed his finger over a violin string, he noticed that he could produce different sounds than the ones defined by musical convention. This way, he realized that the string could be divided into an infinite number of pitches, creating many more possibilities for music composition. [...] The Western musical convention up to this day divides an octave into twelve different pitches that can be arranged or tempered in different intervals. Carrillo termed his new system Sonido 13, which is Spanish for "Thirteenth Sound" or Sound 13, because it enabled musicians to go beyond the twelve notes that comprise an octave in conventional Western music.
Julián Carrillo wrote: "The Thirteenth Sound will be the beginning of the end and the starting point of a new musical generation coming to transform everything."


Leon Botstein, who was doing the inter-concert talk (he said that he decided to speak between numbers, not do a pre-copncert talk, as there was so much to tell; and he was right, it would have hardly been possible to leep so much new information in mind, especially when it is so diverse), said that he was asked to warn us: 'They are not playing out of tune. It's just a different sense of playing in tune!'
And that, in turn, reminded me of how Luis Garcia Renart showed us Mexican street musicians play and said, 'When I first heard this, I was five, and I told my father: "Daddy, he's playing the violin out of tune!" It was only later that I noticed that he's always out of tune exactly the same way!' That is not to say mestizo music is microtional, of course; it only came to my mind because there are different ways of being in tune.
But I got side-tracked, sorry.)
And third (are you still with me? Half an hour ago I mentioned 'first and 'second' *blush*), the festival as a whole makes you really see its grand design. For most of the festival you have this feeling that OK, why not use Chavez (who was not so great himself) as a means to introduce the audience to a wider culture, to get us immersed in the 'and his world' bit, since Chavez himself was such a notorious figure in politics, culture, etc. And gradually you come to realize that maybe the fact that Chavez's music is not exactly catchy (in any sense of the word; in one of Peter's classes Alex called Varses 'catchy', and you know, it's hard not to agree with him), seems too well-crafter, composed too carefully and very much lacking and self-irony, is not really a fact. I mean, as for 'catchy', it definitely is not. And as for the rest... Really, maybe you need to give it another listen.
With that idea you come to the final concert and its closure, Horsepower. And it's just terrific. (It's a great shame there's no complete recording, I'll miss it!)
To add to the impression Horsepower makes on its own, again, the program is carefully crafted to build up to it as the highest point. The first part has Alberto Nepomuceno's Serie brasiliera and Alberto Ginastera's Estancia, Op. 8, both very decent and emotional Romantic compositions. Very good, very remarkable, not in the least unexpected. The second part starts with another composition of a similar kind and, moreover, a proper symphony – Julian Carillo's Simphony No. 1 in D Major (composed some 20 years before he invented his microtonal theory). And if you like Romanticism in music as much as I do, you relax and start enjoying it, at the same time thinking that it was very wise not to start with any of these, because otherwise it would have seemed that Latin American music is European in essence; and still, as this is the closure of the festival, maybe the moral is that you cannot pull it off without the European tradition, you cannot have your own way in music. (In addition, the morning concert that day ended with Aaron Copland's Las Agachadas

and as we were leaving, I told Alex that one thing I definitely do not like about Chavez is that he has zero sense of humor.) And then this! So much sophistication, so much irony, so inventive, so unexpected, using all the 'right' composition techniques and yet making it into something engaging an unpredictable.
As I was leaving the audience, I realized that I fell into the trap, and willingly. I will definitely be lisstening to Chavez now. If I manage to find it, that is.
Oh my, I need to go and I'm not even halfway through what I planned to write. To be continued!


Another thing about my life rather than the Festival that I forgot to tell you about is that I went hiking to Tivoli Bays:

(The mountain over there bears the funny name of Kisco.) I took several trails; they are all comparatively short and easy as none goes uphill, but look how picturesque (and scary) they are:
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НУ КОНЕЧНО!
Я не фальшивлю! Я Иначе Интонирую!
До чего мировецкие корни. 0_0 Восторг!
Там причём много-много такого. Иногда мосты такие из них над ручьями. Я обфотался, но ни одна фоточка не передаёт даже примерно.
Отличные места, ничего не скажешь. :-)
Аще. Но все трейлы оччччень простые, я был разочарован. Шлялся чёрт-те сколько времени, не устал даже; а до апхилла на Киско добираться неудобно без машины или хотя бы велика.
В следующий раз поезжай в Юту. :-))) Там с, эээ, недостатком проходимости все в порядке. Причем, есть на выбор либо там где жутко жарко и солнце ПАЛИТ, либо там, где дубак и горы снега, а солнце все равно ПАЛИТ.
The music's pretty horrible, but that's neither here nor there, I assume.
I definitely heard "Estancia" and I think I heard "Caballos de vapor" once...

I once did some research on the musical side of Cuban bolero and I found out that the standard work on Cuban music is "La música en Cuba" by Alejo Carpentier, published in 1975. It's a shame, since there's a lot of interesting things out there - and you actually get the idea that while there have been no real geniuses around in Cuba, there have been some noteworthy cmposers there, and that their music has its own identity.

I think you might like Copland's opera "The Tender Land". It's music is what I'd call unobtrusive ("un-catchy"), but nontheless it has a distinctive "American" identity (you also hear it in works like Barber's "Vanessa"), and the story is very touching - set roughly in the same time and place as Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men", but essentially one of growing up, getting wings and taking flight. It was thought to be performed by students. As such, it has a very low tessitura (especially the soprano and tenor protagonists' parts), but this way you get the words because the singers don't need to thinik so much about high notes (although they have some of them).

I also think that you definitely should listen to some Villa-Lobos (who was VERY prolific), to begin with the complete (!) Bachianas Brasileiras, not just the famous one for solo soprano and 8 or so violoncellos, some of his guitar music (very worthwhile) and his "Yerma", set to the original Spanish of Lorca's play - unfortunately, there's no decent recording of it.
I do know (and like) 'The Tender Land'. And I was this close to catching it live (James Bagwell waws conducting it in MA on the first weekend that I was @ Bard), but alas, couldn't find a lift.