Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Figuratively Blogging

One of the reasons I've been busy this week has been that the orchestra I play for (and do admin of various kinds for, especially the kind of admin that involves having a xylophone in one's garage and a car boot full of tubular bells) has been involved in preparing for this concert. Chip and Eddie Clark are regular commenters here, and Chip has blogged fairly extensively about his compositions. So let's cut to the chase: we did the concert, I provided the comic interlude as Orchestra Manager Despatched To Get Blinding Spotlights Turned Off And Not Back When The Conductor Comes On Stage (and later on did the dramatic coda as Orchestra Manager Plaintively Seeking The Missing Foot Of The Gong Stand When Packing Up)(it turned up, hiding in a shadow - serve it right if an anaemic Vashta Nerada ate it). We were reviewed by Susan Nickall in the Scotsman, and while I can see where she is coming from I don't totally agree with her.

Most people I spoke to liked the quartet a lot, but Susan Nickall dismisses it (a shame for the Edinburgh Quartet, who presumably put a lot of work into preparing it*). While it "cited rock influences such as Yes and Pink Floyd", the tunes "were bland and repetitious and not developed in any coherent way". (OK, so more the first Steve Howe solo album than Yes**. ) I would accept that Chip is better at invention than development, but I think she was rather harsh there. I intend to get hold of a copy for my own quartet to have a crack at (in the privacy of our homes rather than a concert hall).

She liked It Must Be Fate better, though she felt it couldn't decide whether to be "Tommy or Tosca". A splendid metaphor, and I know exactly what she means: I felt Jared's solo didn't so much contrast with the other music as declare war on it. Still, it is still a work in progress and I expect it will undergo all kinds of changes before Chip & Eddie are through with it. The review is spot on in singling out Jayne Anne Craig's performance: she eclipsed everyone else. For me, though, the least successful piece of the evening.

Chip on his blog notes various things that came adrift in the symphony: for once I can say that (save one place where the front desk came in a bar early after a page turn) the second violins weren't one of them. If it makes him feel any better, we did a performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony back in February that (for various reasons) was a real train-wreck, with orchestra members coming off the platform feeling really down about the whole thing: but the audience loved it. (Chip and Eddie were in that audience - wonder what they thought?) It was a classic example of the dictum that that if you play a wrong note one or two of your colleagues will notice, and maybe an audience member or two if it's really bad. If you play the right notes without conviction everyone in the room will notice. We played a heap of junk then (our fault, not Mahler's!) with real conviction, and the audience responded. I think we played with conviction on Wednesday too. FWIW I think the first movement of the symphony is a bit too long, and like everyone else I know I liked the third movement ("You Can't Catch Rabbits With Drums") best. My prediction is that in ten years time the symphony will be wholly forgotten, but "Rabbits" could well have acquired a separate life of its own, like Saint-Saens "The Swan" or the Scherzo from Litolff's Concerto Symphonique No. 4.

Though I caught myself humming a bit of the first movement in the loo just now....

How many composers can you think of, incidentally, whose first symphonies are played much? Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev, Elgar and Berlioz certainly; Sibelius and Vaughan Williams rather less. Even composers thought of as symphonists can have disappointing beginnings: how many people can hum anything from Bruckner 1, Schubert 1 or Shostakovich 1? And when it comes to bland and repetitious tunes not developed on a coherent way, just don't get me started on Schubert's Ninth, OK?

* Heh: the Edinburgh Quartet decided to programme Chip's quartet again tonight and to add it to their programme for the coming season. Which will be worth more in publicity than a more favourable Scotsman review would have been and will presumably bring in performance royalties.

**An amusing aside. Chip gave the orchestra CDs of his symphony for practice purposes. These were generated by the scoring software (Sibelius) so had a very synthesized sound, and my very first thought when I listened to the opening of the symphony was "Rick Wakeman".


At 16 June, 2008 16:46, Blogger Chip said...

I'm finally getting around to catching up on some of the blog's about the internet. It's probably appropriate for the composer/conductor to comment in particular to your review of the concert.

I should preface this with comment as a rebuttal - done with the intent of dialog, not antagonism. I was not offended by anything you said. I hope you feel the same about this – my opinion.

Of the comments I have received of the concert the votes are split (fairly evenly), some liking the opera most, some liking the quartet the most. Those that like the quartet best think the opera was the weak point. Those that favoured the opera thought the symphony was the weak point. No one seemed to think the quartet was the weak link (which may be due to the quality of playing and not the music – but hard to tell). It is interesting (to me) to see how split the tastes are in terms of what worked and what didn't. I am putting it up to taste rather than performance as the comments as to why are extremely diverse.

As for other thought... I'll send those off in email as this is already too long of a post for a comment!

At 19 June, 2008 20:27, Blogger Rob said...

Thanks Chip. As you say, an interesting spread of opinions as to what worked well and what not so well.

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