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Jean Sibelius

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Great thread, guys.

This kind of passionate, opinionated discussion is what I love about this board.

I find Ross interesting to read myself, agree with him or not. I appreciate that he writes about classical music on a pretty high level for a general interest magazine. Right now, because of this article, people are being inspired to investigate Sibelius for the first time or delve back into him. I can't conceive of that as a bad thing.

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I appreciate that he writes about classical music on a pretty high level for a general interest magazine.

while i disagree with yr opinion here, axe yrself this: who else even has the chance?! again, i make the Giddins comparison, except for almost all practical purposes, Ross is unhampered by financial worry (everything in the world free, generous travel budget, etc). that there's almost no competition doesn't make his work qualitatively exceptional & if you think it is, try reading a Peter Yates book & then reassert that. maybe you will, maybe you won't but for a dude of supreme priviledge for quite a few years (axe about my friend who slept with him in his fancy, cd-STUFFED Brooklyn Heights apartment 10+ years ago) ... he's a joke. (likewise Giddins' literary & filmic affectations AND his willful ignorance of blues & rock & pre-jass pop. again, w/ that platform, you gotta do something right over the years... but not that much, & certainly not to the level of his self-approbation. i have a book here someone sent me for laffs, it mostly sucks but Giddins is a contributor & his is the ONLY author bio that jerks himself off in addition to saying _____ is the author of, she lives in ______, etc.) the thing is, because the editors don't know any better... they get away w/it, for years, & are actually lauded for their long-term shuck & pomposity. well not HERE, baby!

This ain't an ideal world, that's for sure. What's your solution?

I'm pretty much over Giddins myself and think that he's had his day, but he sure did hip me to a lot of great music when I was beginning to investigate jazz. Compared to a Gene Lees, say, or most anyone else from the generation of writers preceding him, he's a popalicious rock'n'roller.

Nowadays, I must say, I find that the folks on this board (up to and even including edc) are a lot more informative and interesting and knowledgable than most any of the "name" critics. But I can't deny that it was not only the few jazz-informed friends I knew, but most emphatically also the Giddenses and Francis Davises and Hentoffs and Feathers and Williamses and even, gods forbid, James Lincoln Collierses who led me to the appreciation for the music that I have today, however I may agree or disagee with their judgements in retrospect.

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BTW, I have read Peter Yates and I plan to read more. Don't see what that has to do with my qualified approval of the effect of Alex Ross's admittedly cushy New Yorker gig. I trust we all know that it takes a lot more than just knowledge and writing talent to get that type of sinecure. We can speculate on the degree of arse-licking it takes to get there, if we have the stomach for it. None of which makes moot my point that he's bringing figures such as Sibelius into the current general cultural dialogue.

Edited by Kalo

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and shoplifters spread the wealth.

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At the risk of getting into a knock-down drag out, I couldn't disagree more with the notion bubbling up here that Alex is a hack. I think he's got a gift for hearing the music with fresh ears and offering keen insights imaginatively expressed about both the music itself and the performances he witnesses. I would point to a myriad of essays, profiles and reviews about Adams, Wagner, Feldman, Messiaen, Rorem, Shostakovich, Handel, Saariaho, Ligeti, Salonen and even the high modernists Babbitt and Carter -- the latter are the subject of this piece from 1998 (http://www.therestisnoise.com/2004/05/babbitt_carter.htm), in which he is very upfront about his ambivalence about Carter's earlier music but finds much more to enjoy about his remarkable autumnal output -- there's nothing unexplicit about his views on modernism here, Larry, just honest ambivalence about the pitfalls of the high-modernist aesthetic. I find him to be a critic who appreciates the best in any style (he loves Ligeti, for example, and has warm words for Babbitt). He's certainly not one like, say, Paul Griffiths, who reflexively embraces anything from the high-modernist canon, but he's not a closet conservative like a Terry Teachout, who distrusts anything that isn't tonal.

Of course, Larry, Clem and others here may have a different view of his talents and that's cool. However, Larry, I think the charge of insincerity is a mistake. I don't think he's pretending that everything is aces in the classical music business when it's actually going down the tubes but, rather, he's been pointing out that it's complicated -- that there's a difference between the health of classical music as a living breathing art and the health of orchestras and major label recording. Too many people confuse one with the other, and that even when it comes to the business, there are signs and pockets that are far more encouraging than many are willing to see, and that people have been claiming that the classical music is dying for even longer than people have been claiming that jazz is dying. But let's not go there ... Also, there's nothing insincere about his love of pop music (Bjork, Radiohead) and some jazz (Ellington, Mingus) and even if he does not know jazz like many on this board, the fact that he is conversant with such a range of music outside of the classical repertoire pays huge dividends in the quality and breadth of his work. You may see this as superficial and a sign of a poseur but I don't think this applies to Roth. (A related question: what critics in jazz, classical or pop have a truly sophisticated command of at least one other major genre outside of their main expertise?)

Also, I'm intrigued but confused by your final suggestion that Ross, in line with many New Yorker writers, pretend that they have no more expertise than that of their readers. I get the idea -- adopting an everyman rather than professorial tone in order to relate -- but in what sense is this naive or dishonest? In Ross' case, his tone, language and point of view creates a context in which he can dig into the marrow of the music, including sophsticated discussions of harmony, form, etc., but still be accessible to a general audience. As I know you know from your years in the trenches, this really is a tricky thing to do and I think Alex is pretty damn good at it. You may, of course, think otherwise.

MS

Mark -- Fair questions/points about Ross, and I think I can answer them, or at least respond in a reasonable manner, but not in full right now -- too tired to do the necessary chapter-and-verse research. I do recall, though, a fairly frequent air of touting in Ross's work that struck me as dubious, as in these responses from Ross to the music of Osvaldo Golijov:

1) “When Osvaldo Golijov’s "La Pasión Según San Marcos," a setting of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to St. Mark, was presented by the Boston Symphony two weeks ago, the crowd made a sound that will echo in the musical world for some time. It was a roar of satisfaction, rising up from all corners of Symphony Hall. At first, the ovation seemed to be directed mostly at the performers—a throng of Venezuelans, Brazilians, and Cubans, augmented by Boston Symphony musicians, and conducted by Robert Spano—but the noise turned to thunder when the composer walked onstage. This level of euphoria is sometimes encountered at the Met, when a favorite singer has an exceptional night. It is not found at concerts of new music.”

2) “Golijov is a forty-two-year-old Argentine-American composer who has an uncanny ability to don the masks of age-old musical traditions. Born in La Plata, he is descended from Eastern European Jews, and he first made his name with works derived from klezmer and other Yiddish styles. Three years ago, he unveiled the “St. Mark Passion,” a singing, dancing Crucifixion drama, which revels in Latin-American and Afro-Caribbean sounds. His works arouse extraordinary enthusiasm in audiences, because they revive music’s elemental powers: they have rhythms that rock the body into motion and melodies that linger in the mind. Golijov lacks the intellectual caution that leads composers to confine a quasi-tonal melody within knotty, twelve-tone-ish figures. Instead, he lets his melodies wing their way into the open air….

“Golijov won a shouting, stomping ovation. No doubt a few old-school Tanglewood cerebralists went away complaining that Golijov had pandered to the audience. If so, they were pandering to their teaching assistants. The composer is triumphing not because he uses an accessible language—anyone can string together superficially pleasing chords—but because he speaks it with dire conviction. His sincerity is avant-garde.”

Now I’ve heard some of all these works myself and was not outright put off by what I heard, but while I wouldn’t call it a music of outright pandering -- Golijov’s ear is too hip and tasteful for that -- it did seem to me to be a music that was too determinedly concerned with being attractive and decorative/dramatic in its language to be of consistent musical interest. Lots of spice, décor, and an almost film score-like cuing into/underlining of mood – again, almost always very hip and tastefully done – but little or no sense of what, for want of a better term, I’d call language invention or even that much language involvement on Golijov’s part. Of course, I could be dead wrong about Golijov’s music, but I see a fair number of cues in what I’ve quoted from Ross above that he’s primarily focused on the “how to woo back the audience” problem: e.g. “His works arouse extraordinary enthusiasm in audiences, because they revive music’s elemental powers…. [H]e lets his melodies wing their way into the open air…. The composer is triumphing not because he uses an accessible language—anyone can string together superficially pleasing chords—but because he speaks it with dire conviction. His sincerity is avant-garde.”

The bits of fairly cheesy (IMO) writing in what I’ve just quoted from Ross -- "...[H]e speaks it with dire conviction." Aieee! -- coupled with my own response to Golijov’s music, is enough of a give-away for me; it’s as though Ross’s accounts of the enthusiasm these works no doubt actually stirred in those audiences is meant to itself be sufficiently, even irresistibly infectious, a version of “Hey, come on in; the water’s (finally) fine!” Ross seems to me to be heavily into nudging and wooing of this sort, and while I can understand how those might be concerns, the sort of writing about music that has interested and informed me down through the years has been writing that is primarily and specifically a response to the music per se (not to mention a response that treats me like a grown-up) rather than an attempt to convince me that I ought to be pleased by certain sounds because they already have been found attractive by others.

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and shoplifters spread the wealth.

If you're saying that he's a plagiarist and can prove it, then I welcome that.

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It's interesting to read the strong negative reaction to this guy's music from guys like Adorno and Thomson; perhaps that was inevitable, but it seems quite silly in retrospect.

Guy

Maybe those guys had a bit of a problem with the Sibelius connection to the Germans?

Pretty interesting article, a nice bit of history.

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It's interesting to read the strong negative reaction to this guy's music from guys like Adorno and Thomson; perhaps that was inevitable, but it seems quite silly in retrospect.

Guy

Maybe those guys had a bit of a problem with the Sibelius connection to the Germans?

Wouldn't surprise me if that was part of it... but with Adorno, I think that's only a small part of the explanation. The guy had very strong opinions on what good music was.

Guy

Edited by Guy

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i'm being coy-- it's not like most people turn down their station in life (tho' some notably have; Douglas Woolf, for example) & if by some chance he (or his family) owns that joint... yr talking at least half a million then just for an apartment, then... now-- oh wait wait-- he went to Harvard... just like George W. Bush!! a little local rooting interest, K? (i'm busting yr balls but edc is weak.)

Clem - I'm not informed enough on the subjects of Sibelius and/or Alex Ross to comment on them. But I'd like to add that Douglas Woolf also went to Harvard.

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i'm being coy-- it's not like most people turn down their station in life (tho' some notably have; Douglas Woolf, for example) & if by some chance he (or his family) owns that joint... yr talking at least half a million then just for an apartment, then... now-- oh wait wait-- he went to Harvard... just like George W. Bush!! a little local rooting interest, K? (i'm busting yr balls but edc is weak.)

Clem - I'm not informed enough on the subjects of Sibelius and/or Alex Ross to comment on them. But I'd like to add that Douglas Woolf also went to Harvard.

The answer is that Woolf was born into a New England family of some privilege -- wealth, social position -- and more or less dropped out (as they used to say after some 20 or so years after Woolf did so) from the world of the "respectable." Don't have all the details at hand, but here's a bit of a Robert Creeley piece about Woolf that touches upon this:

"If I am to be responsible to this extraordinary person's life, I must briefly rehearse its details, such as I know them, a scatter of particular memories of our all too few meetings, letters, mutual friends such as his exceptional Grove Press editor, Donald M. Allen, others such as the writers Edward Dorn, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, the people who were his family. In some ways Douglas Woolf was as elusive as the proverbial woodland creature, known to be there but rarely if ever seen. I know he was son of a successful New York businessman, that his mother had difficult bouts of mental illness, being occasionally hospitalized at McLean's near Boston, that he had driven an ambulance for the American Field Service in North Africa during the Second World War and had also been in the Army Air Force, that he had gone to Harvard, dropping out before graduation. But having said that, the trail grows cold or rather grows increasingly singular---Good Humor man in Tucson, sweeper of a municipal racetrack in Spokane, householder in an abandoned miner's cabin in Wallace, Idaho. I was in touch with him in all these situations but it was very hard to join the symbolic dots so as to make some defining picture."

I think I've read most of what Woolf published. He's a unique, heartbreaking writer. I wrote a pretty good longish review for the Chicago Tribune in the late 1980s of the Black Sparrow collection of his work, "Hypocritic Days," and the Dalkey Archive reissue of his terrific novel "Wall To Wall." Don't have a copy of the review around myself unfortunately, but if someone's really curious, it probably can be found on the Tribune archive for a fee. One of the unique things Woolf did, at least twice, was write from the vantage point of an animal -- a sheep in the novella "The Spring of The Lamb" and a bird in a longish short story that's in the "Hypocritc Days" collection. Both of these are amazing; the creatures are sentient individuals but not at all cute or sentimentalized. The man had so much heart and at least as much art.

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It's interesting to read the strong negative reaction to this guy's music from guys like Adorno and Thomson; perhaps that was inevitable, but it seems quite silly in retrospect.

Guy

Maybe those guys had a bit of a problem with the Sibelius connection to the Germans?

Pretty interesting article, a nice bit of history.

ditto

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