Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian plays bass in an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Sunday, June 02, 2013

Without a Paddle

Rivers Festival, May 9 – June 9
 
 
After two weeks of the Rivers Festival, it is hard to determine if we are headed up or down stream. Whatever direction, the journey has had its interesting moments. In spite of the minor drought of audience members, the Festival deserves credit for at least attempting to find some connection to the world outside the concert hall. Heaven knows we need some of that. For those interested in more background information, a handsome website has been put together. Go to {redacted}so.org and look for the link to the Rivers Festival.
 
Although talking about classical music programming has about as much relevance as a couple of Byzantine priests arguing over which moldering object in the reliquary might be the most holy, I'll risk putting a toe in those waters by saying I have appreciated the Festival for bringing a few seldom heard pieces to the stage. The usual dead, male, European composers will all still be dead, male, and European when the festival is over. (And besides, if their greatness will somehow fade from memory when other music is played every now and then, perhaps they were not so great to begin with.) And if we are going to rely on using 'popularity' to determine programming, we'll end up playing a lot more Film Nights and show tunes from now on. So, although while not everything we have played so far may qualify for 'greatest music ever written' status, I have few regrets over presenting these pieces to the public.
 
The programmers of the Festival cast a fairly broad net to round up the repertoire, some of which seems to have a tenuous connection to the matter at hand. Although not officially part of the Festival, a Beyond the Score presentation of Scheherazade found its way onto the schedule this month. The piece (spoiler alert) has a shipwreck near the end and Rimsky-Korsakov was apparently a sailor, a fact which was pointed out extensively during the presentation, perhaps as some sort of aquatic tie-in. The Rite of Spring (also not in the festival itself, but included in a list of 2012-2013 season 'Rivers Repertoire') had me scratching my head until a colleague bonked me over the head with the all-too-obvious relationship. Even the Film Night program that also sneaked its way into the middle of the Festival had a vaguely aqueous tie-in, Singin' in the Rain has water right there in the title.
 
The repertoire has so far skewed towards the folksy (Moldau, Mississippi River) or the Jungle-y (Amazonas, Panambi, Noche de las Mayas). Takemitsu's Riverrun was something a bit different and definitely a highlight for me. As always, I find myself wishing the programming could have gone a bit further. Crumb's Echoes of Time and the River would have made an excellent addition to the Festival and given the underrepresented 1960s more of a voice.
 
Crumb did win the Pulitzer for 'Echoes', for what it is worth, so perhaps inclusion in the Festival might not have been totally out of place. Another prizewinning composer did make it onto the schedule. Florence Price won first prize from the Wanamaker foundation for her Symphony in E minor, although her Mississippi River is naturally what we ended up performing as part of the Festival. The problem with a lot of 'river music' is that it falls into the formula of presenting a series of tableaus, as if we were floating by on a raft at some sort of kitschy theme park. First we come upon a group of natives in loincloths, beating drums. Around the next bend, a cheerful family of animatronic bears are singing 'round the campfire with banjos and a washtub bass. Further on, some shirtless woodsmen burst into a rustic folk melody. Beethoven avoided the pitfall by placing the 'observer' on the river bank instead. Clever, prescient fellow.
 
Actually, the topic of perspective came up when I spoke with my friend, Dr X. (Since he generated a lot of interest after his guest post, at this point I need to clarify that the doctor is a: straight, and b: happily married.) Anyhow, the good doctor reminded me of Heraclitus' famous saying (“No man ever steps in the same river twice”) and mentioned how music resembles a river of sound, never the same.  He went on to express some regret over his previous post. How can one complain of repetitious programming with both listener and performer in a constant state of flux? Perhaps the real mystery to music lies in the minute differences from one performance to the next. How is the Bruckner 7th Symphony a totally new piece when the maestro has eaten chicken instead of beef before the concert? Or pasta. Perhaps we need less variation, but deeper concentration. Variety is both a profound truth about the world and an illusion which obscures it, he said. Needless to say, the Doctor, in the process of buying his tickets for next season, is very confused.

6 comments:

nocynic said...

"...the Festival deserves credit for at least attempting to find some connection to the world outside the concert hall."
Isn't that exactly what "Beyond The Score" attempts? And yet it is not a series that receives a lot of credit on this blog.

Michael Hovnanian said...

To answer your question, no, because I'm referring to the present. My bad for not making that more clear

sjid said...

Great composers typically express several different, even bewildering arrays of emotions in the narrow space of a few bars. Awareness of emotional complexity in human experience and the ability to express it is the mark of creative genius. An interpreter's ability to clarify and integrate these subtleties provides listeners with insight into their own emotional complexity and may even seem revelatory. One could make the case that in music, as in all art, variety is the essence of profundity.

Most would agree that we flatten our innate emotional complexity in order to be efficient in our daily lives. It's often referred to as maturity. To compensate, we exempt certain individuals from this pervasive blandness on the condition that they provide us with temporary relief. We are grateful that Beethoven couldn't have made it as a bean counter, for several reasons. We come to concert halls, theaters and candle-lit cafes hoping to reconnect with emotional depth. In that carefully segregated environment, the concert hall, we most respect those composers and performers who "shed new light" on the variety of feelings denied us in everyday life; we most respect those who most respect our selves.
This goes a long way in explaining the backward march of civilization. The _SO definitely needs to connect with the outside world. And how about an exploratory committee for Muti for President? Muti: mutatis mutandis

Stan Collins

nocynic said...

"To answer your question, no, because I'm referring to the present."
Oh, I got ya...
Historical context bad!
Au courant banalities about ecology and the environment good!

Michael Hovnanian said...

I get what you are saying as well.

Banality + Time = Historical Context

nocynic said...

Don't forget images on screens! And delicatessen-style "Now Serving..." numbers!