Bass Blog

Michael Hovnanian formerly played bass with an orchestra located in a large midwestern city.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Now Serving...WAR!

2011 began with something of a bang – the Beyond the Score program devoted to Prokofiev Symphony no. 5. Although I have mixed feelings about the BTS shows, I'm happy any time one of them features music less than a century old. We've got to drag our audience (and probably a number of musicians) kicking and screaming into the 20th century before the next one ends.

It came as something of a letdown that the pro Stalin heckler did not make an appearance. I mean the fellow who took extreme umbrage at the Shostakovitch 4 presentation and yelled “Long Live the Third International!”among other things. I suppose he is on some sort of 'do not fly list' at our concert hall, unless of course he is being detained, incommunicado, in the secret warren of interrogation cells beneath the stage. But the disposition of such a rare commodity as an ardent Stalinist in this day an age merits careful consideration. They might consider writing him into the show next time we do another one of the Soviet area masterpieces.

As I am sure to have mentioned previously, it is hard to get an accurate idea of the BTS show from the stage while sitting in the dark, fending off sleep, stealing glances at the screen, and trying to keep one's place in the cues. We have little number displays, like at your local bakery, telling us which number is coming up next. It may seem obvious that the cues run in numerical order, but if you have three or four off in a row, the possibility of miscounting is very real. That said, it was difficult to follow the narrative thread of the presentation. Germany seemed to invade the Soviet Union three different times during the show, then Peter and the Wolf got involved somehow. However, in the end, the audience was justifiably appreciative, Socialist Realism (at least temporarily) won the day while, routed from its entrenched position, Liebestod, turned tail and fled the concert hall.


nocynic said...

For the first time, I actually saw a BTS from the hall, not the stage, taking a "busman's holiday" on a release week. I detest Prokofiev 5, which is why I took the week off. I tend to resent any work in which the woodblock part is more gratifying than my own viola part, and it was fascinating to note in the presentation how much more effective the music was when the pianist on stage just played Prokofiev's piano sketches as they were before he orchestrated it. Having never seen one of these presentations before, I was enormously impressed by the skill with which the visuals-archival footage, still photos, and animations-were compiled and integrated into the narration and musical examples. I wish the show had had a bit more focus. It seemed like they couldn't quite decide if it was about the music, the composer, or the time.

Jacque said...

If I'm not mistaken, the "secret warren of interrogation cells beneath the stage" is the men's locker room. It's kind of nice. There are benches to sit on and the lockers have nice maple doors, not the stamped metal of your high school locker.

Heckety said...

Perhaps he's locked in an unused 'cello case?
Sounds interesting, your presentation, as I've never heard of BTS, but missing cues is my all-time least favourite hobby. Its partly why I was generally referred to as 'that dull thud in the back' I guess! The bane of several conductors!!

sjid said...

I am a little tardy to class so this comment is archival right off the typepad. Beyond the Score strikes me as a worthy tribute to the depth and variety of musical experience. Most musicians communicate on a direct level that is not available to most audience members. For them, the music does speak for itself.

BTS aims at getting into the mind of the composer. It is often helpful to approach music from a psychological, social or even structural dimension, especially for people who don't have a musician's ability to speak pure music and who usually communicate verbally. Aside from biographical insights, BTS can help us overcome our musically challenged states and hear with new ears. Your reference to Liebestod is what I am suggesting. This week's concert includes Shostakovich 5, the so-called apology symphony that begins with a gut-wrenching version of none other than the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde, a motif which is developed along side an adaptation of Mahler's Totenfeier, all presented to us with Shostakovich's inimitable genius for combining personal message, mockery and profound music in a single statement. In this case, he combines the germ of all chromaticism with the idea of resurrection and a funeral rite. He is apologizing with the very adulterated compositional technique that got him in trouble in the first place, and he gets away with it. Another example is a mathematician's approach to the music of Bach, where contrapuntal techniques can be conceptualized as applications of linear algebra so that a two part invention, for example, can be heard as a set of transformations of a pattern of intervals.

Beyond the Score offers intimacy with music on a level and in language that is meaningful to non-musicians. It is understandable that musicians may resent this back door approach, but it can lead to a more direct appreciation of the language of music in addition to many other insights. Following the last BTS there was an audience question period that lasted at least an hour, during which one audience member who knew nothing of Prokofiev praised the presentation as an art form in itself. BTS, where no one is left behind.
Stan Collins