I was at a concert: Well…half a concert

But who is cupping your balls, sir?

Allow me to preface this partial review with a disclaimer: I am not an etiquette Nazi.  In fact, I myself possess little etiquette.  Hell, I use the word “fuckin’” where other people use “uh,” as in “the guy from Shawshank Redemption?  Isn’t that fuckinnnnnnnnn…Tim Robbins?”  That’s but one example of my downright boorish persona.  I bring this up only to provide a reference point for the next couple paragraphs.  Suffice it to say, I haven’t read any of the books by, what’s her name, fuckinnnnnn…Emily Post.  Hey, any review of a classical music concert that begins with Nazis, the F word, Shawshank, and Emily Post must have been some kind event. Continue reading

I was at a concert: Four guys you may have heard of…

Richard Strauss

Mix equal parts John Wayne, Dirty Harry, Ninja, Mike Tyson before prison, John Bonham's drumming on "Whole Lotta Love", and Pirate. Add orchestra.

Last week’s concerts with the Kansas City Symphony were led by their associate conductor, Steven Jarvi, whose picture on the group’s website makes him look like he’s 16 years old. Jarvi might be older than that. He is unequivocally more musically sophisticated than that.

Jarvi, as far as I can tell, doesn’t appear to bear anything other than a fortunate surname in common with Neeme, Paavo, Kristjian, and however many other Jarvis are out there (think of them as the Wayans Brothers of orchestral conducting). Ironically, though, his conducting style reminded me a bit of his non-brother Paavo: maybe a little sweepy on occasion for me, but always clear, concise, and controlled. I have no problem saying that my expectations were not very high…not because of Mr. Jarvi particularly, but because of pretty much every other young conductor I’ve observed in the last few years. It was a meaty program of some of the finest music Austria ever had to offer, and a true test of a conductor’s mettle. Continue reading

“An artist is never ahead of his time but most people are far behind theirs.”

Edgard Varese

Serious Composer is Serious.

It’s funny how different things speak to different people differently.  I recently finished reading Alex Ross’ insanely brilliant history of the 20th century The Rest Is Noise, and it has gotten me listening to some pretty interesting stuff lately.  Frankly, going from Salome to The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany to Porgy & Bess to Notations to anything by Lamonte Young has me on the verge of psychosis, but I’ve kept my sanity long enough to make the following broad generalization: of all the composers in the 20th century who wrote the music that no one likes to actually listen to, Edgard Varese wrote the best and coolest stuff. Continue reading

Youth, and gigs, are wasted on the young

Walter Weller

I don't always drink beer. But when I do...I prefer Dos Equis.

Somewhere between the world of Euro-retreads (Haitink, Boulez, Muti, Abbado, Chailly, etc.) and the new breed of pseudo-prodigy (Dudamel, Nelsons, Jurowski, Ticciati, etc.) lies a nether-world of conducting populated by the chronically under-appreciated.  They don’t have exciting hair.  They don’t have Johnny Cash’s Live from Folsom Prison wardrobe.  They weren’t the brightest stars in the firmament 30 years ago enabling them to trade on their great Firebird recording from 1983 to this very day.

They give consistently great performances.  And they do it in the kind of anonymity usually afforded Franciscan monks or Katie Holmes after Scientology. Continue reading