I should apologize for my silence on this blog for the past –
can it be? — two weeks. Or maybe not. I’d have
preferred to post, but (to bring up an issue more important than music, both
for myself and others) I realized this fall that I’d been very
stressed. My paying work, traveling, my teaching, this blog, meetings on future
projects, composing, my online book…I’ve had a lot of balls in the air at once,
and I noticed a lot of classic symptoms of stress. My mind
racing at night, back pain, irritable bowels; and throughout it all, a feeling
that I wasn’t having much fun. I read a book on stress, and was struck
by many things, including this: Studies show that people, queried after they’ve
made decisions, don’t regret choosing pleasure over work.
So I’ve been trying to change. I had a long Christmas
holiday, and then launched the series I’ve interrupted on this blog, about what
I think the classical music crisis really is about. And then I prepared the two
courses I teach, one at Juilliard, the other at Eastman, both about the future
of classical music. The Eastman course is a schlep, worthwhile, but exhausting –
up in the morning at 6 AM, catch a plane, fly from New York to Rochester,
teach, maybe lead a workshop on entrepreneurship, then fly back, and get home
late in the evening. Putting aside all my other work, of
course. Which includes preparing parts for my new symphony,
commissioned by the South Dakota Symphony, and scheduled for a premiere on
April 19. And also making small revisions, in response
to suggestions from some of the musicians, who’ve looked at the score and found
some places that are harder than they need to be.
I’m trying not to force myself to do anything (except, of
course, the things with rigid deadlines), trying not to work a full day seven
days a week, making sure I take time for cooking, movies, walks, and other
entertainments. I’m doing pretty well, which makes my life a lot more livable.
But I haven’t wanted to obsess about the blog, which unfortunately has left me
Not that I don’t have things to say. They’ll pop up here.
And I’ll resume my “Where We Stand” series, with some thoughts on popular
culture. I’m sorry for my silence, but, you know, I couldn’t help it.
Here are some things I’ve thought about, watched, read:
DVDs of Mozart operas from last
summer’s Mozart marathon in
(they did the entire Mozart operatic oeuvre, 22 works in all, many written, of
course, when he was in his teens). Really vivid, sharp
productions, featuring an unforgettable giant venus
flytrap in La finta
giardiniera (and also a soprano riding gently on
the back of a giant dove). And a rewrite of the ending
style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'> Silla, making
it chilling, rather than celebratory. Though the real
achievement was making that opera gripping at all, with its long string of more
or less featureless arias. The production dug out the issues lying
underneath, and brought them to vivid life. These productions, taken as a
whole, have some of the best acting I’ve ever seen in opera, a tribute both to
the casting and to the stage directors.
The new Norah
Jones album. Quietly delectable.
Kane, which I’ve been watching on my video iPod, to check my feeling that
the operas in the standard repertoire are getting to seem a little like old
movies — wonderful, but clearly from another era. I’ll
style='mso-spacerun:yes'>have more to say about this, of
course. But I thought I’d rewatch a certified Great
Old Movie, to make sure that even the best old movies come off the way I thought
they did. And they do.
Rationalizing Culture, an
anthropological study (!) of IRCAM. And quite a detailed, serious
and savage one. Does nothing to refute my feeling that musical modernism
– even if it started well — ended up as something of a blight.
Quite priceless: the comments of IRCAM’s non-musical
staff on IRCAM’s concerts (“But no one comes to them!
And the music is terrible!”). And the detailed accounts of rampant sexism.
style='mso-bidi-font-style:normal'>Everyday Stalinism, the most vivid book
I’ve ever read on life in Stalin’s w:st="on">Russia
them). Unlike other writing on this subject, it doesn’t simply tell a tale of
horrors (though of course they were there), or expose criminality and chaos.
Instead it shows what people thought about — the strutting, macho leadership,
the squalor of everyday life, the strong belief (rational or not) that things
were getting better. Why, for instance, did women start wearing makeup late in
the 1930s? With the approval, that is, of the Communist regime. It wasn’t
simply (as I’ve read elsewhere) that Stalin brought back many traits of older
culture, so he could rule with more stability. There was also a belief that the
revolution would make
more cultured — that, for instance, the peasants might start to bathe more
often than once every two weeks. And once you got beyond that, what then? You might
learn the names of Shakespeare’s plays — and start to dress a little better.
class=GramE>A fascinating time, the 1930s, full of hope (and not only in Soviet Russia), even when the hope didn’t make any sense.
class=GramE>A fascinating time, the 1930s, full of hope (and not only in Soviet
Russia), even when the hope didn’t make any sense.