Comments have trailed off…is everybody sick of this?
Here are two New York Times reviews to contrast. First, Steve Smith on a concert of music written by women. A very well-written, evocative review (which someone commenting on a previous post was good enough to praise):
During a panel presented recently at the National Performing Arts Convention in Denver, the American Music Center and the American Composers Forum reported preliminary findings from “Taking Note,” a survey of American composers. The study was undertaken to help those organizations better serve their constituencies. According to its findings, the average American composer is a highly educated 45-year-old white male.
That revelation might not seem especially surprising: the history of classical music has long been portrayed as a chronology of great men, mostly white and European. But women have written music since antiquity, and they steadily grew in prominence during the 20th century. Anyone who regularly attends new-music concerts can attest that female composers are increasingly well represented. At conservatories, by some reports, perhaps half the composition students are women.
Plenty remains to be done before parity is achieved. But in a concert by the NeoLit Ensemble at Bargemusic on Friday night, it was refreshing to encounter a slate of works by seven female composers, presented without any hint of corrective polemic….
The concert began with Ms. Chen’s “Night Thoughts,” a spare evocation of a Tang dynasty poem. Ms. Lukas played tones that bent, swirled and fluttered, accompanied by plucked glissandos on cello and icy piano figures. Midway through, the flute offered a nostalgic melody, which gradually dissolved back into general murmurings….
Ms. du Bois commented from the stage that “The Storm,” her sonata for cello and piano (originally for violin and piano), recast the turbulent emotions she felt at 18 as a roiling tempest. Romantics might have deemed this sturm und drang; nowadays, to borrow a term from rock, it was pure emo. Ms. Bass and Ms. Mihailova were equal to the work’s impassioned demands.
Steve notes that gender seemed trumped, at this concert, by ethnicity. Chen Yi is Chinese, and Shulamit Ran, whose music was also played, is Israeli, ” and each called on musical aspects of her heritage.”
And now here’s a review of a Liz Phair concert, by Jon Pareles.
Phair sang all the songs from her 1993 debut album, “Exile in Guyland” Exile in Guyville (correcting both the name of the album — thanks, Molly — and the format for album titles: italics, not quotes, though newspapers, for some reason, put them in quotes):
The “Exile” songs were amateurish in the best ways. The lyrics were blunt and unguarded: tales of a young woman veering from sexual bravado to wounded bewilderment at men’s behavior to keen observation of power struggles within couples. The song structures often strayed from verse-chorus-verse, and unconventional tunings led to odd guitar chords. Her voice was untrained, mingling tenacity and diffidence…. At one point she polled the audience members on how many had bought the original album (nearly all), how many used it to get over a breakup (a significant response), how many couples had met over it (few) and how many had played it during sex (enough to surprise her)….
After 15 years of other people’s indie-rock idiosyncrasies, “Exile” still holds up in all its conflicting impulses: its determination to be “adamantly free” and its longing for someone to trust, its swagger and its pain.
The contrast couldn’t be clearer. Maybe the classical concert was more compelling than Liz Phair’s event. Maybe readers interested in classical music would rather have been there. Maybe Steve’s review is more evocative than Jon’s. But nobody, I’d think, can deny that Jon’s review connects more directly to the lives we lead than the classical review does — or that Liz Phair’s music has more direct, more vivid things to say about being a woman than the classical pieces apparently do.
(And for classical people who wish pop reviews talked more about the sound and structure of music, Jon in fact does that. See the first paragraph I’ve quoted, above, and also Jon’s comments on “the sparse arrangements of the original album: the exposed guitars and snare-drum sputters,” and on Liz Phair’s voice, “sinewy in the angrier songs and sustained in the quiet ones.”)