Slipped disc: August 2007 Archives
Since none of the British papers have yet noted the death of Russell Johnson, I devoted my page in the Evening Standard yesterday to an appreciation of the man and his work. You can read it here.
Nor have the UK obit pages cottoned on yet to the passing of Tikhon Khrennikov, the titular head of Russian music for more than half a century who directed the persecution of those composers who refused to toe the party line.
Instead, the main papers carry fulsome tributes today to my late colleague and near-neighbour Alan Blyth, an opera critic who, among his many strings, furnished all the main obituary pages with a stock of glowing eulogies of opera singers. I guess Alan, nice chap that he was, carried more weight on the obit desks than tyrannical Tikhon. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Nice riff going on at Kyle Gann's blog over the New York Times critics' choice of their prime cuts of minimalism.
What struck me was the list's insularity. Apart from a concerto by the Dane Poul Ruders, issued on a small US label, all the composers and works chosen were American.
Granted, minimalism was a Californian invention by Terry Riley and LaMonte Young, arising from their exposure to John Cage and to eastern esoteric philosophies. But the tendency was far-flung and often oblivious to its antecedents.
The so-called East European Holy Mininmalism of Part and Gorecki was pretty much sui generis, rooted in counter-communist early Christian monodies, unaware of US trends.
And the work of Michael Nyman arose chiefly from his rejection, as a critic and composer, of ascetic, Bolulez-led modernism.
Between them, Gorecki's million-selling third symphony and Nyman's soundtrack to The Pianist, reached an audience tenfold that of the entire NY Times list. Some of the greatest hits of minimalism were made outside America.
Not just insular, then, but seriously myopic.
My day has been clouded by news of Russell's death. An unobtrusive little man in rumpled suits, he transformed concert halls over the past 35 years - not just the acoustics of the room but the very atmosphere.
Russell's signature halls were Birmingham, Lucerne and Dallas. There were many others but these were his pride and joy, the ones where he made fewest compromises. He was totally frank and open about the way he worked - no smoke, no mirrors, no fake science - and he was bitterly contemptuous of colleagues who were cowed by star architects into accepting a less than perfect sound solution.
Above all, he was a lovely guy, a smalltown kid who put himself through college on the GI Bill after discovering by chance - after fighting in the Philippines in 1944 - that he could hear things in a hall that none of his friends noticed. He was honest, unpretentious and good company. I shall miss him greatly, and I won't be the only one.
News that Hitler's record collection, discovered in a Russian dacha, contained works by Jewish composers he banned and performers he sought to exterminate - including one, Bronislaw Huberman, who went on to found the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra - serves admonitory notice on us all.
Note to my executors: destroy all records. True, there is no stash of Spice Girls and 45 rpm Cliff Richards behind the Ligeti and Birtwistle CDs but what will posterity make of my 17 versions of Rachmaninov's C-minor concerto and the complete encores of Fritz Kreisler? I'd be exposed as a soft-centred smoochie, an unregenerate big-tune lover. Nothing gives us away like the music we choose to keep.
I wonder if the Fuhrer bunker had a copy of that wartime English hit, Who Do You Think You Are Kidding...
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Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog