Slipped disc: January 2009 Archives
Having waited a lifetime for Korngold's Dead City to come around, I need never see it again.
No discredit to the Covent Garden production - a rehire from Salzburg, Vienna and San Francisco - nor to the London cast. Stephen Gould and Nadia Michael gave their all in the central roles and Ingo Metzmacher conducted with delicacy and conviction.
Seeing the work on stage, however, rather than hearing it on record and radio, I was forcibly struck by its irredeemable flaws - a libretto of plodding banality and a plot that arouses neither sympathy nor empathy with any of the characters.
The story: man loses wife, locks himself in a room, fantasises about a dancer, tries to throttle her, leaves the room. There is not enough there for an opera, and the leaden lines that were cobbled together by the composer and his father are either lumpen or artificial, putting the whole show at several removes from reality. There is no depth, no philosophy, no meaning. Were it not for the composer's Jewishness, the Nazis would never have banned it.
Korngold's music is demonstrably derivative - Puccini, Strauss, Mahler and a straight lift from Lehar that I'd never spotted before - and the return of its one great aria at the close is a cynical bid to simulate feeling for a cut-out who never becomes a character.
I'm glad to have seen Dead City and I urge everyone to catch it while you can because it is, as I have argued elsewhere, a birth moment for modern opera. But I'm not expecting it to hang around in repertoire for very long. The piece has too many flaws. It did its job. It's over.
I last saw him at a vernissage of my friend Zsuzsi Roboz, where a portrait of the sleeping Lady Mortimer hung fetchingly in the nude. John, in his wheelchair, smiled possessively.
He was always out and about in London, never missed a good opening or a glass of bubbly. In court, as a combative barrister, he broke many a lance for freedom of expression. Later on, he was never short of a cause to champion on the op-ed pages, an injustice to decry. I clashed with him once or twice. He was never less than cordial in disagreement.
His criminal-lawyer hero Rumpole was married to She Who Must Be Obeyed.
A gentleman, and a lawyer. They don't make them like that any more.
I was thrilled beyond all expectation. The heart always has a little leap when someone is reading your novel on a bus, or even browsing it in an airport bookstore. That signifies a kind of acceptance, irrevocable once the purchase has been made.
But to find readers engaged in one of your works on a handheld computer when they could just as easily choose from a million others is an affirmation of a different sort and I am having trouble explaining to myself why it filled me with such joy.
I have always been among the first to use new cultural gadgets, be they compact disc - I had a demo model back in 1982 - or word processor, or DVD, or time-shift television. So it's great to be there on a Kindle or a Sony Reader, but not that much better than getting the super-coolest of i-Pods for your next big birthday. I have seen the things at work in my publisher's office and was not all that impressed.
What thrills me, I suspect, are the twin elements of transference and cylicality. An idea comes from the mind, gets worked out on screen and paper and is finally imprinted between hard covers in a satisfying permanence.
Or so you kid yourself. That permanence may be for a year or few, after which the book ends up in a dump bin or pulped in a publisher's recycling plant, the few hundred or thousand surviving copies trickling out of libraries and secondhand stores until they are worn out and only the British Library, Library of Congress and a few similar institutions maintain the author's precious illusion of eternity, unto the tenth generation.
In digital form, the work lasts forever. It can be deleted, of course, but that's unlikely to happen when it costs nothing to maintain on a databse and will continue to sell so long as there are readers who might find it enlightening. The sense of permanence is there.
Even more appealing is the feeling that the idea that has come from the ether has returned to the atmosphere, complete but ethereal, holding its space in the universe of ideas. What comes round, comes round.
I think that is what has made me so happy. I don't own a Kindle and, were I to be given one in the pursuit of my professions, I don't know how much I would use it in preference to the multi-sensual delights of the printed book.
I am a print junkie. I like to smell the page and run my fingers down the crack of a spine. But the uplift of receiving one's latest book in hard covers wears thin on repetition, whereas the knowledge that I am out there on Kindle just fills me with delight as I go about the daily toil of putting 1,000 more words on the page and readying them for publication. I am falling in love with a machine I have never met.
In Alan Gilbert's first season, just announced, the orchestra will pay a reparatory visit to North Vietnam, a gesture infinitely more meaningful and productive than Lorin Maazel's attention-grabbing swoop last year on North Korea.
Why so? Because, while the US has dues to pay in both places, Vietnam these days is a fairly open society where people can read what they like on the internet and choose which concerts to attend. Some 17,000 Vietnamese bought into the BBC's download Beethoven cycle. Those who go to hear the NY Phil will do so out of free will, not as puppets of a regime where nothing moves an eyelid without the Dear Leader's say-so.
In Pyongyang, the audience was made up of party hacks and hordes of foreign journalists who descended on a starved, enslaved society like proverbial locusts. The concert, an empty showcase for one of the cruellest governments on earth, achieved precisely nothing.
In Hanoi, most of the audience will be survivors of the Vietnam War or its human legacy, the progeny of relationships, loving or coerced, between US soldiers and local people. There is much pain and memory still to be catharted in Vietnam and this event promises to be a new stage in the healing process. It augurs well for Alan Gilbert's leadership.
Our dear friend Betty died yesterday in Los Angeles. I'm a bit too choked up to write much about her now, but I don't think anyone did more to develop musical creativity in the past generation. I once called her the Midwife to Post-Modernism. I think she liked that.
She had a musical ear and a certainty of taste the like of which I have rarely found in the most celebrated conductors. She also had the capacity to stand apart from her work, and everyone else's, which is the hallmark of true art.
I attach below a short tribute that my wife's company has sent out. Betty did a power of good in music and art. She took us into a new era.
Betty Freeman, who died at her home in Los Angeles on January 4, 2009 at the
age of 87, was the leading patron of new music in the late 20th and early
She was the force behind such modern classics as John Adam's
opera Nixon in China, Steve Reich's electronic string quartet Different
Trains and Harrison Birtwistle's Antiphonies, and the dedicatee of works by
Cage, Feldman, Berio and dozens more. She found Harry Partch living on the
strets of Los Angeles and gave him shelter in her garage. In all, more than
80 composers were beneficiaries of her support, in over 400 works.
Betty was also a close friend of the artists David Hockney and R B Kitaj and
a gifted photographer in her own right. Her portraits of modern composers,
taken with the privilege of close and prolonged collaboration, are
exclusively represented by Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library.
An accomplished pianist, Betty established a musical salon in Los Angeles in
the 1980s. She had no nostalgia for 19th century romantics and supported
without prejudice both streams of post-modernism - both the minimalist and
atonal tendencies. Few people could claim to be a close friend of both
Philip Glass and Pierre Boulez.
Among other composers she commissioned are George Benjamin, Markus Stenz,
Thomas Ades, Hanspeter Kyburz, Harry Partch, Anders Hillborg, Philippe
Boesmans, Conlon Nancarrow, Lou Harrison, Helmut Lachenmann, George Crumb,
Jorg Widmann, Matthias Pintscher, Friedrich Cerha, Olga Neuwirth, Luciano
Berio, Morton Feldman, Gyorgy Kurtag and LaMonte Young.
Her friendship with Lebrecht Music and Arts dates almost from its foundation
in the early 1990s. The knowledge that her work was professionally and
internationally represented encouraged Betty to continue making photographs
right up to her final illness. She was a kind and extraordinarily
considerate friend who put the interests of art above personal comfort and
convenience. She was also a funny, witty, strong-minded woman who will be
terribly missed by all who knew her the world over.
For more links see:
And Alan Rich has written beautifully here:
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
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
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit 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
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
Joe Horowitz on music
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