In case you haven’t heard, Merce Cunningham, who invented postmodern choreography long before the term “postmodern” was coined, has collaborated with Radiohead and Sigur R
Archives for October 17, 2003
“About Last Night” and its proprietors have now been immortalized in verse. And yes, we’re flattered.
As for the Buffy quotes, well, I’ll take it up with OGIC once she gets her computer fixed….
Speaking of landmarks, this blog will receive its 50,000th page view some time this afternoon (probably while I’m eating lunch). Not too shabby, I’d say. And here’s something else I’d say, and will: Thanks for your support. Keep it up. Have I told you to tell a friend about www.terryteachout.com lately? Well, do.
Yeah, I know, I promised to post yesterday, but thingsgotbusyaroundhere and all of a sudden it was bedtime. No more excuses, though: I am now officially back, with a vengeance.
Part of what preoccupied me yesterday was the snail mail, which really piles up when I’m gone. Fortunately, there were plenty of accumulated goodies in the mailbox to serve as a counterpoise to all those bills and press releases. Among other things, Mosaic Records sent me a review copy of The Complete Verve Gerry Mulligan Concert Band Sessions, a box set for which jazz buffs have been waiting impatiently ever since word of its imminent release circulated last year. More later, but believe me, you don’t need to wait for the reviews, from me or anyone else, to buy this one.
I also received a treasure from San Francisco, Milton Avery’s March at a Table, a drypoint etching that I ordered from a dealer months ago but couldn’t afford to finish paying for until I received the first installment of the advance for my Louis Armstrong and George Balanchine biographies. It’s really, really beautiful, and it’s also an anomaly: I don’t own any other works of figurative art. All my other pieces are unpeopled landscapes, cityscapes, still lifes, and abstracts. No doubt this says something profound and unintentionally revealing about the nature of my interior life (especially since this “portrait” of the artist’s daughter is far from literally representational), but all I know is that I hung “March at a Table” on the wall at the end of my couch, where I can see it easily whenever I’m curled up with a book.
Lastly and leastly–except to me–HarperCollins sent a first-off-the-press copy of the trade paperback edition of The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken, which comes out on November 4 (you can pre-order it from amazon.com by clicking on the link). It, too, is beautiful, at least as far as I’m concerned. It’s also the perfect antidote for those blue periods when you feel like nothing will ever go right again, because in addition to the front- and back-cover blurbs from the Atlantic, the Boston Globe, The Economist, the Baltimore Sun, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, the folks at HarperCollins threw in four solid pages of enthusiastic excerpts from thirty other reviews of The Skeptic. Is that cool, or what?
So yes, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do (don’t I always?), and sometimes I wish I didn’t, but when you get right down to it, who has a better job? Which is why I’m glad to be blogging again: I love to share my pleasures with you, at least vicariously. Thanks for stopping by while I was gone, and thanks for being so nice to Our Girl in Chicago.
(Incidentally, I just heard from OGIC, who is having computer troubles of her own. Please send benign thoughts her way–I sooooooo know how it is.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a gallery to visit, and a review to write, and a whole lot of accumulated e-mail to start answering….
I reviewed The Boy from Oz in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. It’s a new musical in which Hugh Jackman plays pop singer-songwriter Peter Allen. Here’s an excerpt:
Mr. Jackman, an energetic and engaging movie-star-in-the-making whom my friends assure me is babealicious, plays the piano-pounding Australian songster who was discovered by Judy, married Liza, came out of the closet (not that the news of his homosexuality surprised anyone, least of all his wife), enjoyed a momentary vogue as a sort of disco-era Liberace, wrote and starred in “Legs Diamond” (it crashed and burned after 64 performances), and died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 48, his 15 minutes of fame having long since run out.
All this adds up to a potentially interesting tale, and the story of the Allen-Minnelli marriage in particular is the stuff of which a terrific backstage musical might well have been made. But Martin Sherman, who wrote the book for “The Boy from Oz,” has settled instead for the theatrical equivalent of a cheesy TV movie, turning every character into a stick figure and every plot twist into a four-panel comic strip. I’ve seen some silly things on Broadway, but my Schlock-O-Meter nearly exploded when Allen’s dead lover (Jarrod Emick) returned as a ghost to sing “I Honestly Love You” to his grieving companion. Eeuuww!…
No link–it’s the Journal–so if you want to read the rest, and also find out what I thought of William Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony, proceed directly to the nearest newstand, divest yourself of a dollar and turn to the “Weekend Journal” section, which is where I hang out every Friday. You’ll find lots of good stuff there.
I’m writing an essay about a new biography of Paul Whiteman, the celebrated bandleader of the Twenties who premiered Rhapsody in Blue. In preparation, and also just for fun, I recently reread A Pocketful of Dreams, the first volume of Gary Giddins’ excellent biography of Bing Crosby, who got his start singing with the Whiteman band (I really do wish Giddins would get around to finishing that second volume, by the way).
What caught my eye this time around was the chapter about Kraft Music Hall, Crosby’s radio series, one of the most popular shows of the Thirties and Forties. In addition to his own singing and the usual comedy, Crosby consistently booked classical performers. A Pocketful of Dreams lists a few of the now-legendary artists who appeared as guests on KMH, and the roster is illuminating. They include Harold Bauer, Feodor Chaliapin, Emanuel Feuermann, Percy Grainger, Bronislaw Hubermann, Lotte Lehmann, Mischa Levitzki, Gregor Piatigorsky, Ruggiero Ricci, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Andr
“I shall not be sorry to be in town. I am rather tired of simple pleasures, bad reasoning, and worse cookery.”
Sydney Smith, letter to Sir George Philips (1839)
The autumn issue of Classic Record Collector, the only classical-music magazine I still read regularly (not that there’s a whole lot of competition out there), features on its cover Pierre Monteux, a great conductor who was by all accounts a perfectly delightful man. These two traits are rarely found in the same person, so their simultaneity in the case of Monteux is worthy of note.
Born in 1875, Monteux played for Brahms, conducted the first performance of The Rite of Spring for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and lived long enough to conduct the 50th-anniversary performance of the same piece in 1963, with Igor Stravinsky present and cheering. As if that weren’t enough to put him in the history books, he also conducted the premieres of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloë.
In short, Monteux was a very distinguished artist, which is all the more reason why I found these remarks he made in a 1959 interview to be worth mentioning:
I do have one big complaint about audiences in all countries, and that is their artificial restraint from applause between movements or a concerto or symphony. I don’t know where the habit started, but it certainly does not fit in with the composers’ intentions. Of course applause should be spontaneous, not dutiful, but often it is the most natural thing to applaud between movements.
It sure is, and yet I continue to see obviously excited concertgoers shamefacedly sitting on their hands at the very moment when they ought to be raising a ruckus. What’s more, the concert halls of New York are full of spine-starched prigs who delight in staring down any poor dope who makes the “mistake” of expressing his heartfelt enthusiasm for a great performance at a moment not to their liking. This never happens at the ballet–not only do dance audiences clap between movements, but they also applaud whenever anything especially cool happens on stage. Good for them, and down with the prigs.
Incidentally, my favorite Monteux anecdote (which didn’t make it into Classic Record Collector, alas) is to be found, logically enough, in one of my favorite musical memoirs, André Previn’s No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood, a book which has served as the source of two “About Last Night” almanac entries to date. Previn, who likes to tell stories of which he is the butt, studied conducting with Monteux:
He liked cloaking his advice with indirection and irony. A few years later he saw me conduct a concert with a provincial orchestra. He came backstage after the performance. He paid me some compliments and then asked, “In the last movement of the Haydn symphony, my dear, did you think the orchestra was playing well?” My mind whipped through the movement; had there been a mishap, had something gone wrong? Finally, and fearing the worst, I said that yes, I thought the orchestra had indeed played very well. Monteux leaned toward me conspiratorially and smiled. “So did I,” he said. “Next time, don’t interfere!” It was advice to be followed forever, germinal and important.
I wish somebody had told Leonard Bernstein that.
Charles Paul Freund makes interesting and provocative mention of my middlebrow posting from last week (see below, ad infinitum) in “Reading for NoBrows,” a piece written for Reason‘s Web site which you can read by clicking here:
The underlying conceit of the middlebrow phenomenon–that cultural choices should be understood as cultural duties–made gatekeepers more than useful; it made them necessary. Middlebrow adherents, in their attempts at achieving well-roundedness, often spread themselves notably thin, listening to, say, Third Stream Jazz, attending exhibits of Abstract Expressionism, watching enigmatic Bergman movies, sitting through eventless Beckett plays, etc. This entailed a lot of heavy lifting, intellectually speaking, and gatekeepers could greatly ease the trial by telling you not only what works were worth your while, but also what they meant. It was the age of the influential critic, to whom culture consumers often yielded power in exchange for guidance….
Good or bad, however, middlebrow’s eclipse is such that even its basic forms–such as greatest-ever lists–are now at the service of post-middlebrow values.
If I may mix my metaphors, Freund and I may not be quite on the same page, but we’re in the same ballpark.