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« For Altman Buffs | Main | Computer-Writing Bliss »

April 19, 2007

According to Alan Rich ...

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The promising -- and much-needed -- new blog FineArtsLA interviews the classical music critic Alan Rich. At 82, Rich is in a what-have-I-got-to-lose? mood. LA is on its way up, New York ought to tear down Avery Fisher Hall (right on!), academics are too infatuated by Theory, and classical music may only have a few good years left in it. (Link thanks to George Wallace.)

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at April 19, 2007




Comments

Interesting article. Rich's opinions on the NY Phil and Philadelphia and the concert halls are hardly out of the mainstream. But when he cites a 70-year-old socialist opera of erratic quality (Weill's "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny") as music that is still relevant, you realize that he's living in the past to an extent. To me, new music was written last month and doesn't express an attitude redolent of the 19th-century industrial revolution.

Posted by: jult52 on April 20, 2007 9:16 AM



Okay, let me play devil's advocate: it's possible that Alan Rich himself could use a little more (small-t) theory. It's weird that he doesn't seem more articulate on the role that the very art--classical music--that he critiques could or should play in society. Let alone on what classical music is evolving into, or even on what it should evolve into, etc., etc. Frankly, his single-minded focus on standards that are essentially internal to the art he critiques ("I know performance values") seems a tad nerdy or inside-baseball-esque to me. Why should anybody who doesn't share his inside-baseball standards care what he writes?

To me a critic without some theory--at least their own theory--is like a bicycle without wheels. I grant you, of course, that most professional critics are just particularly passionate and articulate fans...but I don't have to like it.

Geeze, I'm grumpy today

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 20, 2007 4:25 PM



[This comment by Michael Blowhard was reposted here by FvB. It originally appeared on the comment thread for "Computer Writing Bliss", which is where FvB stupidly misposted his original remarks on Alan Rich, which have now be relocated above:]

FvB -- I know what you mean about Alan Rich. But I find most talk about classical music even more inside-baseball than his, so I take him to be more outgoing than most.

As far as criticism goes ...You have higher standards than I do! But, hmm, what an interesting question: What is the role of a critic, what is it to do "criticism," etc.

I guess I tend to be happiest making do with a patchwork mixture of 1) informed and helpful fandom (which, as you say, includes most good reviewers), 2) yak with artists themselves, and 3) history. That way I get a dose of "what's here to enjoy" (the fans), "how do they do it and what do they think they're up to"" (from the artists), and "where does it come from and what's the long-term story here" (historians).

I don't know that my interests extend much farther beyond that. Do yours? Or if mine do extend farther, I'm happy to take care of them myself, or with friends ...

This is probably just a sign of approaching senility, but I've kinda lost track of what it is serious critics (in the high-intellectual sense) really add to the discussion. Or even pretend to add to the discussion. I mean, I'm happy to grant that it's sometimes fun reading them and that criticism is its own branch of literature. And why not enjoy what's there to be enjoyed, at least if you're in the mood? But are they really telling us anything of any significance? They certainly don't hold the key to creativity. Historians are more helpful where putting things in long-term context go. And they often don't have the enthusiasm and appreciativeness of knowledgeable fans. So what are they really telling us about?

But I dunno, maybe I lost one of my brain-lobes recently. What do you look for from critics?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 20, 2007 5:10 PM




Since I'm not all that musically knowledgeable I may be missing something here, but I'm not sure if I understand the reasoning behind the push to completely tear down Avery Fisher Hall and build something totally brand new, from the ground up, in its place. Isn't it just as likely that a totally brand new building will just have brand new problems of its own?

If a building has good "bones" to begin with (see more below), isn't it more likely that a great concert hall can be produced by learning from the mistakes or misjudgments that were made in the past and fixing them incrementally (i.e., with another gut renovation of the auditorium, but without tearing the building down completely)?

During the last renovation (from Philharmonic Hall to Avery Fisher Hall) it was said that the actual dimensions of the building were conducive to creating an auditorium with the same dimensions (and thus, feasibly, the same great acoustics) as Boston's Symphony Hall (correct name?). And while the gut renovation of the auditorium (which I believe was done between May and October of the same year) didn't produce a great concert hall, it did seem to move the auditorium a great deal closer to being one.

Two "theories" about this push (which hopefully has gone away) to totally replace Avery Fisher Hall:

1) The info about Philharmonic Hall having the right dimensions for a great concert hall were misleading or incorrect (just "PR") -- i.e., maybe the building was "close" to having the right basic dimensions, but it wasn't close enough.

2) The most ardent proponents of a totally new concert hall are enamoured with Gehry's LA concert hall and see replacing Avery Fisher Hall as an opportunity for New York to get a similar kind of concert hall: "truly" modern (as opposed to "classically" modern) and in-the-round (as opposed to the old-fashioned, "classically" shoe box shape).

Although I haven't read a lot about the Gehry's Disney Hall, one piece that I did read said (and I don't know how true this is) that while the acoustics were very good, they were also a bit on the "bright" side -- which is, interestingly, somewhat similar to what was said about Avery Fisher Hall when it first opened. While I get the sense that Avery Fisher Hall probably indeed has more of this problem, and less of the positives (and also less intimacy due to its shoebox shape), I still have the feeling that a good deal of the dissatisfaction with it has less to do with acoustics and more with architectural ideology (i.e., NYC "desperately-needs" a Gehry-style concert hall).

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on April 20, 2007 5:35 PM



I'm probably just being cranky. Still, it strikes me that somebody needs to look beyond the interior standards of an artform and think about how that artform connects to society, to life, to religion, to something outside itself. Because this isn't the kind of thing that most artists excel at, a critic who does this is performing a service, of sorts, to the community, rather than just acting as either a corporate shill or a sort of uber-fan.

In painting, I would suggest that the realistic revival is still flagging because nobody has gone through and analyzed what kinds of intellectual conventions supported, say, Baroque or Renaissance representational painting which are no longer available to contemporary painters, and perhaps suggesting some new intellectual conventions that might replace the ones that have perished. This is the type of analysis that not one painter in a hundred is equipped to provide, and a good critic would be far more useful doing so than discussing how fluent the touch of some painter is.

And, to be blunt, it seems to me that a dying (or at least rather sick) artform, like classical music, is desperately in need of some intellectual juice...which it is simply unfair to demand out of contemporary composers and performers. But no, all we get are critiques of "performance values"...!

For a positive counter-example, I would hold up Ruskin on painting and architecture, because he explicitly links developments in both fields to values outside those fields (he links up his discussions to religion, geology, biology, etc.) He had some interesting effects on the actual development of those artforms with this type of writing. It's also why it's still interesting to read Ruskin's criticism well over a century after it was written, unlike (I suspect) the vast majority of current criticism...except that published on 2blowhards, of course!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 20, 2007 6:48 PM



Lately, I've been listening to - and enjoying - Stockhausen's Mantra (1970), Reich's Desert Music (1983), Glass's La Belle et la Bete (1994)and a representative selection of Ligeti's work composed between 1966 and 1992. Granted, none of this music was composed "last month". Certainly none of this music is popular in the way that GNR or Nirvana is popular. But classical music doesn't usually follow the same pattern of assimilation as popular music. On the contrary, there's often a lag between creation and performance and ultimate public acceptance. As I recall, Debussy's Etudes were recorded for the first time in 1951, forty plus years after Debussy's death. Today, they are part of the standard repertoire.

Posted by: LB on May 8, 2007 9:30 PM






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