Month: September 2006

Pasargadae the Hard Way

OK, OK, orchestras are in trouble, we can’t play too much new music, too radical, we’ll scare away the audience, blah blah blah. And at the same time, the Tehran Symphony Orchestra is playing Frank Zappa.

Yes, that Tehran Symphony. A couple weeks ago, the orchestra traveled to Osnabrück, Germany, where music director Nader Mashayekhi led a program including Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”, Beethoven’s 7th, Mashayekhi’s own “Fih-e Maa Fih”, Riahi’s “Persian Suite”… and Zappa’s “Dog Breath Variations.” (Keep in mind that Western music is at least nominally banned from Iranian media.) Upon their return, Iran’s Culture Minister, Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi, congratulated the orchestra by saying that “[t]oday’s society needs genuine music and the Islamic community disapproves of Western-style music that encourages debauchery.” (Well, thank you for those kind words.)

So, all you orchestra directors out there—the next time you’re worrying over how your subscribers will react to your programming, just ask yourself: are your subscribers liable to start enriching uranium?

Will they show the dancing hot dog?

The Metropolitan Opera, having mastered the cutting-edge technology of billboard advertising, is now setting its sights on the rest of the media landscape, as it existed under President Eisenhower. Starting on December 30, the Met will broadcast live opera performances into movie theaters. You know, like the Kefauver hearings and the Marciano-Moore fight.

Actually, I don’t think this is a bad idea at all, but it’s just so easy to make fun of, so that’s what wins out here. Here’s a preview of their inaugural broadcast.

(That’s an interesting approach Seiji seems to be taking over there in Vienna.)

All in green went my love riding

Various and sundry economists I like to peruse have been musing on the subject of envy as of late, so it makes perfect phenomenological sense that I’m reading it into everything this morning. Take two stories via ArtsJournal: one from Wired about David Cope’s continuing efforts to program a computer to write stylistically convincing imitations of famous composers (he’s tacking Vivaldi now), and a brief shout-out to The Really Terrible Orchestra, a Scottish amateur group that puts its technical incompetence front-and-center with its enthusiasm.

The Really Terrible Orchestra is in the time-honored tradition of defeating envy by flaunting one’s own lack of skill and making it as likely an object of admiration as another’s excellence. (There’s also, it seems, a bit of Scratch Orchestra anti-determinism thrown in for fun, albeit with a far more genial mien.) The RTO played one of the Edinburgh Festivals this year, and the Festival’s blurb says it all:

Shocking but true. The Really Terrible Orchestra is improving. This may be your final chance to hear them play really terribly. Book early. Last year sold out by 31st July.

(I suppose there’s a line to be crossed between bad enough to be an entertaining send-up of unscalable professional heights, and just good enough to be, well, just plain bad.) I’m of two minds about this whole thing. The members of the orchestra sound like they’re just in it for fun, and their enthusiasm should easily transfer to an audience, but I have a feeling that most of the audience is there to subconsciously stick a thumb in the eye of “high art” and its attendant level of discipline. Interestingly, you don’t see this sort of thing in the realm of, for example, athletics; but then, most of us can engage in some form of athletic activity that’s fulfilling even in its unskilled amateurishness. I wonder if the RTO would be as much of an audience draw if amateur music-making were as widespread.

The computerized Vivaldi seems to have issues of its own.

Cope reveals a key ingredient of virtual Vivaldi’s secret recipe: works by other composers. When Emmy [the computer program] created music based solely on Vivaldi’s oeuvre, he explains, the results sounded authentic enough, but bland. So he threw in a few pieces by baroque contemporaries such as Tomaso Albinoni and Giuseppe Tartini. Emmy’s Vivaldi then began to stretch a bit, take risks, and, ironically, produce music that sounded more like the real Vivaldi.

So in order to make the computer sound like a real composer, you have to program it to envy other composers enough to steal from them. Now that’s accurate modeling.

Debout, les forçats de la faim

A quick one before the long weekend: the Boston Symphony has finished knocking out a new musicians’ contract, and they’re cutting how much they pay freelancers, apparently in celebration of Labor Day. Given that my other hometown’s history of employeemanagement relations were so egrigiously skewed towards Gilded Age wealth that even the Congress of the 1890’s felt the need for a compensatory holiday, you can probably guess what I think about this. (I’ll be marking the occasion with culinary reminders of where it all began.)