Month: March 2007

La fenice

If you’re not already aware, a fire gutted the offices of the Oregon East Symphony in Pendleton, Oregon on Thursday. They’re in a bad way, and if you have a few bucks or other stuff that might be useful, they’ve set up a fire recovery fund. They do a lot of educational outreach in areas that don’t always get that kind of attention—they’re the good guys, in other words.

Most links are to the blog of Kenneth Woods, Oregon East’s conductor, who, in the midst of crisis, still manages to read minds. I was thinking about a post on Hans Rott for this week, but Woods got there first, and I was going to defend Elgar from his own countrymen, but Woods is already on it, quick and funny. Just like a good conductor: a beat ahead of you, ready with a cue.

Update (3/21): Donations can now be made via PayPal.

Call it what you want

Reviewing Boston Secession.
Boston Globe, March 20, 2007.

The final paragraph seems to be missing online:

Ring Frank does like to talk—a lot—and most of what she says could more effectively be conveyed in program notes. Closing the distance between performer and audience is not an unworthy aim, but if it could have meant a few more of Duckworth’s marvels, at least one listener would have opted for a little less conversation.

Droit de seigneur

Lisa Hirsch points out a Bernard Holland review of Nico Muhly that makes me green with envy: I’m just a freelancer now, but my dream is to get to that level in the criticism hierarchy where I can be lazy enough to express my bafflement in print at a question that had been answered in my own paper not a week before. Lexis-Nexis is for the rabble.

(Full disclosure: as a TA at the BU Tanglewood Institute, I gamely tried to teach sight-singing to a crowd that included, among others, Nico, Judd Greenstein, and Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum. That took a lot of coffee.)

They got a message for the action man

I had a hard time getting up this morning—maybe I could get some help from English schoolkids. As part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s celebration of National Science and Engineering Week, students from three Manchester-area schools, St. Paul’s (Walkden), St. Barnabas (Clayton), and Wyche Primary (Nantwich), composed wake-up music for the residents of the International Space Station, with some help from the members of the Manchester Camerata: “The musicians… worked with the children composing new music for the wake-up calls based on astrophysical data, such as the radio waves emitted by celestial bodies, and visual images of space.” (They also had an Internet improv session with astrophysicist/rock musician Fiorella Terenzi.)

The three entries were judged by Russian rocket scientist Alexander Martynov and legendary cosmonaut Alexander Volkov, with the Camerata recording the winner for future early-morning duty (though this news report was coy as to who that winner actually was.) In the words of MMU Science Week organizer Conway Mothbi, “The call will be heard 250 miles above the earth by Expedition 14 cosmonauts under conditions of weightlessness. This is a great honour as it is a UK first.”

Update (3/21): Wyche Primary took the prize (see comments). I’ll make sure to provide a link as soon as the recordings are posted.

Croí follain agus gob fliuch

St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow. (So is Evacuation Day—basically a Bostonian work-around to make the occasion an actual legal holiday.) There’s been a radio commercial here in Boston for the past few weeks that uses some variant on the phrase “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” My lovely wife and I thought this would be a good marketing tack for the Boston Symphony to promote this weekend’s performances of Mahler 3.

ANNOUNCER: On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish—even a nervous Austrian Jew!

MAHLER (in the voice of the Lucky Charms leprechaun): I’m Gustav Mahler! Come and be hearin’ me Third Symphony! The trees, the flowers—they’ve all been talkin’ to me! We’ll even have a chorus of wee little ones!

My last name notwithstanding, I’m one-quarter Irish, although, to put things in perspective, that makes me only half as much a man of the auld sod as, say, Richard Nixon. On the other hand, a childhood’s worth of sunburned freckles has to count for something, right? Besides, on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish—even Toru Takemitsu! Here’s his arrangement of “Londonderry Air,” AKA “Danny Boy,” as performed by Kosei Kubota.

Gaining One’s Definition

Definitions of music are by no means rare.

The most usual, the official one, is this: “Music is the art of combining sounds in a manner agreeable to the ear.”

According to Hugo Reimann, music is “the manifestation of Beauty through the medium of sound.”

Another German has it that “Die Musik ist eine klingende Arithmetik” (Music is a sonorous arithmetic).

Spencer, on the other hand, considered music as a natural development of the accent imparted to the human voice by passion.

To Mazzini music was “the faith of a world whose poetry is but high philosophy.”

To the average listener, music is melody, that is to say, a mere “pretext to sing.”

And lastly, we have the famous definition of Théophile Gautier, that “music is the most expensive of all noises.”

* * * * *
Feeling constrained to give a definition myself, I should say that, in my opinion, music is the art of combining sounds both in time and space (successively and simultaneously) according to the composer’s creative egoism and his complete indifference to every law that opposes his sincerity.

From L’Evoluzione della Musica, A traverso la storia della Cadenza perfetta (“The Evolution of Music, Throughout the History of the Perfect Cadence”), by Alfredo Casella, 1919. (Emphasis in the original.) A fun party game: try and match each definition with a subsequent 20th-century musical style, vocabulary, or school. Even Gautier’s.

Appellation spring

Composers are aiming for the wrong star. Commissions? Pulitzers? Joan Peyser tell-all biographies? Pffft. Everybody knows the real fame is in taxonomic designations. You’ll know you’ve made it when there’s a sludgy, possibly extinct organism that’s named for you.

Buxtehudea scaniaeTo the left there is the microsporidian parasite Buxtehudea scaniae, surrounded by a mitochondrion of the cell it’s mooching off of. Both the genus and the family, Buxtehudidae, were named for the guy Bach hiked across Germany to hear by Swedish biologist Ronny Larsson of Lund University, who’s also honored his countrymen Hugo Alfven and Franz Berwald with microscopic fungi of their own.

The Australian chalcidologist A. A. Girault killed two birds with one stone in 1926 with the wasp Mozartella beethoveni. As he described the species:

Mozartella (Ectromini).
As Mesorhopella but golden, antenna short, capitate, club equal funicle, funicles transverse. Ovipositor ¼ abdomen, latter depressed=cordate[.] Veins subequal. Minute.

M. beethoveni. Wings clear, veins pale. Funicles 1-2 twice wider than long, longest, rest wider. Pedicel bit longer than wide. Discal cilia well toward base, of hind wing, 15 lines. Pinkenba, Q. ex galls, May 10, 1916. H. Jarvis.

Cymbiola rossinianaChopin has a moth, Fernandocrambus chopinellus. And Rossini has a seashell, Cymbiola rossiniana, described by M. Bernardi in 1859, making him possibly the first musician so honored. (That’s the shell, commonly called Rossini’s volute, at right.)

Most recent speciations have pertained to pop musicians. The Beatles have quite a few beasties named after them, the most pertinent being Greeffiella beatlei, a nematode worm identified by S. Lorenzen in 1969—the worm’s shagginess perhaps resembling a Beatle haircut. The Godfather of Soul lives on as the mite Funkotriplogynium iagobadius, named by Seeman and Walter in 1997 (“iago”=”James” and “badius”=”Brown”); Mark Knopfler got a dinosaur. But Australian paleontologist Greg Edgecombe leads the field here, naming scores of trilobites after the Rolling Stones, the Ramones, Simon & Garfunkel, and, my personal favorite, the Sex Pistols: Arcticalymene viciousi, A. rotteni, A. jonesi, A. cooki, and A. matlocki.

The best story, though, has to be the jellyfish Phialella zappai. Marine biologist Ferdinando Boero got himself transferred to a lab in California so he could meet Frank Zappa, his musical hero, by naming a jellyfish after him. The plan worked—in spades: take a listen to You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, vol. 6, and you can hear “Lonesome Cowboy Burt” rewritten as “Lonesome Cowboy Nando.”

When I get off, I get plastered.
I swim till I fall on the jellyfish.
Then I find me some academic kind of illustrator,
I describe the little dangling utensils on this thing,
And tell him to draw it up
So it looks just like a brand new jellyfish.

(You can read more about Boero’s friendship with Zappa here. Here’s more stuff named for Zappa. Scroll down here and you can find more musicians.)