I meant to write about this weeks ago, but as so often happens, I got sidetracked because I was probably looking at a weird bug or something. I went to this concert at Avery Fischer wherein John Adams conducted a super-orchestra of students from Juilliard and the Royal Academy of music. The program was: Respighi’s Feste Romane, Ravel’s G major piano concerto, and John’s new-ish symphony City Noir. I’m going to write about Respighi because I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the man up here, and you all probably know how I feel about Ravel and Mr. Adams.
There are certain pieces that I think should only be played by youths, and Feste Romane is at the top of the list (joining, let’s see here: The Planets, Academic Festival Overture, and most every Tchaikovsky symphony). I’m not even sure these pieces should be recorded; at least, I can’t imagine a situation in which I would choose to listen to them. But sit me down in a concert hall in front of a hundred bristling teenagers or twenty-somethings and I’ll enjoy every minute. There’s something I find incredibly moving about watching & listening to a young orchestra (I sound like my mother here, shock). Perhaps I’m just projecting my own (limited) experience of playing in orchestras. It’s a defining experience, the first time you play one of these “hit” pieces. Sure, you’ll go on to play 4,000 more performances of Tchaik 6 but you’ll always remember the first time. It’s like watching 100 people lose their virginity on stage! Always brings a tear to the eye.
Feste Romane is a piece I’d heard only once before, and I’m in no hurry to hear it again (not sure my delicate eardrums could take it). It’s experiential music, meant to be enjoyed in the moment and then forgotten, as technically assured as a Spielberg picture. There are all kinds of cinematic baubles to catch your attention along the way—the piece is a shoo-in for the ‘Best Visual Effects’ Oscar. The final episode feels like one of those overwhelming chase sequences through a bustling marketplace (bustling with stereotypes, that is): a snatch of balalaika in the left channel, and the next second we’re on to the marching band!—a kind of modernist pastiche with all that scary modernism drained away (the Hollywood adaptation of Gruppen?). But despite all of my snobbish quibbles, I had 100% of a good time thanks to the enthusiasm and virtuosity of these youngsters. The grown-ups at NY Phil or the BSO or even the fun-times LA Phil shouldn’t ever touch this stuff.
Since it’s summer I’m solidly in composer-mode. Many of my colleagues have taken off for “Artist’s Colonies”. I’ve never quite understood the attraction of such places. I think many of us were rather too deeply affected by reading about Mahler’s summer composing huts, and subconsciously think to ourselves “I must have a hut”. If you’re a professional artist I firmly believe that you should be able to work at home, or wherever else you happen to be, not have to go off to some special “artists only” place to be coddled. If you can’t work at home than you need to reevaluate your living situation, or get a studio, or something—it would make me too nervous for my productivity to rely on the whims of an admissions committee.
The last true summer festival I went to was Tanglewood, in 2006. There are a variety of huts on the premises but they are primarily used by adventurous teenaged couples from BUTI. I think Tanglewood probably ruins other summer festivals for most people because it’s kind of the be-all, end-all. Therefore I am happy in my festival/colony of one, holed up in my air-conditioned apartment orchestrating choral music, slowly learning some Adès ditties.
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