Anu Tali, Anyone?

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Anu Tali, Anyone?

Post by Ralph » Sat Mar 26, 2005 8:59 pm

From The New York Times

March 27, 2005
The Mystery Composer

I'VE developed a bad habit: I dump new CD's onto my iPod and then digest them at my leisure. True, the iPod's sound quality is inferior to that of a CD. But there are also unexpected benefits. The other week I pressed "Play" and was brought up short: what on earth is this?

The world of the iPod offers no liner notes; no lyrics; no radio announcer's stentorian voice at the piece's end; not even, on the uninformative little screen intended to tell you what you're listening to, the name of the composer.

So what do you do? You listen.

The CD was "Action, Passion, Illusion," the second recording by the Estonian conductor Anu Tali, 32, and her Nordic Symphony Orchestra (Warner Classics). Ms. Tali's approach to a career is not unusual in her age group. She wanted to make music, so she went out and formed a band (well, an orchestra) together with her twin sister, Kadri Tali, who runs the operation.

Listening to her CD without the cocoon of context classical-music listeners are accustomed to, I also found that her approach to sound reflected her age. The first piece on "Action, Passion, Illusion" is called "Zeitraum" (that much my little screen did reveal), and it opens with a great groan of brass instruments that initiates a slow process of waking up, as if the music were pulling itself out of molasses, prodded by driving rhythms from the determined strings.

And once "Zeitraum" had traversed its titular space of time, succumbed to gravity and died out in a sighing exhalation, the next track opened with a burst of brass bombast followed by, of all things, a narrator, burbling fruitily over romantic film-score tones from the orchestra. I did recognize at this point that I was listening to Sibelius's "Wood Nymph." I was also thinking that this was a piece of great kitsch, the aural equivalent of a plastic 1960's hanging lamp, and that the disc was turning out to be a really cool CD.

If I had had the liner notes handy, I would have read up on Erkki-Sven Tuur, the 45-year-old Estonian who composed "Zeitraum" and the CD's title triptych, "Action, Passion, Illusion." I would have thought about the disc's Nordic theme. (It concludes with three choral arrangements of Russian folk songs by Rachmaninoff, which sound just as funky as the Sibelius against Mr. Tuur's rhythmic fragments). In short, I would have armed myself with some knowledge.

That is what we do in the classical music field. We spend a lot of time listening to music from eras other than our own, and it is an article of faith that the more you know, the more you will enjoy it.

Your average newbie may not be sure why he or she should want to sit through a 30-minute symphony 200 years old, and the field devotes a lot of energy to trying to explain the reasons. Its methods include program notes, preconcert lectures and, increasingly, thematic programs that set out to illuminate the wonders of Beethoven or Charles Ives or Nordic music (whatever that is).

But all of this runs counter to the way more and more people listen to music today. Witness the popularity of features like the iPod Shuffle, which yanks music out of context by randomly combining tracks into a musical stew. It's not about the idea; it's all about the sound.

In fact, I suspect that classical newcomers are the people least likely to read program notes that seek to enlighten them. And this suspicion is furthered when I see people at concerts listening without being sure of what it is that they are hearing (looking, for example, at the wrong program in the playbill). Too often, all those notes and lectures and, yes, even the concert hall itself effectively create an additional barrier, making the concert experience feel more like a college class than an evening of enjoyment.

So you want to win new audiences? How do you grab and hold people's ears? There are all kinds of gimmicky answers: have Ms. Tali play the Beacon Theater, perhaps. But a successful result may involve not so much lobbing facts at listeners' heads as getting more tracks of imaginative programs and compelling performances like Ms. Tali's on more iPods.

Some arresting orchestral CD's for the iPod: Anu Tali, "Action, Passion, Illusion"; Michael Torke, "Color Music" (the CD is also called "One") at; "The Ligeti Project II"; and Luciano Berio, "Sinfonia."


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