Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

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barney
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Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by barney » Sat Jan 08, 2022 12:23 am

From the Spectator, an entertaining read

Richard Bratby
Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics
The only effect of the Great Awokening has been to put engaging melodies, warm harmonies and sprawling Romantic symphonies back at the cutting edge
From magazine issue: 8 January 2022

It’s 2022 and classical music is, again, dead. It’d be surprising if it wasn’t. In 2014 the New Yorker published a timeline by the industry analyst Andy Doe showing the precise chronology of the decline and fall. Ageing audiences in the 21st century, the gramophone in the 20th, the dangerous new technology of the pianoforte in the 1840s: all, in their time, were considered proof that the rot was terminal. Doe traced the root of the problem back to a papal bull in 1324, giving new potency to Charles Rosen’s remark that ‘the death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition’.

Anyway, the fatal blow this time is the Great Awokening. The symptoms are allegedly widespread in university music departments: students who can read music are being made to check their privilege, and Beethoven, if he hasn’t been cancelled as a sonic rapist, has been relegated to the status of ‘above average composer’. As described in these pages by Ian Pace a few months back, it sounds chilling. One feels pity for the scholars who’ve found themselves on the wrong end of some musicological Maoist struggle session — and a profound relief that off campus, among the non-peer-reviewed civilians who actually perform and enjoy classical music, it has practically no effect at all.

What, none? Log off Twitter and scroll through the upcoming concert listings: there’s Vaughan Williams in Manchester, Verdi at Covent Garden and — yes —Beethoven in Birmingham. Cancellation should be made of sterner stuff. In reality, it’s difficult to overstate just how little effect academia has upon the way that British performing companies operate. Even genuinely useful work goes largely ignored: Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations was heavily doctored by its 19th-century publisher. Musicological research restored Tchaikovsky’s original, strikingly different version in 1956, but seven decades on, you’ll almost never hear it performed live.

No, boringly enough (and Covid restrictions aside — the one form of cancellation that poses a genuine threat), it’s largely business as usual in the concert hall. No pitchfork mob is likely to topple Mahler any time soon, and the financial realities of most UK classical promoters — overstretched, understaffed and rarely more than half a season from insolvency — put revolution far outside their price range. Despite public arts subsidy, a healthy box-office income remains vital for most organisations. Market forces do the rest, and as a non-musicologist once put it, the facts of life are conservative.

It’s not that concert programmes are immune to change. Classical music, as a profession, skews soft-left: decision-makers are aware of current debates, and generally aspire to do the right thing. They’re also acutely aware of what their audiences are prepared to pay for. A ten-minute sinfonia by a forgotten 18th-century violinist is inexpensive and listenable, and if the composer’s mother was a slave, social justice (in its current definition) has been served. Probably 99.9 per cent of all music ever written goes completely unplayed, regardless of the composer’s race or gender. It’d take a mean-spirited music lover to object to more variety, and anyway, there’s still Brahms after the interval.

So there’ve been a few of these recent additions to the concert repertoire. Cynics might laugh at the way that, in the wake of #MeToo, orchestras suddenly discovered that a couple of short, royalty-free pieces by Lili Boulanger could be dropped into concerts for instant gender balance, and how, since BLM, Boulanger’s stock has dipped while the mixed-race American symphonist Florence Price and the Edwardian Englishman Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (whose father was from Sierra Leone) have risen. It’s tempting to bristle, too, at the way history is fudged to suit the preferred narrative: the notion that Coleridge-Taylor (whose choral music sold out the Royal Albert Hall between the wars) was a marginalised figure is — to put it mildly — a bit of a stretch.

But the end result is that some worthwhile music gets a second chance — and more often than not, finds a welcome, too. Curiously enough, in the looking-glass logic of identity politics, music that would once have been dismissed as unchallenging is now deemed progressive. It’s noticeable that the cause of gender balance has generally been addressed through approachable (and copyright-free) 19th-century Romantics like Clara Schumann or Louise Farrenc, rather than spiky postwar modernists like Elisabeth Lutyens or Priaulx Rainier.

Meanwhile the music of Price, Coleridge-Taylor and Robert Nathaniel Dett (whose Parry-like cantata The Ordering of Moses is being performed in Birmingham next month) would be considered positively old-fashioned in any other context. If a radical agenda has put engaging melodies, warm harmonies and sprawling Romantic symphonies back at the cutting edge, that, surely, is an unintended consequence to make conservative hearts leap. Come for the Beethoven, stay for the Coleridge-Taylor. You might find that you rather like the sound it makes.

WRITTEN BY
Richard Bratby

david johnson
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by david johnson » Sat Jan 08, 2022 1:43 am

I got a chuckle from that :)

maestrob
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by maestrob » Sat Jan 08, 2022 9:13 am

Yes, thanks, Barney. 😉

It seems that public taste rules, as it should.

So many singers I worked with had to be taught their basic repertoire, as in conservatory, they had been performing the likes of Holst's "Savitri," or Poulenc's fun chamber operas, but never La Boheme or Rigoletto! Academia is indeed quite cut off from the real world and does not serve students well by ignoring the repertoire they will perform in their careers. Same with instrumentalists, of course.

Music is a business, and students should be prepared for their careers just like attorneys, doctors, nurses and other professionals.
Last edited by maestrob on Tue Jan 11, 2022 10:12 am, edited 1 time in total.

diegobueno
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by diegobueno » Sun Jan 09, 2022 11:04 am

barney wrote:
Sat Jan 08, 2022 12:23 am

Anyway, the fatal blow this time is the Great Awokening. The symptoms are allegedly widespread in university music departments: students who can read music are being made to check their privilege, and Beethoven, if he hasn’t been cancelled as a sonic rapist, has been relegated to the status of ‘above average composer’. As described in these pages by Ian Pace a few months back, it sounds chilling. One feels pity for the scholars who’ve found themselves on the wrong end of some musicological Maoist struggle session — and a profound relief that off campus, among the non-peer-reviewed civilians who actually perform and enjoy classical music, it has practically no effect at all.
I've read this piece several times and it still makes not a whit of sense to me. "The symptoms are allegedly widespread", but where, exactly? Yes, I know there have been a few articles published and ballyhooed but where, in what actual music departments is the reading of music being denigrated? At which music departments is Beethoven being cancelled? Can anyone name an actual institution that is doing this? Can Ian Pace?

This is the kind of thing one expects Belle to post.

Yes, a lot of older music by black and women composers is being revived, but that is all dependent on the ability to read and interpret musical notation, a skill supposedly being shunned.
mestrob wrote:So many singers I worked with had to be taught their basic repertoire, as in conservatory, they had been performing the likes of Holst's "Satyagraha," or Poulenc's fun chamber operas, but never La Boheme or Rigoletto! Academia is indeed quite cut off from the real world and does not serve students well by ignoring the repertoire they will perform in their careers. Same with instrumentalists, of course.
There's only so much time in conservatory and an ever-expanding repertory to cover. Rigoletto and La Boheme were written quite a while ago, and much worthy music has been written since, including by Poulenc, whose Dialogues of the Carmelites is quickly becoming standard repertory. Would you really deprive these students the training in this repertory? Would you really consign opera to the perpetuation of the same 15 or so warhorses? Anyway, this issue is entirely separate from identity politics.

By the way, Holst didn't write Stayagraha. (that was Philip Glass. Holst wrote Savitri).
Black lives matter.

barney
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by barney » Sun Jan 09, 2022 9:28 pm

Mark, he's celebrating the fact that the people you want to be played more are being played more. And he's saying they are in general very agreeable to listen to. You should be happy. It was simply a sweet little read, as David and Brian appreciated - and, indeed, saying wokeness is exaggerated. Saying I'm like Belle is a wild insult I don't deserve. You are right off my Christmas card list.

diegobueno
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by diegobueno » Mon Jan 10, 2022 7:20 pm

Gosh, Barney is taking me off his Christmas card list. I'm really going to have to retihink things. :)

I don't want to insult Barney. Belle thinks he's a radical lefty. I say he's a moderate conservative in the pre-Trump sense. As such I think he may not have the same liberal antennae that I do. For me, any time I see terms like "wokeness" and "cancel culture" used as weapons against whatever the author doesn't like, that sets my antennae quivering. We're supposed to accept as given that college music departments are consistently and uniformly populated by the "woke", and that they are enforcing their wokeness upon all who occupy their space in the interest of destroying western society. This is exactly Belle's shtick.

We're supposed to relish the irony that these radicals with their racial politics is radicalizing such pleasant sounds as Florence Price or Coleridge Taylor. As I said, this makes not a lick of sense.

Is it really gender politics that women in the audience might want to hear women composers? Is it really racial politics that blacks in the audience might want to hear black composers? Is it racial or gender politics that performing organizations might want to supply this demand?

And really, in what way is assuming white European male composers as the norm NOT racial or gender politics???? Think about it!

So enjoy your William Grant Still, your Florence Price and your Samuel Coleridge Taylor. No one's telling you to give up your Beethoven in exchange. Here in Washington DC the National Symphony is giving in January a series of programs pairing black composers with Beethoven symphonies.
Jan. 13-16. George Walker, Sinfonia no. 1 ; Beethoven Symphony no 5
Jan. 20-22. William Grant Still, Symphony no. 4 ; Beethoven Symphony no. 4
Jan. 27-29. George Walker, Sinfonia no. 4 ; Beethoven Symphony no. 9.
Rather attractive programs, I'd say, although I'd prefer not to sit through the Beethoven (I don't like to go to concerts to hear music I can hear performed better on recordings).
Black lives matter.

maestrob
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by maestrob » Tue Jan 11, 2022 10:32 am

Goodness, Mark, you caught me in a Senior Moment! Savitri it is! :wink:

As for training singers, conservatories have long been falling down on the job, which is to prepare their students for careers in their chosen profession. When I was producing New York Vocal Artists in Carnegie Hall, I didn't work with a single singer who wasn't paying for a private coach to teach them the repertoire that they would be performing in their careers, repertoire that had been neglected while they were paying enormous tuition. Certainly Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites is a Great Work, but I'd be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that Rigoletto and La Boheme are produced more often, simply because they sell more tickets, especially at the regional level. My concerts featured much Verdi & Puccini while not neglecting Copland and "Ain't it a Pretty Night" as well as an occasional Rossini & Mozart aria simply because this is the music that's in demand right now. All this has nothing to do with "wokeness," as you state so clearly, except that canceling "dead white composers" is something I've had to deal with on a regular basis, both as a singer and as a conductor. I've been refused bookings in Lincoln Center and various museums on account of this nonsensical attitude going back decades.

There is a natural tension between Academia and the real world, of course, since academia has its own priorities and students are but pawns to be used to advance that agenda. I just wish that musical training for singers could be better oriented toward the needs of the students rather than the department heads.

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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by diegobueno » Wed Jan 12, 2022 11:14 am

maestrob wrote:
Tue Jan 11, 2022 10:32 am
canceling "dead white composers" is something I've had to deal with on a regular basis, both as a singer and as a conductor. I've been refused bookings in Lincoln Center and various museums on account of this nonsensical attitude going back decades.

Tell me more about this. I'm not trying to argue right now, I just want to hear what your experience is.
Black lives matter.

maestrob
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by maestrob » Wed Jan 12, 2022 12:20 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Wed Jan 12, 2022 11:14 am
maestrob wrote:
Tue Jan 11, 2022 10:32 am
canceling "dead white composers" is something I've had to deal with on a regular basis, both as a singer and as a conductor. I've been refused bookings in Lincoln Center and various museums on account of this nonsensical attitude going back decades.

Tell me more about this. I'm not trying to argue right now, I just want to hear what your experience is.
Sure, Mark.

The two incidents that come immediately to mind happened in the 1980's.

The first had to do with the Bruno Walter Auditorium in Lincoln Center, where our own JohnF made a presentation on historical recordings a few years before he passed. I had produced two concerts there with other singers featuring works ranging from Richard Strauss songs and to Stravinsky's "Pulcinella" and had wanted to continue doing so on a semi-annual basis. Unfortunately I was told by the Lincoln Center booking agent for the hall that the library was no longer interested in concerts of music by "dead white composers," and he refused to book a future date.

The second had to do with the Roerich Museum on W. 107th St., a striking town house where the Roerich sets that were made for Stravinsky are now housed. I had produced both a concert with the Brahms Liebeslieder (both sets) and another with operatic selections, and was given the same answer by the nose-in-the-air museum director.

Both situations seem laughable now, with my record of having produced 95 concerts in the NY area with Gergiev's former Assistant Conductor under the banner of New York Vocal Artists (35 of them in Carnegie Hall), but that's how it happened.

diegobueno
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by diegobueno » Wed Jan 12, 2022 3:57 pm

maestrob wrote:
Wed Jan 12, 2022 12:20 pm
The second had to do with the Roerich Museum on W. 107th St., a striking town house where the Roerich sets that were made for Stravinsky are now housed. I had produced both a concert with the Brahms Liebeslieder (both sets) and another with operatic selections, and was given the same answer by the nose-in-the-air museum director.
That's very curious, especially considering that their recent concerts have been chock full of dead white composers (see link). Clearly they have someone else running the show now. I get the impression that nose-in-the-air is the customary attitude for guardians of New York's cultural establishments, though.
https://www.roerich.org/museum-events.php
Black lives matter.

Rach3
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by Rach3 » Mon Jan 17, 2022 11:25 am

Heard all 4 of the symphonies of William Grant Still on YT recently.

Of the 4, enjoyed # 3 , from 1958, the most :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcCrGsvXXQY

barney
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by barney » Mon Jan 17, 2022 6:44 pm

Many thanks for the link, Steve - I'll try to listen today.

Rach3
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by Rach3 » Mon Jan 17, 2022 9:34 pm

FYI:

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s ( 1875 -1912) Violin Concerto in G minor ( 1912),Tasmin Little, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra,Andrew Davis,Chandos studio cd , my first hearing recently, quite attractive , similar Romantic vein to the Bruch G minor VC :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kR7CSq7Szk

Nathaniel Dett’s ( 1882 -1943) “ 8 Biblical Vignettes “ for solo piano, Denver Oldham, New World cd, original, at times gorgeous:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMhh6An2AOw

Rach3
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Re: Musical conservatives ought to love identity politics

Post by Rach3 » Tue Jan 18, 2022 12:05 pm

More Nathaniel Dett, first hearings enjoyed :

“Tropic Winter “ , suite for solo piano, Clipper Erickson, Navona cd :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZrn6Z8VHIk

“Enchantment” , suite for solo piano, Kamilla Bendersky,live May,2021, Seully Hall,Boston:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyM73ZyLyj4

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