Friday, August 05, 2005

What's going ON?!

My post today is more of a vent than a real question. But, nonetheless, I'm going to pose it. What is going ON with classical music? Or just music in general? I'm just so sick of marketing taking precedence over quality. In the case of voice, we have Charlotte Church and a girl named Hayley Westenra. Charlotte has no voice left. It's gone. Probably irreversibly. Why? Because she sang improperly for six years and while the vocal folds are more resilient probably than people think, they're still ridiculously fragile as compared arm or something. Repeated abuse of any part of the body will eventually just wear it out completely. This is exactly what Charlotte did. The producers and record companies were so hungry for profit that they just used her up and spit her out. Has anyone heard her sing lately? She has a breathy, almost ethereal tone. The voice should NOT sound like that. It's not meant to and it means the vocal folds aren't coming together properly. The escaping air only grates against the folds and creates problems like callouses, polyps, abrasions, etc. Simply put, it means this: if you have to have surgery at any point, you're done.

With Hayley, it's more a question of talent. She's only so-so. Why have tastes gone so downhill as to take someone with a half-decent classical voice and say they're the new Renee Fleming? Or Maria Callas or whoever? Half of these so-called "new classical voices" don't even deserve to be in the same ROOM with people like Pavarotti or Callas. Hayley and Charlotte couldn't sing an opera if their lives depended on it. A classical sounding voice does NOT mean "opera voice." First of all, opera is something you train for over years and years. Hayley is 17. Charlotte is 18. The voice doesn't stop maturing until the early to mid-30s. Probably a little earlier, for women. But, people don't know this because they don't bother. They just listen to their Usher and their Justin Timberlake and go on their merry way, thinking that Hayley and Charlotte are some real jewels. They're jewels all right...the kind that are made of glass...

As for performers, Sarah Chang comes to mind. She's a violinist from Philly. Now, she actually has some semblance of talent. But I listened to her "Méditation from Thaïs" and had I not known better, I would have thought it was Joshua Bell. She basically just ripped off his performance. Who's her next subject? Heifetz? Kriesler? It's like those horrible tribute CDs you see..."Sarah Chang plays Fritz Kriesler...AS KRIESLER." People are so afraid to divert from this formula that even classical music stats sounding same-ish. All the same stuff gets regurgitated--excuse me! recorded--and you have one massive "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" orgy. And not to knock Beethoven but HOW many times do I have to hear the opening notes of the 5th?

Want to listen to something groundbreaking? Listen to "Short Trip Home." It's an album by Edgar Meyer, Joshua Bell, Mike Marshall and Sam O'Connor. It's entirely bluegrass. Using only a bass (fiddle, not guitar), mandolin, banjo, violin and fiddle. Amazing stuff. It gets a little same-y at some points but in all, it's a hell of a lot better than most of what's out there. If nothing else, at least they're trying to bring different music into the public consciousness.

Speaking of Beethoven, you think he would be happy to see the state of music? The man would go on a rampage. HE didn't put his butt on the line composing revolutionary new stuff to see it so familiarized. And yeah, if you started messing with his interpretations, he'd probably get pissed. But I think that secretly, he would have liked it. As long as the interpretations are faithful to what he wrote, I think he might even enjoy it. Isn't that what music is about anyway? Creating? What ever happened to that idea? It got in the way of profit, that's what.


Blogger Advocate1 said...

Agreed. Some of the recordings I listen to today, while technically superior to many of the recordings I listened to in the 1970s and 1980s, leave a lot to be desired when it comes to actual performance. Take Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony. True, this is still one of the best orchestras in the world, but the Daniel Barenboim of today is NOT the Daniel Barenboim of the 1970s. For those who have any doubts I suggest that they listen to Barenboim's Bruckner recordings from the 1970s with the Chicago Symphony and then to one of his more recent interpretations with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, another world class orchestra. What happened to the virtuoso playing? The "start and stop on a dime" attacks?" The orchestral response? The ensemble playing? The rich, lush strongs, and heaven-shattering brass? It seems as if, in an attempt to sound more "lyrical," decent playing has been thrown out with the proverbial bath water.

Ditto to soloists. Anyone familiar with Horowitz, Ashkenazy, Ax, Fraeger, Siegal, Goode, Brendl, Gould, etc will remember that each of these pianists had/have their own unique styles. Not so today. Today it seems as if individuality is a thing of the past and all performers are required to meet some arbitrary standard of "sameness." This is not amusing and it certainly is not satisfying. Consider Glen Gould. True, the man tended to accompany himself as he played (listen to the background humming, by Gould, in his first recording of the Bach Goldberg Variations--you'd swear to God the man was a frustrated opera performer And then there was that matter of the BEETHVEN EMPORER CONCERTO in which he and Leopold Stokowski decided to record the slowest performance of Beethoven's Opus 73 that they could possibly get away with. But for all his irritiating habbits, Gould was a unique and talented musician who invariably made you think about the piece you were listening to.
Sadly, this does not happen too often today.

You don't need to rip the fabric of the music into a thousand pieces, and you don't need to disregard the wishes of the composer, but a little originality, or at the very least, a few trade mark characteristics might be appreciated.

8/08/2005 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're Crazy... Joshua Bell, an original performance of MEDITATION? You must not be a musician.

3/08/2007 4:58 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Actually, if you read my bio in one of the first posts, it clearly states that I am a musician. And I never said that Bell's performance was original, just that someone else decided to rip it off, as well. But if you're in the market for something new, listen to his recording of the Maw concerto...especially since it was written for him.

3/08/2007 8:19 AM  

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