A classical music blog by music critic Tim Mangan
Stay for the banjo solo.
Review: L.A. Opera brings back its ’20s take on ‘Traviata,’ and the singing shimmers. Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2019.
photo: Craig T. Mathew
By Timothy Mangan, The Orange County Register, June 1, 2016.
GARDEN GROVE If you were anywhere near Chapman Avenue and Harbor Boulevard a little before 7 p.m. on Tuesday, and maybe even if you weren’t, you probably heard it.
A battalion of trumpet players had gathered behind the Hyatt Regency Orange County in an attempt to break the record for number of trumpeters playing a fanfare. When none other than Doc Sev erinsen gave the downbeat, the results weren’t subtle.
The event was the opening salvo of the International Trumpet Guild’s 41st annual conference, being held at the hotel through Saturday. Trumpeter Richard Birkemeier, chairman of the artist committee, is the man behind the record effort, and when he sent word out that Severinsen, the longtime bandleader on “The Tonight Show,” was going to conduct, musicians arrived in droves.
I’ve listened to this piece several times in the last few days; I’m quite taken with it. Listen a few times yourself and it makes perfect sense. It’s also entertaining and beautiful in its own peculiar way. I’d like to see some superstar pianists take it up and play it on their recitals of Chopin, Liszt, Debussy et al. The composer, not incidentally, was a teacher of Esa-Pekka Salonen.
In LA, Kaleidoscope Orch Asks, ‘Who Needs a Conductor’?
By Timothy Mangan, Musical America, April 3, 2019.
The Los Angeles-based Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, now in its fifth season, is a good group, an interesting group and an entertaining group. The ensemble works without a conductor, and mostly benefits from that decision. A Sunday afternoon performance (March 31) in the accommodating sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica went well beyond the standard repertoire for chamber orchestra and seemed something like a feat in doing so.
Kaleidoscope is a kind of collective of musicians, coming together in various-sized ensembles depending on the task at hand. By its own account, most of its work is done at schools, hospitals and homeless shelters, bringing “music to people who can’t come out on their own.” Most of its concerts for the public are offered on a pay what you can basis, as was Sunday’s. Even more, with its Young Composers Program (for elementary students) and annual call for scores (from adults), Kaleidoscope makes the music of living composers central to its mission.
An eye-opener on this program was Debussy’s La Mer, certainly not a work usually considered possible to perform without a conductor. As the performance unwound, with more than 60 musicians spread widely across the chancel, all standing save the cellos, basses and tuba, one naturally watched how it was done: Lots of eye contact between the players, cueing with nods of the head and necks of bows, a general swaying among all. In La Mer, the bassoons appeared to have the task of conveying the beat to the brasses behind them, and bobbed considerably.
Recently, I made some comments in favor of the concert review over the concert preview, the latter of which I often feel are shallow and ultimately a waste of newsprint. (A brief defense of reviewing, Feb. 20, 2019.) Concert previews are all the rage these days among arts editors, though, both in small as well as prestigious publications. These arts editors seem to feel that reviews of concerts are useless if the reader can’t attend the same concert under review. Additionally, they also feel that it’s their duty to support the arts community by selling tickets to its concerts and events. (It’s not.) Thus the preference for concert previews over concert reviews among arts editors.
This week I was reminded once again of another reason — really, I guess it’s the main reason — that I don’t like writing concert previews. The concert that I could have written a concert preview of for several publications but didn’t, turned out to be a dud from the get-go.
I’m talking about the performance by the Emerson String Quartet of its concert/play “Shostakovich and the Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy,” which I heard Tuesday night at Samueli Theater and reviewed here. The event had just about everything an arts editor could want for a concert preview: a prestigious, Grammy-winning ensemble trying something new, exploring an interesting political topic and important composer’s life in an innovative way and meaning to reach a diverse audience of aficionados as well as newbies. The story had lots of angles.
And it might have been a decent story, in the hands of the right writer. But the trouble is, the event itself was a mess and, in my opinion, not really worth going to. And the further trouble is that, no matter how you write it, a concert preview is implicitly or explicitly recommending to the reader that he and she should consider buying a ticket to the concert and attending it. For a critic to put his neck out for such a thing as the Emerson’s “Shostakovich and the Black Monk” before even seeing it and write such a preview is dishonest and unfair to readers and will ultimately hurt his credibility.
When I was writing regularly for newspapers back in the day, I not infrequently had the experience of showing up at a concert that I had also written a preview of and said concert proving to be a lemon. At such times, I felt like crawling under my seat. I also felt responsible for at least some of the attendance at the concert, which is not a feeling you want your dispassionate and objective critic to have.
No, bring back the concert review. Make it the ne plus ultra of music criticism. Let there be concert previews, or season previews, once in a while, but have someone other than the critic write them. Allow audiences to decide what concerts they’d like to attend by reading the ads and concert calendar. And by reading the critic’s reviews, which will shape his readers’ taste.
Review: Emerson Quartet Explores a Play on the Life of Shostakovich. Voice of OC, May 16, 2019.
Worth another listen.
High School Cadets.