Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Oh, come on.

This may be the most clueless thing ACD has ever posted. Rather than actually address the suggestion that Greg Sandow is making, he instead goes for the cheap-shot insult.

Sandow has been suggesting that classical music writing in the media should, at least occasionally, focus on the background details of the musicmaking. He provided an example a while back, and solicited e-mail responses. He quotes mine in the most recent post, but here's what I wrote in full:

I just read your blog entry that mentions conductor Semyon Bychkov, whom I have admired for quite some time. I have a local reason, however: I live in Buffalo, and in the late 80s Bychkov was music director of our Philharmonic. His tenure here saw the BPO undertake a European tour and several well-received concerts at Carnegie Hall, and he displayed an affinity for Shostakovich even then – the Fifth Symphony was a staple of BPO repertoire of the time (and it was the first piece Bychkov recorded, with the Berlin PO).

I actually met Bychkov once when, while still in high school, I attended a BPO concert which included Dvorak's "New World" Symphony. The second movement was played wondrously, but the performance was marred by the most horrible outbreak of audience coughing and throat-lozenge unwrapping I have ever heard. It was so bad that Bychkov actually addressed the audience after the movement was done, scolding them on their lack of decorum and then saying, "For those of you who missed that movement the first time, we will now play it again."

I mention that anecdote because it actually plays into your post's theme about the "Behind the scenes" stuff appearing in reviews. In this case, I remember an article in the Buffalo News mentioning Bychkov's repeat of the movement, noting that doing this required the orchestra musicians to be paid overtime for going over by twelve minutes or whatever. I personally found that fascinating.

I don't get the attitude you encountered about "behind the scenes" stuff. In addition to classical music, I'm also a sports fan, and sports fans are in my experience always fascinated by the "back room" details -- things like how trades get done, why this player is drafted instead of that one, why this play is called instead of that play, why the defense lines up in one formation instead of another, et cetera. I can't imagine why the classical music press would assume that all classical music lovers are interested in is the music itself, and not interested at all in the mechanics of bringing it to fruition. One of the most fascinating books I've ever read is on precisely the "behind the scenes" stuff in a symphony orchestra: "Season With Solti" (the author's name escapes me). The book is thirty years old by now, so I assume the picture it paints of a big-city symphony is no longer anything close to the way things actually are, but it's still amazing to me, and I can't imagine that classical music lovers wouldn't be equally fascinated by this kind of thing.

I once pitched a freelance article - - not commissioned, alas - - to a local magazine that would have been "Behind the Scenes" at the BPO. I wanted to profile what the orchestra librarian does. I wanted to see how program notes are compiled, and how rehearsals are held, and so on. I even envisioned a series of such articles, going behind the scenes at other art locales - - art galleries (ever wonder about the guy who actually has to physically hang the paintings?), theaters (what's the life of the costume maker like?) and so on.

Of course, that's not what ACD decides to address at all – he instead decides to make fun of the Entertainment Weekly readership, as if Sandow is suggesting that classical music needs to appeal to that crowd or some such thing. He's not. It's not about the classical music version of "celebrity gossip"; Greg Sandow isn't hankering after which conductor is sleeping with which pianist or whatever. It's about things like Helen Radice's posts about the day-to-day concerns of a harpist. Or Forrest Covington's recent adventures with getting a simple thing like a copy of a CD with his own music on it. Or Scott Spiegelberg's thoughts on teaching the next generation of musicians. Or Fred Himebaugh's writings about the concerns of a composer of choral music. Or Ilka Talvi's postings about the operations of a symphony orchestra. In fact, that last is probably the perfect example of what Greg Sandow is getting at.

Either ACD knows this, and he's just being pissy for the sake of being pissy, or he doesn't know that, in which case he has completely missed the point. In either case, it's advantage: Sandow. As near as I can tell, ACD simply skimmed Sandow's post, saw the words "Entertainment Weekly", and fired off his post without devoting one more second of thought to it than that.

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