November 27, 2012

The ABC’s of Christmas music.

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” 
                                                                        ~Elvis Costello?

Goodness gracious, is it that time already?  Never too early to jump back into the shark-infested waters, as my mother always said (may not be true).

Soon it will be Christmas.

Thank heavens for the BostonGlobe.  Talk about news you can use!

What should we listen to?

Should? Hello?

What we should listen to is, apparently, prescribed by the condition that soon it will be Christmas. That's the whole thing right there.  Perhaps I'm not a nominally Christian female over 20 who cares enough that soon it will be Christmas?

Oh, wait.  This is in a newspaper. 

Well, I guess you have to write to your audience.

“Historically, Christmas...

If I said that I didn't like where this was going, I'd be lying...but only because of who I am.  I'm ten kinds of strapped in and prepared for the least-researched sentence ever.

...has been an immensely prolific time for composers, especially (and obviously) for those writing for the Christian church.”

I submit that the sense of “historically” being invoked here is not really anything as broad as the word itself suggests.  Historically, here, means during the 18th century.

There was actually a relatively short period of time, in a pretty small part of the world, during which most composers were employed by Christian churches.

But, now, see: perhaps that's exactly what this article is after: breaking the Christmas concert paradigm.

“But this trove of musical riches is astonishingly easy to lose sight of, even in so artistically sophisticated a place as Boston.”

Wow, okay.  I can't imagine that this sort of self-congratulatory onanism is going to live up to my optimistic projection.

“The sophistication of Boston's cultural patrons is matched only by their class and dignity.
It can seem as though holiday offerings are confined to endless renditions of the “Hallelujah” chorus and an all-too-small group of holiday favorites.”

The construction "it can seem" is so unbelievably rhetorically weak that I'm rather put off.  Instead of invoking a familiar sensation, "it can seem" could be used to justify any number of terrible sentences. 

“How to break out of this rut?”

By continuing to employ a string of weak grammatical constructions?

“One strategy is to explore a Christmas distant in time and space from our own,…”

Does the rabbit-creature have a garrote made of stars?

...and this is an experience that early music ensembles are especially skilled at providing.”

I'm gonna go ahead and write this off as a segue to talking about specific groups in Boston this season.

“There’s a reason we hear ‘Messiah’ and ‘Nutcracker’ every year — because they’re so great,” said Scott Metcalfe, Blue Heron’s music director.

Really?  We're not just lazy or indoctrinated by a false nostalgia!

“But doing these sort of alternative, 15th-century Christmases, there’s no sense that they have a holiday anything like ours.”

Translation: the artistic director of an early music ensemble speculates that, based on available evidence, Christmas in 15th century Burgundy was different than Christmas today.

“For us, there is a desire to pull the curtain open and say, wait a minute, there may be other things out there. Let’s look at them, let’s enjoy them.Anne Azéma, the Camerata’s artistic director, said of the impulse behind them: “It came out of a desire to remove oneself from the Christmas routine.”

By putting on a Christmas concert?

By “routine,” she meant “a canon that was developed in the late 19th century in America — a mixture of German-Scandinavian-English music which created this sort of postcard idea of all things that we think now as Christmas.”

Oh.  Well, good, then, within the limited scope of expanding that notion to include slightly more European countries over a slightly longer period of time.

That includes the caroling tradition, popular songs about chestnuts and angels, Messiah (this would be the perfect place to throw in the fact that Messiah is an Easter Oratorio that was somehow appropriated by Christmas), and other time-honored entries.

Since I have a blog, I'd like to take this opportunity to mention that the only thing I dislike more then forcefed Christmas music is the people who feed it.

I'm sorry, you were saying something about Christmas concerts?

“It’s wonderful material,...

Is that a nice way of calling it "not music?"

...some of it at least,


...but it’s become so overfamiliar that its impact is often lost.”

If I was still an academic postmodernist ass I'd call it "overdetermined" - but I quit being that, so I won't.

“In a way, caught among all these things, you tend to forget that Christmas has been happening for quite a while,” she continued.

Like basically since Halloween! Every year!

“For us, there is a desire to pull the curtain open and say, wait a minute, there may be other things out there. Let’s look at them, let’s enjoy them.”

First, this the second time in three quotes you've used the "pull the curtain" analogy.  I will refrain from speculating about that.

Second, I like "look at" as a metaphor for "listen to."  

Third, this:

“These are, nevertheless, holiday concerts, which means that an audience, no matter how adventurous, is going to want something that resonates with their own experience, even if the music is unfamiliar.”

This is where I stopped reading, but only partly because the rationalization-to-description ratio became untenable.

'this  the season...

November 1, 2012

To go to Lwów

~ Adam Zagajewski (to my parents) translated by Renata Gorczynski

To go to Lwów. Which station
for Lwów, if not in a dream, at dawn, when dew 
gleams on a suitcase, when express
trains and bullet trains are being born. To leave 
in haste for Lwów, night or day, in September 
or in March. But only if Lwów exists,
if it is to be found within the frontiers and not just 
in my new passport, if lances of trees
—of poplar and ash—still breathe aloud 
like Indians, and if streams mumble
their dark Esperanto, and grass snakes like soft signs 
in the Russian language disappear
into thickets. To pack and set off, to leave 
without a trace, at noon, to vanish
like fainting maidens. And burdocks, green 
armies of burdocks, and below, under the canvas
of a Venetian café, the snails converse
about eternity. But the cathedral rises,
you remember, so straight, as straight
as Sunday and white napkins and a bucket 
full of raspberries standing on the floor, and 
my desire which wasn’t born yet,
only gardens and weeds and the amber
of Queen Anne cherries, and indecent Fredro. 
There was always too much of Lwów, no one could 
comprehend its boroughs, hear
the murmur of each stone scorched
by the sun, at night the Orthodox church’s silence was unlike
that of the cathedral, the Jesuits
baptized plants, leaf by leaf, but they grew,
grew so mindlessly, and joy hovered 
everywhere, in hallways and in coffee mills 
revolving by themselves, in blue 
teapots, in starch, which was the first 
formalist, in drops of rain and in the thorns
of roses. Frozen forsythia yellowed by the window. 
The bells pealed and the air vibrated, the cornets
of nuns sailed like schooners near 
the theater, there was so much of the world that
it had to do encores over and over,
the audience was in frenzy and didn’t want
to leave the house. My aunts couldn’t have known 
yet that I’d resurrect them, 
and lived so trustfully; so singly; 
servants, clean and ironed, ran for 
fresh cream, inside the houses 
a bit of anger and great expectation, Brzozowski
came as a visiting lecturer, one of my 
uncles kept writing a poem entitled Why,
dedicated to the Almighty, and there was too much 
of Lwów, it brimmed the container, 
it burst glasses, overflowed 
each pond, lake, smoked through every 
chimney, turned into fire, storm, 
laughed with lightning, grew meek, 
returned home, read the New Testament,
slept on a sofa beside the Carpathian rug,
there was too much of Lwów, and now 
there isn’t any, it grew relentlessly
and the scissors cut it, chilly gardeners 
as always in May, without mercy, 
without love, ah, wait till warm June
comes with soft ferns, boundless
fields of summer, i.e., the reality.
But scissors cut it, along the line and through 
the fiber, tailors, gardeners, censors
cut the body and the wreaths, pruning shears worked 
diligently, as in a child’s cutout
along the dotted line of a roe deer or a swan. 
Scissors, penknives, and razor blades scratched,
cut, and shortened the voluptuous dresses
of prelates, of squares and houses, and trees
fell soundlessly, as in a jungle,
and the cathedral trembled, people bade goodbye 
without handkerchiefs, no tears, such a dry
mouth, I won’t see you anymore, so much death
awaits you, why must every city
become Jerusalem and every man a Jew,
and now in a hurry just
pack, always, each day,
and go breathless, go to Lwów, after all
it exists, quiet and pure as
a peach. It is everywhere.