Mixed Feelings

I’m getting funny emails from my family these days. For example, a couple days ago, one close relation wrote to ask whether a particular review of a recent Richard Goode recital was “good or bad.” As if I were some oracular interpreter of review-speak. I dutifully and shamefully googled up the thing, and found a worse review than I expected, in which the author, at least in part, assumes a didactic role. It was conceded that there were some good moments at the end; but mainly the pianist was accused of letting his passion surge ahead of his judgment. These sorts of reviews put me in a delicate emotional position. Firstly: without reviewers, our business would be in sorry condition; they create buzz, they evaluate, they stir up the human yen for judgment, they are patient through concert after concert which I cannot be bothered to attend, they are a public voice for our private art “in the wilderness,” they have to write blurb after blurb, finding creativity in a difficult, limited art form… They are also a kind of “conscience” of the artist. I am, finally, grateful to them. On the other hand, (didn’t you know that “but” was coming?) when a reviewer seems to condescend to an artist like Richard Goode, whose artistry ranges into extraordinary realms I dream about late at night, over espresso, wistfully… an artist who with one phrase has occasionally caused me to rethink months of my life … for him to be treated like a naughty misbehaved child on the pages of a national newspaper makes me want to throw my coffee cup across the room and wreak other kinds of havoc, screaming and ranting. Also: aren’t critics always complaining of the “overly safe” practices of classical music these days? Aren’t they always wondering why we don’t take more risks? But then, the Catch-22: if you take too many risks, or the wrong kind, you stand in need of a “palpable corrective” (to quote the review); you can be chastened in the New York Times. What’s a boy to do?

As I say, mixed feelings. And I wasn’t even at that concert (shame on me). Perhaps even this well-meaning expression of my emotional conundrum may cause me to have bad reviews for some time. Hopefully (I think it a safe bet) BH will not read this post. Otherwise, I say, like “our” president: bring it on!

Another family member writes to subtly suggest that the material in the blog can sometimes be pretty inaccessible. Haha. Yes, I know. There are people who feel the other way: that my musical analyses are often too cursory, compared to my philosophy-speak; that I should get down on my hands and knees and be a grease monkey with the notes themselves. I like to get down and get funky with the notes, a lot; and the problem is, I think it takes a long time and a lot of clunky prose to really get at the notes, to unfold their miraculous, wordless patterns. And meanwhile the big black bear with the golden insides lurks in the other room, growling the beginnings of unpracticed masterpieces, warning me that if even Richard Goode can be accused of lack of judgment, I am in a whole heap of trouble.

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted December 8, 2005 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Here’s one suggestion about the accessibility issue. You know I love your prose and don’t want to change a golden word. But in reading, say, the previous post, as a non-musician I’m quite aware that there’s stuff in the ether that I’m just not getting, mainly because I can’t look at your snippets from the score and make much more of them than a sort of inspired mathemathics. Would there be a way of pasting in a soundclip or two?


  2. Anonymous
    Posted December 9, 2005 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    It’s great the depth of hermeneutical analysis you go to and I feel myself asking: more please, deeper! Speaking as a professional pianist, we are the ones who stand to benefits most from your wisdom and insights. We can use your ideas everyday in performance so I hope you will consider this audience.

    Perhaps you should also consider being a grease-monkey with the technique of playing the notes? It would be nice to see a Denk Basic Principles of Pianoforte Playing (a la Lhevinne?)

  3. pianist
    Posted December 9, 2005 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    I think it is deeply disturbing the amount of influence that amateur musician reviewers have in the musical world (and I know of at least one renowned pianist and Brussels laureate who feels the same way).
    What would physicists say if the National Academy of Sciences was made up of part-time amateurs who had taken a few undergrad physics and chemistry courses? Would the NY Times tolerate that level of background for its science writers and editors?
    Yet the reality is that it is precisely these people who don’t have the deep insider’s knowledge of the extremely complex and difficult art of music who provide the judgments that make or break careers. What right does someone who took piano lessons for a few years and can play some beginners’ Haydn sonatas have to destroy a year’s work of excruciating work and thought in just a few words? There must be some way that professional musicians can take back the power and influence in the business that is rightfully ours. Bring it on indeed!

  4. southern gal
    Posted December 9, 2005 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    please dont change a thing! i love your analyses – especially as i return to the keyboard after a hiatus – cant wait to hear about the c minor – but maybe i shouldn’t read your version but write my own. Helas! it would not hold a candle to yours!

  5. R J Keefe
    Posted December 12, 2005 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    BH is a compleat pill.

  6. serenebabe
    Posted December 14, 2005 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about (bubs pointed me to this entry of yours, I think you’re a favorite of his as he procrastinates) — I don’t think my comment was that subtle. 😉

    Glad to read your stuff… Funny that your visit with the accessibility issue was quite a bit like JTD’s explanation when I said about your blogging, “I just can’t take the massive amounts of time required to understand.” He stated it simply, that your love of music is intense (not his words, my paraphrase) and deep. I suppose my passions are just as strong, but so very, very different! 🙂 (I’m guessing you detest smilies…)

    Lots of love,

  7. bubs
    Posted December 15, 2005 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I do not procrastinate. I am thoughtful, I consider, I give “process” its proper respect and space. Procrastination? Hardly.

  8. sheri
    Posted December 16, 2005 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    So, BH finds the right balance in a recording: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/arts/music/16albu.html?pagewanted=2

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