Fewer “Goings On” In The New Yorker?

The New Yorker is tweaking its graphic design and layout, starting with the event listings (“Goings On About Town”) in the front of the magazine. I’m not qualified to critique fonts, but I have noticed that there are fewer items in the classical music listings than there used to be with the old layout. Maybe its too early in the season to say for certain, but cutting the number of items listed is distressing. You know that the big players – the Met, the Philharmonic, etc. –  are never going to be dropped from the listings, which means there will be considerably less room for, say, that new music concert at Miller Theatre or  (le) poisson rouge. This is bad news for the classical music culture as a whole, including the big guys – narrowing the conversation doesn’t do anybody any good.

My other New Yorker item this week is this from an article about EDM in Vegas. One artist discussed is named Afrojack, and here he is working on his songs with a colleague:

Afrojack liked the vocal line, but he wasn’t sure about the song’s structure. “It’s a thirty-second verse, a thirty-second pre-chorus, and a thirty-second chorus,” he said. “Is that right for a radio song?”

“You don’t go by time,” Preston said. “You go by bars.”

Afrojack cocked his head. “What’s ‘bars’?”

According to the article, Afrojack earns $150,000 a night. I think my fee for an elementary music theory tutoring session just went up to $150,001.

Summer Reading 2: The Talk of the Town; Updike on Art

9780375756498_p0_v1_s260x420The Fun of It: Stories from The Talk of the Town, edited by Lillian Ross. What musician can resist a book where one of the items included begins:

“We were fortunate enough to be seated a few rows behind Rachmaninoff the other night in the Plaza ballroom when Theremin, the young Russian scientist, produced strange sounds, then tunes, and finally played Scriabin and Saint-Saëns by waving his hands gently at antennae on a box.”

This anthology of short pieces from The New Yorker is delightful reading, with stories by James Thurber (responsible for the report on Theremin), E.B. White, A.J. Liebling, Brendan Gill, John Updike, Ian Frazier, Veronica Geng, Susan Orlean, Garrison Keillor, Steve Martin, and even one from Jacqueline Onassis.

Unknown-2Always Looking: Essays on Art by John Updike. This is a posthumously issued collection of reviews of museum shows, mostly originally published in The New York Review of Books or The New Republic. There are plenty of handsome reproductions, though the book is not the size of a coffee table tome; perhaps it’s something for an end table. The tone is that of a well-informed amateur who just happens to write as elegantly as John Updike. Artists discussed include Church, Monet, Miró, Degas, Klimt, Beckman, Magritte, Lichtenstein and Serra and more. The 20th century and contemporary artists are dealt with sympathetically, making me wonder what it would mean for music created during the same periods if a writer of Updike’s stature took an interest in it, and acted on that interest in print. Art didn’t need Updike – there is money in art – but music could have used him.

Dropped My Popsicle

Mr. Goldman played “Finlandia” with such feeling and attention to tonal detail that I dropped my Popsicle, and the lady alongside me, who was about to reach the bottom of her Cracker Jack box, held off searching for her prize until the end of the piece.

That is from a 1949 New Yorker review of a Goldman Band performance in Central Park, written by Philip Hamburger. I have associated that name with the The New Yorker for some time, but did not know Hamburger served as music critic for the magazine for a year until I read Friends Talking in the Night, an anthology of Hamburger’s sixty years of writing for The New Yorker. I highly recommend the volume, not just for the examples of music criticism, but for the widely varied writing on all manner of topics.

Although not a musician, Hamburger’s writing about music is sensitive and thoughtful, lively and engaged. He is interested in new music, commenting approvingly on a Koussevitzky program with the BSO that included works by Foss, Schuman, Cowell, Barber, and Piston (with all the composers present). He is also uncommonly funny.

There is very little than can be said about the opening opera [at the Met in 1948]. There is a good deal to be said about the Opera Opening.

-“Otello,”  Maybe (December 1948)

I’m afraid Miss Pons has reached a point, operatically, where she should be seen and not heard. She was admirably decorative, but when it came to the singing – well, let’s talk about network time and package deals.

-Mostly Positive (December 1948)

The rest of the program was scarcely more satisfying. Mr. Münch gave us Lalo’s overture to “le Roi d’Ys, ” which, as far as I’m concerned, could be renamed “The Ride of the Rockettes”.

-Hark (January 1949)

Mr. Berglun sang Jokanaan, the Prophet, with superb dedication, but physically he was so detached and immobile that I felt matters had changed hardly at all when the Prophet’s head was served up, toward the close of the ceremonies, on a platter… Miss Thorborg, as the cold-blooded mother of Salome, was adequately depraved.

-Minority Report (1949)

There are also interesting tidbits to be picked up by reading reviews from 60 years ago. Who would have thought that Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia” was produced at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York in 1949, with the role of Lucretia taken by… Kitty Carlisle???

Gatsby Marginalized

In a recent New Yorker article about a theatrical adaptation of The Great Gatsby that involves reading the entire novel on stage, Rebecca Mead reviews the various theatrical and cinematic adaptations of the book that have been done over the years. She includes various absurd failures, but fails to mention the most successful adaptation of the piece: John Harbison’s 1999 opera, premiered at the Met late that year. Maybe she knew about the piece and left it out because the excellence of Harbison’s work would conflict with the point she was trying to make about how impossible the novel is to adapt. More likely, I fear, she simply didn’t know the piece existed. Again, to repeat a motif often found in these posts – one of the musics I love has been marginalized – in this case, pushed right out of the picture.

You can hear Gatsby on CDs that the Met is selling as part of a big 32-disc set honoring James Levine on his 40th Anniversary with the company. You have to buy the whole set, no individual items for sale just yet. Too bad the piece didn’t get included in the Levine DVD set that has also been issued – though that does include both Berg operas, Weill’s Mahagonny, and Corigliano’s Ghosts of Versailles. Hear Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson sing an excerpt from Gatsby here.