Though Stewart’s announcement is almost a month old at this point, it still stings to imagine a 2016 election cycle without his brilliant, biting, and entirely necessary perspective. I’ve been watching the Daily Show for literally half of my life — longer even than I’ve been playing oboe — and it’s going to be sad to watch him go.
As per usual, the Internet reacted to the news with a whirlwind variety of thoughts and opinions, and I was particularly struck by one sector of the online community’s call to action:
That Guardian headline gets it right — “It’s time.” Isn’t it time? Female representation in late-night comedy is deplorably low, moderated by a systemic, male-dominated bias in the popular media. A white-male-dominated bias, I should add: Larry Wilmore of the Nightly Show is currently the only African-American late night comedy host on TV.
But I’ll leave a discussion of racial diversity for another day — today, it’s all about women. Happy International Women’s Day!
Mere days before Jon Stewart announced his departure, another great man in the entertainment industry announced his impending resignation: Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic for the past eight years. Though Gilbert won’t actually be leaving until 2017, his departure will leave a particularly prominent job position open for applicants. I therefore offer the following proposal:
There are definite risks involved in programming “adventurous” music. Some contemporary music comes across to an audience as intimidating or inaccessible — usually the esoteric, atonal stuff. Other modern pieces — generally along the lines of film or video game scores — are tonal to the point of cheesiness, and may frustrate longtime concertgoers who prefer traditional repertoire. Then there’s the issue of economy: many contemporary pieces call for uncommon instrumentation, extra personnel, soloist fees, and/or composer commission fees. Is opening the audience to this new repertoire worth the monetary cost of performing it? That is — will the piece generate enough curiosity (i.e., enough ticket sales) to pay for itself?
One trend to note is the rise of new cultural and gender perspectives in orchestral repertoire. Dead white guys are no longer the majority. The list of winning rep includes works by Turkish-American Kamran Ince, Grammy-winning Argentine Osvaldo Golijov, the incomparable Tan Dun of China, Brazilian-American Clarice Assad, Dai Fujikura of Japan, Persian composer Behzad Ranjbaran, former Chicago Symphony composer-in-residence Augusta Read Thomas, Roberto Sierra of Puerto Rico, and Scottish composer Thea Musgrave (famous for saying, “Yes, I am a woman; and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time”), among many, many others. The New York Philharmonic even premiered works by ten- and eleven-year-old students in their Very Young Composers program. The enormous variety of perspectives represented by these composers points to an increasingly global appreciation for symphonic music — not necessarily the Western music that usually dominates concert halls — and welcomes listeners of all backgrounds to discover music to which they may have a personal connection. Continue reading →
“The first movement is in sonata form, but lyric, not dramatic in any Beethovian sense. Even the grand return to opening dotted theme in the major mode has no sense of theatricality about it. The second movement is a wonderfully light Scherzo, filled with delicious rhythmic interplay between 2/4 and 6/8 time. Its middle section, with muted strings, is only slightly more serious, but there the piano undercuts the solemnity.”
These are the words of musicologist/professional program note writer Steven Ledbetter, on Fauré‘s Piano Quartet No. 1for the Eastern Music Festival 2012 season program book. (I don’t mean to pick on Dr. Ledbetter; I was just looking through some old programs I have for an example to use in this post.) This is only an excerpt from a passage of manageable length. The paragraphs preceding the excerpt provide interesting biographical information on the composer and a brief discussion of late 19th-century French music… but all of a sudden he starts throwing out words like “sonata form” and “major mode” and anyone who hasn’t taken at least a semester of music theory (i.e., much of the audience) is lost.
There is a time and a place for musical jargon. Program notes for, say, a master class, or a recital at a [IDRS/IVS/etc.] convention — performances where the audience is primarily made up of people who already have a fundamental knowledge of what exactly a “Beethovian sense” of drama might be or what constitutes “delicious rhythmic interplay between 2/4 and 6/8 time” — those program notes can be as jargon-y as you like. But at a place like Eastern Music Festival (which I’ve attended), where the audience is about 80% made up of enthusiastic, arts-supporting community members who can’t tell the difference between an oboe and a bassoon, knowing that the first movement is in sonata form isn’t going to help anyone… unless you tell the audience what, exactly, sonata form is. In fact, that would be great! Providing a succinct explanation of sonata form would give the audience something interesting to listen for, as well as a new bit of knowledge to take home with them. Program notes should educate; they should tell the reader what “sonata form” means — they just should not come across as lofty lectures, or dry lists of information, or prosy jargon-fests. The whole point of program notes is to help the audience better understand the music; in order for that to happen, the program notes must be understood as well. Continue reading →