Splatter 1: New & Improved!

Dan Albertson

[August 2010.]

[Peripateia. Here I go airing “dirty laundry” again — I know how to make friends. Others worry about their careers; I worry only about reporting what I experience. The premise, however specious, of this new series, far from the realm of the concert review, is to give some impression of various live events in various cities. I often find live music to be unsettling, uncomfortable or other “un-” adjectives. The series will prove why. For R.K. with gratitude, for the agape of now, one from a time that never was. D.A.]


Month began with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Impressed with wobble-free winds, blended strings: the anti-CSO. Great timpanist — and so young. Friendly musicians, brief tour. Chung conducted from memory. Otter was dull, as usual. I could almost appreciate orchestral sound again. CSO president D.R. cattily dismissed OPRF at intermission, with a scornful yawn. Her transpontine counterpart É.M. and I had earlier spoken of her orchestra, with its bombastic D-S-C-H. “Would your orchestra ever seriously consider playing that piece?” I asked him while the audience went wild. I knew what the answer would be. He and I mostly discussed McCreesh, Minkowski. OPRF is certainly more progressive than the CSO in its open-minded attitude, yet regressive in thinking that Magnus Lindberg has any talent.

Bach the following week, the lesser passion. Too many voices and strings, with fine soli, but a plodding opening chorus. M.-A.T. and I talked, as we had the week before; we won’t be talking again any time soon, will we? A case in point: He mentioned his opera about Anna Nicole Smith; me: “Are you kidding?” To his credit, he kept talking to me. We disparaged one composer after another. Good fun — and cathartic.

Met J.B. He thinks far too much of himself, exuding haughtiness, strange for someone toiling away at a small college. “Where did you study?” was his first question. Only downhill from there, sir. Dear PhD colleagues assure me that the education of J.B. is impressive, yet my accomplishments more variegated and important. I will defer to them.

Montréal: What a dingy city. Ah, francophones and their peep shows. Lingering quote from my chat with Alexander Paley, citing Neuhaus, “Russia will always have two certainties: dirty toilets and bad pianos.” What happened to his Québécois piano? Busted several strings during Tchaikovsky 1, yet played on. Serves him right for playing that piece. Peter Ruzicka spoke openly: wit, wisdom abounding. Großzügig. Special thanks to the old ladies who praised my French — and an open invitation for others to follow suit.

Buffalo, next, to meet Helmut Lachenmann, too short an encounter: We were exhausted. A warm, gentle soul, he, who obviously thinks too highly of me. I talked to some regulars after his concert. Leider, H.L. has a long way to go before he wins over everyone — and the newest piece on the bill was from ’92! Mein Gott (our help in ages past?). Thank you, Mr. Starr, for your generosity beyond the norm.


The CSO is obviously managed by people who are so much smarter than I am, or the public is, for that matter. One example is ticket prices: The results surely could not merit the investment. No wonder I filled the empty boxes. I could have easily filled anywhere else, most nights. I bow to the intellectual supremacy of A., F., W. and their assorted apparatchiki, individuals with international renown — or not.

The week before I was kicked out, I talked to a female dancer fore and aft a piece by Mason Bates; she was there to see, hear his work and was somehow unfamiliar with Ravel’s ballet. Raised in a barn? Me too. Bates’ piece, total abuse of time / energy, made 15 mins. seem like an hour and wasted orchestra and dance troupe alike. Double credit! Snickers from my seatmates when I said, “At least the dancers were cute.” Should’ve asked CSO bigwigs who hired this charlatan, the new co-composer-in-residence. OOOHHH! A DJ! That should draw a “hip” crowd. Shame on the CSO for becoming the latest victim of this contagion, one spreading the meretricious idea that empty-headed populism is the savior of art, a doctrine of inanity. Money is the obvious motivation here.

The Civic Orchestra of Chicago proved to be more enterprising, not for the first time. Its concert this month, with the Marius Constant orchestration of Gaspard de la nuit, was brilliant. Even the vibrato-rich Mendelssohn, an utter anachronism, wasn’t offensive this time, its tempi quick. Overheard middle-aged audience members talking about avoiding the regular CSO concerts and attending only the Civic events: “The repertory’s better,” they said amongst themselves. D’accord.

Milwaukee cleansed the palette, if only for one day. A city with at least a few hills in its streets, an antidote of a sort. Its art museum is externally more petit than I imagined. Richter and Zurbarán especially fine, but why so much Avery and Judd? Yuck, yuck. Rothko. Aaahhh. Noland’s card a memento mori, as if I needed one. Nice darkness surrounding Raffaele. Then I had the blasphemous idea of a museum lit only by candles. Try it, someone, somewhere. I’ll go.

MSO has a new music director, Edo de Waart, but a rented, old performance space, Uihlein Hall, far from ideal. Fauré somewhat dry, Saint-Saëns winsome (and not what was first billed) and Tchaikovsky superb, not slowed for faux tears, for a change. If only the damned audience hadn’t clapped between the third and fourth movements of the Pathétique. I knew that was coming. Why, oh why? Afterward, Joseph Johnson, the local cellist celebrity, endured some fellow talking to him about Dick Cheney. Irony galore. Future bodes well for this new tenure, I predict. Thank you, Al Bartosik, not least for working around the funereal business without complaint.

Adam Dubin and I closed the month by hearing the Belcea Quartet in Mandel Hall, south of where I dare to venture. He complained about the lack of air conditioning — and the sweat-encrusted performers likely agreed. I like sweat. No encore, but the program was enough: Bouncy early Beethoven, late Szymanowski and early Bartók, played with precision if not enough drive or sweetness, as needed. Mostly in the middle.

Enough for now. May and June next.

Ripost to Walt’s “Just Stop.” in the form of a haiku

What you write be true
Could it apply to words too?
Yes, why me, not you?


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