Top Ten Classical Music Headlines of 2012
2012 was so eventful for classical music that the average conservatory student could hardly keep up. Luckily, the Backyard’s always trustworthy news outlet Submediant has voted on and assembled a list of the biggest classical music news stories from last year, and the results are in . . . (Timpani roll) Here they are, the top ten classical music headlines of 2012: ____________________________________________________
10) NY Phil’s Mahler 9 Performance Interrupts Man’s Cell Phone Ring
A routine New York Philharmonic performance turned into a nightmare last January when a man’s cell phone ring was interrupted by Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. According to an eyewitness, the ringing phone’s owner was visibly annoyed by the Mahler Symphony, so much so that he turned his iPhone to “silent” mode. He then stood up from his front row seat with his hands on his hips and glared at the unwitting conductor, who was standing atop his podium with his back turned to the audience.
He asked the conductor, “Are you finished?” No reaction. “Fine, we’ll wait,” the phone-owner responded. An exasperated Avery Fisher Hall audience began jeering. Someone shouted, “Hey Maestro, get off the stage!” Another: “Let the man answer his phone!”
The offending conductor was identified as Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, who had reached the end of the profound final bars of the fourth movement—a prolonged elegy composed after the untimely passing of Mahler’s beloved daughter and often interpreted as signifying the looming death of tonality—when he chose to continue leading the orchestra over the banal sound of the iPhone’s default marimba ringtone.
In an interview after the concert, the phone-owner—a long-time season ticket subscriber to the Philharmonic—said, “It was shocking what happened. Here I was receiving what could have been an extremely urgent call, and the orchestra just keeps on indulging itself in this far away, spiritual place.” The man continued, “Please, like we’ve never heard Mahler Nine before—this piece is over a hundred years old! Right now, I’ve got two companies to run and that means the cell phone stays on.”
9) ‘Linsanity’ Declared After Violinist’s First Full Season with Juilliard String Quartet
In his inaugural season with the legendary Juilliard String Quartet (JSQ), Joseph Lin generated a wave of excitement among fans across New York City and around the world. Replacing an ailing Nick Eanet in 2011 as first violinist of JSQ, the previously unknown Lin was a household name by the spring, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine and called by the Associated Press “the most surprising story in classical music.” The sensation sparked by Joseph Lin, dubbed “Linsanity,” began in November 2011 with his fierce and relentless playing in Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. By February’s JSQ program of Janáček and Mozart, which showcased both his impassioned virtuosity and refined elegance, replicas of Lin’s tuxedo featuring the violinist’s last name sewn into the back began flying off the racks at the Juilliard Store. “I haven’t done a computation, but it’s fair to say that no player has created the interest and frenzy in this short period of time, in any genre, that I’m aware of like Joseph Lin has,” said Juilliard president Joseph Polisi.
8) Study: Conservatory Students Averaged 4 Minutes, 33 Seconds Caring About John Cage in Composer’s Centennial Year
A study released by the American Musicological Society (AMS) found young classical musicians to be mostly indifferent towards the legacy of John Cage, whose 100th birthday was celebrated in 2012. A November poll of more than one thousand students from conservatories and music schools across the country revealed interest in the iconoclast composer and provocateur to be significantly lower than interest in other composers, including Cage’s own contemporaries. When students were asked how much time they had spent in 2012 “thinking or caring about John Cage’s biography, musical compositions, or aesthetic philosophy,” their responses averaged to only four minutes and 33 seconds. Simon Frisch, a master’s student in composition at Juilliard who participated in the study, said in a subsequent interview, “If a John Cage piece were performed in the woods and didn’t make a sound, would anybody care?”
7) Western Sanctions Successfully Shut Down Iran National Opera’s Production of ‘Doctor Atomic’
In October, the National Opera of Iran was forced to cancel its scheduled production of John Adams’ opera Doctor Atomic as a result of increased sanctions leveled against the country by the United States and the European Union. Western officials cited the cancelation of the opera—which features former nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer as a main character—as a significant victory in the push to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment program and as proof of the efficacy of the sanctions regime. “This opera was clearly being produced as part of a propaganda campaign to spread support for a nuclear Iran,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “America and its allies can live more peacefully knowing that such violence and fear-mongering have been removed from the stages and orchestra pits of Tehran.” Western leaders have now set their sights on Iran’s planned production of Wagner’s Ring cycle in 2013, which analysts say is an overt indicator of the Persian nation’s intention to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.”
6) Aging Musicologist Can Finally Finish Grove Entry on Elliott Carter
In the month following his death on November 5, scores of performances and memorial services were given in honor of the legendary American composer Elliott Carter, who was beloved of his friends, family, and colleagues. One musicologist, however, was relieved at the news of Carter’s passing as he can now complete his Grove Encyclopedia entry on the centenarian composer once and for all. David Schiff, 67, of Portland, Oregon—a one-time student of Carter’s at Juilliard—says he remains a deep admirer of the man and his music, but nonetheless can breathe easier knowing that he can finally put this damn article behind him and move on. “When I started writing articles about Carter’s life and works in the 1970s, I figured he didn’t have much longer to live,” said Schiff. “Then the guy turns one hundred and is still composing!” Schiff, a Professor of Music at Reed College, last updated Carter’s Grove Entry in 2003 after which the composer wrote dozens more works and achieved numerous distinctions and milestones—at least another ten paragraphs worth of material in Grove. “I’m interested in other music and musicians, in jazz, in composing my own pieces. I like to hike. But I had to keep coming back to this,” Schiff complained. “I wish somebody had told me when I was thirty that this guy would end up living as long as three Mozarts.”
5) Huddled in Himalayan Foothills, Scriabin Society Disappointed by Mayan Apocalypse Flop
A group of about a hundred musicians and aficionados belonging to the Scriabin Society of America gathered in a cathedral at the base of the Himalayan mountain range in India in mid-December in rapt anticipation of the end to existence as we know it. Followers of the post-Romantic Russian composer and mystic Alexander Scriabin, the Society believed that the end of the world predicted in the Mayan calendar for December 21, 2012 should be seen as the apocalyptic moment prophesized by the composer one hundred years earlier.
According to Scriabin, the execution of an interactive, seven-day long performance of his massive symphonic-choral work Mysterium would herald the transfiguration of the world through the dissolution of the human race and its replacement with a synesthetic utopia populated by a nobler species of artists. Since the composer left Mysterium unfinished at the time of his death, the Scriabin Society substituted the work for a weeklong series of live performances comprising Scriabin’s entire oeuvre and including other orgiastic festivities, ending with a performance of his Prefatory Action, the intended prelude to Mysterium finished by Alexander Nemtin in 1996.
As December 21 approached, the one hundred-odd Scriabinists stood holding hands in a massive prayer circle amidst smoke machines and black lights, gazing at the sky above the Himalayas. As the 21st came and went without incident, the convention gradually thinned out as disillusioned Scriabin Society members began leaving in frustration. Despite the general disappointment and humiliation at their favorite composer’s dubious visions and the failed apocalypse, some members of the Scriabin Society found a silver lining in the continued existence of the human race. “Although I didn’t perish in fulfillment of his prophecies, I’m going to keep playing and listening to Scriabin,” said pianist Koji Attwood. “I still think his music is really cool.”
4) Seeking Improved Acoustics, Lincoln Center to Replace Avery Fisher Hall with Met Opera’s Discarded ‘Valhalla Machine’
In late November, Lincoln Center announced its plans for the radical renovation of Avery Fisher Hall, a move that will require the resident New York Philharmonic to relocate for two full seasons during construction. In a press conference, Lincoln Center chairwoman Katherine G. Farley revealed that the old Avery Fisher will be completely demolished and replaced by the Metropolitan Opera’s so-called “Valhalla Machine,” the 45-ton contraption devised by Cirque du Soleil set designer Carl Fillon that has been the visual and structural centerpiece of the most recent production of the Ring cycle. Responding to persistent criticism of Avery Fisher’s acoustical and aesthetic defects, Lincoln Center sees the noisily rotating multi-million dollar monstrosity of multimedia aluminum planks as a vast improvement on the old hall and a worthy future home of the New York Philharmonic. Though the machine has itself been subject to a host of criticism for its loud creaking and for nearly crushing to death a Rhinemaiden, as Farley puts it, the Lincoln Center is “killing two birds with one stone” by moving it next door. “We’re throwing out the Met’s garbage, and boom!” she said. “We find a new home for the Phil.”
3) Defying All Odds, American Symphony Orchestras Continue to Exist
In a remarkable turn of events, 2012 came to a close with the majority of the country’s symphony orchestras still in existence. Experts and laymen have long assumed that the American symphony orchestra, considered for years to be an institution in irreversible decline, surely would have flat-lined come 2013, and a series of early-season lockouts from Atlanta to Minneapolis seemed to confirm this prediction. Yet through budget cuts, downsizing, and relentless pandering to rich people, these clunky anachronisms have managed to cling to life for at least another five to ten years before totally disintegrating.
2) With Carnegie Closed, Lang Lang Performs Chopin Dangling from Damaged 57th Street Crane
In late October and early November, Carnegie Hall was forced to cancel a series of concerts due to a partially collapsed crane damaged by Hurricane Sandy that loomed high above 57th Street and 7th Avenue for nearly a week. Among the canceled concerts was a benefit performance for the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. However, undeterred by the damage wrought by the storm and lusting for publicity, Lang Lang chose to go ahead with the performance from a new location: hanging from the tip of the damaged crane. Flouting a whole spectrum of safety restrictions and putting hundreds of lives in danger including his own, Lang Lang climbed more than 1000 feet in the air atop a 90-story apartment building and onto the damaged crane. He then seated himself within the steel cage of the crane’s dangling boom before having a second crane deliver a concert grand piano from nearby Steinway Hall. A crowd of dedicated fans and perplexed onlookers gathered on the streets below to witness the spectacle. Once situated, Lang Lang breezed through three popular Chopin works, ending with the dazzling Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise. Witnesses said his physical gestures and emotive antics were so excessive during the performance he caused the whole structure to sway precariously back and forth. Bystanders were seen running and screaming from scene, though it was not clear if they were seeking safety from the broken crane or just couldn’t stand Lang Lang’s excessive and irrational use of rubato.
The original concert, entitled “Lang Lang and Friends,” was scheduled to feature Joshua Bell with Alec Baldwin hosting, however neither agreed to join Lang Lang’s stunt. In a phone interview from his Central Park West apartment, Baldwin said, “Lang Lang can do whatever he wants with the dangling crane. But no way in hell I’m getting near that thing.”
1) More People View ‘Gangnam Style’ on Youtube Than Have Ever Heard Beethoven’s 9th
With more than one billion views and counting, the music video for Korean pop-star PSY’s “Gangnam Style” has officially been seen more times on Youtube in the five months since its posting than Beethoven’s 9th Symphony has been heard in nearly 200 years. Historians, sociologists, and statisticians collaborated in 2012 to estimate the total number of times a human being has sat through the 70 glorious minutes of Beethoven’s final symphony. Researchers estimated that the number of live and recorded hearings of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony since its composition in 1824 totals only around 500 million, not even half as many as the number of viewings of the 4 minute, 13 second K-Pop sensation.
Some musicologists are puzzled at how, in such a short span of time, the inane pony-riding dance moves of “Gangnam Style” could attract a bigger and more diverse audience than the triumphal will of the universal human spirit embodied in the Ninth. Others are less surprised. A PhD student in musicology at New York University whose dissertation is a hermeneutic meditation on the “Gangnam Style” aesthetic argues that the music video must be interpreted as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art.”
“‘Gangnam Style’ is more than a fad,” she writes. “In its complete saturation of the fine arts and abstraction of the particular Korean style into a universal human aesthetic, PSY’s masterpiece is the true fulfillment of Richard Wagner’s 150-year-old notion of the utopian ‘Artwork of the Future.’”
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Note: Submediant is a satirical segment within The Backyard (see: the logo), and its contents should not be mistaken for real events—however believable.Tags: classical music news, humor, submediant, top ten