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CLASSICAL  March 2007

CLASSICAL March 2007

Subject:

Re: Communication

From:

Bert Bailey <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 30 Mar 2007 18:10:26 -0400

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text/plain

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Iskender Savasir asks:

>There seem to be several un- or semi- stated assumptions running
>through this thread. .. esp.  the prejudice (excusethe term) agains
>"cross over".  Would people care to expound on what is
>wrong with "cross over" or "fusion"?

I've said as much, so let me go out on a few limbs.  First, by
'crossover' I mean a release that strays from a musician's specialty
for music in another genre with wider appeal and larger potential
audiences.  Greater profitability is another likely characteristic of
what I understand as crossover -- which is very different from 'fusion'
(Bartok infusing folk forms into his works; Mulligan doing Brazilian
jazz; Paul Simon blending pop and South African; Frank Martin incorporating
jazz into his Cello Concerto, etc).  I confess I don't know Gershwin's
crossover, nor that by Ives or Rifkin.  Lastly, though I can enjoy the
smooth levity of the Swingle Singers, Hoffnung-like musical japes and
PDQ Bach follies sound forced to my ear and unamusing.

Wherever these last fit into the scheme, crossover for classical composers
is typified to me by Heifetz playing jazzy violin for the troops, Menuhin
doing jazz with Grapelli, or, in our day, Yo-Yo Ma recording Brazilian
music, tangos, etc.

I don't want any of this, after hearing what's on offer (so it's a
judgement, not prejudice), because, put plainly, it's at best mediocre.
This goes mostly for Ma's crossover: I don't think Heifetz recorded his
entertainments, and I suspect Menuhin was grappling with a career that
had run dry.  Instead of Ma's Argentine goods, I'd seek out Carlos Gardel,
Astor Piazzola or even Lalo Schifrin any day, and derive far more pleasure
there.  For Brazilian, I'd rather hear Jobim, Barbieri, or even Gerry
Mulligan -- whose 'Paraiso' CD with Jane Duboc is delightful.  I'm sure
my Carioca friends could cite far more, but the point is that I don't
ask for died-in-the-wool autochthonous music.  Just quality.

Ma, of course, is no stranger to quality.  I've listened closely to
many, many versions of Bach's solo Cello Suites, and have several sets
more than my wife considers truly healthy.  Yet when I became acquainted
with Ma's traversal last year, I knew I was beholding something very
special indeed.  His output of other fine recordings is long, nearly
"legendary" -- to use a marketing term that's probably on a few webpages
dedicated to this great artist.

So why's he pursuing silken paths, or essaying South American music? 
To make his mark elsewhere, to broaden his scope?  Well, he's no contender
in the music where he cross-dips his toes.  Before stepping into a studio
he should have known that; probably did.  I wouldn't reproach him for
playing 'Hey diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle' to his young, but
if he's out to record that, I'd say: reconsider.  Please.

It adulterates his otherwise fine output, robbing time from the vocation
where he shines.  Also, the genre suffers: players and orchestras that
might be performing a few new works by classical composers don't; several
composers who might make a living creating them can't; and a baffled
public, both present and future, observes this most highly-touted and
-paid classical exponent misspending his talents on middle-of-the-road
fare in well-visited genres that will safely sell.

Worse yet, the already widespread misapprehension that classical means
*antiquarian* music grows more deeply entrenched.

Once the bills are not a worry, exemplary musicians ought to support
their art and leave something fresh behind, provided it's in their powers.
It's certainly in Ma's, as it was for Jascha Heifetz -- who did that
with commissions from Walton, Gruenberg and others, also championing
works by his contemporaries Rozsa, Prokofiev, Turina, Bloch, Korngold
and Castelnuovo-Tedesco, transcribing works by yet others (Dinicu's Hora
Stacatto, e.g.), and so forth.  He played plenty of dead-white-males
material, but didn't overlook the living.  My impression at least is
that he wielded his clout to serve his art.  And Heifetz isn't the only
one, of course.  Kent Nagano conducted works by Frank Zappa decades ago,
well before he became a known conductor; Rostropovich, of course, took
musical chances galore; even young Hilary Hahn, as I just learned on
this list, has already commissioned concertos.

Ma is not alone in not supporting the living, in not helping to create
fresh works.  The famous conductor where I live is known for organizing
public music-education campaigns, yet I gather his arm needed hard
twisting to gather his support for a program to commission new works.
Perlman, I hear, often did world tours with two or three well-rehearsed
standard concertos -- playing them very well, you can be sure -- but
never straying from the one basic programme.

By contrast, a Mexican cellist whose CD of new works I once reviewed
has helped to commission dozens of living composers, dedicating his
skills, influence and time to those still breathing.  While his recordings
include a few standards, it consists mostly of these composers' works.
They range from a few classical 'lite' works to several that I'd say
deserve a wide audience, and will call attention as long as you and I
and others have ears for art music.  At fund-raising events he probably
plays easier fare, but meantime he's championing meaty, grittier works
by John Kinsella, Jose Luis Turina, Celso Garrido-Lecca, Roberto Sierra,
Federico Ibarra and other composers worth getting to know.  And yet who,
outside of Mexico (besides Karl, of course), has heard of Carlos Prieto,
cellist?

So my impression is that 'crossover' can be hazardous to the careers
of the artists who seem to lose clarity by blurring the line between
what proves to have lasting merit and what is ephemeral but profitable.
Worse still, it is a toying around at the expense of the art music that,
as this list often attests, seems urgently in need of championing and,
more than that, renewal.

Bert Bailey

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