Sassy

from Sunday, March16th of the year2008.

So, we just finished the third and last show with the Holland Baroque Society; it got better each night! One of the weirdest things about doing these “not quite classical” shows is how much venues influence the quality of the performance. I feel like there is a general veneer of old-fashionedness with classical music venues that everything is equally pleasant and straightforward. We were basically playing rock venues these last fruit_basket.jpgfew days, and it was interesting to see how much more pleasant the experience was on the last night, in Eindhoven, where the people who worked in the hall were so much more pleasant and sunshine and light and happy to help. I felt like I was running around thanking everybody profusely; they’d just look at me and smile and insist that they were just doing their job. I’m going to send their ass a fruit basket.

One of the more surreal elements of this was that we were playing immediately before that band The Eels, whom I kind of love. However, they were clearly in the middle of this giant tour and were 215% not feeling our random show; they were constantly bristling about space, about light, about this that and the other thing. It was disappointing but understandable. At midnight, Teitur & David david.JPG(violin, who randomly knows some friends of mine in New York, sassily pictured here) and I played a mini-gig in a technical closet by the dressing rooms; I played A Hudson Cycle, we did some Faroese songs, it was crazy. On our way out of the venue, David totally sass-talked the Eels’s tour manager and I thought there was going to be a fight, but we escaped unharmed into an art deco bar playing trashy dance music.

Working with a baroque ensemble was completely fascinating; there are a lot of things that come naturally to those players that I am perpetually trying to notate for modern musicians to play ““ one thing has to do with a specific kind of bowstroke where there is a little “bloom” of sound in the middle of the note. Earlier this year, I over-notated it for that concerto Seeing is Believing and basically got what I wanted. For this project, I wrote nothing, and they just did it naturally. Very satisfying. In a lot of baroque music, all the players are playing all the time, or at least in really obvious phrase-lengths; the sort of rhythmic footprint that my music takes is completely foreign to baroque musicians; they had to really exert (which I like) to place the entrances.

Off to play a show in Brussels with Teitur! We poached the bass player from the Baroque Society and he’s going to play with us. He has one of those “Trustworthy” names “” Clemens “” that I wish we still used in English. I am going to lead a campaign puritans.jpegto bring back 1) pagan names (like in the Wicker Man where it’s like Rowan, and Willow, and Sergeant Neil Howie is horrified that nobody has a Christian name) and 2) Puritan Names. Job-raked-out-of-the-ashes? Totally. More-fruit. Iceland is sort of out of control because everybody is called Raven Battle and Hawk this and Victorious that. I don’t think we could get away with that in English just yet.

9 Comments

  • I think classical music venues affect the quality of performance greatly — if only because of their acoustic properties — for both performers and listeners. But there are many other considerations as well — not least the differing kinds of intimacies possible between performers and audiences in different venues. And the differing kinds of expectations — when Matt Haimovitz plays a Bach suite in the Iron Horse, it could be argued either that the venue has become a classical one or that the suite has become a jazzy and bluesy piece. Same thing when Uri Caine plays a concert hall.

    The question about notation is fascinating; I would love to see the score for Seeing is Believing. Did your Dutch colleagues use baroque bows or modern bows?

    Peter Grimes yesterday was brilliant, although I was of at least two minds about the production. I listened particularly with your comment about the orchestra overwhelming Peter when he attempted to move and I didn’t quite hear it. But I did certainly hear the orchestra as a protagonist and noted particularly the scoring of “the Great Bear . . .” as really a duet with Peter as well as a masterpiece of scoring.

  • dahling…you’ve seen the list of “almost names “for you..Fox,Perrin, Asher , Hart , Clay,Hadrian…among others. We were part of that generation who thought that’other’ names would be more meaningful for you than typical names.
    We love that you like our naming you Nico.
    Mom.
    ps at 15 months these were some of your favorite words.
    zazu = horse
    bear
    bensim= pencil
    clam= crab
    mee= milk
    alum = ice cream..but by 16 months ice meem replaced it ..and rat- berry -ice -meem was your favorite
    ay- dee yo = radio
    nanu = piano
    bubbles= cheerios
    many other words you actually said. correctly ( i.e .paper ,shoe, knee,jam, butter ,eagle )
    But you also knew hieroglyphs from a poster for beetle, bee ,owl ,eye ,sun, moon ,and could say them.

  • Color me amused.

  • Doing some homework to write about ris-de-veau (sweetbreads, mollejas) found in a book of the proceedings from the Oxford Symposium on food and cookery 1994, about disappearing foods, an ode to offal in Cork, something that will interest you, perhaps:
    “meic Hitha, meic Árand, meic Cléthi, meic Gualand, meic Lón-Loingén láin-te…meic Lesssi, meic Leithcind, meic Loinge Brond ballai….meic Tharrai, meic Thremantai thanai”.

  • I’m changing my name to Grave Disappointment

  • Venues – and then there’s the question of how affected are we by where we hear the music? Seeing Peter Grimes as an HD broadcast here in San Francisco was a great opportunity, though it lacked the frisson of “live”, of course. But the venue made it possible to easily hear and understand almost every word sung, and certainly the close-ups pull one into the drama in a way impossible from the Rear Balcony of the opera house where it’s fabulous sound and miniature people on stage.

    Nico, many of your words kept echoing through my head as I experienced Peter Grimes for the first time Sunday. Especially “music that is a citizen of the space it is trying to describe”, and “the drug of Britten’s craft.” Thrilling, upsetting, hypnotic, gorgeous, painfully sad, shocking, beautiful . . . I can’t find adequate words to describe this music that is new to me. Sometimes I need a sort of crystallizing moment, or word, or note, to suddenly reveal new music to me. I did some reading on Grimes before hand, but it was your Met website article that seemed to prepare me to hear the emotional heart of the music. I keep playing the Interludes over and over. (The Britten/Pears Decca CD, sfmike). I suspect Billy Budd and The War Requiem are going to sound entirely different to me now; I’m a slow learner. Now it’s on to your music.

  • I was at the Met attending Peter Grimes when the camera-work was going on for the broadcast on Saturday. I found the movement of the cameras distracting me from getting involved in the performance, unfortunately. Ironically, I suspect that being in a movie theater experiencing the broadcast may actually be a more involving experience, since one is likely “inside” the action. From out in the opera house (I was sitting in the rear of the dress circle), there is a distancing effect that is enhanced by this grim-looking set.

    Grimes was actually the first opera I ever attended at the Met, shortly after moving to NYC in 1977, and I loved that production, which managed to create the illusion of being in a real English fishing village. The naturalistic sets worked with the music and a very naturalistic blocking for the cast that made the choristers into real townspeople. In this production, they remain resolutely choristers, sitting at times in neat rows as if a chorus in a concert presentation of the opera… usually standing still and singing at the audience, rather than moving about as if they were real villagers enacting a drama.

    The music works its magic, but fighting against the limitations imposed by the production — at least as seen in the opera house. Perhaps this is not such a problem in the broadcast, where the close-ups and camera movement can present an illusion of a totally different sort of production.

    I found your comments about the opera quite helpful in finding a deeper appreciation for the music. Thanks.

  • I’m sorry to hear that the cameras were distracting to those in the house – I would happily settle for less camera movement for the TV feed.

    My take on the chorus is a bit different from Art’s. I rather liked the massed choir approach of this production. It seems to me that Britten uses the chorus in three ways in this opera – as a kind of Greek chorus framing and commenting, as the massed Borough speaking with one voice (although frequently a contrapuntal one), and as individual townspeople. This last seems to me the least successful, especially at the beginning of Act III. So I didn’t mind at all the emphasis on the choir character of the chorus.

    The most memorable Grimes for me was a concert production conducted by Rostropovich at the Barbican, with Ben Heppner, Nancy Gustafson and Bryn Terfel. The star was the extraordinary LSO chorus which just stood and sang to thrilling effect.

  • Coupled with your beautifully evocative “friendly face in the crowd,” Alex Ross’ review in the NYer gave me a sense of the magnitude of the piece and the treasures it holds. I’ve only listened, but now I have wiser and more loving ears. THANK YOU.

    xoxo ‘Verity’