Just when you thought it couldn’t get better

from Wednesday, March4th of the year2009.

So, sometimes, my life is really surreal. I had this piece in LA, right, a few weeks ago. And the organization putting it on has what I guess is a publicist whose email address is at AOL.com. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when people still have an AOL address they are either some kind of a genius or a crazy person. Anyway, I’ve been getting emailed reviews of the show by this AOL address, and it sent one the other day that is so outrageous that it took me three full reads through to see if it was written by an Illiterate Person or if it had been Google Translated from the original Hungarian. I’m going to post the full text below, actually, because it is Unbelievable. And then let’s go through Paragraph by Paragraph. Also it contains my new catchphrase.

It beginneth:

Before a near-full house on Oscar Night, perhaps the most moving item on the programme at Walt Disney Concert Hall was the first, De Profundis (Out of the Depths) by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt sung by the gentlemen of the Chorale, dispersed as they were into four separated voice parts. Other than a slightly out of tune entrance by the first tenors, the piece moves at dirge tempo, through-composed and ““sung in alternating sections until the concluding verse Quia apud Dominum misericordia (For with the Lord there is mercy) where all sing together in a glorious latticework of harmonies and discord.

Just start keeping a list of weirdness. Subject-Object agreement…”as they were”….the relationship between the tenor entrance and the speed of the piece? Hmm?

Then it moves on:

The World Premiere of Andrea Clearfield’s Cantata of poems by Langston Hughes called Dream Variations, was performed by the Master Chorale accompanied by a quartet of instruments that was largely unremarkable but rather typical of contemporary atonal writers, and interspersed with non-choral interludes. Commission for the work came from the Debussy Trio Music Foundation, which also provided the services of Marcia Dickstein (harp), Angela Wiegand (flute) and David Walther (viola). All that said, this work is highly likely to be heard in performances by other choruses across the nation. It has a certain commercial appeal that will make it so.

Now, here we start getting really crazy. That last sentence, for starters, but then moving back through it, “Atonal Writers?” The most atonal thing about Andrea’s piece was a sharp 4 in there somewhere. Also, it’s funny because I would imagine that the combination of viola, flute, and harp would appeal mainly to hyper-tonal composers. Maybe I’m wrong and there’s a whole atonal tradition of writing for Debussy ensemble, though…?

Okay but here comes the best part:

Arguably the least moving item was the last one, billed as a West Coast premiere, Expecting the Main Things from You by very young composer Nico Muhly from outtakes of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that offers shards of interest but also relishes grinding the listener’s ear just a bit too much. Lesser grinding would be most welcome. The entire Master Chorale gave us its best, with instrumental accompaniment from a chamber band led by violinist Ralph Morrison.

LESSER GRINDING WOULD BE MOST WELCOME! YESSSSSSSSSSSSS! So genius. I don’t care if it was translated from Hungarian. This is a Precious Treasure. Other things: “very young.” And: “outtakes” from Leaves of Grass ““ you know, a stanza here and there he left on the cutting room floor.

Anyway, this is an amazing document well worth a full read. It’s deliciously garbled and he said Lesser Grinding Would Be Most Welcome. I also just love that some AOL address emailed it to me, like, “just FYI!”

27 Comments

  • Writing a critical review of this caliber brings only one thing to mind:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1AEDwsoCx8

  • Caroline Cooper
    March 4th, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    This is really outstanding and got me a-googling. Your gentle reviewer, a certain Douglas Neslund, has a masterful oeuvre out there on the web, ripe for the plucking. I share here an excerpt from his essay, “IS There A Future For BoyChoir?” in which DN explores the question of choir leadership:

    “A few females have insight into the boymind, but few are able to translate that insight into the real world of rehearsal and performance. A boy in his older childhood needs a man in his life, to supplement the boy’s father, in the learning of how things work.”

    BOYMIND!!

  • “Mr. Neslund” has a bio complete with mustache and hilarious bowtie:
    http://www.boychoirs.org/choirmasters/current/dir021.html

  • i never thought i’d see walt whitman’s poetry be called “outtakes.”

  • Chicken Nuggets
    March 4th, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/04/911-mcnuggets-call-latrea_n_171744.html

  • Estonian composer Arvo Pärt
    very young composer Nico Muhly
    very popular composer Steven Sametz

    Also, I’m psyched about the promise of Bruckner’s “future symphonic production.” Can’t wait to hear his next piece.

  • I did not just look for him in the sex offender registry

  • His punctuation (or lack thereof) and formatting (or lack thereof) drive me crazy. I want some italics or quotation marks around the music titles, and some commas to break up the text! Otherwiseitallrunstogetherandyoucan’treadit.

  • i smell a piece called “lesser grinding would be most welcome” on its way…

  • I want to believe that he writes for Shock Value.

    Keep on Grindin’ Nico.

  • I think there’s a Walt Whitman poem called “Lesser Grinding Would Be Most Welcome.” It only offers shards of interest, but we cut him some slack, because he was a Very Young Poet.

    Thanks for the giggle.

  • Oh dear, that is quite something. (But do spare a thought for us lowly arts administrators with our ghetto technology, eh?)

  • “Lesser grinding would be most welcome” is something a “sensitive” Indian guy says to a stripper during a lap dance.

  • “Lesser Grinding” must be either an isthmus or a small, furry animal.

  • Maybe he’s one of Glenn Gould’s alter ego’s visiting from the netherworld? Sir Nigel Twitt-Thornwaite’s long lost cousin??

  • That’s the kind of writing I love. Like the stuff in Richard Lederer’s books, with all its examples of crazy, incomprehensible, backwards gibberish.

    As Father Mulcahy once said, “Do not drink thee strong drink thee.”

  • Douglas Neslund
    March 5th, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Nico, what a childish reaction! You seem to allow no one to state what they hear, instead of what you think they should hear. Reviews are the opinions of the writer, and when you achieve a bit more maturity, you will learn how to shrug off those reviews that you deem less than worthy. I had to smile reading the reactions of those who wrote in support of your points, and some making their own. They are welcome to write anything they wish contradicting my review, as long as they don’t dabble in libel. Overall, the concert was a delight. Now that I know where you hang out on the net, I will check back now and then to see what other musical delights might be available for review.

  • Nico,

    This post put me in mind of this jewel from the selfsame DN, writing about Chris Rouse’s Requiem a couple of years ago:
    “Baritone Sanford Sylvan was given the distinction and responsibility of opening the performance with several minutes of singing Heaney’s ode “Mid-Term Break” sans accompaniment, with a melody that wandered a bit and quasi-atonally to the final line, “A four-foot box, a foot for ev’ry year” at the memory of the accidental death of a little brother. Sylvan’s voice is supple, expressive and responsive to the challenges of the work. Sassoon, in his poem, celebrated the suicide of a “simple soldier boy” who elected death over sharing a cold trench with “crumps and lice and lack of rum.” After the deed, “No one spoke of him again.” Why he was remembered in poesy and music begs the question. One suspects that contemporary politics underlay the words and music, if not the commission. To raise a teenage suicide to the same level of importance as the accidental death of a small child begins to form a structure of celebratory and undeserved iconography that is discernable.”
    Words fail (though not for lack of trying).

  • Props.
    The snit bits you gave made me go on and read more of his stuff…talk about grinding.

  • my gosh, i can’t stop laughing! i need to start infiltrating my every day convos with phrases like “lesser grinding would be most welcome”…

  • I love that Mr. Neslund allows us to make fun of him (with our childish ways, led on by you, l’enfant terrible) as long as we don’t engage in “libel.”

    I’m going to be very disappointed if there isn’t a band or a song called “Lesser Grinding with BOYMIND” out in the universe soon.

  • “less grinding please” is BRILLIANT advice for “contemporary” composers, have mercy on our ears! (yes, all you indiscriminate percussion users out there…)

  • “Dabble in libel” has a nice ring to it, and if that is indeed him above, it must have really taken hours to allow himself to type “hang out” and “on the net.”

  • I suspect there are reviewers of Mr Neslund’s ‘talent’ all over the globe (it’s very telling and charming that he misses your point completely). We have one here in New Zealand that some of us are very fond of. I won’t publish his name because he might find out and it could ruin the magic. Here’s an example of his work though…

    “Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata was a standout. Powerful, hard-driven with plenty of fire, Melnikov’s account was breathtaking. The second movement contrasted well with the outer movements, subtle and deceptively witty. He captured through the dissonant pasages, all the horror, repulsion and rage of Prokofiev’s surroundings in the midst of war. He read the whole bitterness, acidic score with percussive accents that clearly evoked the obstinate bells of anguish and impotent desperation hidden in the score.

    Melnikov’s performance underlined the transcendental difference that beats in the soul of performers. He conveyed that prophetic struggling and inner tensional state to perform these pieces, which interweaved the classical vision by a visible irony blended with a musical speech that oscillated between the bitterness and steeled nostalgia. The thunderous applause at the end was well justified. Three Chopin encores ended proceedings.”

  • sfmike is right when he says you lead us on, oh Pied

  • “Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata was a standout. Powerful, hard-driven with plenty of fire, Melnikov’s account was breathtaking. The second movement contrasted well with the outer movements, subtle and deceptively witty. He captured through the dissonant pasages, all the horror, repulsion and rage of Prokofiev’s surroundings in the midst of war. He read the whole bitterness, acidic score with percussive accents that clearly evoked the obstinate bells of anguish and impotent desperation hidden in the score.

    Melnikov’s performance underlined the transcendental difference that beats in the soul of performers. He conveyed that prophetic struggling and inner tensional state to perform these pieces, which interweaved the classical vision by a visible irony blended with a musical speech that oscillated between the bitterness and steeled nostalgia. The thunderous applause at the end was well justified. Three Chopin encores ended proceedings.”

  • http://www.debussytrio.com/

    Lots of music composed for this ensemble. Some of it atonal. Nico, you should check it out.

    Are my sentences in real good english? Perhaps you coiuld give me some pointers, too!