I Am Sitting In A Room

Commentary and thoughts on (mostly) classical music.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


A recent review in the Houston Chronicle was pointed out to me so that I could note the slightly personal edge taken by the local music critic against a local group’s artistic director and pianist.* Having not been at the concert, I can’t really judge the aptness of the article’s criticism. What bugged me, though, was this opening:

Gypsies and Bohemians, the final Da Camera program of the season, swirled with a rambunctious energy too intense for the stylized musical representations of outcast life.

And the title had an element of cuteness.

First off, I’d (more often than not) rather have a concert full of rambunctious energy than tamely rendered interpretations.**

There’s something pleasantly oxymoronic about “stylized representations of outcast life.” The concept seems to leave a lot of interpretive wiggle room; does one harness the implicit wildness of the original source, try to attain a “stylistic authenticity” appropriate to the composer, or stress the irony of recontextualizing the Other in classical form? (Can you tell I’m getting ready to go back to grad school?) Clearly, Da Camera took a different road than Charles Ward would prefer.

What I mostly object to is the dig against the title. It’s unduly belittling, particularly on its own as a newspaper-sized paragraph, and not particularly warranted. Ward never explains what he means by “cuteness.” What else would you propose calling a concert featuring Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček (Moravian, I know), and more than one work with “Gypsy” in the title? “Symphonies in C”? (Sorry, wrong rant.)

Da Camera’s entire season has been called “Rebels and Visionaries.” It’s been an engaging theme around which to build a season featuring some of the more challenging and enjoyably adventurous programming in town. (Examples of the “Rebels and Visionaries” encountered were Beethoven, Crumb, Nancarrow, Zorn, Gesualdo, Shostakovich, Gidon Kremer, Peter Wispelwey, FLUX Quartet.) Calling this last concert – which featured some of the season’s most traditional programming (Janáček was the only maverick on the bill) – “Gypsies and Bohemians” brought it nicely into the thematic fold. And it sure beats the heck out of the pedestrian titles we usually see in concert brochures.

* That’s the curse of community: the more you hang around a place the more you pick up on its politics.
** A reason I have always found listening to András Schiff recordings to be less than inspiring.


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