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Music is the international language, so stop the ethnic nationalism.

Hola a todos.  Music is the international language crossing all international/human-created geographic borders and ethnic groups. Musicians from one part of the world and from various ethnicities can listen to, enjoy and perform music from another part of the world just as well as the musicians who were born or live where the music was composed.

Here in the Conservatory, they don’t subscribe to ethnic nationalism, nor would I expect them to.  If they did, they would lose credibility in my mind.  I don’t hear any of the professors lecturing their students that they must not work on such and such a piece because they’re not of a certain ethnic nationality.  Nor have I heard any professor say, “Oh you’re French?!  Then you must work on the Poulenc Piano Concerto  because only a person of French ethnicity can play that piece properly.  And then you can audition it for the Annual Student Soloist Competition.  Would you like to do that?”  No, I’ve not heard any of that ethnic nationalistic nonsense.

Unfortunately, there are some outdated fossils living among us who think otherwise and who have been brainwashed with a very simplistic way of thinking about music.  There are also those people where their critical thinking skills are nonexistent so they have this disconnect:  Out of one side of their mouth they will say what I’ve written above about music being the international language crossing all human-made geographic borders.  Then out of the other side of their mouth they will go on about “You need a Russian pianist for Rachmaninov or Scriabin to do their music justice.”  Do they not realise they contradicted themselves?  You don’t need a (banging?) Russian pianist for either Rachmaninov or Scriabin!  Stop repeating that lie, that myth.  And I’m so tired of hearing classical music announcers — called “presenters” (Dahling) — say “We’re going to hear this piece now played by the French pianist [name of pianist]” and I’m thinking:  What on Earth does the pianist being French have to do with anything?  It doesn’t.  It’s just another form of ethnic nationalism in music.  Again, for the slow people, music is the international language, not a nationalistic language depending upon which country you’re in and based on human-created borders.  In other fields of study I don’t recall people usually being introduced by their nationality or ethnicity.  The audience is usually just given the person’s name.  Where they are from on the planet is not usually important.  On television, if the host of a programme is interviewing some “expert” in another part of the world there will usually be an identifier on the screen of where s/he is located, but that’s not his or her nationality.   It’s merely the person’s location at the time, which can be different from where the person lives.  Although when the announcer speaks of “the French pianist” and if the piece is by a French composer, that automatically is meant to imply to the audience — especially to the ethnic nationalists among us — that what you are about to hear is an authoritative performance because “you must have a French musician perform French music, correct?”  No, that is incorrect.  It’s tacky ethnic nationalism based in ignorance.

For purposes of this article, I’ll elaborate on the ethnicity of the performers — which normally I couldn’t care less about since I see people as people — for a performance I watched the other night in the context of nationalism.  It was a performance of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G, one of my favourite pieces.  The Orchestra was from Frankfurt.  They have some Asian musicians in the Orchestra (and perhaps musicians from other areas of el mundo/the world), so they are not all of German ancestry. The piano soloist was from Turkey. I looked him up for purposes of this article, although I personally didn’t care where he was from or where he was born.  That’s irrelevant to his performance.  He’s from Planet Earth.  If people lived on other planets it would be unimportant to me what planet they were from.  Where a musician was born or lives is not something I usually give any thought to.  Again, people are people. The conductor was from the dis-United States.  So for this Ravel performance, most of the musicians were not born in France (queer boy Maurice Ravel was French) and their performance was just as good if not better than any performance of this piece that I’ve heard from French-born musicians.

In this performance with the pianist from Turkey, the comments under the video took on the tone of an ethnic nationalistic spectator sports event with commenters stopping just short of writing, “Rah, Rah Turkey!  Rah, Rah Turkey!”  Reading the comments, I felt like I was in the juvenile US with its ugly nationalism and fake patriotism.  In the comments, there was indeed an immature and tacky “Rah, Rah, U-S-A”-style jingoism that one hears from the stupid-is-in and willfully-ignorant Tr*mp Cultist in the dis-United States in the hemisphere called the Américas with their red baseball caps and fake-patriotism, which is really just ugly ethnic nationalism.  Again, the piano soloist in the Ravel was a human being born on Planet Earth. So does it matter what patch of land on the planet he came out of the birth canal on?  I should think not.  Stupid people!  And it’s only going to get worse at the rate we’re going with tacky ethnic nationalism.

I’m surprised that the nationalistic people in those comments I mentioned above didn’t whinge that the Orchestra should have been from Turkey since the pianist was, and that all of the orchestral musicians should have come out of the birth canal of a Turkish mother onto Turkish soil, and that the conductor not be from the dis-United States but rather Turkish-born and currently living in Turkey. And perhaps a Turkish composer should have made some slight changes to the Ravel Piano Concerto in G score so that the concerto could have some Turkish “influence” to it.  And maybe some Turkish repertoire on the same programme.

Now let’s go over to Russia. Since many people are brainwashed with this ugly ethnic nationalism that “only Russians can play Russian music properly,” consider this:  Suppose a Russian-born musician doesn’t really care for the music of many or most Russian composers? How would one possibly get the best performance of a piece by Rachmaninov, for example, from someone who is not into the music s/he’s having to perform?

Here’s something else to consider:  Is one automatically supposed to love the music composed in the country where one was born?  If so, why is that?  Even if it’s really not good music?  Not all composers wrote the best music.

I like some of the music of Lenny Bernstein, and I like John Adams’s symphonic choral work Harmonium, which a chorister in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Robert Shaw told me “It was a bitch to record, I can tell you that!” — I bet it was — when she performed it and recorded under Robert Shaw in the ASOC.  We performed John Adams’s Harmonium when I was a chorister in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, and yes, it was a very difficult piece even for a Chorus of the caliber and with the choral expertise of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.  But my interest in a piece is not based on where it was composed.  It’s based on the piece itself.  Both Bernstein and Adams were born in Massachusetts.  Is everyone in MA supposed to like the music of Bernstein and Adams because both composers were born there?  Is everyone in the US supposed to like the music of all USian composers?

Or, what if the person born in France is not particularly hot on the music of Francis Poulenc or Saint-Saëns? How would one get the best performance of some of the repertoire of those composers? Hopefully you get the idea.

Again, with ethnic nationalism, it’s all based on “just because where one was born” which no person has any control over. It’s not based on logic or reason or rational thought. And upon reflection, logic and reason are anathema to people’s willful-ignorance and ethnic nationalism.

How can it be that just because a musician was born in a certain country that that automatically makes him or her an authority on the performance of the music of that country’s composers? I don’t understand that illogical, that simplistic thinking.  Even if it were possible for him or her to go to the extreme of receiving a blood transfusion from the composer — in many cases it would have to be previously frozen blood taken from the composer before he died — how would that make the musician a supposed authority on the works of that composer?

What happened to two critical essentials for a superb performance:  Talent and artistry?

Neither have anything to do with where one was born, nor are either necessarily genetic. Neither have anything to do with some people’s adoration for ethnic nationalism.  For example, I’m a Conservatory-trained musician — Piano Major and Voice and Pipe Organ double minors — and began formal piano training at the age of 8. But neither of my parents were musicians.

What else would be on the list for a superb performance following talent and artistry?  Musical training — regardless of which country or city someone trained in — along with skill level, one’s ear-training and other aspects.  None of which have anything what-so-ever to do with the country one was born in since people are free to train anywhere they choose, if accepted upon audition.

Yet I’ve heard people mindlessly repeat that pabulum about: “A Russian must play Rachmaninov. A French musician must play Poulenc. A German citizen must play Bach. An Englishman (that’s the outdated sexist language they use) must play the music of Herbert Howells or CV Stanford or Sir William Walton.”  I’ve heard that drivel many times in my past.  It is such very simplistic thinking. It’s sounds worthy of a musical greeting card, something that shallow and superficial. Matching composers with their corresponding country — like one is playing some board game — sounds good fleetingly to the non-thinking person, but upon careful analysis, that thinking is absolute rubbish.

Suppose a heterosexual couple — a German father and French mother — have a child and the child is born in Finland.  What is that child considered?  Of Finnish nationality?  Because the child came out of the birth canal on Finland’s soil?  And because of that in the minds of these ethnic nationalistic idiots, this child automatically qualifies as an authority on the performance of — as a soloist, conductor or in a musical ensemble — the music of Sibelius?  What rubbish.  And suppose not all members of the Orchestra were born in Finland? There may be a few Latinos and Asians in the Orchestra, or of other ethnic groups.  Then what do you do with your ethnic nationalistic nonsense?

Quite frankly, this “Russians must play Russian music,” and “Germans must play German music” is best left for a stupid-is-in cliché greeting card culture where one’s society is catering to the lowest common denominator.

Yet, we still have some outdated fossils among us who mindlessly regurgitate these outdated sayings and myths, such as:

“French musicians perform French music the best.”
“Russian musicians perform Russian music the best.”
“Finnish musicians perform Finnish music the best.”
“German musicians perform German music the best.”

And so forth. All based on the ethnic nationalism people have been brainwashed with.

It reminds me of “simple slogans for simple minds.”

To me, I see it as a case of musically-ignorant people who need simple slogans for their simple minds and simple thinking. These are people who engage in simplistic, jingoistic thinking, void of any critical thinking skills.

Ethnic nationalism in classical music seems to be promoted by what’s known as “the greying audience,” meaning it’s mainly an outdated generational thinking caused by society’s ugly-nationalistic brainwashing also based in ignorance and very likely some prejudice.  It’s the same generation where sexism and chauvinism were deeply brainwashed into them as well, and remains with them today.  Where guys have been brainwashed that they must pull out chairs for women in restaurants, open car doors for women, open building doors for women, buy women flowers, buy women candy, buy, buy, buy and all that other catering to a woman nonsense.  She’s seen as “the little lady.”  How feminist!  Who has the patience for all that nonsense?  One would get the impression that women can’t do a damn thing for themselves — helpless her can’t open a damn door! — by observing the guy’s sexism in action.  Helpless her can’t pull out a chair?  That’s odd, she pulls out chairs just fine when she’s vacuuming and does (what the guy calls) “woman’s work.”  The sexists among us — especially sexist females who enjoy being subservient to guys and seen as “the little lady” rush to defend and excuse what I’ve just described by saying, “The guy is just being a gentleman.”  What they’re really saying is:  “Gentleman = sexist chauvenist, and I — as a “little lady” — am perfectly fine with that because that’s the way I was brought up and that’s the way I like to be treated.  I like to be subservient to my man.  I see him as daddy.  (That’s her head trip).  I don’t want to be his equal.  That’s not how I was raised.  I like to be put up on a pedestal (just like my daddy put me on a pedestal), until my man gets tired of catering to my every need, want and whinging, and gets angry with me in a rage of domestic violence and slaps me around.  Then he tells his male friends that he has slapped the little lady around and put her in her place.” 

That’s about the extent of it.  Let’s tell it like it is.  It’s the same sexist generation that sees nothing wrong with the sexist conductor walking over and slobbering over the hand of the female First Concertmaster.  But when the First Concertmaster is a guy, Mr Sexist Conductor doesn’t kiss his hand.  All he gets is a handshake from the conductor.  Or when the sexist conductor has to trot over and kiss the female vocal soloists-screamers on the cheeks but when he gets to the male vocal soloists-screamers they only get a handshake, and notice that Mr Sexist Conductor starts congratulating the females first.  The guys didn’t perform as well as the females?  That’s the impression given by Mr Sexist Conductor.  And with the #metoo movement, one would think that a conductor would have the sense to know that he shouldn’t be kissing any females these days, unless he already knows her intimately.  I say all of this because I do indeed think that those who hold to this ethnic nationalistic thinking are also among the same people who hold to these outdated sexist, chavnistic traditions that I see in classical music performances and elsewhere.  These are also the same people who attach the female gender to inanimate objects such as a ship or a motor vehicle.  Such objects are referred to with female pronouns such as “she is sailing the oceans” or “her sails are high” or “Princess [name of ship]” in the case of a sailing vessel.  These are also the same people who refer to “Mother Earth.”  That’s odd, I’ve never seen any female plumbing or protruded mammary glands on any inanimate objects, have you?  I wonder where they might be?  Someone online seemed to be justifying ships being referred to as “she” and “her” because — according to the commenter — ships have been called “she” and “her” since Tudor times.  So that makes it right, does it?  So let’s carry that twisted thinking a bit further:  Any time anyone objects to a Black person being referred to pejoratively as a “nigger” one should say, “Well now, the use of the word nigger has been used for Black people since such and such date,” implying it’s perfectly acceptable.  Ludicrous thinking.  Some septic people will go to any extreme to defend sexism, prejudice, bigotry and chauvinism.

Ethnic nationalism — with its “us versus them” agenda/mindset — is at an all-time high in various parts of the world today. It’s being heavily promoted by septic, elitist, mostly wealthy, white supremacists/nazis, hate-based, ignorant and insane politicians with their class-warfare agenda intended at scapegoating other groups of people to cater to their equally septic base of bigoted, stupid, prejudiced and anti-ethnic (usually white) cultists.  El hombre naranja comes to mind as one example of that.

With ethnic nationalism, it’s become a very simple-minded slogan that some listeners in classical music like to repeat. They say:

The musicians of a certain country perform that country’s music the best. That is rank nationalism and it completely overlooks what is really required for the best performance of any piece of music which begins with:

1. A musician’s level of talent and artistry, regardless of where in the world they were born or where they currently live
2. A musician’s musical training, including ear training and one’s keen ear
3. A musician’s skill level
4. A musician’s interest in the repertoire s/he is performing, which may or may not include the music of the musician’s country, as well as other factors.

Just because a musician pops out of a vagina on a certain plot of land in a country does not at all guarantee that s/he automatically — because of birthplace — likes the music of the composers of his/her country or performs it the best.  And anyone who thinks that is engaging in rank ugly, ethnic nationalism.

I don’t think any serious, well-trained, seasoned musician would repeat this ethnic nationalistic drivel because from their training and musical experience, they know it’s not true. It’s a myth. It’s a lie.

From my experience in working with well-trained musicians over decades, they don’t believe in ethnic nationalism because they know, and correctly so, that they themselves can perform a piece of music just as well as someone who was born on a certain plot of land in a certain country. When you think about it, doesn’t that sound ludicrous that just because someone came out of a vagina on a certain plot of land somewhere in some country, that somehow that makes that person an expert, an authority and the “best performer” of the music written in that country? That’s insane thinking. It’s ludicrous.  But fortunately, I never once heard a well-trained, seasoned musician say, “leave Russian music to the Russians” or similar shallow and superficial thinking. And in U-toob comment sections, I think it’s often the conservative (what I call) classical music armchair critics who mindlessly make ethnic nationalistic statements when they’re serving as self-appointed judges, authorities and arm-chair critics of Classical Music performances, nit-picking someone’s performance to death, sometimes giving their measure-by-measure “analysis” of what was wrong with someone’s performance, according to them of course. 

Here’s an example of ethnic-nationalism and willful-ignorance:

While writing this article, I watched a performance conducted by a Latino conductor.  He lives in Austria.  One ignorant commenter wrote about the performance:  “Spainards make the best conductor [sic].”  The conductor is not Spainard.  (roll eyes/sigh)  Someone wrote in response:  “With respect, I think that he is bi-national:  Colombian/Austrian.”  That commenter is correct.  The conductor is Colombiano but lives in Vienna.  He’s not Spainard.  And I think until a certain generation dies off, people will continue to write this rubbish.  I won’t have it! 

Cultural factors can indeed influence musicians but cultural differences and influences are not the topic of this article. And those differences and influences don’t produce a better performance either. An example of cultural influences is that Sergei Rachmaninov was very influenced by Russian Orthodox Church bells, so much so that one hears the tolling of bells throughout some of his pieces. In 1913, he wrote a choral symphonic cantata called “Колокола, Kolokola,” Op. 35/”The Bells.”  If you give that piece to some of the finest Orchestras and Choruses en el mundo/in the world, they will perform it just as well, if not better than, an Orchestra and Chorus from Russia. Personally, I’ve not been that impressed with some Russian choral ensembles I’ve heard perform “The Bells” — depending upon the ensemble — because they were not singing with perfect intonation or clear diction. Their voices did not blend perfectly.  And that and many other factors determine “the best performance” for a symphonic choral work.  Although unfortunately the Classical Music armchair critics often decide “the best performance” solely on their favourite celebrity conductor conducting the performance and they engage in their conductor-worshipping routine and name-dropping.

Recently I read this comment on a U-toob video of a performance of a work by Sibelius.  The person wrote:

“I always wanted the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 conducted by a Finnish conductor”

Oh here we go again with the small-minded ethnic nationalism. Did you ever meet the man (Sibelius) to talk with him in detail about his music and or his Symphony No. 2?  I suspect not.  (Sibelius died in 1986.)

But see what I mean? I suppose it’s easier to engage in this simplistic thinking of “Finnish goes with Finnish” — the same as if one is matching colours like it’s an easy-to-do board game or something — than to actually use critical thinking skills. I wanted to ask this ethnic nationalistic-brainwashed person, “Why? What would make a Finnish conductor’s performance of Sibelius any more special or unique to that of any other conductors of various ethnic nationalities?”  The conductor who often conducts the Orchestra where the comment appeared was born in Colombia.  He’s the same conductor I mentioned above who lives in Vienna.  Aside from some interpretation differences which vary between musicians no matter where they were born, if el Colombiano conductor and the Finnish conductors were using the same score how would the Finnish conductor’s performance be different overall from that of el Colombiano, just because of where the two conductors came out of a vagina? Doesn’t that seem like trite silly thinking?

I watched the Sibelius performance that commenter was referring to and enjoyed it, but I didn’t know the nationality of the conductor — nor did I care about that — until after I watched the performance. Again, someone’s nationality/ethnicity is not something I usually give any thought to because I see people as people regardless of their ethnicity or skin colour pigmentation. To me, the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 was pretty much conducted the way any other conductor would conduct it. And why wouldn’t it be? Conductors are all using the (same) conductor’s score of various Authentic/Performance Editions, meaning Editions Peters (Urtext) or Editions Bärenreiter Verlag and so forth. It’s not like a Finnish conductor has access to some special “Finnish” conductor’s score that’s kept locked up and that only Finnish conductors are allowed to peruse and use to perform the “secret wishes” of Sibelius. It’s not as if in order to access this “secret” score that the Finnish conductor is requested in fascistic style to “Show us your papers, please, to confirm to us that you are indeed Finnish and that Finnish is in your blood.” It’s not as if the Finnish conductor has to give a DNA sample in order to use that “secret” Finnish score.  Ludicrous.

All human beings bleed red regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

And with hateful, anti-migrant, anti-ethnic nationalism being used these days by septic, fake-Christian, deranged, hateful, insane, white supremacist self-serving political scum — who are the new messiah figure to a bunch of stupid, gullible, willfully-ignorant in many cases, easily-manipulated (mostly white) people — who divide people into this “us versus them” mentality throughout much of el mundo/the world, I suspect ethnic nationalism is only going to get much worse leading to increased violence and civil wars around the world.

Each conductor conducts a piece slightly differently based on their interpretation of the piece, but still that’s within the context of honouring the wishes of the composer (hopefully) indicated in the score.  Conducting or performing a piece has nothing whatsoever to do with the conductor or performers being Finnish, Russian, German, Asian, English or Latin American or born in any other country or area of the Earth. That is silly ethnic nationalism which has no place in the international language known as music.

At the Conservatory where I trained, I don’t remember ethnic nationalism ever being talked about. I never heard anyone say, “For Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, you must have a British Orchestra, Chorus, conductor and soloist-screamer” because William Walton was British. Or “For JS Bach’s Matthäus-Passion, BWV 244, you’ve got to have a Deutsch/German Orchestra and Chorus and conductor, and soloists.”  No, I never heard any of that ethnic nationalistic rubbish.

When I was a chorister in Orchestra Choruses, I never heard any ethnic nationalism there either. When we, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, performed Rachmaninov’s Колокола, Kolokola, Op. 35/The Bells with the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, I remember Norman Scribner, the Chorus Director, briefly working with the bass section particularly looking for the authentic low-rumbling “Russian bass” sound he wanted from the basses. He got what he was looking for in a few minutes and told the basses something to the effect that “whatever you just did, do that, that’s what I’m looking for” although he didn’t use those exact words. And most of the Choral Arts Society basses — because of their musical expertise and level of talent and choral experience — knew exactly what Norman was talking about when he asked for an authentic “Russian bass sound.” But that really had nothing to do with ethnic nationalism — but rather more of a cultural difference as I see it — as opposed to this nonsense about “Russians must perform Russian music.”

If you think about it, most music would probably never get performed if you had to leave it up to the musicians from and of the country where the music was composed.  I think repertoire selections would be rather thin.

Musically speaking, I think this ethnic nationalism comes from amateurs.  People who don’t know any better.  Wannabe-musicians, the musically-untrained and musically willfully-ignorant that one can often find in some U-toob comments.  Musical compositions speak to people worldwide and can be performed by the finest musicians worldwide regardless of their ethnicity, cultural differences and countries of origin.

Orchestral Management:  An Accomplice in the Promotion of Archaic Ethnic Nationalistic Thinking for Their Financial Interests

It’s all about the dinero/money. Whether most or all of orchestral management and or performing arts organisations still agree with or believe in this archaic ethnic nationalistic thinking or not, they continue to promote it and use it to their financial advantage. And by doing so they are complicit and serving as an accomplice to ethnic nationalism by continuing to promote it.  They exploit it, they play on it to bait a certain bigoted segment of their audience having long ago been brainwashed — probably earlier in their life — with ugly ethnic nationalism. Again, I do think it is the older generation that continues to believe in this nonsense, adheres to and mindlessly repeats this outdated myth of ethnic nationalism. Most people were likely brainwashed with ethnic nationalism and other “us versus them” thinking decades ago.

For example, one will hear this type of ad promoting a concert of Rachmaninov’s Sinfonische Tänze, as one example:

“Come and hear Rachmaninov’s Sinfonische Tänze/Symphonic Dances conducted by the Russian conductor, [name of celebrity Russian conductor]. He will be conducting the National Orchestra of Russia in this amazing and vibrant performance. You won’t want to miss it. This concert is an all-Russian music performance featuring an all-star cast of Russian musicians.  Tickets are limited so order now!”

As if they can perform the music better than anybody else!  What Rubbish.  Well, despite all the sales hype (including the overused word “vibrant”), the only thing they didn’t say in that advertisement is to outright lie and say:

“And as we all know, only Russians can play Russian music correctly and authentically.”

But that’s an example of a type of hyped promotion that one hears and sees from the pro-ethnic nationalist crowd who enjoy promoting this lie and myth of ugly ethnic nationalism.

With them, their limited, child-like world view seems to be very simplistic:

A person born in France plays Poulenc or some French composer the best.  A person born in México plays the music of Manuel Ponce or Carlos Chávez the best. A person born in England plays Herbert Howells’s music the best.  A person born in Russia plays Rachmaninov the best. And so forth.

It’s terribly lazy thinking as well as archaic.  As I’ve written before, my favourite recording of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 is with pianist Cristina Ortiz who was born in Brazil, not in Russia. And the Orchestra she performed with, The Philharmonia, is from the UK.  But doesn’t the Orchestra consists of some musicians from other countries? I should think so.  The conductor, Iván Fischer, was born in Budapest.

As I said earlier, I’ve heard radio announcers — conservative BBC Radio 3 and their ethnic nationalism being among the worst; they seem to be obsessed with this stuff or at least they were when I was listening to them — say, “Next, we’re going to listen to a piece played by the [name of birth country-born] pianist.” I would ask: Why is it important for us to know where the pianist was born?  What does that have to do with anything, BBC Radio 3? Are you going to give us his mother’s grave site address too and where his father and mother were born?  How about the grandparents?  Do these radio networks look up the name of everyone whose music they’re playing to see where the artist was born? Who has the time for that? If only they would spend as much time looking up the correct pronunciation of some composers’ names they mispronounce, such as Manuel Ponce (the accent is on the first syllable of PONce and not the second syllable).   They, at the BBC, have an español-language division so they could easily pick up the phone and call over there and ask for the correct pronunciation of Ponce and other español words. But no, that would require some preparation.  Instead, they are more comfortable with mispronouncing español words — or at least they were when I listened to R3 regularly — and didn’t bother to check for accuracy and not caring what listeners they offended.  I won’t have it!  “Just trying to bring a little happiness to people’s sad lives.”

That’s a quote from Ms Councillor Nugent when she was in the charity shop, with a very sour look on her face, “Just trying to bring happiness to people’s lives” as she puts the purse she was price-tagging to the side, which turned out to be Hyacinth’s purse, which was not for sale.  I’m talking about the British comedy Keeping Up Appearances, with a slight adjustment to the original script.  After that, Ms Nugent went on about how, “I won’t have it, our forefathers went through generations without getting all dolled up for the opposite sex.” That was an all-time great comedy.  Patricia Rutledge (Our Hyacinth) said she enjoyed doing it because she can’t stand pretentious snooty people.  Neither can I.  Upon reflection, the snooty pretentious people can be the same crowd I’m writing about who have been brainwashed with ugly ethnic nationalism. That generational outdated thinking. Keeping Up Appearances ended after 5 seasons.  Patricia said she got tired of doing it.  It would get tiresome to spend five years mocking pretentious snooty people, even if one is getting paid for it. Sadly, several members of the cast have died: Our Rose (the second Rose), Ms Concellor Nugent, Onslow and Richard.  I suspect The Pillsworth Sisters have died too (remember them?) but I don’t know for sure. And I think Hyacinth’s “Daddy” died.

Ugly ethnic nationalism — one of the tools of the far-right these days — is at an all-time high around the world, but particularly in the dis-United States and in the EU.

I suspect this ethnic nationalistic thinking will not disappear until a certain generation dies off. Especially in the current political climate of hate of one group or another, the older generation and some of the Millennials see no problem with using sexist and anti-ethnic language. They use terms such as “rice burners” and other pejoratives based on one’s ethnicity and or skin-colour pigmentation.

Then there will still be a few stragglers with their ethnic nationalism going on about “leave Poulenc to the French.” Why? When a pianist in Hong Kong or in Buenos Aires can play Poulenc as well as or better than some French musicians.

I can’t remember ever hearing these ethnic nationalistic comments made about legendary pianist Marta Argerich.  (I spell Marta the way it’s pronounced in español).  I suspect most people think of her as “European” or born in the EU.  She was born in Buenos Aires. That’s in Argentina for the stupid-is-in crowd who may show up here. And Argentina is in América you know. Just like the dis-United States is in América (North América specifically) and Argentina is in South América. If I’m correct, I think Marta Argerich lives in Brussels, the headquarters of the EU. With ethnic nationalistic thinking one would say:  We’re performing some Belgian music on the programme, so let’s get the Belgian pianist, Marta Argerich.  But Marta is not Belgian. Again, she was born in Argentina. Yet I’ve never heard anyone say that she shouldn’t be playing certain music because “she was not born in [fill in the name] of said country.”  See how silly this ethnic nationalism is? Or take Nelson Friere, who was born in Boa Esperança, Brazil. I don’t see anyone avoiding him when they want him to perform the Schumann Piano Concerto in a, for example.

Two of the finest performances of the Fauré Requiem I’ve heard:  The first by the Danish Radio Orchestra and Chorus from Copenhagen, not by a French choral ensemble or conductor.  And the second performance by the Collegium Vocale Gent and La Chapelle Royale, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées conducted by Philippe Herreweghe.   The Chorus is from Belgium and the Orchestra from Paris.  I think Philippe lives/is from Paris.  In both performances the Chorus was superb, as well as the Orchestra which is what I look for in symphonic choral performances, how well-trained the Chorus was/is.

But I live under no illusions that this outdated ethnic nationalistic thinking will disappear in my life time. In fact, at the rate things are going, I expect it and other things just like it will only get worse as people worldwide seem to be rushing back to the Dark Ages in many ways.

On the topic of outdated traditions, another commenter on U-toob, a traditionalist, was complaining about Marta Argerich using her score with a page turner in her performance of the Beethoven Choral Fantasy Op 80, for Orchestra, Chorus and piano soloist. I was glad to see Marta using her score and she should do what she’s most comfortable doing. I thought it looked good and gave a more chamber music feel to the performance (since per tradition a pianist is allowed to use his or her score in chamber music performances). This silly commenter said, “I would have thought that she would have known that piece well considering her experience” or words to that effect. She did know it well.  She played it superbly.  Just because a pianist uses his or her scores does not mean that s/he does not know the piece.  What is wrong with people?  Where did this guy train not to know that? It meant that she felt more comfortable using the score, as I would have.  I prefer to see pianists using their scores. Everybody else does, meaning everyone else uses their scores, why shouldn’t the pianist? Pianists and organists play the most notes of all. Related: Pianists: Use your scores. Screw these outdated traditions.

Recently I heard an excellent Asian male pianist, Seong-Jin Cho, play the Tchaikovsky PC #1 with Myung-Whun Chung conducting the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra. I said to mi amigo/my friend: Clearly, the boy can play and this should put to rest that rubbish about “only Russians can play Russian music.” He played just as well or better than anyone else — regardless of their country of origin — I’ve heard play the same concerto. The conductor is also a former piano concert artist but went into conducting. So you had the Asian pianist and Asian conductor with the Orchestra from Paris. Were there any Russian-born musicians in the Orchestra? That’s the pressing question that the ethic nationalistic-brainwashed basura will want to know.

I don’t know if they still have it, but some years ago a local concert series in San Francisco had a month-long Russian Festival. Now you might think that such a festival would be full of Russian music, no? Well, that wasn’t the case.  The festival only featured musicians with a Russian surname playing Beethoven, Chopin, Bach, Schumann et al. I thought it was damn odd because when they started the series (it was an annual event) I was looking forward to hearing lots of Rachmaninov.  But no, one didn’t hear much Rachmaninov at all.  Instead it was Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Haydn, and other non-Russian composers. In fact, they seemed to go out of their way to not programme Rachmaninov or other Russian composers on a Russian Festival.  Insane.  I remember thinking at the time: This is a damn odd festival. There’s hardly any Russian music on this thing. What nut came up with this?  Well, probably the head of the series who had a Russian surname who I take was heavily into ugly ethic nationalism. It was the same person who encouraged pianists to play from memory although when she performed she used her score.  It was all about where the musician was born:  Russia.  I went to some of the performances and didn’t find that the Russian musicians played the non-Russian repertoire on the Russian Festival any differently than anybody else on the planet.   This festival was all about the ethnic nationality of the musicians.  It had to do with where on the planet they came out of the birth canal.  And again, what does that have to do with anything when music is the international language?

Along with ethnic nationalism, in the dis-United States many people are noticing how racism and anti-ethnic thinking is now considered acceptable by many.  Of course this attitude has been set by the current White House occupant and the basura around him, and this will continue since he’s not going anywhere unless he dies in office.  He, and the basura around him, are now considered to be above the law.

One can certainly appreciate the superb musicians in various parts of the world — just as they have some outstanding choral ensembles in the Nederlands and other parts of the EU — but don’t take it to the extreme by saying that “Nederlands choral ensembles are the best” when there are many “best” Choruses, Orchestras and other musicians around the world.  A bit about the Nederlands (Dutch spelling).  For some reason, once again, English felt the need to disrespect another international language and change the spelling to “Netherlands.”  I use the original.   Too often, unfortunately, people refer to the Nederlands as Holland. Holland is only part of the Nederlands.  Referring to the Nederlands as Holland is like referring to the US as California.  Within the Nederlands, there are 12 prefectures or provinces. Two of those 12 prefectures are Holland.  So it’s best to use the name of the country:  Nederlands to be accurate.  The City of Amsterdam is in Noord-Holland or North Holland.  Hope this helps.

Up near the top of this article I referred to “banging” Russian pianists.  I want to clarify that.  Russian pianist have this undeserved reputation for banging the keyboard when they’re playing.  In reality, that can be said about anybody of any ethnic nationality.  Some pianists — Russian and other nationalities — bang (at times) when they play where others do not.  I did hear a well-known pianist of Russian ethnicity play the Rachmaninov Third and he banged his way through the third movement, raising his hands up to the top of where the music rack would be if he were using his score.  So I didn’t really enjoy his third movement but enjoyed the rest of the concerto.  Then I heard Yuri Favorin recently play the Rachmaninov 4 and he played beautifully throughout.  No banging whatsoever, and he’s Russian by the way.  I only mention that in the context of “banging Russian pianist.”  I think it’s a blanket, undeserved reputation that Russian pianist have unfortunately been tarnished with, perhaps by people who don’t really care for or are jealous of the Russian School of Piano Playing.  Chau.—el barrio rosa

The tremendous talent and artistry of Lyle Mays

So sorry to hear of the death of Lyle Mays, who was the iconic and extremely talented keyboardist for the (now disband) Pat Metheny Group (PMG), one of my favourite jazz ensembles. Pat and Lyle started the Pat Metheny Group. When I think of Lyle, I see him encased in his 5 keyboards with the Pat Metheny Group. He was seated at his Steinway & Sons grand piano (lid down) with a (digital?) keyboard on top of the Steinway. Then he had two keyboards stacked on top of each other to his left along with some sound control equipment, and then another keyboard on his right. They all had a purpose and he played them all, sometimes with his right hand on one keyboard and his left hand on another keyboard to create the sound he and or Pat wanted at a particular time in the piece they were performing. One can see him doing that in their piece called “First Circle.” Lyle died 10 February 2020 in Los Ángeles of a “recurring illness.” He was 66. He left the Pat Metheny Group. And that’s around the time that they broke up, I think, if I have the timeline correct. I mean, how does one replace someone like Lyle Mays with his improvisational talent and artistry? Oh there are people out there who can improvise, but they are not Lyle Mays, and because of that it would change the “sound” of the PMG. I read sometime ago that Lyle got tired of touring. Yeah, that can get tiring. That’s one of the complaints of classical music concert artists where they essentially live in hotel rooms out of a suitcase. Concertising often ends up not being at all what they had dreamed it would be: “Oh joy, I have to sit on a plane for 15 hours one way to go to the other end of the Earth to play the Brahms‘s First (that’s short-hand talk for Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in d, Op 15) with jet lag and little sleep. Super! Can’t tell you how much I look forward to that! But that’s where my artist management is sending me. Then I come back home for 2 days trying to recover from jet lag and then jet off again to another city to play the Rachmaninov Second (Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in c) three nights in a row with little sleep in an unfamiliar environment/hotel room and more jet lag. Then I have to play a 90-minute solo recital the evening of the day I get back home. Hopefully I won’t doze off during my playing of Schumann’s Kreisleriana. But you never know! Well, it helps pay the mortgage. I shouldn’t complain. I’m the one who chose this ‘glamorous’ life. I love the music, just not the rest that goes along with it!” That’s about the extent of it from what I’ve read from touring concert artists in the classical music genre. The PMG’s touring was likely different than that in that they took road tours with their musical instruments and their set and equipment. Everything that was needed for their superb performances. I went to hear them at UC-Berkeley when Pedro Aznar was still with the Group, right after the release of “First Circle.” But it’s still very tiring having a road tour of travelling from one city to another on one tour. Some groups have a tour of up to 12 cities at a time. I think the Metheny Group’s was similar. I also read that Lyle had some disagreements with Pat which led him to leave the Group. I don’t know if that’s true. He was as important to the Pat Metheny Group as Pat Metheny. They were such a wonderful musical group — hard to believe they are no longer around; who would have ever thought?! — and I always enjoy their music. Some of their music I don’t know as well as other pieces. They played a mood piece by the PMG recently on KCSM and I said to myself: That sounds like the PMG. They later announced it and it was the PMG. They have a “signature sound” of sorts. I can usually recognise them if it’s a piece I don’t know as well as I know “First Circle” or “Last Train Home” as two examples. And the PMG audience was very mature. Very respectful; never talking over the music. I feel rather shocked to hear of Lyle’s death. What a loss. Age 66 is so young. Pat Metheny wrote the following after hearing about Lyle’s death: “Lyle was one of the greatest musicians I have ever known. Across more than 30 years, every moment we shared in music was special. From the first notes we played together, we had an immediate bond. His broad intelligence and musical wisdom informed every aspect of who he was in every way. I will miss him with all my heart.” Steve Rodby, bassist and producer from the Pat Metheny Group, also issued a statement on Metheny’s FB page: “I had the great privilege of having Lyle in my life for decades, as an inspiration and as my friend. As anyone who knew him and his music will agree, there will only be one Lyle, and we all will continue to appreciate his soulful brilliance, in so many ways.” [Source]

You can watch the PMG perform “First Circle” (one of my favourites featuring the wonderful Pedro Aznar on vocals) by putting this in your search engine: Pat Metheny Group – First Circle – 1989

That should bring it up for you. To make sure you have the correct video, it should show a large outdoor performance in a park packed with people standing and the PMG on the outdoor stage. I’m not directly linking to the video because I don’t want the copyright nazis at G**gle/U-toob to delete the person’s channel or the video. The video is not directly from the PMG or Lyle Mays so that’s why I’m not linking to it or embedding it. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Related: Lyle Mays, Keyboard Innovator and Frequent Metheny Collaborator, Dead at 66 and Remembering Lyle Mays: His Life in Music.

This is not A Clockwork Orange

Hola a todos. Mi amigo/My friend and I were watching a performance the other night from the EU and these heterosexuals with their Straight Privilege were sitting there in the front row — clearly exhibitionists — putting on their own soft porn show for the Orchestra’s cameras and the people seated around them in the expensive orchestra seating. Just like the self-absorbed breeder basura in San Francisco, they (this couple) were acting oblivious to anyone around them as if they were the only two people in the performance venue. As if this Orchestra were performing just for them. I won’t say in which concert venue this took place, but some of the audience of one of my favourite orchestras has some people who are not there for the music. They are using the performance as an excuse to have a sex date. These horny, obnoxious, inconsiderate people don’t have the intelligence to sit on the back row in the Concert Hall. No, they insist on sitting on the very first row in the Orchestra seating so that everyone within their view can watch them hold hands, watch her hold and pet his face, watch her lean back using her chair as if its a bed and smile broadly at him, him doing the same with her, hear and watch their conversation to each other during the performance (very rude behaviour), watch them wrap themselves around each other as best they can in a Concert Hall chair with more fawning and petting. (roll eyes) You might think this were a teenage couple I’m writing about, but no, they were probably in their 60s, an age where they should know better one would think. Although this is the Century of Insanity where what was known as “common sense” is no longer common. If I were sitting behind these obnoxious basura I’d be very tempted to say to them in a very loud voice: “GET A ROOM SOMEWHERE! THIS PERFORMANCE VENUE IS NOT YOUR LIVING ROOM OR BEDROOM. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? THIS IS NOT A PERFORMANCE OF THE SOUNDTRACK OF A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. IF YOU WANT TO PET, MAKE OUT AND TALK OVER THE MUSIC BEFORE YOU GET ON WITH THE SEX WHICH IS REALLY YOUR INTENT FOR BEING HERE, WHY DIDN’T YOU GO TO HIS OR HER PLACE AND PUT ON A CD OF THE SAME PIECES THAT THE ORCHESTRA IS PLAYING? JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!”

And who would have ever thought that these pieces were sexually-inducing pieces? But apparently, this obnoxious couple didn’t care what the programme was because they were not there for that. They were merely using an orchestral performance as a delay tactic for getting on with sex.

Well, considering how enamored these two were with each other — my guess is that they had just met somewhere the way they were behaving — I suspect they would have given a matinée performance of their soft porn telenovela-style make-out sessions and rude talking during a performance of the Brahms’s EDR (Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45), if you can imagine that. For those who don’t know, sex and making out is not something one usually associates with the Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem. Loco. But with these obnoxious people, it wouldn’t have mattered what the Orchestra played. These two were there to get it on and not for the music. There’s a colourful word for people like that: Assholes.

Then later in another piece, we noticed they were still at it, but this time with another heterosexual couple seated down the front row from them. They too were wrapped around each other — what is with these people? — and apparently with the female in the second couple she was terrified of the wonderful musicians of the string section in front of her. Did she think one of the cellists was going to lose control of his/her bow and it was going to fly off the stage and hit her in the head? Maybe one of the cellists should give that a try upon reflection; maybe that would put an end to this nonsense. Is that why her guy had to hold her hand during the performance with her hand placed on his thigh because she was terrified of the cellists? (roll eyes) Oh, these needy, emotional-wreck and controlling females. Always needing or demanding attention, needing something to be held or touched but only on her terms and by her rules of course. I wouldn’t have the patience for them. I don’t know how guys put up with them! I really don’t. Well they don’t really. That’s why the guy often has to “stay late at the office tonight, dear, don’t wait up” or comes home late after having a stiffener at the bar or — in the UK — bottle digs in the middle of the night while “the wife” (as she is affectionally called) is in bed alone (supposedly) at 4AM, or he uses any excuse to be away from her. I’m just telling the truth here which some people won’t want to hear. Yes, the truth often hurts. And what about the people sitting behind these obnoxious trash in the Concert Hall who have to watch them in their full lip-lock and sounds of sucking and smacking and petting and fawning when the people sitting behind them are there for the music? Instead they must feel like they’re watching an x-rated movie and can’t change the channel. Can’t they get a room?

Now again, one might think that these were young inconsiderate self-absorbed couples I’m writing about. But no, the first couple was probably in their 60s and the second couple was a little younger, probably 50s. They were indeed using an outstanding orchestral performance as an excuse to get together for a sex date. Damn odd.

Whoever initiated the date must have thought: You know it won’t look good if I suggest we go immediately to bed even though we both obviously want that. But we straights have to play these “hard to get” type head games with each other. (That’s especially the case with females. One of her head games: If the guy goes down on her too soon, she’ll pull him back up in sort of a reprimand because she’s not ready to “give it up just yet,” even though she’s been desperate for it for hours. She’s not fooling anyone.) Their thoughts continue: And I don’t want to appear desperate to see his “pee pee” (that’s the language they would use!) even though I am. Straight couples engage in all of this game-playing and head-trips. So one of them must have decided: We can begin the petting phase at this orchestral performance. We can sit on the front row so everybody can watch us, another heterosexual couple — as if the world isn’t bombarded with images of heterosexuals every day — and we can put on our own little soft-porn show while this world-renowned Orchestra accompanies us. We can gaze into each other’s limpid eyes while the cello section serenades us. And we’ll be in a performance video getting attention, which they were, unfortunately. That’s how I had the misfortune of seeing them. We saw them rudely talking multiple times while the Orchestra was playing and touching and feeling and talking and more touching and feeling. Such inconsiderate trash. Really. I can’t stand people like that.

If I had been in the hall, I would have gotten up and gone to get an usher and explained the situation to the usher and had him or her deal with these people. Mr or Ms Usher would summons these inconsiderate trash to the back of the Concert Hall and proceed with the following speech: We’ve had complaints about your inappropriate behaviour in the front row. This is a performance and IF you can sit there as responsible adults and enjoy the music without talking during the music and disturbing the performance for our other patrons around you and without sexual innuendos, then you are free to stay. If not, get the hell out, NOW! Do we understand each other? Please leave. Por favor. Rude-assed people.

Then mi amigo/my friend and I watched another performance by the same Orchestra and once again, and within camera view sat another heterosexual couple — probably in their 40s — on the front row right below the podium. Yes, they required the front row too and they too were holding hands during the performance. I don’t know what it is with these people.

Of course if a gay male couple had been sitting on the front row and engaged in the same behaviour, I think we all know how that would have turned out. But just as with the Conservatory students, gay couples have the intelligence and maturity to know that you don’t do that stuff in a Concert Hall. We are there for the music and to enjoy the artistry of the superb musicians on stage, unlike some heterosexual basura who are merely using a musical event to “kill some time” with talking over the music, soft-fawning and foreplay in the public front row seats before having sex later on. That’s the bottom line. I don’t know why people like that don’t just record an exhibitionist sex video — well maybe they do that too! — and upload it up to a porn site. There, they would get much more attention from views, or would that not get them off as much? Maybe it’s all about the people in the audience watching them fawn over each and talk during the performance that they fantasise about as they orgasm at his or her place? It makes me think of a couple of articles I wrote awhile back. Here’s one of them: Will straight soft-porn save classical music? Chau.—el barrio rosa

Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 4 in g minor, Op. 40 – Pianist Yuri Favorin

Hola a todos.  Are any of the piano majors auditioning this concerto in the Conservatory’s Annual Student Soloist Competition?  Not that I’m aware of and I haven’t heard it coming from any of the practise rooms. 

I enjoyed this superb performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in g, Op. 40. Here are the performance details:

In Russian:

Академический симфонический оркестр Московской филармонии
Солист – Yuri Favorin
Дирижер – Dimitris Botinis

In English:

Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow Philharmonic
Piano Soloist – Yuri Favorin
Conductor – Dimitris Botinis

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 is neglected, compared to his Second and Third concertos, which are the most often performed.

The Three Versions: 1926, 1928, 1941

You might find it interesting to know that there are three versions of this concerto. There’s the original 1926 manuscript, which was not well received when it premiered. At that point, Rachmaninov decided to make some cuts in the concerto and other changes in the writing and he published that version in 1928.  So that’s the second version.  Well, that version was not well received either. So apparently fed up with the whole thing at that point, Rachmaninov decided to shelve it.  But fortunately for el mundo/the world, he eventually got around to working on it again and revised it.  He published that third and final version in 1941.  That’s the version used in this performance and the most often performed version today.  I’ve heard a performance of the original manuscript and I liked it, but think I prefer the 1941 final version. I read that pianist/conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy prefers the 1926 version having conducted it twice and performed it once as pianist.

Rachmaninov made cuts and/or revisions to some of his pieces because he wasn’t pleased with them and/or they were not well-received. In some instances he made cuts to his music because some people complained that his pieces were too long. He also made cuts to his pieces just to get them performed. He made cuts in the Third Piano Concerto. I’ve heard a recording of a cut Rachmaninov Third and I didn’t like it because I know the piece well from having worked on it and I knew sections were missing.  I’m of the opinion that if one is going to perform his music, perform it as he originally wrote it, or in its final version in the case of the Piano Concerto No. 4.

If there were ever a perfect performance (very rare to come by), this performance would be there among the finest performances.  This performance from the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall by Yuri Favorin and the Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow Philharmonic is very unusual in that I don’t see how it could be improved upon. Yuri plays beautifully. Listen at how he rattles off those well-drilled runs of the third movement, almost on automatic pilot. Very clean playing; never an overuse of pedal. And Rachmaninov barely gives the pianist any break in the third movement.  Superb playing. I noticed his playing position in that he’s often looking up, which helps him see the conductor out of the corner of his eye, but I think that’s Yuri’s way of concentrating and seeing the score in his head since he’s playing from memory. He looks at the keyboard occasionally but often plays by “feel” especially those clean runs of the third movement. The Orchestra is excellent — a really superb string section — as is the conductor. The conductor, Dimitris Botinis, is very laid-back and I enjoyed watching him conduct and his interaction with the pianist and Orchestra. I also noticed the interaction between the First Concertmaster (FCM) and Second Concertmaster (SCM) at the beginning of the third movement where they were counting waiting to come in. After a quick head jerk from the FCM which caused the SCM to smile, the FCM then had another head movement as part of his counting to himself. The SCM noticed that and they smiled at each other.  I think what happened there was that the SCM miscounted and was about to come in too early, but caught herself, because she picked up her violin and then put it back down.

This performance was very well recorded.  Another thing I noticed was that the rapport between the pianist and the Orchestra seemed cold.  There was little interaction between them.  I’m used to seeing a warmer interaction between the pianist and orchestral musicians as one sees in other concerto performances where the orchestral musicians look like they enjoyed playing the piece and were glad that the pianist was there as their invited guest.  I didn’t get that feeling from this performance.  I didn’t see Yuri look at the Orchestra the way I’ve seen other pianists do who feel they are more in a role as part of the Orchestra.  And at the end of the concerto performance, Yuri didn’t thank or acknowledge the Orchestra by shaking the hands of the First and Second Concertmasters.  During the bows, I would have turned around and shared the applause with the Orchestra and applauded them, since they were an equal part in the success of the performance.  He didn’t do that as other soloists I’ve seen do.  I think what I’m suggesting looks very gracious and appreciative, and I would do that if I were piano soloist with an Orchestra.

Yuri’s encore was Rachmaninov’s Études-Tableaux Op. 39, No. 3. I’ve played that one. Mi amigo/My friend was watching this with me and when it came to the encore he said, “Oh that one (from having heard me play it). That’s a good encore. That’s one of my favourite ones.” I said: It’s quite difficult in its own way, especially those random run passages, although not as difficult as some of the others in Op. 39. He said: It looks difficult.

From my personal experience, the thing about Rachmaninov is that if one plays mostly pieces by Rachmaninov and/or Scriabin, it makes pretty much all other pieces feel rather easy to play by comparison.

I’m not directly linking to or embedding this video because whenever I do and it’s not directly from the source (such as the Orchestra’s or pianist’s channel), the copyright nazis at G$$gle/U-toob seem to have nothing better to do than to delete the video and I end up with a “dead page” of sorts.  Nobody is making any dinero/money off of this video — maybe that’s capitalistic, greed-based G$$gle’s problem with it — so the performance merely promotes the musicians involved.  To get to this video, copy the title of it below exactly as I have it into your search engine — I copied it the way they have it and it brought it up — and it should take you there.  Chau.—el barrio rosa

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 4 in G minor Yuri Favorin

Is it a graduation picture, Kim Jong Un’s military or a “memorised” Chorus?

The “memorised” Chorus is an unfortunate gimmick used to “wow the audience” typically used by ensembles who apparently think they aren’t good enough — with few exceptions to that — to allow the music to stand on its own and speak for itself where the music alone “wows the audience.”

Hola a todos.  Some shallow people and other people who know little or nothing about music are easily impressed or “wowed” by what’s called a “memorised” Chorus.  In the context I’m writing about, it’s where a Symphony Chorus/Orchestra Chorus perform without their vocal scores or “from memory.”  It’s not that difficult to do especially if the piece is very familiar — and assuming the music is tonal (like Beethoven’s Ninth – Choral Finale) and the Chorus is well-prepared by the Chorus Director — yet many people for some reason are so easily “wowed” by it.  (roll eyes)  I don’t know why.  I don’t recall ever seeing a Chorus perform a lengthy work, such as an oratorio like Mendelssohn’s Elias/Elijah “from memory” and there’s no need for anyone to give that a try just because I mentioned it.  No, it’s usually some relatively short piece like the choral section of Beethoven’s Ninth or Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, (“The Resurrection”).

This topic came up again recently when some people in the comment section under a symphonic choral performance on U-toob  — and who are easily “wowed” by what’s known as a “memorised Chorus” — were gushing over how this Youth Chorus was able to perform the beginning of the piece “from memory.”  At it turned out, it was a gimmick and the suggestion came from the conductor of the performance according to one of the choristers from the Youth Chorus who commented.  He said that the conductor wanted something that would “wow” the audience.  Tacky.   Apparently the conductor didn’t think that their performance alone was sufficient to do that and to stand on its own.  The conductor needed some gimmick to “wow” the audience.  To justify the ticket prices?  So the conductor said, “Why don’t you sing the beginning of the piece from memory?”  So that’s what they did.  The Youth Chorus performed the beginning of the piece without their scores or “from memory” and then later raised their black folders which were in their right hand and began using the vocal score from that point on in the performance.  Apparently that stunt, that gimmick worked and “wowed” and stunned everyone in the hall.  (roll eyes, honestly people!).  Such shallow people, I swear.  Apparently it never occurred to the conductor or the audience that memorisation comes relatively easily for the age group required for this Youth Chorus.  In fact, that’s the ideal age for memorising pieces.  That age range is when one’s memory is very “fresh.”  So what’s the big deal about performing the beginning section of the piece “from memory” and then using their scores for the remainder of the work?  Someone in the comments asked if the conductor had “coached” the Chorus and the chorister mistakenly said, “Yes and the conductor was amazing.”  I thought:  That’s not true.  The conductor didn’t coach the Chorus.  So I asked the chorister, “What happened to Simon Halsey, the Chorus Director?  I’m very familiar with him.  He didn’t prepare the Chorus?”  (Simon is especially known for being the Chorus Director for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus in the UK).  The chorister responded to me by saying, “Well yes, you are correct, Simon did prepare us and he was amazing.”  I thought but did not write:  Well why did you say earlier that the conductor “coached” the Chorus?  Making minor adjustments and changes in a dress rehearsal with the Chorus is not considered “coaching” the Chorus.  The young chorister seemed confused.  And before I wrote my comment, I suspect Simon Halsey would have resented all of his work preparing the Youth Chorus being attributed to the conductor.  Also, my research found that the conductor has no choral training in order to be able to prepare a Chorus.  That’s what I had thought but wanted to confirm that.  The conductor has worked with Choruses already prepared for this conductor by a Chorus Director, but this conductor’s training is exclusively orchestral with two degrees in violin.  Again, no choral training whatsoever.  So I questioned how this conductor qualified to prepare any Chorus.  That’s like someone preparing a string section when they’ve never studied any string instrument.

So, because of this confusion, I feel I need to say the following:

The Chorus Director prepares the Chorus, not the orchestral conductor.

It appears that many people do not know that it is the Chorus Director and not the orchestral conductor for the performance that prepares the Chorus for performances.  I’ve read this ignorance in U-toob comments.  (There’s often so much musical ignorance in U-toob comments).  Again, the orchestral conductor of a performance does not prepare the Chorus.  In fact, the conductor usually doesn’t see the Chorus until the dress rehearsal on stage with the Orchestra, where he may make minor adjustments and changes to how the Chorus has been prepared by the Chorus Director.  The conductor might make diction and phrasing changes.  Here are two examples:  “Chorus, put the t of the word et on the second beat rather than the half beat (eighth note) of the first beat where you’re currently putting it.  And sopranos, carry that phrase over beautifully in one breath, don’t take a breath there, stagger your breathing.”  They are the type of things that conductors make changes in.  Things like that.  Nothing major.  Whereas a credible Chorus Director — like the ones I had the privilege of singing under — will have already drilled the Chorus on things such as this for example:  “I need more hard “K” on the word “Kyrie” in the first movement so it doesn’t sound like “yrie.”  I want that hard “K” of Kyrie to be heard in the last row of the hall.  Spit the consonants throughout.  I want very crisp diction.”  Usually, but not always, the Chorus Director and the conductor have already consulted and gone over the score together so that the Chorus Director prepares the Chorus according to the conductor’s wishes.  In other instances, they don’t talk at all before hand, or that’s the impression I got in some rehearsals with the Orchestra Choruses I performed with.  Each performance is different in that regard.  On occasion, a conductor may come to the rehearsal site of the Chorus and hear the Chorus just before the dress rehearsal.  Conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos did that with us (the Choral Arts Society of Washington) for one of our performances in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the NSO, but as memory serves no other conductor did that with us that I remember.  Conductor John Nelson came out to the University of Maryland to hear the University of Maryland Chorus in the season I sang with them before our Wolf Trap performance of the Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts with the NSO.  I remember at the end of our rehearsal with Nelson, he said something very kind:  “This is the best prepared Chorus I’ve ever worked with.”  (I was sitting there thinking to myself:  Well!  Well of course it is.  This is the superb University of Maryland Chorus with their stellar reputation.  What did you expect?  That’s why I’ve wanted to sing with them for years).  But I’m sure John Nelson’s comment made Dr Traver’s day.  I remember turning around and looking towards the back of the rehearsal room to see Dr Traver’s face, but I didn’t see him anywhere.  But musically-ignorant people think that the orchestral conductor prepares the Chorus, which again, is incorrect.  That’s why I get annoyed when the Chorus Director is not acknowledged and brought on stage at the end of the performance to have his Chorus take their bows.  And I think Chorus Directors get pretty tired of preparing their Chorus for orchestral conductors and receiving very little, if any, credit for it.  I know I would get tired of that.  All of that work for weeks and not even acknowledged for it!  Maybe that’s why some Chorus Directors retire before their replacement can be found along with rarely being given the opportunity to conduct both the Orchestra and Chorus.  I won’t name names.  There was one exception to this where Robert Shaw had both the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, so he prepared both the Orchestra and Chorus, technically speaking.  Although did Shaw have the rehearsal accompanist Norman Mackenzie rehearse the ASOC quite a bit?  I don’t know, I’m speculating, since Norman has been the Director of Choruses for Atlanta since Shaw’s death.

Back to the “memorised” Chorus:  Assuming the Chorus consists of high-caliber experienced symphonic choral choristers and is well-prepared by the Chorus Director meaning they had weekly Full Chorus and weekly sectional rehearsals, it’s not that difficult to perform from memory because the human voice (meaning a chorister in this case) can only sing one note at a time.  Just like most all other musicians can only play one note at a time.  It’s not at all like pianists or organists who — depending upon what they’re playing — will be required to play up to 10-11 notes all at one time with every finger on a key and with the thumb of one hand on two keys as in some of the pieces by Sergei Rachmaninov.  Try memorising Rachmaninov’s pieces with all those notes, and then get back to me on how “wowed” you are by how difficult it is to play or sing one note at a time from memory.  I know from experience.  This is not at all meant to come across as if I’m putting down other musicians.  I’m not.  Not at all.  I have the highest regard for other talented and well-trained musicians regardless of the instrument(s) they play.  I’m just saying that most musicians play or sing one note at a time, so with the repetitive rehearsal process and the drilling/repetitive work on measures, phrases, sections and pages that well-trained musicians go through in preparing a piece, it should be fairly easy to sing (or play) one note at a time from memory.  Don’t you think?  I should think so.  But for a pianist, it’s a bit boring to play one note at a time (or even four notes at one time — as in a hymn — for that matter.  I know from experience with my choral accompanying where I, the piano accompanist, had to play the soprano (or alto, tenor or bass) line for them as they rehearsed in sectional rehearsals.  Or the Chorus Director would say to me, “Play all the parts so that they hear all the parts that are being sung at the time, but emphasise their notes only” which requires some skill.

Most musicians look like musicians and look fine when they’re performing without their scores.  They really don’t look any differently than if they were using their score.  They’re holding their instrument and playing it.  There’s just no score there when they’re performing “from memory.”

But the same cannot be said about a “memorised” Chorus.

A Chorus does not look good when they’re performing “from memory.”  When they perform with their scores, their eyes are moving back and forth from the score to the conductor and they’re turning pages (usually all choristers turn pages at one time since they’re all using the same edition).  The choristers will sway or move some — which I enjoy seeing — it shows that they’re really getting into their music, feeling the rhythms and the beats just as the finest musicians in the Orchestra do.  They look like they’re enjoying themselves.  They don’t look like stiff, motionless robots or mannequins or statues like the “memorised Chorus” looks.   When choristers use their scores, their score does not block their faces; they are very easy to see and they look like well-trained musicians, which they are.

The “memorised” Chorus; however, looks the opposite.  Here’s what mi amigo/my friend said about that:

He brought this topic up while we were watching a symphonic choral performance where the Chorus performed “from memory.”  They were performing the Verdi Messa da Requiem.  We didn’t get too far into the Verdi because it’s too operatic for mi amigo/my friend, and I only like the choral sections.  I’m not into screaming which one always hears in that piece where the vocal soloists mistake harsh screaming for singing beautifully, on pitch and musically.  It’s awful.  He did like the Dies Irae (Chorus) with the brass, which I’ve always liked too.  I never performed the Verdi but I saw it performed live in the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra and the superb University of Maryland Chorus.  The Verdi was one of their signature pieces along with Beethoven’s Ninth and the Mahler Symphony No. 2 (“The Resurrection”).  The Maryland Chorus used their scores so they never looked like a bank of statues or robots.

For the Verdi performance we watched part of, mi amigo asked me:  Why would they perform without their scores?  What’s the purpose of that?  They don’t look like musicians. No where on their person is there any indication that they are a musician. They’re not holding an instrument (because their instrument is their voice, obviously). They’re not holding a black music folder or any vocal/choral score making them look like musicians.  If you didn’t know, you might think they are a graduating class of a school (not wearing their cap and gown), or a portfolio picture of a corporation with an all-black or black and white dress code showing all the employees.  The “memorised” Chorus stands rigidly “at attention.”  They look very stiff as they stare straight ahead at the conductor.  They don’t move around at all like they do when using their scores.  Their arms are down by their side.  Not even their hands move.  Stiff and rigid is how they look.  They don’t look relaxed as they regurgitate on cue what’s been drilled into them for weeks by the Chorus Director or at least that’s the way it looks when they’re not reading music from their scores.  They don’t look like musicians.  They look militaristic especially when everybody is wearing the same uniform which closely resembles that of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or DPR Korea) (Korean: 조선민주주의인민공화국.   And depending upon the lighting in the hall, some of the all-black Symphony Chorus attire — the Women of the Chorus in black dresses and the Men of the Chorus in black pants, jackets and black tie — looks dark black while other sections of the Chorus have more of a greenish hue to their black attire and that’s where the DPRK look comes in.   There they are standing “at attention,” no one is moving anything but their mouths, diaphragms and eye lids.  All staring “at attention” and straight ahead in lockstep.   Yes, it does look very militaristic.  It looks stiff.  It looks unmusical and unnatural.  Because who normally stands like that?  Like a statue?  A bank of statues in this case.  They don’t look like they’re feeling what they’re singing.  They don’t move around and get into their music the way they do when they use their scores.  And, they can resemble the North Korean Military Squad.

I agree with him.  Who wants to look anything like that description?  Does one really want one’s Chorus to look like any of that?  I should say not, but apparently some do or they have mindlessly adopted this “this perform from memory” shtick because — for some reason — they’re into this “memorised Chorus” gimmick.  And again:

And what exactly is a Chorus trying to prove by performing without their scores?  I’ve never understood that either.  That they are supposedly better than others?  Better than another Symphony Chorus?

As I said, one does not necessarily get a better performance with a “memorised Chorus.”  This was one complaint I had with the “memorised” Tanglewood Festival Chorus during John Oliver’s tenure as Chorus Director.  I don’t like to be hard on another queer boy unless it’s justified which it is in this case.  Wasn’t John Oliver a queer boy? I think so.  I liked his work with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in their early years.  But later, John Oliver came up with this stuff about how you couldn’t see the chorister’s/singers’ faces when they were using their score.  What rubbish!  Some people come up with any excuse to justify what they’re doing, you know?   To begin with, the vocal score is to be held so that the chorister can see/read the score and see the conductor at the same time.  The score is not to be held where it blocks the face.  So John should have trained his choristers on how to properly hold their scores if they were not doing so.  So that’s on him as Chorus Director, and has nothing to do with the excuse he dreamed up for why a Chorus should be “memorised.”  Then some TFC (Tanglewood Festival Chorus) disciples wrote to me saying how “Seiji Ozawa loved the memorised TFC” as if that justified their memorisation gimmick.  Well, no disrespect at all intended to Seiji — he’s a superb musician — but I don’t care what Seiji Ozawa loved.  I don’t worship other musicians/conductors, the way many people do (including conductor worshipping).  I know from my experience how a “memorised” Chorus looks and they don’t look good/natural.  I suspect if the TFC had used their scores all the time, Ozawa would still have loved the TFC since they are his creation essentially.  He’s the reason they exist.  He told John Oliver to go start a Chorus when Oliver said that “We need our own Chorus” at Tanglewood because in those days the BSO was using Lorna Cooke deVaron‘s New England Conservatory Chorus in Symphony Hall.  (She died in 2018, by the way).  And I bet “the man in the moon” would have loved the TFC too — until the TFC started their path of deteriorating choral excellence in recent years under John Oliver.  And don’t some conductors love being constantly stared at — I mean, let’s face it; some conductors love the attention — which is what a “memorised” Chorus gives them.  They don’t have anything else to look at so — like a bank of statues, a bank of mannequins — on the Chorus risers they stare nonstop at the conductor.  I suppose that can be quite a head trip for a conductor, if he’s into that.  I wouldn’t be if I were a conductor.  I’d prefer that the Chorus use their scores.

In performances I see these days from the EU as well as from América del Sur/Sudamérica/South América where the Chorus is using their scores, I have no trouble at all seeing any choristers’ faces.  They all hold their scores properly.  I’m not sure about this, but did John Oliver go so far as to say that one gets a better performance “from memory?”  If he said that, clearly that’s not true either as the “memorised” TFC deteriorated during his tenure.  That’s because, in part, he kept longtime choristers in the TFC when they should have been asked to leave long ago due to the deterioration of their voice.  After Oliver retired, the BSO hired superb James Burton from the UK to overhaul the TFC which he has done, or rather is doing to bring the Tanglewood Festival Chorus back up to the level of choral excellence expected of them as the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops.  Their level of excellence is to match the level of excellence of the Orchestra.   That’s why orchestras have their own Chorus.  And it looks like Burton might be ending the “memorised” run of the TFC.  I should hope he does, so that the TFC start looking like musicians.  In a clip I saw of them recently (Autumn 2019), they have improved — now singing with perfect intonation — and they used their scores with black folders and then put them down by their right side in the final few measures of the piece they were singing.  James Burton has done an excellent job so far with them.  As mi amigo/my friend said:  “They are now listenable.”  Hopefully James Burton will abandon that “from memory” nonsense along with that all-white dress code for the choristers that they have on occasion, or is that only at Tanglewood?  It looks tacky.  A friend of mine saw the TFC in their all-white get-up Chorus attire and asked me, “Is it a Klan rally?”  Hahahaha.  Well, you might come away with that impression, no?  I’m not all that hot on all-black either but having the Chorus in all-black looks better to me than all white.  Usually, an Orchestra Chorus — which the TFC is — dresses like the orchestral musicians and depending upon the Orchestra they are wearing all black (especially in the EU or in Australia) or black and white.  But I’ve never seen all-white fortunately, except for maybe The Last Night of The Proms (I’m referring to the BBC Proms, for those who don’t know).

The only time I’m usually “impressed” (if that’s the word) with someone performing “from memory” is if the artist is 70 or 80+ years of age and they’re able to play a piano concerto — such as the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 — “from memory” rather perfectly.  What impresses me about that is not what you might think.  It tells me that the pianist’s mind is still sound and that they haven’t lapsed into some stage of dementia at that age.  That’s the reason I’m impressed by it.  Or when a pianist plays a piece like the extremely difficult Schostakowitsch Piano Concerto No. 1 from memory.  That’s not at all easy to do because of the nature of the piece while the trumpet soloist — there are two soloists in the Schostakowitsch — sits there with his score on his music stand because, per tradition, it’s considered acceptable for him to use his score in performance even though he’s only playing one note at a time.  Yet it’s not considered acceptable for the pianist who is playing umpteen notes at a time to use his score in performance.  Insane.  What idiots dreamed up these insane performance rules?  Well, for pianists they came as a result of god Franz Liszt.  Pianists worldwide from henceforth and forever more had to do what The Holy and Invisible Trinity, god Liszt, did in performance, and follow his “from memory” gimmick.  I guess he tried to “wow” his audience too.  But other than that, memorisation doesn’t impress me really because if a musician plays something long enough and enough times — in some cases to the point of becoming sick of the piece — memorisation  automatically happens on its own using various methods for memorising.  There will probably be a few places that need special attention that didn’t quite “take” with repeated playing of the piece.  I read that pianist Alicia de Laroccha had played the Ravel Piano Concerto in G so many times that — according to the person who wrote the comment — he didn’t find her performance that interesting because it was as if she was playing on automatic pilot from having played the piece too many times from memory.   Maybe if she had used her score, seeing the notes and all the markings in the score in the hard copy — as opposed to seeing the score in her mind (one of the techniques of memorisation) — maybe that wouldn’t have been the case. 

As far as memorisation goes:  From my own experience locally in San Francisco with the many pianists I’ve enjoyed over the years who had memory slips during their performance, they would have had a better performance had they used their scores.  “The fingers have a mind of their own in performance” is how one local pianist described it to me, and I know exactly what he was talking about.  Things can happen in a performance that have never happened before.  I’ve seen countless pianists locally in San Francisco over the years have memory slips, which would not have happened had they used their score, with or without a page turner.  Is one better prepared when performing “from memory?”  No, absolutely not and I can attest to that.  For a solo piano performance I gave years ago, the concert manager did not listen to all of my audition tape, and because of that — she erroneously thought I was playing all one style of pieces even though I wasn’t — she changed my programme about 2-3 weeks before my performance and she wanted me to play “from memory.”  Well, I had memory slips in my performance because this witch changed my repertoire (if only she had listened to the whole recording I sent her of my audition tape) and I didn’t have enough time for the new pieces to be solidly memorised.  Like other pianists I had seen perform there and who had memory lapses, I felt like crawling under the piano at one point it was so embarrassing to me, although of course I improvised in the style of the piece while having my memory lapses.  But I got through it.  I also got the impression that most people in the audience did not notice the memory problems because at the end of the performance the audience was very kind to me and gave me a standing ovation which I very much appreciated in the dazed state I was in after performing.  I was just relieved it was over.  I may have regretted it was over if I had felt completely comfortable with the newer Rachmaninov pieces “from memory.”  I played his ÉtudesTableaux.  And my memory problems wouldn’t have happened had I been allowed to use my scores like some other pianists did at the same performance venue.  They just ignored what she said about “from memory” although they had performed there before and I was new to this venue.   So I didn’t want to be “blacklisted” from this venue because I didn’t perform “from memory.”  And get this:  the same concert manager whenever she performed used her scores.  It was alright for her, but not for others.  Ms. Hypocrite.

I sometimes read “How could he remember all those notes?” in U-toob comments under piano concerti videos.  Well, again, if a musician works on something long enough it because rather automatic-pilot, although one must always be alert to a piece sounding “automatic” or on auto-pilot.  You don’t want that.

And there are rules or traditions in the classical music field of when it’s considered “appropriate” for one to use his or her score.  Don’t let me get started on that ludicrous thinking other than to say that the musicians who play the most notes are — by tradition — not allowed to use their scores in performance.  Insane.  But the musicians who play one note at a time — which is the majority of musicians — have the luxury of using their score for solo performance if they want.  That mentality seems rather ass-backwards doesn’t it?  Logic and critical thinking skills would dictate that those playing up to 10 notes at a time as in Rachmaninov can use their score if they want, because most musicians should be able to handle playing one note at a time.  But traditions don’t often run on or operate on logic, but rather some silly rule that some nut dreamed up and it stuck.

But back to symphonic choral performances and the “memorised Chorus.”  What sparked this article, in part, was a comment I read online under a performance of Beethoven’s (over-performed) Ninth.  The Ninth is currently one of The Big Three, you know, or maybe you didn’t?  In the comments, some woman was so impressed (roll eyes) and weak-kneed because the Chorus sang “from memory.”  I wanted to ask her:  Why are you impressed with that?  What’s the big deal about that?  The odd thing is that she claimed to have performed the Ninth “a few times.”  Really?  I question that.  Because if she had, she would know that Beethoven’s Ninth Choral Finale is pretty straight forward and if she were in the soprano section she would have the melody line, so what’s the big deal about performing “from memory?”  For Beethoven’s Ninth, pitch accuracy and avoiding the tendency that some Choruses have to scream rather than sing beautifully should be the focus, especially those measures where the soprano section has to float effortlessly and very quietly up on that high A making sure their pitch perfectly stays in tune (does not sag and go flat) with the rest of the Chorus and Orchestra.  It would be hard to have a memory slip in the choral section of Beethoven’s Ninth and the choral section is relatively small by comparison.  I performed the Ninth two or three times with the Orchestra Choruses I performed with, and I know it well from hearing it — don’t we all? — and I don’t know how anyone could have a memory slip in that.  If it’s been well-rehearsed, it should be no big deal.  So it makes me wonder what type of chorister this woman was who was gushing over this “memorised Chorus” on U-toob?  Or did she make the whole thing up?  Or did she perform it with some University Chorus and Orchestra and not a major symphony Orchestra and Chorus?  There’s one University Chorus that I mention often because I like to keep their rich legacy alive — and I had the privilege of performing with them for one season — and that’s the stellar and renowned University of Maryland Chorus, which was not at all your average or typical University Chorus by any means.  The Maryland Chorus (as they were also known) performed the Ninth over 38 times with (inter)national Orchestras in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, at Wolf Trap, in Baltimore’s Symphony Hall and elsewhere.  During the Antal Doráti years of the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and due to their frequent performances with the NSO, some might have thought that the University of Maryland Chorus was the Official Chorus of the National Symphony Orchestra.  (Although the NSO has never had their own Chorus).  The thinking seemed to have been at that time:  If you’re doing Beethoven’s Ninth and you want a stellar performance, you must have the University of Maryland Chorus.  They were choristers at the University of Maryland’s School of Music College Park campus outside the District of Columbia.  One reviewer from The Washington Post wrote about one of their performance:

National Symphony Orchestra & University of Maryland Chorus

“…an excellent performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was presented to an overflow audience Saturday night at Wolf Trap. This excellence, however, was a last-minute development, and primary credit goes not to the National Symphony, which was the orchestra for the occasion, but to the University of Maryland Chorus, which came to the orchestra’s rescue. The Chorus — one of the best — celebrated its 20th anniversary and its 36th Beethoven Ninth by singing the final movement as well as I have ever heard it sung, live or on records.”
Source: National Symphony Orchestra & University of Maryland Chorus (Joseph McLellan)

And I thought one of their performances that I heard in the Kennedy Center was the best, live or on records/CDs.  Now keep in mind, The Maryland Chorus had performed Beethoven’s Ninth close to 40 times as of that writing, yet they still used their scores (as they should have) and consistently produced stellar results of choral excellence.  Wonderful Dr Paul Traver (Founder and Director of the University of Maryland Chorus and one of my choral mentors) did not have this silly head trip going on about a “memorised Chorus.”

When singing “from memory,” I have seen some choristers when performing symphonic choral works having what appeared to be memory slips.  The camera showed them and they were all standing in SATB sections meaning they were not mixed up.  In other words, other than the “border” between the soprano and alto sections, a soprano was not standing next to an alto or vice versa.  And even though the choristers on either side were singing, the chorister having the memory slip couldn’t seem to get back on track by hearing the choristers on either side of her.  I saw that at the BBC Proms.  I thought:  Why isn’t she singing when the choristers around her are?  I assumed she was having a memory slip.

Awhile back, mi amigo and I watched a Chorus performing “from memory” without their scores. Then we watched another performance with another Chorus using their scores. Before the video loaded mi amigo/my friend asked me: Do they use their scores in this performance from Copenhagen? I said: Yes they do.  After the performance began, he immediately said about the Chorus:  “Oh they look much better. That looks much better using the scores.”  Absolutely.  They look like musicians, like performers as opposed to stiff singing statues.

Then recently, I had the following experience online with that woman I mentioned up above who was gushing over the “memorised Chorus” for Beethoven’s Ninth.  I decided to express a short version of the views I’ve expressed here in this article under that performance of Beethoven’s Ninth.  Again, in that performance the Chorus did not use their scores.  She responded to me:

“I don’t disagree with what you say, but the fault isn’t memorization, it’s direction. Show choirs sure don’t appear stiff and robotic. While I’ve always held my music folder and “engaged” with the music, I’ve also memorized every performance so that I never have to take my eyes off the maestro. I have an eidetic memory, so it’s how I learn best. “

I responded to her with the following:  I stand by what I said.  The fault is indeed with memorisation.  It has nothing to do with direction because when the Chorus uses their scores they do not look as I described.  (Dense woman).  And this performance is about Beethoven’s Ninth featuring an Orchestra Chorus/Symphony Chorus.  That’s what I was talking about.  I wasn’t referring to a “Show Choir.”  Being a symphonic choral person, I wasn’t even sure what a “Show Choir” is.  That’s not my experience or interests.  I may have heard the term before but I had to look it up.  A “Show Choir” is in Broadway musicals and that sort of thing.  Well, that’s not at all what I’m into, Ms US Midwest commenter.  I told her that the finest musicians do indeed take their eyes off the conductor.  They don’t stare at conductors non-stop.  Does she ever blink?  I mean, who could stare non-stop at a conductor without going insane?  Look at some of the finest orchestral musicians.  They mostly look at their scores and glance up at the conductor every now and then, they don’t constantly stare at him, they can see him (or her) in their field vision so there’s no need to constantly stare at any conductor.  What is wrong with the woman?  (Dense).  The finest choristers do the same; they don’t constantly stare non-stop at the conductor.  And with the finest musicians, they can perform a piece without a conductor as I saw recently for a conductor-less performance of the Brahms First Piano Concerto.  It was superb.  But get this part that Ms Midwest commenter wrote:  “I have an eidetic memory, so it’s how I learn best.”  Well isn’t that wonderful, mi amor.   I’ve never known any serious musicians — none that I’ve ever worked with — to brag to me about their “eidetic” memory or their memory in general or anything else.  The finest musicians that I’ve known are very humble and modest.  I never brag about anything, memory or otherwise.  I talk about my musical experience but hopefully it never comes across as if I’m bragging because that’s not at all how I mean it.  To me, her comment came off as the usual amateurish comment, and that we’re into two very different things.  She’s into “Show Choirs” and I’m into Orchestra Choruses which are two very different ensembles.  Her response annoyed me.  I asked myself:  Did I just experience one of the know-it-all Classical Music Snots?  That’s how it felt.   And again, except for harpists, pianists and organists — pianists play up to 11 or 12 notes at a time in some Rachmaninov pieces, for example — most musicians play or sing one single note at a time.  So after enough rehearsal, practise time and drilling, one should be able to “regurgitate” one’s musical performance “from memory” regardless of one’s eidetic memory, just keeping in mind that one does not necessarily get the finest performance “from memory.”   Chau.—el barrio rosa