Trolling the hr-Sinfonieorchester

The self-appointed classical music armchair critics go around giving their “expert opinion” on performances. They’re quite a piece of work. They’re either writing, “sublime” about the performance — which seems to be the only adjective they know — or they write about what was wrong with a performance (according to them), sometimes giving a “measure-by-measure” critique.

Hola a todos. The hr-Sinfonieorchester (Frankfurt Radio Symphony) is one of the finest orchestras on the planet and they give the world quite a gift by uploading many of their performances to U-toob (no ads on their videos fortunately), and their videos are superbly produced by their excellent production crew. They perform in the Alte Oper, a former opera house in Frankfurt that is now a Concert Hall. The stage there has been turned into a recording set for them, including each section of the Orchestra being tiered/elevated (the brass are sitting higher than the winds which are higher than the strings, for example, for ideal camera angles). They’ve done a splendid job. They use multiple cameras during their performances, some of which are out-of-sight, such as the camera that shows the Orchestra from above. The hr-Sinfonieorchester is the radio orchestra of Hessischer Rundfunk, the public broadcasting network of the German state of Hesse.

Like most musical performances, there are some self-appointed classical music armchair critics in the audience. In this particular instance that I’m writing about, someone had nothing better to do in his day than to complain about one note in the piece that he had a problem with in a performance of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps/The Rite of Spring. This is a piece of approximately 30-35 minutes in length. One gets the impression that the guy couldn’t enjoy the performance because of the one note that was allegedly wrong. Here’s the guy’s comment: “Dear Maestro and Principal bassoon- at 3.52 ( four bars after 12 in the partitur) you are playing an ‘f’ eighth note. This is a very old error in the Boosey and Hawkes score which I am astonished to still hear being made in 2015. The ‘a flat” minim in the bassoon is TIED over the bar to a quaver ( eighth note)- it does NOT resolve to a quaver ‘f’.” All worked up over that, are you? Then someone responded: “It’s not so astonishing if you have a little insight in how orchestras get their playing material. In case of Stravinsky you can be sure it is still lend by Boosey and Hawkes. And those companies charge a fortune for newer critical editions. Therefore old errors still carry over in performances unless a conductor takes the time to study the sources himself.

“Study the sources” to find one note that is wrong in the piece for the bassoon part? I think Andrés, the conductor for this performance, has better things to do in his busy life. And the same goes for the First and Second Concertmasters. I’m not condoning mistakes and well-trained and experienced musicians strive to be as accurate as possible, but I find this situation a bit extreme. And unlike most armchair critics, this guy seems to know a little bit about music and editions, so he’s not what I would call your typical armchair critic. But I’ve never known any serious or credible musician who would write or say what he did. Who would dwell on one note in a piece other than the insane among of us? No shortage of them here in the Century of Insanity.

Personally, I can live with the supposed mistake. And if you know anything about this piece — it does not sound at all like tonal Brahms — who would have even noticed this “mistake?” Le sacre du printemps is mostly an atonal piece. So even if I were a bassoonist in the audience and had noticed one note being out of place/wrong, I would have said nothing about it because what would that accomplish? The performance is over. It was a live performance. So does this armchair critic expect the Orchestra to perform the piece again in order to correct this one note in the bassoon part? If they were to do that, there may be a mistake in that “take.” Is there ever a perfect performance? Well close to it with the hr-Sinfonieorchester. I’ve never noticed any mistakes in their playing. If there were any mistakes, they skillfully covered them up nicely.

There can be mistakes even in the best editions, and by best editions I mean Urtext — if an Urtext edition exists for the piece — or the most authoritative/performance edition available from the most credible of publishers. Not all editions are the same, even though some people think that and some people choose an edition by its pretty cover, which is not at all how one should choose an edition. I sometimes ask a pianist what edition they used for a piece if I’ve had trouble finding an authoritative edition for the piece. I asked a pianist at a local performance what she was using and she immediately thought I was implying I heard mistakes in the score. Then I had to quickly tell her: “No, I heard no mistakes or problems, you played beautifully, I was just curious what edition you used. She laughed and looked relieved and told me “Oh, for that I used Editions Peters.” Usually, the best editions are the more expensive ones. “You get what you pay for.” When I was teaching piano, I always ordered the scores for my students to be sure they got the best editions available. I often used Editions Henle Verlag, Peters (Urtext), Boosey & Hawkes, Bärenreiter Verlag, or the like. And credible Chorus Directors choose the best vocal scores the same way.

If I had commented under the video in response to this guy, I would have written in response: Well did you enjoy the performance, or did one alleged wrong note in one instrument’s part spoil the whole thing for you? Well, it obviously pissed him off enough that he had to write about it. No one else seemed to have noticed.

People like that guy ruin classical music for a lot of people because “they think they know everything” as a local pianist said to me when I congratulated him after he had been criticised to his face about his performance. Yes, another classical music armchair critic walked over to this pianist after his performance and went on about how there was “too much pedal in the Schumann” and other things that were wrong. I was standing behind el pendejo and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The pianist responded by saying, “Well maybe that’s something I need to work on.” A very nice response after being trolled. Then it was my turn. I told the pianist (I had talked with him before at his previous performances): No, that’s not something you need to work on. Your pedaling in the Schumann was fine and ignore all that other rubbish that he said. He laughed and said, “Some people think they know everything, don’t they?” I said: Yes they do! One can always tell the self-appointed armchair critics because they have the nerve to “dress an artist down” to his or her face. Absolutely rude people. I say nothing to an artist about mistakes. I consider that extremely rude. Don’t we all make mistakes occasionally while playing? We strive for a perfect performance, but good luck with that!

I can usually find something about someone’s performance that I like. If I didn’t enjoy the performance, I say nothing. There’s no need to be rude to someone after they’ve gone through the weeks of preparation for their performance, the stress of a performance and just want to relax and enjoy the “it’s over and I can relax now” part. Performance is very stressful and many things can happen during a performance that have never happened before and that the artist has no control over. The performances I enjoy are those in which an artist plays his or her best. Unlike the armchair critics, I’m not waiting for the artist to make a mistake or play a note that’s not in the score — or the edition that they’re using — so I can walk over to them and omnipotently point out the mistakes. People like that need to find a new hobby such as maybe flower arranging or polishing their Royal Doulton china or growing tulips. Then they argue with other tulip growers over the best way to grow tulips.

In my opinion, the hr-Sinfonieorchester alway perform splendidly. They are such outstanding musicians and Andrés (one of their conductors) is so gracious, humble and modest and gives most of the credit to the other musicians on stage. He’s also excellent in working with a Chorus, which cannot be said about all conductors. I’m not into conductor-worshipping at all and I really don’t usually give that much thought to conductors, but Andrés Orozco-Estrada is one conductor I very much like and respect. He actually conducts as opposed to “just waving his arms” as some conductors do. As soon as a performance is over, Andrés starts applauding the musicians before him and the superb performance they just gave, rather than turning to the audience and bowing non-stop as if “it’s all about me.” With Andrés, it’s not about him at all. I really respect that quality in him. I also like his Japanese-style performance attire. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Strawinsky: Le sacre du printemps ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Andrés Orozco-Estrada:

Update: In another performance of a cello concerto, one of the armchair critics wrote this: “I’ve always preferred this work with more of a strict tempo. Also, why are the final notes of the 16th note runs in the solo, starting at 4:14, so inconsistent in length?” Is this a comment that someone would say to these musicians to their face? As for his first sentence, then click off and find another performance that meets your needs for “a strict tempo” if you enjoy listening to metronomic performances. Can you do that? Or do you prefer to whinge about this performance? And “Also, why are the final notes of the 16th note runs in the solo, starting at 4:14, so inconsistent in length?” Well he needed to give you something to complain about, didn’t he?! Perhaps he was adding some tasteful rubato? Rubato changes the value of notes. It slightly lengthens some notes and shortens others. It’s part of one’s interpretation and artistry and how one feels the piece. These classical music armchair critics are a piece of work!