Thursday, June 9, 2011

Off the Deep End? Depends.

Yesterday, while I was hosting "Gamut" I received a call from an unhappy listener who sternly told me that I had finally gone off the deep end, and he wanted his comment on record. OK, here it is.

So what prompted his comment? I think I know. When he called, I had aired the following works (in this order)
  • Charles Wuorinen:
      Second Piano Quintet
  • Johann Sebastian Bach:
      Cantata No. 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4
  • Carl Nielsen:
      Rhapsodisk ouverture "En Fantasirejse til Faeroene"
  • Gabriela Lena Frank:
      Hilos (Threads)
He called while the Frank work was airing, so I suspect that was the tipping point. I'm sure Bach and Nielsen brought him to the point of rage. Perhaps he had been listening from the beginning of the program, and music by two living composers was just two too many. That's probably not fair.

Usually listeners call in to complain about something that's happening right at that moment. If he didn't like the Wuorinen, I would have most likely received the rebuke at 6:10 in the morning instead of 7:40, while Hilos was playing.

Gabriela Frank is indeed a young composer (b. 1972), but she has amassed a solid list of awards and recognition for her work. Of course, what's on her resume doesn't matter -- only what her music sounds like.

I couldn't find an example of Hilos to share, but there is this performance of another Frank work on YouTube of her Danza Peruana, which is fairly representative of her style.

As you can hear, it's far form the toolbox-descending-a-staircase school of academic composition that many people think (unfairly) is modern classical music.

I find Frank's music fresh, tonal, tuneful and well-crafted.

But I think I understand where my listener was coming from. We all expect different things from classical music. And it's when those expectations aren't met that there's trouble. For some, classical music is soothing and calming -- sort of like high-brow Muzak. For others, it's about revisiting the masterworks to perpetually gain new insight.

Some are fascinated by the subtle variety of the human voice, especially among opera singers. Others can't stand the sound of all that caterwalling and prefer only instrumental music. Some find early music charming, while others think it's crude and unappealing.

And we can go still further. Is the Baroque period the apotheosis of music? Some agree, others don't. How about the three B's? Are they the greatest composers of all time? You'll find plenty of folks on either side of that question.

So let's get back to my caller. Something about the Frank composition prompted him to call. And so I've put his call on record. But I think his assertion is just a little inaccurate. I don't think I went off the deep end of the pool -- I think I went off the deep end of his pool.

And that's OK.

Because at the same time, I just entered the shallow end of someone else's.

1 comment:

  1. Hear, hear. And might we hear a toolbox concerto on Gamut some morning? A Hammerata Ensemble?
    - pmy