Monday, July 14, 2014

Bach's Inspiration

The American Bach Soloists opened their annual fortnight summer Festival & Academy at the San Francisco Conservatory on Friday evening with a concert entitled Bach's Inspiration that consisted of one unexpectedly beautiful musical treat after another.

The concert started with a short, wild cantata by J.S. Bach's older cousin, Johann Christoph Bach, taken from the Book of Revelation entitled Es erhub sich ein Streit im Himmel about the war in heaven between Michael and his angels and Satan and his dragon, complete with drums, brass, five soloists and an exquisite chamber chorus. Leading the energetic violin section was Elizabeth Blumenstock and Robert Mealy above.

This was followed by Jesu, meines Lebens Leben, a chorale for four soloists and the same chorus from one of J.S. Bach's composing heroes, Dieterich Buxtehude, that was similarly expressive.

Derek Chester above was the tenor soloist for Johann Kuhnau's early 18th century cantata Wie schon leutet der Morgenstern, with Chester weaving in an out of the chamber orchestra and chorus quite elegantly.

The only dull spot on the program was Frederick the Great's Concerto for Flute in C Major (#3), which brought to mind Gordon Getty's subsidized compositions, though at least Frederick mostly confined himself to composing tranverse flute sonatas, which was his own instrument. Sandra Miller performed her best on Friday, but after the great choral music, it felt like a letdown. There was no such problem with Alessandro Marcello's 1717 Concerto for Oboe in D Minor, dispatched by the small orchestra and soloist Debra Nagy above with stylish energy, helped by the fact that the piece is one of the best Italian style concerti ever written.

The wonderful capstone of the evening was J.S. Bach's rewrite of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, which is called Tilge, Hochster, meine Sunden in German. Possibly because good Lutheran Protestants are not Mary worshipers like Holy Roman Papists, the text has been changed from a Latin lament by the Virgin Mary standing at the cross under her crucified son, and becomes an entreaty from a sinner to God. Although slightly reorchestrated by Bach, it's essentially the same music, and the performance by countertenor Eric Jurenas and soprano Mary Wilson above on Friday was simple and moving, and the blending of their two contrasting sopranos was often miraculous. At times, you couldn't make out which soprano was starting a musical phrase and who was finishing it. Really, really lovely.

The Festival continues through next Sunday, and there are free seminars during the day, $10 student concerts in the evening, and performances by a commingling of students and teachers throughout next weekend. Highly recommended. Click here for a schedule.


Ellender Wallace said...

"Visually, the young man and the matronly woman made for an odd pair"

No, really??? How awful; that must have ruined the performance. --Except that it doesn't have anything to do with the music, does it? So one wonders why you chose to include this little dig.

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Ellender Wallace: It wasn't a dig, it was an observation, brought on by the fact that they were singing a piece that was originally about a mother and son. Now, please unruffle those feathers of yours.

Ellender Wallace said...

"Now, please unruffle those feathers of yours."

And now a misogynistic metaphor?

--Okay then; one wonders why you chose to include this little observation?

Ellender Wallace said...

"Feathers Unruffled:"

Maybe you did not mean your comment as anything other than an observation, but for many of your readers, this observation feels like a dig, not perhaps in the smaller context of your review, but certainly in light of the current controversy in the world of classical vocal music (especially opera), where body shaming in music reviews is causing a stir among performers and concert-goers alike.

I'm sorry I opened this with being snarky, because if you honestly don't understand how your comment could be taken as an insult, then I honestly hope to open a dialogue.

Suzanne Elder Wallace

Richard said...

Michael, your use of "matronly" is indeed offensive. It does not simply imply "older" -- as you probably well know.

Richard said...

I, for one, didn't see the pairing of a younger singer with an older singer "odd" at all. If you've been attending ABS Academy programs over past four years, you would know that this isn't odd at all. And it also isn't that odd in other musical contexts.

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Ms. Wallace and Richard: There are a lot of projections in your complaints, starting with "ruffling your feathers" being a misogynist metaphor, since I've never considered the phrase to apply only to women. As for "matronly" being an offensive, perjorative term, that was certainly not how I was using the word, and your taking offense at it says more about you than me.

So let's start anew. After 40 years of seeing and hearing both great and terrible countertenors, it still strikes me as "odd" when a grown man opens his mouth and a beautiful soprano singing voice comes out. And though it was obviously badly expressed since you both took such offense, what I was trying to get at was how miraculous and strange it was that two people who looked like mother and son could blend their soprano voices so seamlessly into a "really, really lovely" performance.

susan s. said...

You can bet that Ms. Wallace and Richard are not the only people that took offense at your awkward, to say the least, phrase. Newspaper editors used to say that one letter reacting to an issue means that at least another 100 people had the same reaction, so there are at least 200 people who would have it if they bothered to read your blog. And here's another. To say the least, your choice of words was very poor!

Elisabeth Eliassen said...

It seems like very poor judgment, in this day where we are trying to value the positive value artists (of all kinds) bring to our lives with their collaborations, to make such comments about performers.

Additionally, your replies to objections about your use of words tells us everything we need to know about you and how you think.

It is too late for mansplaining; we get it!

Ellender Wallace said...

"what I was trying to get at was how miraculous and strange it was that two people who looked like mother and son could blend their soprano voices so seamlessly into a "really, really lovely" performance."

If that is truly what you were trying to say, then perhaps you should have used just those words. Instead, you said that you found it visually odd for a "matronly" woman to sing a duet with a younger man. --Even though (as you pointed out yourself) the text is written as a mother-son dialogue. (It sounds as though you were more visually jarred by the sight of a man singing with a high voice, but again, that's not quite what you said.)

And as I mentioned before, there is a current controversy about inappropriate agist and misogynist comments in classical and opera music reviews. It pays to be more sensitive when feelings are high.

Suzanne Elder Wallace

Richard said...

You be the judge...


like or characteristic of a matron, especially in being dignified and staid and typically associated with having a large or plump build.
"she was beginning to look matronly"

Richard said...

Does anyone else find it "odd" that an apparently stout, bald, and grey-bearded self-styled music critic is calling a singer "matronly" in a published review of a concert?

jaamos said...

More attention to the music and less to the visuals, Mr. Strickland. I am among those who found that comment jarring, to say the least, and quite unneccessary. The rest of the sentence works find without it, and perhaps instead you could have made more of the tenor's vocal beauty and prowess.

Michael Strickland said...

Alright, alright, since I was meaning to praise the performers rather than be dismissive or snarky, the offending phrase has been removed. For those who want to know what the controversy is about, here was the horrible comment: "Visually, the young man and the matronly woman made for an odd pair though it reinforced the original Stabat Mater theme..."

Ellender Wallace said...

Thank you, Michael.

For those of you who want to know a more complete context, google these words:

body shaming classical music reviews

without quotes.

Now to really raise your consciousness, replace the word "classical" with the word "opera."

That's what the controversy is about.

And again, Michael, thank you for revising your review.

Suzanne Elder Wallace

Richard said...

At least readers (like me) who are drawn to Michael's review from the ABS Facebook link will no longer see the original text.

But this is a typical non-apology ... and still snarky. Politicians make similarly snarky apologies by putting the blame on the perceivers:

"Alright, alright. I regret the fact that some of my constituents found my behavior as a child pornographer -- which some perceive as simply 'horrible' -- to be offensive."

Michael Strickland said...

Dear Richard: So now I'm being compared to a child pornographer for using the word "matronly." Get a life, Dick.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

There actually is an interesting, thoughtful discussion to be had about body types, performance, and how we see and react to them. Unfortunately most of these comments illustrate why it is nearly impossible to have such a discussion. What might possibly have been intended to open a dialogue descends within minutes into personal attacks, most of them as silly as they are vicious, all in an attempt to insult someone into silence for a single word that we feel is not in accord with our bien-pensant sensibilities.

"Ruffle/unruffle your feathers" is not gendered language and not misogynistic. People who object to sexist language yet see no problem with using stupid sexist terms like "mansplaining" themselves cannot be taken seriously. Denying that there is a comparison to child pornographers built into the invented comment from the politician is, to say the least, disingenuous. And what a shame that so many of the comments buy so heavily into American culture's youth obsession that their immediate assumption is that "matronly" must be an insult.

I could write more, but I've already violated the excellent Internet rule "Don't feed to (sanctimonious) trolls." Honestly, I would not have phrased the observation the way Michael did, but given the comments here I would not have removed it either - you sound like the sort of people we dream of offending.

Hattie said...

It's hard not to feel sensitive about being a person of a certain size, age and gender in a tony place like San Francisco, full of the loveliest, richest and thinnest from everywhere. I'm glad I live in Hilo, Hawaii, where all kinds of odd, assorted people go around completely oblivious to their aesthetic appeal or lack of it.
My advice is to ignore that stuff and consider the source. You should see some of the people who have claimed I was not up to their aesthetic standards! It's silly even to take any notice of these barbs.
I would spring for $10.00 concerts, that's for sure! Even if all the performers looked like Hilda the Hippo!
Odd what people complain about. First world problems, for sure.

Jack said...

As an overweight 84-year old I find all of this silly and a waste of time. People get old, they spread out, they get matronly, avuncular, or downright senile. When I last saw Alfred Brendel totter off the stage after an incredible farewell solo concert, I rushed home to Google and found he was a year younger than I am. Like Mr. Strickland, I loved the concert and paid no mind to his tottering. People are nice to me when I totter, by the way. What is this Nazism in language to the point where once innocent (or even perfectly appropriate) comments are now bloated into assaults against those individuals they completely fit? Tell me I totter and smile. I can live with it. Will you when the time comes?

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