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Classical Music Meets the Big Screen « Back to Story
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My son has sung bass in the Seatle Symphony Orchestra for several years; I enclose his response to article.
Thank you for this very interesting commentary. I quite agree with Mme MacDonald. By far the most important face, hands, body, motions, expressions, upon which to concentrate the camera are the conductor's. I have now stood on stage ("stage left") for (rough estimate) over 300 performances, and I watch the conductor every time as if my very life depended upon it, not because if I don't, I might miss my entrance -- I know all the music, all the "parts", very well by opening night -- but because if I do, both my experience of, and my immersion in, the sweep and focus, the great as well as detailed rhythm, the pace, and most of all, the intent, that he (or once, she) both expresses, and wishes thereby to evoke from the orchestra is enormously enhanced thereby ("orchestra" perhaps should be replaced with the clumsy phrase "orchestra and singers" or even "singers and orchestra"), so, when the times come, again and again, that I (I and my section, the basses) sing, I, we, are just as much a part of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, as is any section of the instrumental ensemble that lies between us and the audience. I know where the violin section is, for instance; to see the eyes of the conductor glance at them and hear the resulting sound is something marvellous, something that is not granted to even the best seats in the house. Every single time I sing I am acutely conscious of this, of the great privilege that is mine to be where I am. The best OTHER seats, I therefore mean. We on stage have seats that are even better than theirs, by far! It is within the power of the camera to share this, but not by swooping and soaring and dwelling upon someone's fingers.
I hope the videographers read her essay and take it to heart!
Thank you very much Ms. Mac Donald for yet another wonderful article, full of fascinating insights as usual. If there is anyone, today, who can destroy for good the notion that classical music is highbrow entertainment that only the hoity-toity can appreciate, then it surely must be Dudamel. As Lenny's Young People's Concerts televised series gave the musical illiterates of my generation (myself included) the first exposure to classical music, the same can be said of Dudamel, to today's youth. There's still hope.
One little problem regarding today's globalised youth and the trend towards monolingualism, is that, when they encounter words which don't look or sound English enough, they regard them as so much Greek, and blithely brushed them aside, with it also, the need to be more punctilious. So, here, in Malaysia it's not uncommon to hear the first syllable of Beethoven pronounced unGermanically as 'bee'thoven (as you would for the honey making insect) although what is being referred to is, knowingly, the famous composer and not the keffiyeh-topped desert dweller on his camel.
Are the even-numbered symphonies more earthbound, the odd more rarified? I wish I had a Charles Rosen to enlighten me on this. Failing that, my only consolation is the thought that I can always put the Seventh on the turntable, especially the 1975 recording of Pablo Casals (conducting when he wasn't playing his Goffriller) with the Malboro Festival Orchestra, a performance that is as profound as it is packed with so much humanity and just the world needs at this moment.
I beg to differ with the critics of young Maestro Dudamel. I first saw him on the DVD, "Birthday Concert for Pope Benedict XVI."
I bought this disc because it has a performance by the violinist Hilary Hahn playing the Mozart 3rd. That was worth the price, and I looked upon the accompanying performance of my favorite symphony, Dvorak's Ninth, as a bonus. But the Ninth, under the baton of Dudamel, is a real treat as well. He IS animated at times, but after watching him in action, up close, it seems clear to me that he is just being himself, and that he is genuinely immersed in this music. These two artists, chosen by Benedict himself, make this one of the best music videos you are ever going to find - this disc is money well spent (there are also a couple of speeches, but you don't have to watch them). Watch Dudamel closely - I find it hard not to like him (to dislike Miss Hahn is IMPOSSIBLE!!!).
Like other commenters, I'm especially struck by the mispronunciation anecdote at the end. However, rather than just bemoan the ignorance of youth, I have to wonder--how exactly does one transmute "Beethoven" into "Bedouin?"
Bedouin, after all, is a legitimate word, and a fairly obscure one at that, especially for a teenager! How did she know it? Did her own ethnicity or first language come into play, perhaps?
After all, one might suppose that an American teen mispronouncing Beethoven would do so by suggesting that he's some kind of cooking machine ("Beeth Oven"), the same way that Bill and Ted did in the 1980's movie about their excellent adventure.
Ms. Mac Donald: I think an easier entry point for young people into classical music is via ballet. At New York City Ballet, for example, you hear much great music played at a high level. I'm taking my college age niece to her first ballet on Sunday (NYC Ballet) where she'll hear Mozart for the first time. She'll also be introduced to jazz by Duke Ellington. I think young people are much more apt to be attracted by the visual element of ballet, and if we can sneak in some classical music, maybe they'll get to like it. When I suggested a chamber concert of Beethoven and Brahms, my niece said she'd rather try out the ballet. It worked for me - when I was young, I was introduced to the music of Stravinsky and Hindemith by attending City Ballet.
The ticket seller(Bedouin) points to a much greater problem than the camera shot selection. We are in big trouble.
This marks the first time I've ever disagreed with Ms. MacDonald about anything. Dudamel reminds me of Simon Rattle, and for that matter, Alan Gilbert, the new Principal Conductor of the NY Phil-superficial, with no depth. I hope the Concertgebouw and VPO continue to maintain their standards.
On the one hand it's great to hear the news that the broadcasts are a hit. BY all means, keep them coming. On the other hand, there is still a terrible cancer in classical music and that cancer is the chase for money and fame. If Dudamel had one ounce of true artistry in him I would be all over this like a fly on honey, but as a classically trained musician from a very deep and strong tradition of artistry, I have to say this is bittersweet news. Artists in classical music are the real endangered species and perhaps a total collapse of the BUSINESS is what will bring a return to our roots and an honoring of what is true and lasting.
God bless you, Heather MacDonald!
Thanks for another wonderful article on classical music. Of course, I know
Dudamel for two reasons. One is that I am an AP Spanish reader and an article about him was featured in the AP exam several years ago; the other is I follow classical music via Grammaphone and the internet. Local newspapers rarely feature articles on classical music anymore; most articles on music are on music in general including pop-rock music.
I am a great fan of classical music and opera; I go to see the live digital broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. Ms. Mac Donald is exactly right that what classical music needs is an audience. Very few in attendance are younger than 50 years old. Fortunely there is one place where classical music still reigns and that is in movies. Also one can enjoy classical music via CD's, youtube or the internet.
It does not surprise me that Beethoven might be called "Bedouin". The level of cultural literacy of today's youth must be at an all-time low. I am speaking in general of about 80% of all public school students; naturally there is an college prep/AP elite which is reasonably well-informed. One of the pluses of studying AP European history is that one is required to be familiar with major composers, architects and painters. In general level history books very very few artists are mentioned and references to music are very very rare. This is clearly a mistake because music is, for example, a very important part of nationalism or the anti-slavery movement.
does without one, I meant to write.
Hasn't the cult of the conductor gone too far already? Is an orchestra like Orpheus, which does with one, now doomed?
Singers have been known to contort their faces to get the note out right, yet we still see them on camera.
I like seeing the musicians! Some people like to look at the musicians so much (who are actually producing hte sound) that they rarely look at the conductor, despite his obvious importance.
As a advid reader of your essays for at least a decade, I must say that the elitist and arrogant (aloof) attitute you projected does not suit you.
I guess I am just simply disappointed that your critique was so overwhelming negative.
Bedouin for Beethoven! Amazing! The ignorance of youth today. And how much are we spending on K-12, and plus, college?
These movie theater shows are wonderful opportunities. Marketing genius. I am going to suggest that our local music auxiliary provide tickets, or 1/2 off tickets to local schools.