Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pierre, Part II & Conversations

Pierre Boulez gave a brilliant concert a couple weeks ago. The Ravel Tombeau de Couperin was marvelously clear, graceful, and warm. The Dalbavie flute concerto, an example of "spectralism," followed. This piece is generative, the flute will elaborate from little cells from the orchestra, and the melodic lines sort of ripple back and forth. This makes a fascinating pairing- two texturally active, technically precise works, but one sharp and cool, the other atmospheric and warm. The second half was the Bartok opera Bluebeard's Castle, the sort of work that makes you wish Bartok wrote for films (other than Kubrick). Musically, the work is an astonishing array of orchestral colors, coupled with knockout vocal performances, Dramatically, though, I personally feel that Judith had little business complaining that the first room, which revealed a torture chamber, was "horrible" with its blood. I mean, it's a torture chamber. They're not supposed to be spotless or bright. And, by the way, just wait until you see the kitchen. This guy's been a bachelor for quite some time.

The next day, he gave a charming conversation with Glenn Watkins. There was a lot of little musicological stuff, some poetically evasive answers about the future of music ("music is a series of accidents that become important"), some wry personal comments (his disgust at the thought of retiring was a high point), and best of all just wonderfully evocative comments about other composers- Stravinsky's instrumentation, Bartok's inventiveness with form, and his programming choices ("Why not?" was all he said about the Schumann Rhenish symphony).

Then various things happened in the mean time. They're probably not that exciting to you all, but they sure took up my week.

This past weekend, we held our graduate student conference. The papers came from a variety of places, and it was again nice to see a broad variety of quality work from several disciplines.

Ramon Satyendra led a wonderfully provocative workshop discussion about how we evaluate different types of musical/analytical arguments. What do you do with important things that don't fit your model? How helpful is being invested in your model? How do the historical contexts of the theories themselves shape our understandings? I still have real big problems with the Lehrdall scientific mathematical modeling approach (the idea that so much of the work is just shelved to focus on melodic and harmonic pull is ridiculous), but that's part of the fun. David Lewin's work on Schubert's Ihr Bild, on the other hand, is a marvel of insight.

Kofi Agawu gave one of the most direct, clear, and thoughtful keynote addresses I've seen. He talked about how tonality served as a colonizing force in Africa, how it accompanied certain acts of oppression, and how Africans have in various ways sought to reinvent, subvert, or move beyond its colonial work.

Cupcakes. Oh my god, they were so good.

Finally, one of the greatest compliments was given to us this year. One of the participants noted how the Michigan campus was one of the friendliest and most collegial environments. That's a large part of why I chose this program, something I love about SAM too, and nice to see that it extends to our colleagues. So, next year apply and come! I promise you these cupcakes are worth it.


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