a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Posts tagged “music

She’s good for it, certainly…

Adele

Seems that even superstars get their credit cards declined.

Pop singer Adele was shopping in San Jose, California the other day when an H&M store would not accept her credit card.

How embarrassing!

But in a way it wasn’t. Reports are that nobody even recognized that it was the pop singer proffering the plastic.

Somehow a celebrity who attracts thousands of screaming fans in concerts and millions of them at home can shop in San Jose and not even be noticed.

Yes, it happens all the time. You could bump elbows with celebrities anywhere and not know it. They are the masters of disguises. After all, they have to get out and about just like the rest of us, and while some of them have “people” who go about their chores for them…well, everybody likes to go into the world and do some shopping themselves sometime.

And that’s exactly what they know how to do…and do in such a way that you won’t even notice.

The takeaway from it to me is how celebrities are, at heart, just people like anyone else. But if you put an ordinary person up on stage in fancy clothes, people don’t get all excited. Why is that? And is it possible to do so?

On second thought, that may be what reality shows have been trying to do…with mixed success.

It’s also interesting that many can avoid the paparazzi even when they pretend they’re being bombarded. True Adele, for as recognized as she is, isn’t, say, in the same league as Jennifer Aniston. But she is certainly a big deal, yet she slipped out of fame’s spotlight surprisingly easily. Makes you wonder if all those “famous people” getting nailed by TMZ every night don’t, well, maybe have their publicists call the photog to tell them their client will be in a certain place at a certain time.

Adele says that although no one knew who she was, she was nonetheless “mortified.”

And she adds that she’d been able to use the card at other stores that day, implying it was all H&M’s fault, a software glitch or something.

But people were surely standing around her in line as this happened—and never knew it was she.

The opening scene in Entertaining Welsey Shaw is like this, with Welsey in line with civilians in a Manhattan Starbucks. I wondered as I wrote it how believable it was that no one else would recognize her, even though she’s hidden behind sunglasses and drab clothes.

Since then I’ve learned it happens every day. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban once came into the coffee shop where I have written much of Entertaining Welsey Shaw. Ironically, that was one of the rare days I wasn’t there. I had to hear about it second-hand from staff. (And all the while I was home I kept thinking, I should head over today; I feel like I’m missing something.)

Back to Adele—maybe try your AmEx at Nordie’s?

They tend to have nicer stuff anyway.

 

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Taylor Swift shakes Apple off…

Taylor Swift

I never thought I would become a member of the Taylor Swift Fan Club, but I am.

The pop diva took on Apple, the world’s biggest corporation, and won.

For a quick recap, Apple decided it would not compensate artists for a three-month trial of its new streaming music service. Apple didn’t say it would eat the cost. It passed the burden on to the people supplying the content.

Any freelance writer or other creative person should know what this feel like, even if they’re not in a band or a pop star. Content so often is supposed to be free.

I’ve seen social events that paid DJs nice sums for standing in front of a laptop and clicking buttons but expects schooled musicians playing live music to work for free. And the event planners don’t see anything wrong with that.

Taylor had another opinion, and she voiced it in an open letter to Apple. She withdrew a new album from the service—not because she can’t shoulder the financial burden of no royalties but because it disproportionately impacts new artists who really do need every dollar. “We don’t ask you for free iPhones,” she said. “Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

It worked. In less than a day, Apple reversed itself. Well, what it actually said was it hadn’t really planned on stiffing artists after all, it was just going to pay them more later and that would make up any difference. Right.

This is hardly unique to Apple. A while ago McDonalds was the recipient of ire when it refused to pay for music at a major event. As is typical in situations like these, they say the “exposure” is worth more than hard cash. Try that one on your landlord.

Time coverWhile I’m indifferent to her teeny-bop music, I’m glad someone of Swift’s magnitude is calling attention to what’s becoming a very common assumption: that creative people—unless they’re megastars—should give away their efforts for nothing or very little. From Amazon’s unfair deals for authors to various publishing house ebook controversies, the much-ballyhooed “creative class” is largely getting the short end of the deal, while people who bring little to the table but control the pipes make rules that benefit only them. Taylor Swift brought that to the national consciousness yesterday, and despite petty carping from a few quarters most people are praising her actions. Keep shaking, baby.

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Some thoughts as a man waved a stick in the air

San Francisco Symphony This may not seem to have much to do with Entertaining Welsey Shaw, which I’ll just remind everyone is the story of two types of people who normally never meet—and what happens after they do. But bear with me.

The first piece on last Saturday night’s concert at the San Francisco Symphony was called Radial Play, by local composer Samuel Adams, the son of local composer John Adams. Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, who has a very undistinguished parking spot in the hall’s parking lot, by the way, conducted about ninety people as they made strange and wonderful sounds in this energetic new composition. It was touted in the program booklet as the Symphony’s debut performance of the work. The exclamation point was only implied.

I can’t count how many times I’ve seen that on a program. I’ve attended more premieres of works than I can count. It’s highly fashionable nowadays to premiere a new work on a concert with well-known pieces, even war-horses if you will. The problem is I never hear the piece again. It’s rare that it’s even recorded. First performances are common. But works don’t usually get familiar from first performances. And it’s the second and third and fourth performances that are hard to come by. Why do you think everyone—even the most musically-challenged person in the world—knows da-da-da-duuuuum ?

It’s true with authors too. There are countless book debuts that end there. Getting the second deal is tough. So many authors have published exactly one book. It is not the loneliest number. It’s sadly common.

Next on the symphony’s program came a piece by Mozart that most classical fans know, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola. If I could hear one last piece of music before I die, this would probably be it. Exquisite doesn’t begin to describe it. Nothing does. The tyke from Salzburg wrote this unbelievably rich masterpiece when he was just 20.

But he never heard the work again in his lifetime. It got a premiere and was forgotten. It was even worse for Mozart, because at least Mr. Adams has had his work performed before, just not by this orchestra. Still, the odds are slight that his piece will make it into the regular performance schedules of orchestras overburdened with Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mozart (or overburdened with audiences who expect to hear Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mozart over and over).

In Mozart’s time it was also common to have a piece performed once and then see it forgotten, which is why those pre-royalties guys had to write so much in their lifetimes. But as time went on a canon developed, one that has seen itself both expanded as it needed more works and shut down as it filled. Recordings had something to do with this development, allowing for wider exposure to works while at the same time making certain one highlighted for repetition. Fortunately for us, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, or just good ol’ “K.364” if the formal title is too ungainly, was one of those that’s emerged as a favorite.

That brings me to the third work on the program, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. Another popular work today, it premiere in 1944 to a resounding thud—with audiences at least. Critics approved, but five years passed before it became ensconced in the repertoire. Today it’s considered one of the greatest works of the 20th century—and one of the most popular, despite its difficulties.

It sure brought down the house last Saturday night, as MTT blazed through it like a man on fire. Bartok was paid just $500 for this masterpiece, by the way. Think of that the next time Paris Hilton gets $40,000 a night for being a DJ. spacer1


Touching Immortality at the World’s Fair

I’m on vacation, so this week’s entry comes straight from Wikipedia. I find it fascinating:

 

The autograph [of Mozart’s Requiem] at the 1958 World’s Fair

The autograph of the Requiem was placed on display at the World’s Fair in 1958 in Brussels. At some point during the fair, someone was able to gain access to the manuscript, tearing off the bottom right-hand corner of the second to last page (folio 99r/45r), containing the words “Quam olim d: C:” (an instruction that the “Quam olim” fugue of the Domine Jesu was to be repeated “da capo“, at the end of the Hostias). The perpetrator has not been identified and the fragment has not been recovered.
If the most common authorship theory is true, then “Quam olim d: C:” might very well be the last words Mozart wrote before he died. It is probable that whoever stole the fragment believed that to be the case.

 

The last page of the last work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The last page of the last work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

An interesting note for music nerds like myself: the Quam olim fugue of the Domine Jesu was actually not repeated “da capo” as Mozart had instructed at the end of the Hostias in the finished version by Franz Xavier Süssmeyr. Süssmeyr deviated a good deal from Mozart’s instructions and there’s a raging controversy, after a certain point in the manuscript, about how much of the music is by whom. There have been a number of reconstructions more recently where it has been added. However, no truly “definitive” version of the piece exists.

And if you’ve seen the movie or the play Amadeus, please don’t believe most of how either work depicts the creation of the Requiem. Antonio Salieri had nothing to do with the completion, and the image of Mozart lying in bed dictating it as he lay dying is romantic myth. Myths can be fun, but they’re just myths.

Getting back to the manuscript, it shows that some people go to considerable trouble to snatch a piece of immortality. Some of us write, some of us paint, some of us write computer code or start companies we hope will be behind long after we are. Some of us do bad things—start wars, kill people, go on enormous crime sprees.

Artists, you might just argue, are among the top who strive hardest to pursue immortality while leaving the world a better place.

 

 

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Bleeding for your art

Sometimes artists bleed for their art. I was watching a video the other day of exactly that.

The piece was the Piano Concerto in D Major by Maurice Ravel, the guy who brought you the Bolero. It’s more popularly known as the “Concerto for the Left Hand.” It’s for the left hand because the soloist for whom it was written didn’t have a right hand.

He lost it in World War I. So he in a sense bled for his art. He was Paul Wittgenstein, the brother of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. And after the war ended he wanted to continue his concert career, except that that’s pretty difficult when you only have five digits and everything is written for ten.

So he asked various composers to write him a concerto for one hand. Most said forget it. A few took him on. Ravel’s effort is the most famous and most successful.

Hélène TysmanAfter a few moments you forget you’re hearing a piece of music written for a “disabled person,” and you just think of this 20-minute tour-de-force as a piano concerto. Certainly I would not have given much attention to the fact that it lacks a right-handed line were I not watching the video of student pianist Hélène Tysman performing the work as her graduation exam with the Symphony Orchestra of the Liszt School Of Music.

(By the way, Ms. Tysman, as far as I know, has a perfectly-functioning right hand, but she probably took this work on, as many pianists have since it was written in 1930, simply because it’s thrilling and difficult.)

Watching her rip through this work you get a much better idea of how incredibly difficult it is than when listening to a recording. I don’t mean difficult necessarily in terms of interpretation. I means difficult the way the Olympics are. Grueling. Finger-busting. The left hand has to do the work of two, and it goes flying across the keyboard, landing as precisely as a figure skater executing a triple-axel, only you have to jump all the way across the skating rink. Her hand leaps up the keyboard, thunders chords, and jumps back down in a split second. It’s so fast that to the ear it sounds like two hands playing instead of one darting back and forth faster than the eye literally can see, and that’s what it’s supposed to sound like. Ravel spared the pianist nothing when he wrote this concerto.

And as I watched her playing the last section, where things finally slow down, I noticed it: red on her fingers, where the skin meets her nails. After many deep digs into the keys, glissandos flying up and down the board ay high speed, she was bleeding. One frame-grab caught it in especially good detail:

Fingers 1

As with the Olympians at Sochi, it must have hurt. As with the Olympians at Sochi, she soldiered on.

Fingers 2

Maybe it doesn’t look like that much. But it runs contrary to the image we always get of immaculately coiffured artists so clean they never even seem to sweat. The way they’re portrayed in publicity, they don’t even seem to have pours. (PBS is particularly guilty of this.) When you’re digging your fingers into keys trying to play webs of notes with precision, this has gotta hurt. It’s a testament to what performers go through, whether it’s the “tennis elbow” that many violinists get, the lip and mouth muscle issues for brass players, or the beating the fingers of keyboardists take, to bring a pleasant evening to you as you sit in your plush velvet seat watching.

Plus as writers, we’re fortunate in that we don’t bleed much, except when we bang our heads against our keyboards.

Watch the entire video of this exciting performance here.

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