NOTHING TO DO BUT…….

SHUT UP AND DANCE 

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“No one today can match the limpid elegance and intellectual precision of his style, which recalls the heyday of Virgil Thomson.”   – The New Yorker 

“Holland has a remarkable ability to conjure up the essence of a composer or a piece of music in a few deftly chosen words. He is, I think, an aphorist of unparalleled virtuosity.”                                                – San Francisco Chronicle

“Perhaps the most important of this town’s arbiters.” – The Independent

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ONLY THE SUPERCOOL KNOW IT

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EINSTEIN CHANGED EVERYTHING

/Bernard Holland, excerpted from Something I Heard, Lisa Hagan Books, 2016

“EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH” changed my life. Everything I thought musical theater was abruptly wasn’t. St. Paul had his road to Damascus; mine was the Brooklyn-bound No. 4 train to Atlantic Avenue.

Philip Glass and Robert Wilson first brought “Einstein” to the surface in 1976 after exploratory trials in Europe with two performances at the Metropolitan Opera House. It reappeared in 1984 and 1992 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The first revival was my introduction. The second revival left me just as disoriented as the first.”Einstein,” or a lot of it, returns in a concert version at Carnegie Hall on Thursday, performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble. There have been two audio recordings that I know of, the one on Nonesuch, from 1993, perhaps better than the one on Sony Classical, from 1985.

He should, before its remarkable group of players, singers, stage directors

and set designers shuffle too far into old age.

For accounting purposes, “Einstein on the Beach” can be described asa series of stage pictures, dances and narrations lasting about five hours and set to music by a dozen or more chorus singers, a violinist (the Einstein of the title), more singers and a few woodwinds and electronic keyboards.”

Einstein” begins with a train and ends with a bus. In between are a courtroom, a jail, a glowing monolith moving in signature Wilsonian slow motion, a trip to the supermarket, lovers exchanging gooey vows on a park bench and much, much more. Einstein in a snowy fright wig and suspenders sits downstage and saws furiously on his violin through much of the evening. The chorus intermittently appears and disappears from sight.

People smarter than I have expended a lot of brain power trying to figure out what “Einstein on the Beach” means. I don’t think it means anything. It is majestically two-dimensional. Its references to the atomic age, criminal justice, true love, air-conditioning and Patty Hearst are merely art materials, like red paint or blue. Those who want to link it to our inner beings or to outer space are welcome to try.

To best say what “Einstein on the Beach” is, consider first what it isn’t. Forget Aristotle, tragedy, unified time and place, beginning, middle and end, and all other cultural baggage. Something happens onstage; then Mr. Glass and Mr. Wilson change the subject. They do it without warning: no coda, no slowing down, no stretto, no summing up.

The music stops as if you were pushing a button on your radio. It starts again the same way. Charles Ives gave us a preview of no-ending endings about 1920, with “The Housatonic at Stockbridge.” The orchestral version floats along in a kind of misty indeterminacy and then, with a downward half-step in the violas, simply disappears.

Expect no overture from “Einstein,” nothing to put listeners in their seats and prepare them for what is going to happen. This is not Verdi; there will be no first-act finale to send audiences humming to the lobby bar. Indeed, there is no intermission. If you are bored or in need of the necessary, Mr. Glass and Mr. Wilson invite you to create your own private intermission. Take your time getting back to your seat. You probably won’t have missed a thing.

That is because “Einstein” likes to repeat itself. My fondest recollection of both revivals remains the delicious Lucinda Childs and her tape-loop- like recitation of a trip to “a prematurely air-conditioned supermarket.” With Ms. Childs’s every sing-song repetition, the allure of “bathing caps with Fourth of July plumes on them” is more hypnotic.

“Einstein on the Beach” is also different for musicians and tends to terrorize the unsuspecting and conservatory-trained who are asked to play it. One can be the best counter of rests and the master of tricky entrances in the orchestra, but those skills will have been mastered in European music based on change and development.

In Mr. Glass, so little happens so many times, with so many small additions and subtractions in line and rhythm, that sameness — or the illusion of sameness — becomes a series of traps.

 

What’s needed is a new performance technique, indeed a rewired brain. Classically trained musicians tell of complete mental exhaustion after dealing with this music. Not even the best symphony orchestras do it well. There is the tale of the principal double-bass player in an eminent Midwestern orchestra so confused by the demands of a Glass piece that one of the composer’s operatives had to stand behind him at performances and give verbal cues.

 

A friend of mine came upon Mr. Glass after a rehearsal during the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer season in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., years ago. “How are they doing with your piece?” he asked.

Mr. Glass answered, “Are you kidding?” and walked away.

Like his colleague Steve Reich, Mr. Glass has relied on a core of New York professionals: instrumentalists and singers with one foot in the Juilliard School and the other in rock music. Michael Riesman has always led the Philip Glass Ensemble and continues to do so. Rock thrives on sameness, intractable repetitions and the patience to deal with both. A certain empty-headedness comes into play, but an exalted empty-headedness, actually a form of high intelligence.

One theory of education says that learning is not accumulating information but discarding what your mind doesn’t need. Musical people like me are too cluttered. I sweat when the music goes from 6/8 to 3/4 time and can only wonder at the ability of these players to do

 sameness and difference so confidently. A new generation of outsiders is a lot better at it than their immediate predecessors.

 

Mr. Glass found his style of composing as a student in Europe, when asked to transcribe a performance by the Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar in a film. “In Western music,” Mr. Glass has written, “we divide time — as if you were to take a length of time and slice it the way you slice a loaf of bread. In Indian music (and all the non-Western music with which I’m familiar), you take small units, or ‘beats,’ and string them together to make up larger time values.”

Mr. Glass’s going-nowhere-fast school of music synchronizes with the glacial going-somewhere-slowly visual art of Robert Wilson. In “Einstein,” the pace of physical movement acts in inverse proportion to the onlooker’s feeling of space: the slower the bigger.

We are all products of our hometowns, and one can imagine Mr. Wilson, who is from Waco, Tex., looking out over the vastness of the cattle range and seeing a lot of the same thing moving little, if at all. Maybe the reason Texans seem so much more vivid than the rest of us is that they need personalities strong enough to wrestle to the ground those hard gray-blue skies and seemingly endless stretches of land, devoid of contour and drained of color.

“Einstein on the Beach” is the ideal entertainment for people smart enough not to think too much. Relevance, allusion, historical significance, metaphor, symbol and myth may make the inquiring mind go round, but too much meaning can also clog the arteries.

Let “Einstein on the Beach” be your Lipitor. Look at it (if you have the chance) and listen to it. “Einstein” may well be speaking volumes to your subconscious without your knowing. Ask your subconscious if you must, but it will probably tell you to mind your own business.

 

Tap here for an excerpt of the Einstein on the Beach

To order Bernard Holland’s SOMETHING I HEARD for essays on the good, the bad and the ugly in the 20th century’s classical music scene from Shostakovich’s epic struggle with the Soviets to Yo-Yo Ma’s difficulty in traveling with a very pricey cello.

To order, click on the title: Something I Heard.

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TORN BETWEEN TWO REVIEWERS, FEELING LIKE A FOOL

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                                  Purchase here

Purchase here

/BethWareham

I have spent a great deal of time with New York Times art critics. Willingly, you ask? Well yes, I am married to one – now retired – though still critiquing his way through the world. I was with Ben Brantley when he pointed at the “Critics” sign in the office and said, “It might as well say ‘throw bombs here.” I sat at the great Joe Lelyveld’s house when literary critic Michi Kakutani kept us on the edge of our seats recounting a performance piece where the artist ate monkey brains over and over. Oh, and let’s not forget the titanic John Rockwell going mano-a-mano about French culture with a woman wearing at least 10 strands of pearls. (John said it was over. She disagreed.)

Always interested in what might go on inside my husband’s head, I picked up a copy of A.O. Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism. Now involved in the film business, I couldn’t wait to hear what this fine reviewer had to say about the movies.

Ooph, did I buy the wrong book. This great film reviewer had become the expert of everything art and the whole enterprise read like an unmoored balloon, filled with gas and headed god knows where.

Here is, in no specific order, the artists and thinkers this film critic invokes: The Avengers, Mencken (required), Kant, Rilke, T.S. Elliot, the French New Wave, Pollock, Plato, Dante, Velazquez, Milton, Joyce, Horace, Aristotle, Orwell, Facebook, Marshall McLuhan, Edmund Wilson (required), Kant, Kafka, and Henry James….AMONG MANY OTHERS. It’s a huge scrum of all the characters involved in a Liberal Arts education and A.O.’s parents got their money’s worth.

Maddening. A book that could throw out this nonsensical sentence, “Or maybe I’d conclude that we are able to make determinations and discriminations of value because we have access to innate and eternal standards that, though they mutate over the centuries and express themselves differently from place to place, nonetheless keep us on the path of truth and beauty” makes me think, DAMN, WHERE WAS A.O.’s EDITOR THAT DAY? A POSITIONING MEETING? What a pompous meaningless sentence. The pointed pencil should have come down like the Sword of Allah.

Please Mr. Scott, descend the abstraction ladder and help us out.

But then A.O. says this and my mind lights up like the Fourth of July: “A work of art is itself a piece of criticism.” BOOM! He hit the mark.  And thus the maddening up and down of this book, both dense and convoluted and direct and fresh, keeps you from tossing the book at your critic husband for yet a few more pages.

And now I want to be a critic. The place? The Vatican. The moment? Four summers ago. I came around the corner after fleeing my group of tourists and there she was, out for cleaning.  I stood understanding and not understanding at the same time. Her face was calm yet filled with the sorrow of all of mankind as she held her dead son across her lap. I started crying, that deep kind where the tears just run and you can’t even make noise. I may have even dropped to the floor, I no longer remember.

From that moment forward, she created a kind of reverse PTSD in me, flashing in front of my eyes at the strangest times, goading me toward love and empathy.  As a critic, I can not compare her to anything else made by human hands because she was larger than that.

It was Michelangelo’s Pieta and my review would have said, “No words.” Just that. Everybody would have understood and we didn’t need Kant or Mencken to get there.

A.O. Scott had a different motive when he conjured Rilke up in his book, but it fits my experience with the Pieta as well:

                  ……………..For there is no place here

that doesn’t see you. You must change your life.

*****

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P.S. That’s my husband’s book up top on the right, Something I Heard.  He’s a music critic so it’s about music. Seemed a good fit.

#somethingIheard makes twitter debut

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On Thursday, November 19 at 9:00 pm est, tune into the twitter account @shadowteams for a provocative discussion about capturing music in words, what we’re listening to and why. While we are not Bernard Holland and this isn’t as poetic and penetrating as Something I Heard, we can talk about the genius of writing short, using one art to describe another, and celebrate the sheer joy of shutting one’s mouth and listening to the music of those that came before us.

Thursday, November 19 9:00 pm  Use this hashtag #somethingIheard

See you then!  @shadowteams

 

 

 

WRITING SHORT: He Wasn’t Born With It, He Learned.

After 27 years at the New York Times, the incessant need for space was like water running over a stone and Holland, through the sheer practice of his craft, learned how, as the San Francisco Chronicle so eloquently said, the
“remarkable ability to conjure up the essence
of a composer or a piece of music in a few deftly Bernard Holland New York Times, Something I Heard, music critic, Yo-Yo Ma,
chosen words. He is, I think, an aphorist of
unparalleled virtuosity.”

But don’t believe us. Read the book. See how he does it. Learn by watching; there are few better teachers than this one. Click here: Something I Heard

And until the book arrives, he’s given three solid pieces of writing advice below to get you started on the short life, writing for the age of social media. Never before has it been so important to boil your idea down to the essence and in the process, concentrating its message and power.

Writing Short Tips from a Master Bernard Holland, Something I Heard, Chopin, music critic

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FORMER NEW YORK TIMES CRITIC KEEPS IT CLEAN

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Despite repeated requests by his editor to write something dirty about classical music, former New York Times Chief Critic Bernard Holland refused, saying “classical music showers daily, just like me.”

To read more of Mr. Holland’s thoughts, check out http://amzn.to/1S9AQIV. You’ll hear the music. No way you can’t. I even loved it and baby, I’m a rocker.

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First Verified Photo of Former New York Times Critic Bernard Holland, author of Something I Heard

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Beth Wareham talks to Something I Heard author, Bernard Holland

1. You’ve been away from the New York Times for 7 years. Why did you release this book now?

Two close friends – Richard and Dee Wilson – (Richard Wilson is a composer/pianist and holds the Mary Conover Mellon Chair of Music at Vassar) came upon the piece on Glenn Gould and said I should think about a book. It was some kind of tipping point for me and seven years after leaving the paper, I thought “yes, I’ll do a book.”

2. A google of your by-line puts your contribution to music criticism at the Times to over 4600 articles and reviews. How did you begin to approach what you wanted in this compilation?

I remembered certain reviews and started rereading them together. I began to appreciate the work more. Before, I just wanted to enjoy being retired. Now, I can look back at a career and think “it was a wonderful job but there was too much of it.” I needed to put it all aside. I was overloaded.

3. As a writer, you are known as a skilled “aphorist.” How did you get to be that way?

I say it in the book. I had to write hundreds of short reviews. I had strict boundaries and that allowed me freedom. Boundaries are liberating. You know exactly where you are and it really makes you think. I became good at throwing out any word I didn’t need.

I had to operate within a space and that space only. There’s a quote from Stravinsky that says – and I paraphrase – when I begin to compose, I have limitless opportunities. It’s up to me to choose one.

As a writer, you can’t sprawl, you can’t run everywhere. I feel the same way musically about Mahler. I think sometimes in his symphonies, he abuses his space.

4. I have to ask it: What are your desert island pieces?

Haydn’s “Last Seven Words of Christ”
Wagner’s “Parsifal”
Schubert’s G Major Piano Sonata
Liszt’s “The Fountains at the Villa d’Este”,
Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”
Debussy’s “Iberia”
Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony
Astor Piazzolla’s “Maria de Buenos Aires”
Any Nelson Riddle arrangement of Frank Sinatra and Linda Ronstadt.

5. And finally, what’s your favorite part about being married to me?

You like Jimi Hendrix and I’m cool with that.

Get more of the music in Something I Heard by clicking here on the title.

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Is Classical Music Funny? 25 Ideas from SOMETHING I HEARD by Bernard Holland

 

Something I Heard, Bernard Holland, music critic for New York Times, classical music criticism

To order SOMETHING I HEARD, click on the title or cover

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“Holland has a remarkable ability to conjure up the essence of a composer or a piece of music in a few deftly chosen words. He is, I think, an aphorist of unparalleled virtuosity.”
— San Francisco Chronicle

“No one today can match the limpid elegance and intellectual precision of his style…”
— The New Yorker

/Bernard Holland

CRITIC’S CREDENTIALS
The day I put “music critic” after my name people started asking me about music. Before that no one asked my opinion about anything.

ON GLENN GOULD’S “WELL-TEMPER ED CLAVIER.”
He is the most interesting Bach player in memory, but when taken as a model of how Bach should sound, he is a catastrophe. People who blow up buildings get our attention, and sometimes their messages clean out our heads, but we don’t let them be architects.

ON THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN ORCHESTRAS
They will no more grow than Mother Nature will take the liver spots off my hands. We have grown old together.

SYMPHONIC BLACKNESS
There’s a more relevant question behind the one that asks why so few black musicians go into classical music, and that is: Why should they want to?

ON EARLY MUSIC
If the early music movement taught us anything it is that all music is contemporary.

TANGO
The tango is sublimated warfare. It rarely smiles. Elegance, ritual and a deep dignity win out over darker impulses. In a single Argentine dance form the universal paradoxes of romance between two human beings seem to gather.

ON AMERICAN MUSIC
I would trade some Strauss, most of Hindemith and even a little Brahms for the first eight bars of “April in Paris.”

ON ELLIOTT CARTER AND HAYDN
One wonders what kind of music Carter would have written had he, like Haydn, lived his teenage years in frightening poverty.

SCHOENBERG ON HIS CRITICS
“My music isn’t modern. It’s just played badly.”

FARRAKHAN AND HIS VIOLIN
In the green hills of North Carolina on Saturday night, the lion lay down with the lamb. A reputed sower of discord communed with a maker of harmony. Louis Farrakhan, meet Felix Mendelssohn.

ON CASTING BAYREUTH’S “RING.”
Gabriele Schnaut’s Brünnhilde bore down on the helpless listener like a sopranic freight train threatening derailment at any moment. Her Siegfried (Wolfgang Schmidt) could offer only strangled desperation. When we were lucky, Mr. Schmidt landed on no pitch at all, creating a kind of 19th-century German Romantic rap.

HENRY BRANT INDOORS
The Brant aesthetic, when brought under a roof, shrinks to a form of encirclement. Here the audience, Custer-like, receives incoming fire from every direction.

RING FOLLOWERS
Wagner lovers are besotted people, like the sharers of some extraterrestrial visitation who are compelled to gather in cities like Seattle, Vienna, New York, San Francisco and, of course, Bayreuth to trade sightings.

RING FOLLOWERS II
When doom is announced on Monday but does not arrive until Saturday, the “Ring” and its audiences are captives in time, forming a kind of space capsule in which listeners are as much crew members as the performers.

PETER SELLARS AND EL NINO
Mr. Sellars takes his usual role as honorary member and emotional spokesman for the oppressed and the slighted. It must gall him at times to be so showered with attention and success.

OUTIS AT LA SCALA
The brothel scene steams with bare skin, gyrating pudenda and simulated (I think) copulation.

ON THE SORROWS OF YOUNG WEATHER
The sorrows of this story’s title lie in togetherness and loneliness made to stand side by side.

GIACINTO SCELSI AND HIS BLACK HOLE
A Beethoven sonata begins at the front door, takes a trip, meets new friends, goes home. A Scelsi piece closes the front door and digs in the basement.

CASTING WOES AT THE MET
Gorgeous to look at but virtually uninhabited, the Metropolitan Opera’s new ”Traviata” seems to have been the victim of a neutron bomb.

ON AVERY FISHER HALL
This building is cursed and should be leveled. It doesn’t need an architect. It .needs an exorcist.

ON HIGH PAY AND THE THREE TENORS
Perhaps a more apt title for these events would be “Three Tenors, One Conductor and Four Accountants.”

ON BRUCKNER AND CLASSICAL STYLE
Bruckner is a Mozart sonata that ate too much.

ON BLOGGING
All of us should go home, find a dark room, sit down and be silent.

ON MUSIC APPRECIATION
That leap from ”understand” to ”appreciate” is long and blind.

ON CONDUCTING MAHLER
You do not keep “Das Liêd von der Erde” together by snapping your fingers like Harry James.

ON ACOUSTICS AND LISTENING
Good acoustics, like a good haircut, go unnoticed.
Acoustics are to music what bookbinding and typeface are to Faulkner. If our minds are doing their work, Faulkner’s voice will sound the same in the roughest, smallest and most unwelcoming old paperback as it does in the most luxurious special edition.

MYSTERIES OF CONDUCTING
Look no farther than Leopold Stokowski who managed to pack his dessert-like sound into a suitcase and carry it from city to city.

RELUCTANT CRITICISM
The critic’s duty is to report that Mr. Bocelli is not a very good singer.

MOZART FROM MINOR TO MAJOR
Just as we put up our umbrellas, the sun comes out. We don’t know whether to be happy or sad, and so we are both.

ON CRITICISM
Critics may speak German or English but they can’t speak music. Music is sublimely illiterate

ON RELIGION
Messiaen invented a Christianity with no missionaries and a congregation of one.

To order, click on the title Something I Heard.

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