(Photo: Cristina Marsillach in Dario Argento’s film Opera, based on “Phantom of the Opera.”)
Now that I’m no longer engaged in the full-time, life-or-death struggle for the survival of classical music, after 35 years in the trenches, I think I may be suffering from a previously unidentified malady: PCSD. Post-classical stress disorder.
I mean, I still love classical music, though it doesn’t absorb as much of my attention as it used to. And I still get a kick from presenting concerts, doing the occasional class or lecture, and even performing the stuff at a very modest amateur level.
But sometimes, out of the blue, something I hear or, more likely nowadays, read, will turn me into a screaming maniac. I harangue The Wife, yell at the cats, scream at my computer and, of course, post something on Facebook. Funny how therapeutic that last step is, especially considering how little good it actually does.
Would you like some recent examples of PCSD triggers? I think I’m over them well enough to confront them again, though should warn you of their potential adverse effect. Then again, you may think I’m a ranting idiot. I’ll take that chance, if it advances the science and the art.
Read, for instance, the first sentence of this seemingly innocuous CD review: “As time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Malipiero was a very inconsistent composer.” For those who don’t know, which I suspect is just about everyone, Gian Franceso Malipiero (1882-1973) was a prominent 20th-century Italian composer, known especially in his time as a leading Italian composer of symphonic music. Which, given the history of Italian symphonic music, is sort of like being a leading Italian baseball player. Good for him, but it’s not something Italians tend to excel at. I can’t think of any particular reason you should give two fichi (it means “figs,” people) for Malipiero or his music.
Yet here, in 2015, is a classical CD critic who considers his recently-arrived-at opinion of this irredeemably obscure, permanently forgotten composer to be worth publishing. Here’s classical music, which I almost risked my life to serve (OK, an exaggeration, but that’s my PCSD talking), facing myriad threats from without and within, and yet here’s some pathetic dweeb still picking over the desiccated bones of a composer absolutely no one gives a flying f*** about! Is it any wonder why classical music is in the shape it’s in? Will the music, and those who make, present and chronicle it, kindly wake the hell up and get a f***ing life!?
OK…OK…I think I’m calmer now. Phew — it still gets to me. I mean, I mean…no, no, it’s time to move on, Montanari.
On to, that is, an excellent article by Stuart Isacoff in the Wall Street Journal about the positives and negatives of the increasing number of competitions for young classical artists. It’s a thoughtful piece, and I have absolutely no problem with Stuart Isacoff. It’s not his fault that the classical-industrial complex still puts so much energy into training “artists” (a far-too-generous term for most classical musicians, IMO) to play the same old, same old set of pieces, year after year after goddamn year, as if something new could really be found in the gazillionth rendition of some fossilized “classic” from the “canon.” Such as young piano competition winner Yuanfan Yang, whose performance of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto, according Mr. Isacoff, “had a subdued elegance.”
Well — isn’t that special? No insult to Grieg, a wonderful and influential composer whose works were a staple of my radio programs. And his Concerto is a perfectly nice piece, filled with lovely melodies and lively rhythms. But (uh oh, here we go) why, in 2015, are we judging or even caring whether the latest generation of impeccably polished hot-shot pianists can or cannot play the Grieg Concerto with just the right amount of “subdued elegance?” What does this do for the furtherance of classical music, which basically in the U.S. has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel? Oh, I’m sure those who attended Mr. Yang’s performance of the Grieg gave him rapturous applause, because of course it’s just so wonderful that such delightful young people still care for the great music that we love — as if playing Grieg with “subdued elegance” made one one-hundredth the contribution to American culture as new albums by Sufjan Stevens, Alabama Shakes or even bleeping Beyoncé!! Please, please, people — can we ever, finally, stop praising our music and ourselves for accomplishments that no one outside our shrinking coterie has absolutely any use for!?
All right, I’m done. Time for a walk, maybe with some gentle classical music in my earbuds. Let’s see what Tidal has to offer on its classical page…Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto…Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2…A NEW RECORDING OF THE GRIEG CONCERTO…AAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!!!