On Twitter and Nico Muhly

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Last Sunday, we published a person-of-interest piece I'd written on composer Nico Muhly. That day, the article went off without a hitch — why wouldn't it? — but then, as Mr. Muhly would later write, "A strange thing happened..."

On Tuesday, I noticed that the article seemed to be getting more attention. I clicked on the Twitter button on our website and noticed that somehow, the piece had been the source of some mini-fires a'flamin'. Some people expressed anger at what Mr. Muhly had said in the interview, while he tried to clarify his views. He later did so with a post on his website that is longer than the 140 characters allowed per Tweet. 

His response is worth reading not only for his clarifications, but also for the window into a mind I'd tried to capture, as best I could, in the short profile. The sources of his thoughts, the experiences he draws on, the ideas he shares are fascinating.

He also wondered why the interview had only shown up now. By way of explanation...I had interviewed Mr. Muhly back in late January when he was in town for Pittsburgh Opera's "Dark Sisters." It was already too late for the traditional preview article, and I held off on writing the article, especially since that was one of the busiest times of the classical music season...

Anyway, time flies, and in my summer off-loading of articles I'd reported but not written, I finally listened to the recording of the interview and write it up. (It was hilarious, by the way — certainly one of the most memorable interviews I've done, although some of his best lines were a bit too pungent for a family newspaper.)

There were, however, a couple of problems with the late arrival. For example, Mr. Muhly didn't remember the details of the interview (why would he?), which meant that he was scrambling to clarify views for which he didn't recall the context. And he said some recent events (e.g., the state of union negotiations at the Met) meant that he wouldn't have said some of what he'd said at the time. 

As he wrote in an email last week: 

"Subject line: I wrote...

...just a few clarifications! I have to say, it's marginally little nuts to be in my off season — I don't have anything going on really — and have an article appear out of the blue! I've been rather dormant, writing choral music and thinking about the Council of Trent etc. — the problem, often, with doing press blitzes, as I did with you in P'burg, is that it's all happening in the context of rehearsals, other interviews, four thousand local radio shows, and things can come off as slightly inflammatory! I also would hate to have myself shouting "let it close" in print in the middle of this dreadful Met/union negotiation — if you had called me today that is certainly not what I would have said!"

For me, it was a learning experience if nothing else!

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Beautiful thoughts on dialogue, culture and society from Riccardo Muti

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

In the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's program book that I got last week, there is an excerpt of an interview the CSO's music director, Riccardo Muti, gave with Rubén Amón in El Mundo (published March 30, 2014, with a translation by Roberto Bravo of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association).

I found Mr. Muti's remarks so candid and so moving — he tackles culture, language, smartphones and more — that I wanted to share them here: 

"Those who make music know well the importance of using creative expression to influence our society. Far from excusing us from comment and action, our profession gives us a unique voice with which to communicate at the deepest level with those around us. It is only with music that enthusiastic praise and sharp protest become possible.

"Government leaders have to realize that we are witnessing a disturbing phenomenon: culture is losing the ethical dimension. Entertainment and frivolity have transformed culture into a hybrid and commercial phenomenon that in a way renounces depth. There is a superficial conception of aesthetics. Emptiness.

"Human beings no longer talk to each other. Our totemic instrument of communication is the smartphone. Dialogue is disappearing. And dialogue is the absolute form of growth and maturity. When I was a young man, it took months to win over a girl: courtship, glances, reading between the lines, furtive encounters, rain, waiting. And maybe you got lucky and you would get a response. Today you send a text message. And the text message is reduced, sacrificing the language, simplifying dialogue. We don't even say 'I love you'; you say 'ILY' and that's it.

We are annihilating language, the dramaturgy that is needed to evolve, the drama in the theatrical sense. We are discontinuing dialectics. We have stopped explaining ourselves, even in the breakup of a sentimental relationship. The turpitude of the text message poisons human ties. The impoverishment of the language is the impoverishment of the dialogue and of the dialectic. The world communicates not in English, but in a denatured form of English. The world relates in one hundred misspelled English words. We don't seem to be aware of this tragedy. Communication has become simplification. 

"We, as westerners, have stopped reading. The television has assumed a grave responsibility, not only because it doesn't broadcast a concert, but for the triumph it gives to banality. And humanity tolerates this filthiness. Will a society be able to grow when it has renounced dialectic confrontation? We are colossal consumers of anticulture. We have given up intellectual effort in exchange for passive entertainment. It's a tragedy.

"The feeling of being part of a history and a culture differs from nationalism in that the latter is exclusive and aggressive. The extreme right that has reappeared promotes the wrong ideas. It does this by manipulating breeding grounds such as the economic crisis and youth unemployment, which has reached 47 percent in Italy. The Italians are becoming more sorrowful. Italy has saddened. The stereotype of the cheerful and cordial guy no longer exists.

"We have to be conscious of what we are. Dialogue, I insist, is our road to salvation. I have discovered through personal experience that music has the great quality to bring together people who know the musical language and could not understand each other in terms of their culture, their ethnicity, their religion in any other language. I have seen this in Sarajevo, in Tunisia, in Lebanon, in Moscow. There is no need to present a passport to join an orchestra. As Pascal said, 'The heart has reasons that reason cannot understand.' 'Music enraptures us,' Dante said. I agree." 

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Liner Notes Vol. IX

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

News, reviews, features 'n more...enjoy!

From the New York Times, the kerfuffle over a digital orchestra for "The Ring" 
From New Music Box, an ESPN for classical music 
From WNYC, an interview with outgoing New York Phil concertmaster Glenn Dicterow 
From Classical Voice North America (full disclosure, the publication of a professional association of which I am a member), an opera about (Allegheny City native) Gertrude Stein 
From the New York Times, New York's early music scene 
From NPR, a man who lacks rhythm 
From the Dallas Morning News, themed orchestra programs 
From New York Magazine, Justin Davidson's review of the New York Philharmonic's new music biennial 
From the Atlantic, Lisztomania and the romantic power of music 
From the Harvard Crimson, a message from pianist-scholar Robert Levin for graduates 

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