Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An obligatory SOPA/PIPA post

It's Internet Blackout Day, etc., etc. You know that already. The Unofficial Apple Weblog posted a long but worthwhile article this morning about why they're opposed to the bills. Chris Rawson describes in detail all of the effort and trouble he has when he wants to watch the latest episode of a new show from a major US network in New Zealand. It's maddeningly difficult, and it's all because the MPAA and RIAA want to prevent piracy. Here's the best quote I've read all day about this issue:

Here's how you stop piracy: You won't. Ever. There will always be people who want something for nothing, and no amount of trying is going to stop those people from looking for and finding it. Just accept it and move on.
Here's how you reduce piracy: Make it easier for people who want to access and pay for your content. That means no more arbitrary restrictions on what devices we can view it on. That means making the same content available to everyone, worldwide, simultaneously or as close to it as feasible, and at a fair price that consumers won't balk at.
I've already contacted my congressional representatives, even though Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are co-sponsors of the bill. Maybe all our opposition to it will sway them to withdraw their support. Maybe it will get them to tell the MPAA, RIAA, and other organizations behind the legislation to find different ways of solving this issue that don't involve censoring the innocent.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic play Bruckner

On Friday night we braved the wind and cold to venture uptown to Lincoln Center for a New York Philharmonic performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 8. It was my first time seeing former Philharmonic music director in person on the podium, but Bruckner was the main reason I was there. The 8th Symphony is a massive work: 80+ minutes of gorgeous brass chorales, shimmering string chords, and beautiful woodwind solos. Mehta led the orchestra through a well-paced reading of the symphony, taking things a bit slower than I expected in the first and second movements, but always with a sense of motion and energy. The third movement built to climax after climax, culminating in perhaps my favorite moment in the entire work, a tremendous explosion with a cymbal crash. (One thing I like about hearing this piece in person is watching the percussionists on cymbal and triangle, who sit behind the timpani for the entire work only to play a few measures in the slow movement.) The finale thrilled me as always, from its terrifying opening to its glorious conclusion. Mehta seemed to be much appreciated and well-received by the audience. As with Mahler, if the Philharmonic is playing Bruckner, I'll do whatever I can to be there.

A couple of other notes:

There were plenty of empty seats in the first and second tiers. I guess Bruckner isn't as beloved in New York as Mahler.

The audience laughed and applauded after Alec Baldwin's recorded announcement to turn off cell phones. I didn't see anyone on the orchestra level with phones out during the concert. And I saw ushers on either side of the orchestra level, near the side doors, taking turns keeping an eye on things.

The young (college-age?) kid in front of me conducted and cued a tiny orchestra in front of him for most of the concert. His girlfriend didn't notice or didn't care. The guy next to him seemed exasperated and left quickly after the concert ended. It was more than a little distracting, and I was sitting behind the kid. I might have kicked him if I'd been next to him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Alan Gilbert responds to the Mahler phone incident

Alex Ross linked to Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert's response to last night's Mahler incident in the New York Times' ArtsBeat blog. Gilbert was as astonished by the audacity of the offending patron as the rest of the audience. The Times also notes that the ushers should have stepped in to get the people involved to silence the phone, but did not.

The ushers do not answer directly to orchestra management, and Mr. Gilbert said no ushers were in sight at the time of the ringing. “I heard this morning that ushers in the hall claimed they didn’t hear it, which sounds ridiculous to me,” he said. “Everybody could hear it.”

I almost always sit in the second tier center of Avery Fisher Hall, which gives me a view of the entire front of the hall. I never see ushers near the front of the stage. If the ushers stand inside the hall, they must be at the back. So I can understand why they might not have heard anything if they weren't in the hall itself, but the hallway outside. But that defeats the purpose of having ushers in the first place. I'll look again on Friday night for some floor-level ushers.

We're not kidding when we say "silence your phones" at a concert

Last night, at the New York Philharmonic, the final performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 had an extra performer: a persistent ringing iPhone. According to several eyewitness reports (see the comments as well), a patron in the left front of the hall near the stage neglected to silence their phone and then paid no heed as it rang and rang with an alarm throughout the last movement of the symphony. Music Director Alan Gilbert broke protocol and stopped the orchestra, admonished the concertgoer, who by this time had figured out how to turn off their phone or otherwise stop the alarm, then apologized to the audience before resuming the symphony.

Mr. Kinchen discussed the audience's reaction to the ringing phone. After Gilbert stopped the orchestra, some people in the hall shouted "get out!" "throw them out!" and "Turn off the phone!" Mr. Kinchen took issue with the reaction, suggesting that it was disproportionate to the severity of the offense:

Whoever had owned the phone had made an honest mistake, one that just about anyone else in the audience could possibly have made, yet here, at Lincoln Center, listening to The Symphony, this violation was enough to draw the ire and ill will of hundreds of people. Sophisticated people who had come for a night of culture and music and proceeded to be reduced, for a few moments, to the early stages of an angry mob.
In the name of keeping with the etiquette of this classy and cultured event, these people got so worked up they were actually shouting, not cursing mind you, for that would be uncultured, but shouting angrily. And when Gilbert finally dealt with the situation, the response was the cathartic release of pent up aggression. Blatant, almost animal aggression, at the symphony, over a ringing phone. Maybe I’m new to the whole symphony culture but to me it seemed a bit much. 

I wasn't there, so my comments are based on what I've read above. As a musician and an audience member, there is nothing that offends me more than a disruptive noise during a concert. When I'm performing, a noise such as a ringing phone distracts me and breaks my concentration. I'm certain it does the same thing for my fellow musicians, who are all trying to hear each other and play together as an ensemble. As an audience member, it's even worse. I listen to recorded classical music at work, on the subway, and at home. I'm used to interruptions such as answering the phone, talking to my co-workers, cats breaking things, etc. But when I go to a performance in a concert hall, I've spent money for an uninterrupted musical experience. For two hours, I get the enjoyment of classical music without the distractions of phone calls, Twitter, people talking about work, and so on.

When a phone rings during a concert, that's intrusive not just to the musicians who are working so hard to put on the best performance possible, but to the audience that has paid money to enjoy a concert in near-silence. That's why the Philharmonic has Alec Baldwin remind everyone to silence cell phones and other electronic devices. It's not just for the musicians, it's for the audience as well. And that means everyone. How hard is it to turn off your phone for two hours? If you can't live without your phone being on and available, maybe you shouldn't go to a classical music concert.

As for the audience reaction, I agree with Mr. Kinchen that some of the shouts from the crowd seem to have been excessive. I'm sure that they came from people like myself who would be offended that a ringing phone disturbed their intimate musical experience. But that doesn't mean you should shout out things like "get out!" and "thousand dollar fine!" There's a certain level of decorum we should maintain at concerts and while one person clearly ignored that by leaving their phone on, that's no excuse for the mob mentality that comes with the anger at the disruption. There's no need for angry shouts. I doubt that the crowd would have turned on that patron physically, although there was a brawl in the balcony at a Boston Pops concert a few years ago. In any case, let's try to remain calm even in our anger.

I do approve of Gilbert's reaction to the patron: abject humiliation. If it had been me sitting there, I would have been so mortified that I might not ever return to Avery Fisher Hall. I'm going back on Friday night and my phone will most definitely be turned off long before Alec Baldwin reminds me.

Monday, January 09, 2012

some quick thoughts on Saturday night's concert

What struck me about Saturday night's New York Philharmonic performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony were the woodwinds. This symphony is a feast for the wind section and the Philharmonic's players (with extra flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons) made a strong impression, especially in the second and third movements.  The double fugue in the third movement really stood out, as the entire orchestra plowed through Mahler's intricate counterpoint. The last movement, with its lush, full string chords, reminded me of the finale of his Third Symphony, but this time the melodies were more elegiac than romantic. Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic received several well-deserved ovations, pointing out once again that New York loves Mahler (and, I hope, Gilbert's interpretations of Mahler).

Friday, January 06, 2012

I'm really looking forward to Saturday night

Saturday night will be my first of two New York Philharmonic concerts this month, the other one next Saturday evening.  Paul Pelkonen at Superconductor posted a review of last night's performance and it sounds like Alan Gilbert has successfully transplanted his approach to Mahler's Ninth Symphony from his previous post at the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra to New York.  Yesterday, I listened to Gilbert's 2009 recording of the symphony with that ensemble and hoped that I'd hear something similar to that on Saturday.  It sounds like I will.  Also, Thomas Ades' new work "Polaris" uses antiphonal brass, which is always a plus.

I'll try to have a brief review of my own up here on Saturday or Sunday.