Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Eighth Interview – Going Out On A Limb

Sibelius and His World: Silence & Influence

We should get a few things out of the way. You were able to attend a concert last Sunday, at Bard College ...
Yes. Just down the road …
The last concert in this year's Bard Music Festival: the theme was Jean Sibelius again. My, this certainly seems a Sibelius summer.
You can't imagine the effect this concert had on me. By the end as we stood watching the torrents of rain pour down outside, I was just trying to keep myself from bursting into tears. To have heard the 7th Symphony and Tapiola played live, and played magnificently by the American Symphony Orchestra under the apparently gifted baton of Leon Botstein, was almost beyond my capacity to respond to in words.
The program also included Vaughn-Williams' 5th Symphony and the 1st Symphony of Samuel Barber.
which proved a few things conclusively: Samuel Barber has often received scathing criticism from people who are no better for their work or words, and this first Barber Symphony is a better piece than most might believe, especially when played as well as this orchestra played it, no doubt due to Botstein's deliberate, tough, stark stroked, no holds barred interpretation.
Nevertheless …
Nevertheless this symphony was written by a young man while the 7th of Sibelius was written by a man near my own age with the experience of having written the previous six symphonies behind him. Above everything else Sibelius' 7th is a mature piece of music best intended for those with mature emotions.
and so you didn't think Barber's piece was as good as Sibelius'.
No way! In fact the Vaughn-Williams symphony wasn't as good either. These pieces were clearly inspired by Sibelius, but neither used the ideas behind Sibelius' unique orchestral style nearly as well. Barber's deficiency was in both his youthful exuberance and that he overcrowded his orchestration so much so that even as good as the ASO played it (about as good as it gets), it just couldn't have stood up against anything Sibelius wrote.
You told me you were surprised by discovering that Sibelius was an alcoholic probably suffering from either chronic depression or manic depressive syndrome.
Well I think there might be a terrible idea that might take root in people's imaginations; that great classical composers wouldn't have been able to produce what they did unless they were abused as children (Beethoven), orphaned as a child (Bach), or suffering manic depressive syndrome and self treating with alcohol and cigars (Sibelius).
I don't like the idea either. But aren't you suggesting that without some hardship, nothing of greatness usually results and demonstrating it by your examples?
There were materially successful composers, probably no more or less as a percentage than in any other trade. A few were miserably poor. Some had runs of both at various stages of their lives. But aside from judgement by today's standards about how much money one has, how much one will be able to retire on, day to day standard of living concepts, there's the music they produced, much of which verges on either the priceless or the metaphorically ecstatic and transcendental as to be in a category apart from all other categories.
The religious?
Nodding in the affirmative.
To hear and be one with certain aching phrases in the Sibelius 7th is almost to transcend that moment and to comprehend answers to whole lifetimes of suffering and joy, to know the ache in the heart of every mother, every lover, the anguish of the infinite itself. It's almost too much to bear.
And this is considered mere entertainment?
If one is a real die-hard philosophical materialist, great music as we know it is scarcely that. One would hear it differently, would never get it at all, never mind the heights or depths as I have attempted to describe these states of awareness. And it may not make them less human for not getting it, for that's not for me to say, I can have no ultimate judgement.
Oh, I just have to ask; how did they play Tapiola?
Menacing, frightening, creepy at times; at the point in the music when it finally lets loose, Batstein drove them through it relentlessly, mercilessly, without missing a beat, among the best performances of anything I've ever heard.
Better than the 7th?
Perhaps, if that's possible. During much of it I couldn't make up my mind whether the forest Sibelius was describing was Dracula's or a metaphor for the modern world about to face a day of reckoning. 

[ Insert: Jean Sibelius: Tapiola (Complete) Berliner Philharmoniker - Järvi ]

Classical Music & Snobbery

You have discussed with me the supposed relationship between classical music and snobbery and wanted to touch on it head on.
The subject comes up once in a while. Classical music, as every human activity, is not any more free of “human all too human problems.” John Bell Young wrote me a while back and described a kind of experiment of his to try and provoke controversial discussions about classical music (which might have led somewhere) on on-line forums, only to discover that a high percentage of those who would be among classical music's audience, were apparently into it for reasons that have nothing to do with the essence of the art's purpose or importance for those who pursue it.
Something about fascism and people wanting to be fascists.
It got down to it being more important to win arguments and establish bandwagons people would willingly jump onto, as if these discussions were matters of winning or losing, demonstrating some surprisingly weak egos, etc.
But what is classical music's purpose? Can't let you get away with slipping that in without explaining it.
All right.  To begin with, classical music is about preserving musical treasures, at this point there are mountains of these treasures and yes some have yet to be adequately mined. Beyond that classical music usually finds people from all walks of life who eventually “get it” and prefer it to all other music.
But this does not make it better than other music.
There have been a few books written about it. John gave me some references, and I do intend to read them, but there has been so much going on lately that I haven't gotten time to dig them up and read them. Here's the basis for the snobbery, that if you like classical music, or even play it, you are expressing a preference for the traditional pastimes of the socially more prominent and therefore would have a station from which to look down upon others. We are lucky that this is usually not the case, especially among the musicians themselves, many of whom though erudite and consummate professionals in other fields (doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants, teachers, etc.) do not pursue their musical lives for anything more or less than the privilege of being able to play the music. We also know many who came from quite humble origins. But what it all amounts to is that we know what we like, what we love and what we value as imperishable for the appreciation of the whole human race.
So it's really about feeling …
It's about everything … and sometimes there is NOTHING like a live performance to make that connection happen, the music will take your breath away, if and when you are open to it.
So there really is no basis for snobbery in regard to classical music.
No, there shouldn't be. It's open to everyone and there are plenty of places to hear live performances. We should also support our musician friends by attending their concerts whenever possible. It's just that we don't hear nearly as much classical music as other music out in public. We aren't exactly trying to push our music on anyone, and that's a good thing, but just because we understand and like what we play or listen to, does not mean everyone must or will see the point of us devoting ourselves to it as we invariably must if we're truly hooked.
You also discovered that your friend Mr. Young was quite handicapped, how did that make you feel?
John Bell Young is a consummate pianist, by which I mean, he's the real thing and it shows in his playing. He plays Scriabin about as well as anyone I know, and yet his hearing isn't the best. He and I are both visually impaired though I bet he sees better than I do. But anyway, I felt deeply humbled and maybe a bit reprimanded by the universe for not having devoted myself nearly as much as John has to music. As I remarked many times to my mentors and associates over the years, perhaps things would have gone better for me if I'd just stuck to playing the piano.
But you had to know the truth.
Yeah, I had to be inquisitive about perhaps too many things, know what was going on, become informed, etc.
But you aren't getting into any of that, are you?
No, not immediately. I am thinking about doing something else.

The Literary Project
[UPDATE 10/6/15: I have decided to publish this work through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) so it will no longer appear here per their agreements.  When a link to it is available, it will be posted here.  Thank-you to all who have shared an interest in this work.)

Just how do you want to get this rolling?
How about by telling everyone that I have written a book, a novel, the genre would be science-fiction, mystery adventure. It takes place in 2004, about the time I wrote it. If I were to publish it, it would run around 640 pages.
Have you tried to get it published?
I approached a publicist friend a few years ago, but he wasn't interested in the genre.
So you are going to serialize this work on this website beginning in September. How much of it will be free?
It will be free for the time being. I want to find out what the response is before I decide to charge anyone anything. Times are tough and fiction is cheaper than ever. If I decide to charge for it, I'll make it cheap enough that those who like it can read it for as they say, a song. Of course I'd love to be discovered and have my work circulated more widely, and reap the benefits from that too, but for the time being this will have to do.
Well, how are you getting this started? I mean, what is the story about?
It's intended to be a kind of “adult” Harry Potter and by “adult” I don't necessarily mean pornographic. It's better to suggest than to visually describe in lurid details anyway.
But it will have some romance?
Yes. And it's also intended to substitute for easily more tedious and boring essays on society, economics and politics, which I might have written to express similar concepts as appear in this book.
It's not about the same subject matter as Harry Potter is it?
Magic? No, not at all. In fact the most significant difference between Harry Potter and what I have created is that all my characters except one are adults not children.  The story has more in common with works involving what happens to castaways, including The Wizard of Oz or Lost Horizon, but it's not those stories either.
How did you come to write this book?
I was on assignment in the Bahamas and its broad outlines were part of my dreams one night while I was there. I decided that as soon as I returned home I would begin writing it down to see what it would become.
And 640 pages and so many years later ...
I really finished it in the fall of 2007 and have edited some of it since.
But when it appears here it will be “official” and finished?
OK, then so what is this story about?
It's about an abduction of an oceanographic research vessel and its passengers and crew to an Earth like planet farther away in the universe than anyone imagines possible.
By whom?
By The Protector, a being / machine from a previous extinct human civilization. It was originally conceived as a planetary defence system, from asteroids, but since it was a conscious being as well as a machine and had sufficient time and resources to discover new techniques with which to scan the universe and, as it were, to create transit beams across time and space, it eventually found Earth and began to capture people in serious trouble and rescue them by bringing them to his planet to restart human civilization.
So it has a gender.
It usually communicates to humans as a hologram of an old man in a toga.
Yeah, well that's just how I dreamt it.
What else do you want to tell us at this point?
It's assumed that the abductees will never get home, but in two years they eventually all get sent back to Earth.
So what's special about this planet?
It's populated by humans form four principal sources; people periodically rescued from Earth, people from a more technically advanced race of humans on another closer planetary system, some people from a planetary system doomed by its exploding sun who were rescued before that event and scattered among humanoid colonies on many planets and finally a distinct race of humans from perhaps the closest planet inhabited by humans who have six fingers and toes and other unusual attributes.
What's the name of the planet where your story takes place?
The human inhabitants are limited to only one continent on the entire planet, the others being uninhabitable. This continent is called Mindora [MIN-door-a]. There is some play on the concept of a golden mind that is incorruptible. Since they never get off this continent, and surprisingly few deem it necessary to go travelling through space, they usually refer to their planet and their continent by the same name. It is orbited by two much smaller, more rapidly moving satellites, each much smaller than Earth's moon.
But there is also something else too.
Yes, everyone has the ability to read everyone else's mind, if they are physically close enough. The abductees become aware of this universally shared ability and soon acquire the same abilities as the natives.
So in the beginning they are at everyone's mercy. There is no privacy and they can never get home again, how horrible!
No, it isn't like that. You'll see.
So they eventually get to go home. What happens to this mind reading ability when they return? Is it gone?
Unfortunately they still have it and the results work out differently for each of them. Most aren't too happy about it.
Why would they? They'd be considered insane here.
Wow, so what's the point?
You mean the moral?
It's entertainment.
Thought provoking entertainment?
It's entertainment..
So when are we going to give the people more details?
Probably before the end of the month, I'll begin by posting the treatment which will contain sufficient details to give everyone their bearings when they begin reading the story. It will appear on its own page.
What is the title of the book?
I've provisionally called it The Linton Bequest. The story is told by the participants in a series of documents. Each of these documents, or parts thereof, will be presented in sequence (serialized) over several months.
Well I hope it does well. It might catch on. Didn't you discover just last night that most people who are avid readers read fantasy?
Yes, and believe me folks, everything I describe in my book is fantasy and I hope everyone enjoys it too.
OK then folks, look for a page called THE LINTON BEQUEST appearing on Dave's blog page, right here, very soon.