A note on classical music terms and usage

“Rumors about the impending exit have swirled for months, reaching a crescendo in recent days.” – Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2013.

Awhile back I commented on music critic Scott Cantrell’s non-use of the word “crescendo,” his contention being that the word is too technical for a general circulation newspaper. I disagreed, asserting that it’s a perfectly good word, found in Webster’s no less, and an easy concept to understand.

Along comes Kingsley Amis. In his “The King’s English: A Guide to Modern Usage,” he has this typically curmudgeonly thing to say on the word “crescendo”:

“Once a musical term meaning ‘(passage played) with increasing volume’ and a derived figurative term meaning ‘progress towards a climax.’ For many years now taken to be a fancy synonym for ‘climax’ as in ‘the gunfire reached a crescendo’ or ‘the chorus of vilification rose to a crescendo’ and rendered useable only by the unwary or vulgar. Outside of a strictly musical context, that is.”

Yes. The important distinction to remember is that a crescendo is not a particular point in a musical composition, but a process therein, i.e. a process of getting louder. The musical marking for it is quite simple and illustrative, consisting of an elongated “lesser than” sign (as used in mathematics) placed directly under the passage for which the composer wants a gradual (or fairly sudden, but never instantaneous) increase in volume. A crescendo sign varies in length, depending upon the length of the crescendo desired.

Continue reading

Interviewing the talent

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

The stories behind the stories: I won’t assert that they are more interesting than the stories themselves, but they’re not without interest. I’ve learned a lot about classical musicians, both individually and as a group, interviewing them through the years. Composers, to my mind, are the best interviewees. They’re smart, they work alone and they seem to enjoy the opportunity to talk about their craft. Singers tend to live up to their reputation for shallowness and flightiness, I’m not sure why.

You never know what you’re going to get, phoning up or sitting down with a classical musician for the first time. It can be nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what to expect when I phoned the great pianist, intellect, essayist and poet Alfred Brendel. He was one of the all-time best scowlers on stage, glaring at coughers, barely breaking a smile in response to thunderous applause. I was intimidated. It turned out he was an absolute delight, funny, easy to laugh, spilling his tea (and laughing at that), willing and interested to talk and reflect about everything, even his inner self. “Well, I don’t think I’m really driven,” he said. “I’m not a fanatic, I dread fanatics. Fanaticism is something that frightens me. So I have given myself the appearance, or the idea, that I do what I do out of my own free will.” And then he laughed.

Pianist Ivo Pogorelich didn’t laugh at all. He was difficult. I sat down with him for a radio interview once and he didn’t like the microphone the engineer gave him. It fit on his head; he apparently didn’t want to muss his hair. Pogorelich told us that unless he got another microphone, one that sat on the table, he was going to walk, quite the diva. We found a table microphone for him and I proceeded with the interview, delicately.

Oh, I’m sure, dear reader, you want to know what they’re all like. Cecilia Bartoli? Adorable. Riccardo Muti? Exceedingly charming, humble, a gentleman. Philip Glass? Friendly, bright, a real talker, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind having a beer with. Pierre Boulez? Gracious, and so intelligent in response to my questions I felt brilliant for asking them. Daniel Barenboim? Gritty, philosophical, committed.

Continue reading

Recommended recordings: September

Recommended recordings of the pieces performed by the Pacific Symphony on its programs in September.

Shostakovich: Festive Overture. Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi, conductor. Chandos.

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Krill Kondrashin, conductor. Martha Argerich, piano. Philips.

Rimsky-Korsakov: “Procession of the Nobles” from Mlada. Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, conductor. On “Rimsky-Korsakov’s Greatest Hits” album from Sony Classical.

Continue reading

Pacific Overtures: September

Here’s the latest edition of my newsletter.

Contents:

  1. September Concerts Roundup
  2. Interview: Dennis Kim
  3. Interview: Meredith Crawford
  4. Listen to This: Boléro
  5. Single Tickets
  6. Connections Series Renamed
  7. Video: Festive Overture
  8. Essential Books (4)
  9. Miscellany

Pacific Overtures. September, 2018.

Interview: Meredith Crawford, principal viola

By ERICA SHARP

Meredith Crawford, principal viola of Pacific Symphony, cheerfully picked up the phone to talk to an interviewer at the appointed time. She said she had just come back from a walk on the beach. She currently resides in Belmont Shore, a neighborhood in Long Beach, commuting to Costa Mesa to play in the orchestra. 

Crawford found Pacific Symphony while finishing up her studies as a college student, wanting to find orchestras just so she could gain audition experience for her professional career, which she thought would come much later. 

But during her research of this orchestra, she said the image of the musicians photographed on the beach began to change her mind to take the audition more seriously. The idea of moving to California to become part of what she perceived to be a well-loved and innovative group was her dream. 

Crawford was born in Massachusetts in 1986 but her family moved to Maine shortly thereafter. Although she grew up in a musical family, in which both of her grandparents were musicians, she jokes that the music “skipped a generation,” since her parents were not.  

Continue reading

Interview: Dennis Kim, concertmaster

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Dennis Kim is the new concertmaster of Pacific Symphony, named in April to the position after a long search, replacing Raymond Kobler, who retired in 2016 after 17 years with the orchestra. Kim just moved to Irvine the other day, but already looked like a local as he waited for a reporter to arrive: athletic shorts, a logo T-shirt and neon-colored running shoes. Sitting on a bench outside a coffee and bagels place, he was checking his cell phone, just like natives everywhere. The only thing that gave him away as a foreigner was the logo on the shirt. It belonged to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Born in Korea, Kim moved to Toronto when he was three months old, grew up and learned to play the violin there. He’s moved here from Buffalo, where he served as concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic for the last three years and drove regularly to Toronto (90 minutes away) to teach there at the Royal Conservatory of Music, his alma mater. He starts his new job in September. You’ll see him in the first chair for the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular on Sept. 8, at Pacific Amphitheatre, and then at the opening concerts of the indoor season Sept. 27-29, at Segerstrom Concert Hall. In the latter concerts, the audience will get to hear Kim as a soloist in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364.

Continue reading