With two Alex Ross sightings under my belt, I can spot a trend. Alex's trademark
look turns out to be coat but no tie. I'm not sure if the choice is aesthetic,
practical, or political but he's gone tieless every single time I've seen him.
The latest event was
Rest Is Noise Stadium Tour
, at Rackham Auditorium (not Michigan Stadium).
Too bad Alex didn't post more snapshots of Rackham on his blog; it's one of the most
intriguing buildings on the campus of the University of Michigan. Named
after a major benefactor of the U, the building is noteworthy for its
dignified neo-classical/moderne stylings and the not-to-be-missed shrine
to Horace Rackham, a smallish oval sanctum sanctorum
close to the very center of the building. (A plaque on the wall informs
the visitor of Horace's humility. No kidding.)
Alex's side-kick was the impressive Ethan Iverson, a pianist completely
comfortable demonstrating the disparate styles of the 20th century.
The day ended on a fun note (no! Twelve fun notes!) when Ethan asked
members of the audience to shout out notes randomly to construct a
melody that would become the theme for his concert-ending improvisation.
An aggressive woman was first, shouting out "A double flat!" I thought,
yeah, remove about 20 years of maturity from me, and I'd being doing
the exact same thing.
On the drive home, the Wifeösphere and I speculated just how
much of the improvisation was truly improvised. I suspect much of
the form and many of the rhythmic gestures come from a "bag of tricks",
which is de rigueur
for such people. (Organists, especially,
are expected to be able to improvise from a melody with no preparation,
but few can do it as well as Ethan.) I admired the smart trick
Ethan used to warm himself up to the melody, as it were: he began
with a short, repeating pattern in the middle register and very
slowly rang out the melody in the lowest register of the piano.
The notes were so low, they were harmonically disassociated from
the accompaniment. Voila!
It didn't matter what the notes
were. That arrangement could work for any melody at all. Neat.
My favorite line from the book made the cut and was quoted during
the talk: the part about one needing a security clearance to
understand Milton Babbitt's music. I was rather pleased with the
Babbitt piano music Alex and/or Ethan chose for this show, and
it changed my view of the old master of bleep-honk-snort.
Another surprise was the Ligeti (Alex pronounced it LIH-guh-tee; the
rest of us better fall in line and stop treating it like a
faux-Italianism: no more lih-JET-ee) which was quite dissonant,
but showed a spark of wit I found very appealing. I have no
doubt further listens will spread my love, something that
hasn't happened so much for me with the that Ligeti vocal music made famous
by Kubrick's 2001
. Maybe the Ligeti piano piece was
not as purely atonal as the example of serial music Ethan
played, or maybe my implacable distaste for Schoenberg has something
to do with the man's humorlessness. He certainly has a reputation for
arrogance; am I hearing that attitude in the music? Is that
So, I wonder how Alex feels, being on the receiving end of this
review (assuming he notices)? The most entertaining part of his
talk quoted (complete with verbal impressions) various bumptious
critics, pro and con, reacting to Sibelius, who was, even by the
extreme standards of our modern times, a polarizing figure.
(I'm with Alex on Sibelius: pro.) Alex must be continuously aware
of the possibility that a critic as high-profile, as prolific,
and as quotable as himself must have expressed a misjudgment
that a future Alex Ross will dredge up with
relish. (Hmm. Dredge. Relish. Bad metaphor, bad!) Ah, well,
we all have our occupational hazards.
Labels: Culture, local, Performance