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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Sunday, March 25, 2012

AMERICAN MAVERICKS NIGHT ONE, by James Leonard

None of the pieces performed on the first night of the three "American Mavericks" concerts were much good, though the Copland was certainly the best and the Bates was probably the worst.

Copland’s Variations for Orchestra sounded like Webern but with too many notes and not enough sense.

Henry Cowell’s Piano Concerto sounded like Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto but with tone clusters.

Mason Bates’ Mass Transmission sounded like an RVW choral piece on top of a Philip Glass organ toccata with random electronic noises on top of that.

Lou Harrison’ Concerto for Organ and Percussion was astonishingly dull considering how loud it was and astoundingly dreary considering how many drummers were on stage. With all those drummers, you’d think just once they’d wander into a compelling rhythm.

But all that’s perfectly acceptable because all four piece, even Harrison’s dull and dreary concerto, were interesting, something that can’t be said about most of the classical music concerts I’ve been to in the last thirty-four years.

Sure, Cowell’s Concerto was nowhere near in the same league as Brahms’ Second Concert, but at least we haven’t heard it 99,999,999 times. And just because the music wasn’t very good, doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting. After all, who knew what Cowell or Harrison would do next? And even if what they do next wasn’t exactly a stroke of genius, at least it wasn’t expected. That might not sound like much – and it’s not – but for me, it's enormously more interesting than another night of Brahms.

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony played the hell out of everything, except Mass Transmission which, the U-M Chamber Choir sang the hell out of. And surprisingly the folks in Hill Auditorium gave only Copland’s Variations a standing ovation, which shows unexpected taste on the part of the local audience.

I don’t know if I splendid time was had by all, but I more or less enjoyed myself and not once did I feel the overwhelming urge to throttle someone, which hasn’t happened at a Hill Auditorium show in years.


posted by John Hilton at 4:55 p.m. | 0 comments


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