Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic Blogging: Classical Music

Sarah over at Inside the Classics (which, by the way, is my favorite classical music blog) addresses the eternal “is classical music still relevant” question by pointing to the Olympics and all the classical music we are hearing as we watch the telecasts.

I learned something from her post.  I had no idea that all the national anthems played during medal ceremonies were recorded specially for the Olympics by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.  That’s cool.  I thought the Olympic committee just pulled standard recordings and used them.

She also, of course, points out how classical music is used in skating and she has no patience with music “purists” who dislike how the skaters put together mish mashes of classical music.  (That’s my term, not hers.)   She points to what she considers a snarky Washington Post article and says:

Which I think is misdirected, in a way, because I don't think they're concerned about "musical integrity" in the way one would be if one were, say, presenting a concert of the same music just as music, without the spectacle of the skating which is, after all, the main focus in a skating competition. So what if they chop up musical selections or go from Mendelssohn to Chopin? And who's to say what's "tacky" in this context?

Well, no.  There’s no point in turning up your nose.  And I don’t think it’s tacky.  But …

In my opinion, sometimes a bad mish mash is just emblematic of the problem with an entire skating program.

I was thinking this the other night as I was watching pairs skating.  One couple (sorry, I don’t remember which one) used my favorite piece of music in the world – the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2.  This was not, of course, the first time it has been used.  Lots of skaters have used it.  And it’s always a mish mash.  They pull out the parts they think they need (or their music consultants do).   And often it works. 

This time it didn’t.  As I watched the performance I felt that  it just didn’t hang together artistically.  I felt as if the choreographer knew there were certain things that must be done for points and put them together without any artistry holding them together.  And in the middle of it I thought “and this music isn’t helping.”  Whoever put together this mish mash just pulled what I suppose he thought was appropriate sections and …  stuck them together.  They didn’t flow logically into each other.  The tension and romance of the music was completely lost because every time tension or romance would get going it would suddenly shift to something else.   And that was what was wrong with the skating program too.  There was no tension or romance.  There was no flow. Just a lot of moves strung together.

And the fact that I had to watch a mediocre skating performance and at the same time listen to Rachmaninoff be abused just grated on me.   On the other hand, I agree with Sarah about the good use of Scheherazade in the competition.  Anyone who wasn’t familiar with the music might not even know it was “put together.”  I knew it and I didn’t find it distracting at all. 

And I mostly agree with this:

I don't expect a seamless, logical, historically informed performance of symphonic music in a skating program any more that I expect the average orchestral musician to know about a triple Lutz or the byzantine judging system. But I'm happy that music and skating intersect, that a larger audience hears and appreciates it, and a few might even be interested enough to look up Scheherazade, or whatever. It's all about exposure, keeping in the public eye and ear, participating in contemporary culture. Because the world is an ever-progressing, ever-changing place. And who likes irrelevance?

And on another musical note, I just love how the crowd sings along loudly whenever the Canadian national anthem is played.