Heitor Villa Lobos

Music

Guitarist Christoph Denoth plays South American Repertoire at SubCulture, June 10, 2019

To have attended Christoph Denoth’s classical guitar recital at SubCulture on Bleecker Street three nights ago is to have undergone a New York moment very particular to NoHo, the neighborhood where it was performed. Having moved to this swatch of the city three years ago, I’ve come to marvel at its odd but easy mix of strikingly disparate elements—gritty architecture, wildly colorful paintings on the sides or fronts of various buildings mixed into a motley crew of chic clubs, bars, galleries and a cheeky Underground Boxing gym on Bleecker’s easternmost end. SubCulture is a venue for any number of kinds of events and performances, cunningly aligned with the complex gestalt of NoHo for which it could be a symbol. Christoph Denoth’s recital, which is timed to attend the release of his most recent CD “Tanguero”, seemed to me to fit right into Noho and SubCulture’s complex heterogeneity.

Music

Dvořák and Shostakovich with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony, Jian Wang, Cello, Plus Some Extra Cellomania

Is Dvořak, to paraphrase Dr. Leonard McCoy, really that beautiful? Really so much more beautiful than other music you've heard? Or is it just that it acts beautiful? If it comes down to the performance to go more than skin deep, the musicians must play very convincingly indeed. Beauty in music has proven to be diverse. For a sound to be music rather than mere sounds, however pleasing, the it needs the broadest possible aesthetic idea of beauty. An ugly sound, it has been pointed out, can be "beautiful" if used so fittingly by a composer that nothing but that sound could be desired at that point in the music. For human beings, this has included the rasping shawms and the regals, and the augmented fourth of the middle ages and renaissance, the harsh use of the usual orchestral brass by Mahler, and all the freely used ugly sounds and outbursts in 20th century music and its terrible dissonances. I would draw the line at physically painful sounds, either through loudness or shrillness or both, as ugly in a destructive way, and so incapable of beauty, even betraying the faith of the listener who trustingly opens their ears to the music, though some do seem to find pleasure in the ginormous 19th century organs played at full volume with all the stops out. Free expression in a musician or a composer can be beautiful in itself, of course, though when that expression becomes gratuitous or self-indulgent, or sentimental (which can betray a certain narrow emotional rigidity) or arbitrary (which can betray a self-imposed or self-persuaded intellectual rigidity) it can become ugly. Music in a straight jacket can be ugly too. A masterful fugue in transcending any thought of a dichotomy between these two extremes can be most beautiful of all.

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