Jacob Druckman

MusicWatch Weekly: Farewell to the king

In which we bid adieu to Neil Peart and comfort ourselves with winey classical marimba, saturnalian psalms, and an operatic sistah

Before we get into this week’s concerts, we’d like to spend a moment talking about Neil Peart, may he rest in well-deserved peace. Peart was always the present author’s favorite drummer to talk shit about. That’s true of all drummers, if they’re honest: spend more than an hour in any given drum shop and talk will eventually turn to discussions of most overrated drummer and so on, and Peart always tops everyone’s list. It’s a curious variant on sour grapes–we all begrudgingly admit the man’s skill, but we decry what often seems like metronomic bad taste. If I had chops like that (we all boast, twirling our Vic Firths), I would play more tastefully.

It’s a bad faith criticism, although it holds an element of truth. Peart was famous for his huge drumset and occasionally overblown playing, but the “human drum machine” jab doesn’t quite stick–not least because he used that oversized kit to bring a beautiful melodicism to his drumming, a musicality which is, in our estimation, the real reason so many drummers get touchy about him. There’s some sick drummerly impulse to talk shit on drummers who seem to get above themselves (consider Phil Collins), and lyricist Peart with his giant triplikit certainly fits the bill.

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Column Zero: Summer comes alive

Chamber Music Northwest blows its clarinets, Storm Large sings about craziness, Makrokosmos gets nightmarish

We here at Oregon Arts Watch tend to pay a lot of attention to Oregon composers. In a sense, our job is made easier by the problem outlined yesterday by Senior Editor Brett Campbell: we like local composers, living or recent, diverse in gender and age and race and genre. That’s exactly who is often underrepresented in the largest institutions, and—lucky us!—that means we have a journalistic obligation to write about exactly the artists we’d want to write about anyways.

Wolfie

But never mind that for a moment—I want to talk to you about Mozart. We’ll come back to Kenji Bunch and Storm Large and George Crumb and Tōru Takemitsu and all the rest, but for right now I want to take the somewhat contrary position that we should absolutely be happy about hearing Mozart’s clarinet music at Chamber Music Northwest this week.

The pair of opening concerts (Reed College June 24, PSU June 25) are a handy confluence of musical meanings. Outgoing CMNW Artistic Director David Shifrin is, of course, a very fine clarinetist himself, and in past years has dazzled and transported us with gorgeous renditions of everything from Bach and Mozart to Messiaen and Akiho. This season—his second-to-last before handing the reins to Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim for the 2020/21 season—thus fittingly concludes with a whole lot of clarinet music. And, because this is CMNW, the concerts stretch all the way back to the instrument’s first great composer and all the way forward to recent and newly commissioned works by those beloved modern composers we talked about earlier.

But they’ll have to wait a little longer while I justify Mozart to the kids.

Chamber Music Northwest Artistic Director David Shifrin

You probably learned in music history class or here on internet that Mozart was pals with pioneering Viennese clarinetist Anton Stadler, an early virtuoso who sold Mozart on the new instrument’s charms. It’s a pretty weird instrument, essentially three instruments in one body, its lower chalumeau register stretching almost to the bottom of the cello’s range, its upper clarion and altissimo registers covering the violin’s entire range. Its tone is unlike any other woodwind instrument, a “long purply sound” in Berio’s phrase, somewhere between a human voice and a bowed string instrument.Mozart ended up composing plenty of really good music featuring clarinets and their sibling basset horns, and the best of it pairs the Frankenstein instrument with voices and/or strings—an ideal blend of sound colors and expressive possibilities.

Mozart ended up composing plenty of really good music featuring clarinets and their sibling basset horns, and the best of it pairs the Frankenstein instrument with voices and/or strings—an ideal blend of sound colors and expressive possibilities.

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