Monday, June 09, 2014

There will now be a four month intermission


Kierkegaard declared that too much possibility leads to madness. Today in classical music, possibility is assumed to be synonymous with anti-elitist accessibility, and the result is madness. An alternative approach is to view possibility as the inverse of accessibility. As in the Patria cycle of Canadian composer R Murray Schafer. The twelve parts of Patria dwarf Wagner's Ring and Stockhausen's Licht. They are all written for performance away from conventional music venues. Princess of the Stars, which opens the cycle, is performed by a rural lake and requires the audience to arrive in the middle of the night. The Greatest Show on Earth, part 3, is a carnival for 150 performers and explores accessibility by breaking down the barriers between audience and performers. Part 4, The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos explores medieval alchemy; it has been performed in an abandoned circus building in Li├Ęge, Belgium, and in Toronto's Union Station starting at midnight. The central part, The Crown of Ariadne is written for a water's edge venue, and is yet to be given a staged performance. The Spirit Garden part 10, has the audience planting a spring garden and returning in the autumn to harvest it; for this the performance involves a four month intermission. Participation in the epilogue, And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon is by invitation only and requires the sixty-four participants to create ritual theatre in a remote wood for eight days.

All of which may sound inaccessible, incomprehensible and bad news at the box office. Which it is not. In August 2013 two performances of part 7 of Patria, Asterion - an exploration of the labyrinth - were given at a rural location in Ontario; both were sold out. Moreover, each of the sprawling twelve parts of Patria contains individual works which stand very convincingly on their own. The CD seen above contains the immensely accessible Theseus for harp and string quartet from the central unperformed The Crown of Ariadne, and the chamber opera Beauty and the Beast for mezzo, masks and string quartet from The Greatest Show on Earth. Coupled with the two extracts from Patria is Murray Schafer's String Quartet No 8, a tantalising taste of the composer's cycle of twelve quartets. The CD, which is released on the Canadian ATMA label, is difficult to find. But is that a reason for ignoring it?

Also on Facebook and Twitter. No review samples consumed in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

2 comments:

Philip Amos said...

It surely is not a reason for ignoring it, for the ATMA label is distributed by Naxos and thus their entire current catalogue can be streamed via the Naxos Music Library, which now, I note, contains close to 100 000 discs. Schafer was composer-in-residence and on the Communications faculty of my former university, and I recall his varied activities fondly -- he made a great contribution.

The ATMA label is a fine one and I scanned the 29 pages of entries in its catalogue, noting first that Schafer's complete string quartets are entered under 'Murray'. The other three discs of his music, including the one featured, are catalogued correctly. The NML catalogue in toto contains much more of his music on various labels.(It now distributes 640 labels, and I should note that a recent addition is the entire HMV catalogue, both current and deleted.)

ATMA has issued recordings of many familiar works, but also many worthy but obscure historical works and much contemporary. I scribbled a note of the piano works of Gustave Samazevilh; Scheidt's remarkable Tabulatura nova; choral works of the Estonian Veljo Tormis, and the ensemble Constantinople, which seeks to interpret music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance by seeking out Near and Middle Eastern influences upon it by searching out these same elements in the living oral traditions of those regions, especially Persia.

I previously tipped off readers that you can get access to the Naxos Music library FREE by googling 'tso.ca', subscribing to the TSO e-newsletter, and then clicking on 'Beethoven on Demand', which is in fact the NML. Many universities, school systems, and public libraries also provide free access.

Pliable said...

Philip, your informative comment explains why the essential double CD of R. Murray Schafer twelve string quartets on ATMA is so difficult to locate on the Amazon database, which presumably uses the same data as the Naxos music library: I could only find the CDs by searching for 'Molinari Quartet' and it appears in 'music' not 'classical'.

This miscataloguing is yet more evidence of the lamentable state of classical music metadata, something I have had recent first hand experience of when attempting to impose some semblance of searchable order onto the vast library of music transferred to my 16 Gb iPod.

If people can't find music they can't listen to it. Yet the classical music community remains totally disinterested in the need for robust metadata; presumably because it is a story that does not spin well on social media.

Is classical music asking the right questions? - http://www.overgrownpath.com/2013/01/is-classical-music-asking-right.html