Reith Lecture, Contemporary Music

Dear New York Folks,

This is Jiwon.

A Break Time!

Couple of days ago, I found out how fascinating the podcasting technology is. My brain merely started working by then, but I just can not live without knowing this new technology. Starting from the Washington Post, I finished searching for the New York Times and the Voice of America so that I could enjoy studying English with my MP3 player. Lots of excellent audio-articles… COOL~~~ then ooops!

Usually, I use the search-button at “” to find the recent news about Daniel Barenboim’s Middle East. Some ago, they gave me interesting information about Elena Bashkirova’s Divan members’ “professionalism,” which had nothing to do with either the Middle-East Peace Project or Music.

I was already tired when I found another podcasting: 

So I just read its text version and hardly understood anything there during my first reading. Hey, I am still reading your articles about music and I know how to understand something there. Or at least, I know what I should study in order to understand good articles written about music.

I understood nothing there, especially when Barenboim was talking about his musical conversation with late Professor Said, who I think was not a music-critic but a music-admirer, who doesn’t have first-rate ears.

Furthermore, what’s the logical basis to compare music with the Oslo process when both Israel and Palestine are not led by their kings? As far as I know, this kind of peace treaty is nothing but the art of politics-or-emergencies performed by politicians, especially the prime ministers in both sides, or the American president and his European partners, whose term expire every (?) years.

Is Barenboim’s brain actively working in both sides? I always wonder…

For me, this kind of passionate discussions simply mean wasting time. Anyway, I understood nothing there. Am I too tired? Or… Hatred is the only thing left in my present “brain”, then I need to be emotionally fair while writing about Barenboim’s present brain.

I was going to read it several times before finishing my New York stories… until I found these two reviews. The Reith Lectures are here. You can tell by the indignant squawking about “sneering snobbery” (I think they mean standards) in Radio Times, ever incoherent and slovenly in thought and lay-out. This year’s speaker is Daniel Barenboim, pianist, conductor and pioneer. He brings discerning analysis to music, regarded as a birthright by any idiot with an iPod, so the hackles of mediocrity rise. Having said which, this first instalment (Radio 4 9.00am) achieves little in Barenboim’s avowed aim to show how music, as the American poet Archibald MacLeish defined art, “makes sense of the mess”. He disconcertingly avoids answering questions from an audience ranging from David Mellor to a brain specialist. Perhaps next week in Chicago all will have warmed up.  Barenboim, as much a guru as a maestro : I’m not sure yet whether this was damage limitation or a kind of striptease flirtation. It could be either, after all – insurance against the potential accusation that he’d not scratched the surface of his subject or an implicit promise that he will succeed where others have failed. What does become clear fairly early on though is that this is a quasi-religious event – a form of spiritual attendance for an essentially secular age. Barenboim, a believer in the power of music to instruct us about life, rather than simply distract us from it, is not so much giving lectures as delivering sermons. And the people best placed to judge the success of his enterprise are not going to be musicologists or neuroscientists but students of homiletics.

Well… I am free. It’s now a break time!

It is perhaps your last article that hooked me. Then I stopped reading the New York Times until recently: “He has long been praised for the radiant tone he draws from his Stradivarius. One only wishes that he were more adventurous. (August 18, 2005)”

It just hooked me, because whenever I saw this musician playing, my word has been the exactly same as this statement, ever since I watched a documentary film to portray his life as from a child protégé to an adult musician.

However, something is different.

If you wish that he were more adventurous about his ability to perform more of impressive violin concertos instead of Romantic warhorses, I wish that he were more adventurous about his ability to draw better sound from his instrument.

I don’t think anyone would mind, including himself, even if I mention his name in public. He knows nothing about this article. He didn’t even read it. If he/she reads you, understands you, and dares to follow you, he/she is not a professional musician.

It was in America, where I watched his docu film. Some would agree with me, who believes that he has received perhaps the best schooling as a pure American fiddler. (I am curious. Is his teacher still alive?)

What I also believe is that he should remember his mentor’s teaching wherever he goes, as long as the life allows him to touch his instrument. Not only remembering his technical teaching but also understanding his spiritual teaching.

Somehow, I hear that his adult performance lacks something. His performance in his youth sounds/looks more genuine than his adult playing. I mean… as an adult professional musician, he doesn’t sacrifice his everything into his instrument, despite the fact that he is still physically capable. Hence, the more he manages to create something on his instrument, the less he draws from his instrument.

Well… I didn’t listen to all his performances, but I don’t plan to. When I heard him years ago, twice indeed, the very basic was always same. He says in his docu film, as far as I remember, “The best word to describe my/one’s sound on my/his instrument is my voice.

I say, “For some instrumentalists, voice means something. But for some instrumentalists, voice means nothing.”

I don’t know which case he belongs to, but this is all I can say to his present playing. And I wish that he were more adventurous about his ability to draw better sound from his instrument.

You know… the contemporary music sounds more imaginative or mysterious when you hear it played by “real” sound. Because it deals with more various chords, melodies, rhythms, and so forth. I learned this fact while observing American students’ playing either German music or American music. Then I confirmed my thoughts while listening to Wunderlich singing the popular music.

But then, I hear that stupid voice from the 8 o’clock radio program and I hate the contemporary music more than ever. A contemporary music means plain stupid, ugly, sour, loudly lousy, headache… sic! A contemporary music also means impossible technique. Some say, fabulous technique.

Anyways, I just wish that he were more adventurous about his ability not only to draw better sound from his instrument, but also to perform more of impressive violin concertos instead of Romantic warhorses.

It was part of my next-next-?-story, but it doesn’t quite fit into the subject of that story. So I am writing it now.

To be continued…

Sincerely Yours,


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