radio

Please tune in to WRTI 90.1 FM this Sunday, November 23rd at 5pm to hear my episode of “Philadelphia Music Makers” hosted by yours truly! I’ll be sharing some stories as well as playing a program of works by Bach, Schumann, Britten, Piazzolla, and Cassadó! It will also be posted later online at wrti.org.

Listen to a preview at the link below:

http://wrti.org/post/hear-more-seymour

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on rotation

I stumbled across an interview that was published within the past few days with Ara Guzelimian, the Dean of Juilliard. While I concur with and applaud most of his responses, I was sent into a state of confounded shock at one of the interviewer’s questions:

…with the decline of newspapers and the rise of blogs, is music henceforth to be judged as simply a matter of opinion, where all positions are equally valid?

 

Okay.

 

HENCEFORTH?! As if up until this point, music was NOT judged as a matter of opinion? If it was not a matter of people’s taste and the influence of their opinions, how did music evolve into what it is now, with its thousands of different genres and styles and techniques? This interview question evokes a looming Anna Wintour-like music critic who declares at the beginning of each season what is or isn’t en vogue with a factual stamp of a bejeweled scepter. Yes, they may indeed have offered some sort of guidance, but never were they cultural autocrats by any means. And as far as “validity” is concerned, there is no right or wrong to musical opinion. It is just whatever happens to tickle your pickle.

The line between “professional journalist” and “amateur blogger” is being blurred more and more each day, but this is nothing new. By the time Dvorak’s famous ‘New World’ Symphony premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1893 to widespread, popular success, the National Amateur Press Association (hello primitive social media) had already been producing articles from its Philadelphia foundation for 17 years, covering everything from music to politics, and everything in between. I admire so-called “amateurs” for their enthusiasm. They have an openness and thirst for exploring a topic on which they do not claim to be experts, and they wish to share it. That sort of spirit is what moves and pushes memes, sorts through material that truly stands out, and shapes culture.

Also, why must 99% of articles and interviews about classical music these days be about its current state, it’s “doomed” future, and how it is supposed to function and/or in these changing times (sidebar: when have times ever not been changing?? Jesus.)?? They all feature the same nondescript, boring questions and comments on rotation. The comic duo Igudesman and Joo discuss this in their wonderful little interview with Nick Canellakis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH_Ral_WbJ0

That all being said, I quite enjoyed Guzelimian’s comments on the access and wealth of material archives that blogging and YouTube and the Internet, in general, allows. There is so much to sift through, but it is there and available.

In other news: My wonderful spam commenters keep writing to me, “Great blog, very informative, keep writing, and please send $10,000 to my bank account in Nigeria,” so I suppose I will take just a little slice of their advice. Buckling down on the blogging thing again, like a real amateur. :)

 

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the food network: a devolution

Do you remember a time on the Food Network when culinary hunks like Tyler Florence or Bobby Flay would pull out freshly-baked goods from their stainless steel ovens (bringing new meaning to the term ‘studmuffin’) or Ina Garten would make you wish she were your Bubbe with the amount of schmaltz she kept on reserve at all times- that is, until you heard how open-mid frontally she pronounced her /ɛ/ in the word “eggs,” or when Giada would describe her tasting experience in vividly erotic terminology over soft and easy guitar strums in the background, and as the viewer, all you could do was drool at the visual pleasure consumption on the TV screen, leaving all vicarious epicureanism to the wonders of your imagination? Yeah, those were the days.

With the current fare on the Network, its previous sophistication has been reduced to a suburban megamall of competitive shows, with superficial drama taking the driver’s seat. A few that come to mind are “Cupcake Wars,” “Chopped,” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.” Here, plot twists take center stage over delicately-crafted puff pastry twists, and food merely becomes the sidebar to highly-entertaining competitive human nature. Frankly, this devolution in food culture is frightening.

I miss the days of the singular TV cooking show personality. We have such names as Julia Child and Jacques Pépin to thank for laying the foundations of educating the greater public on the subtleties and nuances of gastronomy through their hosting roles. Both demanding presences in their own right, it was still the delectable dishes that took the limelight on the show. There are plenty of other shows and networks devoted to fabricated microdramas, so let’s leave the food alone. Food is an art, not a sport. The moment we turn culture into competitive sport, it immediately loses significant artistic value. Let’s enjoy its intrinsically sensual and intriguing qualities without an extraneous deus ex machina or deceptive red herring. Bobby Flay’s confrontations with the dangers of a charcoal grill are fascinating. And Giada’s recipe for prosciutto e melone? Well, you’re not the only one drawing euphemistic connections there.

© Reuben Harley

Pumping iron at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market. © Reuben Harley

 

in defense of the selfie

The “selfie” is far from being a recent phenomenon. But why has it garnered this dogmatic notion of being shameful? We live in a visual culture. Such an image is often misinterpreted as self-involvement, but what better way is there to represent one’s persona, than the immediate self-snap of a 612px by 612px Instagram image?

I am calling for an end to the ‘#shameless’ hashtag that accompanies the common selfie. Backspace on that, delete it. It is a false sensation of humility to what would otherwise be a very expressive freeze-frame of one’s doings. The persona becomes an objet d’art- one among billions in the “cloud” of the Instagram feed. Such bravado is not unprecedented.

Oscar Wilde may have even foreshadowed this with Dorian Grey. We see the decadent transformation of man to intangible image, or a complex personality into objet d’art. It is a mirror-image of our submissive nature when it comes to artistic expression. This same transmutability occurs when the selfie is published, collecting likes/favorites within “the cloud.” Apart from any sort of Instagram-imposed censoring, the selfie is removed from the realm of choice, and thus, free to operate outside of the laws of morality, so why the shaming? Formal permanence is a beautiful thing, IMHO.

 

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innig

Rittenhouse Square sunny lazing

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Schumann Cello Concerto was premiered exactly 133 years before the very day I was born.

Contrary to the recent trend of encouraging concert audiences to clap between movements, Schumann absolutely despised this practice. Thus, he purposely wrote the concerto with one movement bleeding into the next, sparing no coffee/donut breaks.

What makes this piece so remarkable is that there is no self-indulgent display of razzmatazz virtuosity. It is a highly emotional story, delivered with the eloquence of Flaubertian prose (just finished his short story, A Simple Heart, excuse my pretense); It is a presentation of succinct expression that directly hits the epicenter, packed with heightened dramatic passion or inner poignancy, with no excess frills.

Composed just a few years before his Rhine River suicide attempt, Schumann’s mental health was already beginning its decline. Visions of angels and demons occupied his mind, and this sort of split musical personality (potentially schizophrenia) was represented by two imaginary characterizations in his music: Florestan (the extrovert) and Eusebius (the introvert). The fragility of his mental state is reflected in large, sweeping romantic gestures juxtaposed with intimate speech, best put in that wonderfully impalpable German term, “innig.”

Anywho, what would all this delightful information even amount to without a little shameless self promo? I am playing it on April 27, 3pm with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Kensho Watanabe. Please come if possible!

 

This is neither the Rhine nor a river, but I wish I were there right now

 

Best of the Best

Welp, it is officially iced coffee season on Instagram. The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing, and Philadelphians are coming out of hibernation to make brunch plans. I just came back from a lovely few days at home in California, and of course, I had to go to the world’s BEST Indian restaurant, which is located in Berkeley.

Okay. I have no idea if that is actually true or not, but I’ve learned that if you use the words “best”, “most”, “amazing” or “world” in your blog posting, then it will pretty much be the first thing that comes up when googled, whether it is actually fantastic or not.

Ever since I was a little monster (was / is, whatever), I have been going to House of Curries, which will hereby be called HoC…which now that I think about it looks a lot like GoT…and ughhhasdfhalkjsdhg that just reminds me I am terribly behind on that show. I went so often with my mom–sitting down for 3-hour long meals of nonstop chatting and stuffing our faces with fresh-out-of-the-tandoor-oven naan, warm, spicy curries, and enough chai tea to fill the San Francisco Bay–that I grew quite close to the owner, who even sent me off to Curtis with a generous 5-lb. bag of chai tea leaves. And this is not Starbucks instant chai tea mix. No, no, no. This is the real deal. Steeped with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and other spices, and sweetened with cream and sugar, only to bring out the delicate flavors of these spices. Not pre-packaged chai concentrate, laced with high fructose corn syrup. Noooooo way. HoC is deliciously cheap and homestyle food. I always call it my “death row meal.”
from ragas to riches. my hidden talent.

from ragas to riches. my hidden talent.

So in light of the fact that I just learned that Chicken Tikka Masala was actually conceived in an Indian restaurant in the UK, and that springtime weather makes me crave Pimm’s Cup like no other, I present to you a fascinating video on British accents.

xx

traveling with a cello

For the first time in a very, VERY long time, I went on a plane SANS cello.

 

Oh man. I have serious Mama Bear Syndrome when it comes to my cello, and will instinctually maul anyone limb to limb if they even dare to lay a finger on my baby. Okayyy maybe that’s a little melodramatic. But I have indeed been seen to throw an all-balls-out public hissy fit if I catch scent of any sort of mishandling going on by TSA. At the security checkpoint, I have to go through the usual unloading of all your carry-on items onto the conveyor belt and this includes my cello. For what seems like an eternity (roughly 10 seconds), we are separated and my baby passes through the ominous cavemouth of the x-ray scanner, reemerging on the other side, hopefully unscathed. Meanwhile I, as quickly as possible and in a blur of anxiety-attack-inducing-paranoia, pass through the full body scanner. But WAIT RIGHT THERE. In the off chance that I look suspicious in my foaming-at-the mouth, rabid state, or I happened to have forgotten about that ONE microscopic safety pin on my dress that completely unravels my perfect agenda of making it through security flawlessly, I am guided aside for a manual patdown while a TSA agent swoops in on my cello.

And that, my friends, is when all hell is let loose. Fake crying, exaggerated instrument values, near-fatal catfights, you name it. They are all in my repertoire, right up there next to Dvorak, Elgar, Schumann concertos…

I have been “STEP AWAY, MA’AM” ‘d so many times in my life so far that I’ve lost count.

Not realizing the value of my instrument, a TSA agent is causing a huge risk to me by removing it from the belt to “create room for other items.” A slight slip of the grip and my cello could be on the floor, cracked into a million pieces. And that would be tragic to say the least. Of course I understand that they might not be aware of its value, or even what the hell this “guitar-looking” thing is. (Sidebar: I’ve been asked if it’s a piano. Spatial-temporal reasoning is in decline these days.) So yes, I apologize to those TSA agents. But pleaaaasssee please please can my cello not be treated like it is HazMat??!? Thanks in advance.

Another scenario I often face is the drug mule accusation. Obviously, if I were smuggling drugs, the most effective way would be to do it under the guise of a concert cellist. Or at least that seems to be what is going through the minds of TSA when they insist on opening my cello case to do a drug check and bomb swab test on the interior lining. What a story that would make if it were true. I can see the headlines now: “Cellist Plays Ave Maria Full of Grace” or “Rocococaine Variations.” A much more logical method would be my rosin cakes anyway. :)

So basically, airport travel is not fun when you are being harassed. Although I felt naked without my cello, it was actually a relief to walk through the terminal without the anxiety that comes with the whole “extra passenger” thing. And no, extra pretzels for Cello Seymour on the plane are not a big enough perk to make the experience much better, but thanks for asking. Without the extra stress I was able to take in some interesting airport sights. For example- the lady doing yoga in the middle of the terminal. I guess we’re all going to pretend that isn’t weird? Okay. Good plan.

 

xx

Not-so-incidental music

I’ve yet to see Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac but this New Yorker article intrigues me….http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2014/03/music-ruined-by-movies.html#entry-more

I’m a bit hesitant to see it, as now I’m afraid that I will associate the Franck Sonata (a.k.a. the Frank Sinatra) with a series of overly-indulgent sexcapades from the film in the same way that I now cannot stop myself from seeing the radio speech climax scene from The King’s Speech whenever I hear Beethoven’s 7th Symphony 2nd movement. But I am still curious.

Similarly, it is difficult to dissociate Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1- Prelude from sentimentalized TV commercials and restore the musical masterpiece to its singular power. As I have previously said though, it is this type of subtle music/film collaboration that makes the timelessness of classical music inescapable, even to our tech-centric, trend-obsessed population. What better way to expose a “naïve” listener to the ‘Lacrimosa’ from Mozart’s Requiem, than insert it at a dramatic moment of mental turmoil and uncertain fate??

In other news, I’m spring cleaning out my Twitter drafts folder because 90% of them have to do with the act of twerking, and I think (hope) we’ve moved on? #wishfulthinking

xx