City Paper is not for tourists
When I read a baffling piece of journalism or criticism, I routinely let the confusing words baste in my head for a day or so. Then I re-read the story the next day, with a clear head, in hopes of unlocking meanings, subtleties, messages that I may have missed on the first go-round.
That method didn’t work with Anne Midgette‘s Monday Style review of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s latest outing, which featured Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and Bernstein’s “Opening Prayer.”
Pinpointing just where Midgette’s review goes off the bars is a tricky undertaking. I’m tempted to just cut-and-paste the whole damn thing right here, but that’d be a fair-use violation. Broadly speaking, however, every assertion in the review, it seems, is followed by another assertion that either contradicts its predecessor or seems completely untethered to anything else.
For instance: Midgette starts out with the observation that BSO honcha Marin Alsop is a woman in charge, a passionate warrior of the classical canon. OK, so far so good, right.
Wrong. From there, there’s just no logic to anything on the page. I am going to abridge the twists and turns in the review so that you can try to figure it out as well:
Point 1: Alsop is a woman in control, but being in control is an odd way to approach Mahler’s Ninth, which is an emotional work.
Point 2: Mahler’s work isn’t scrappy stuff, but the BSO’s treatment of the Ninth was scrappy. Question: Just what does “scrappy” mean in an orchestral context? That the concertmaster is diving for every loose baton?
Point 3: Execution of “Opening Prayer” was well done. Understandable!
Point 4: “Fierce” attention to detail gave a weird touch to the “throbbing” Mahler main event.
Point 5: “Scrappy” is a word that “doesn’t convey the sense of polish that [Alsop] gave to individual phrases, which seemed scrubbed clean until they shone, lined up like children ready for school.” OK, so now the BSO’s performance of the Ninth was not scrappy?
Point 6: Since I cannot possibly encapsulate this point, I have no choice but to just reprint it: “This is in a way laudable, but it’s not very Mahlerian, and through the piece one was aware of clean form often moving past at the expense of content, without the beating heart that’s so much a part of this over-the-top music. Well-played, well-delineated phrases mounted to a climax that yielded no payoff. The kiss of cymbals sat atop a mound of music toward the end of the first movement like a cherry poised atop whipped cream, rather than the crest of a breaking wave.”
Now, I am all in favor of originality, but I don’t have enough time in my day to figure out the figurative difference between a cherry poised atop whipped cream vs. the crest of a breaking wave. One’s red and the other’s white?
Point 7: Despite all that nonsense in the cherry/wave paragraph, this was “in many ways, a compelling performance.”
Point 8: Return to the scrappy/not scrappy question: “The precision that sounded a little finicky at the start of the first movement brought an appropriate taut resilience to the beginning of the second. The clean, shining phrases were whipped into a frenzy that was positively dizzying at the end of both the second and the third movements.”
Point 9: Filler about the progress of women in the arts.
Point 10: The piece’s kicker: “Near the very end of the work, the music once again built to a climax. This time, the wave crested and broke.”
What ever happened to that cherry?
I am expecting a clarification on page A2 any day now.