Saturday, January 24, 2009

We Need A Recording of Anthony McGill And Now! by Anthony McCarthy

In a day that provided thrills and inspiration in abundance, one of the highlights for me was the appearance of Anthony McGill in the inauguration festivities. Anthony McGill has been the first clarinet with the Metropolitan Opera for a while now. If you listen to the Met on the radio, you’ve heard him. He is, with little doubt, among the finest clarinet players in the world. I think he’s the obvious heir of the late Harold Wright. Being a frustrated fan of some years, having whined and moaned that there hasn’t been a recording of his solo playing available and I check just about every time I go looking, I hope it’s just a matter of time before someone does something to remedy that.

Until then, you can hear him at this link. I remember hearing his playing of the Poulenc Sonata on this program and thinking it’s the first time I ever found that piece engaging. Most players sort of knock it off like a weary version of American in Paris turned in on itself. The Brahms and Debussy are some of the finest performances those pieces have had.

Despite the alleged outrage of some over the pre-recorded performance of John William’s inaugural piece, I think it was forgivable in this case. A bad performance on out of tune instruments, due to the cold and, likely, a squeaky, frozen clarinet, wouldn’t have been preferable to any but those who wished the occasion ill. If the pre-recorded syncing was objectionable, I’d guess someone would have suggested that the performers played from inside the building with it projected on the screens. If this shows nothing else, it’s that outdoor music in January is a bad idea. A musician’s first duty is to give their best possible performance of a piece in the available conditions. The musician’s met that obligation.

It wouldn’t be surprising if some idiot in the media hasn’t talked about “sync-gate”.


- The carping and distortion about John Robert’s flubbing of the oath*,

- The whining about no TV cameras allowed into the “retaking”,

- The new found interest of the DC based media in governmental openness, after years of “journalistic” stenography and sycophantic acquiescence to the Bush regime.

If this is a scandal, it’s “sink gate” as in the corporate media intends to throw the kitchen sink at this Democratic president, just as they did the last two.

And about Aretha Franklin’s hat, it was thanksgiving and joy made a physical witness in the world. It was entirely fit to the occasion and her part in it. There are some things someone of her stature can carry off that would look ridiculous when others attempt it. She’s the Queen of Soul, she well knew anything less joyous would have been insufficient.

P. S. John Williams’ piece using “Simple Gifts”, giving it a rather complex treatment, was, of course, in the tradition begun by Aaron Copland. And, during the parade, I caught at least one far less than simple band rendition of the melody. The use of the most famous of Shaker spirituals in popular culture, from Appalachian Spring - a dance drama about a wedding**, to the marching band rendition is ironic. It’s a song about self-abasement, of humility and the joy derived from humility. And there isn’t a better rendition of it than that from the Sabbathday Lake Shakers , themselves, though Copland’s setting of the song for solo voice and piano is the second best rendition. Especially the recording made of Jan DeGaetani and Leo Smit at Copland’s 81th birthday recital.

* Isn’t it interesting that the high priest of “strict construction” couldn’t manage the shorter of the two oaths that noon, one of the most famous parts of the constitution he’s supposed to revere. So much for the integrity of that ruse. You’d think the boob would have had a crib sheet considering how important it was go get it right. At least the musicians taking the flack over the “scandal” knew their obligations as performers on such an august occasion.

And isn’t it telling that Robert's lapse, which President Obama caught as soon as it was made, was continually turned into a problem for Obama instead of Roberts, on some programs even after listeners corrected the "reporters". So much for journalistic integrity in the DC media.

** Copland wrote the music before he had any idea what the scenario that Martha Graham had planned for it. You wonder if a Shaker hymn would have come to mind if he’d known it was about a wedding.