Sunday, 6 December 2009
Crumb of wisdom
'It's easy to write unthinking music' quoth Virginian one-off George Crumb (pictured above at yesterday's BBCSO Total Immersion event by Simon Jay Price). 'But I don't think it's a good thing to create less than good music in a world that's full of a lot of indifferent music.'
Maybe he was thinking of dashed-off pop, but I take that remark to mean indifferent contemporary, 'serious' music. Crumb at 80 doesn't seem to have composed anything that fails to engage at least the curiosity as well as the intellect. If yesterday's two concerts suggested that he touches the metaphysical better with a handful of players whose talents and personalities he knows than when he traffics in large forces, it was still a privilege to hear both sides of the coin. Hopefully my Arts Desk review puts that across.
One aspect I've not mentioned there is the beauty of his written or printed scores. You can get a sense of this from the 'Spiral Galaxy' page of Makrokosmos Vol. 1 which Joanna MacGregor left behind on the piano after her scintillating performance (we met her later, a little dazed by the event).
I also didn't mention how much fun Crumb can be, both as a person and a composer. The new film just released on DVD - three quarters recital, one quarter documentary - spotlights several character sketches of his doggie friends from the recent Mundus Canis.
Why should the feline species get all the best tunes, he drily asks. There's also a spellbinding performance by Robert Shannon of Eine Kleine Mitternachtsmusik, Crumb's homage to a theme by Thelonius Monk. Guitarist David Starobin, who made the film and also features in it, was a sensitive companion in the afternoon talk yesterday; Stephen Montague seemed a little more, shall we say, self-oriented. His foyer piece didn't match up to the master, but it was fun to see the black- and white-masked kids putting their hearts and souls into the project. Here are some of the balcony artists bringing the Barbican environs to life.
Happy 80th birthday, George. We like you a lot.