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January 19, 1995 - Image 18

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The Michigan Daily, 1995-01-19

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8- The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, January 19, 1995

Orchestras highlight fine art's year

By BRIAN WISE
Ask a professional musician to as-
sess the current state of classical music
in this country, and one might not get
a perfectly harmonious response. The
year 1994, many would assert, was one
offurtherdeclineinpublicconcertgoing
and financial support to musical insti-
tutions.
Some would point the blame to
educational systems that have failed to
cultivate an audience for classical mu-
sic. Others connect such changes in
attitude to an increasingly omnipotent
and voracious popular culture nour-
ished by powerful media and entertain-
ment industries. In any case, a certain
negligence has resulted in an increas-
ingly older, conservative and shrinking
audience in many parts of the country.
It is thus of some reassurance to
consider the diversity and general suc-
cess of musical events in Ann Arbor
this past year.
From recitals to symphony
orchestas to chamber music, a virtual
who's-who ofclassical music appeared
at local venues in 1994.
Such was particularly the case for
orchestral music.
The Moscow Philharmonic ap-
peared one frigid, late-winter evening

in March to warm audiences with
fiery performances of Russian mas-
terpieces. Conducted by Vassily
Sinaisky, they brought a solid ac-
count of Stravinsky's wild and im-
mensely difficult "Rite of Spring."
The ensemble gave a Glinka overture
gusto, and the Tchaikovsky Violin Con-
certo sounded superb in the hands of
22-year-old soloist, Gil Shaham.
The return of the Philadelphia Or-
chestra in October under the baton of
Wolfgang Sawallisch marked a home-
coming in grand fashion with works in
the German romantic tradition. A 10-
year hiatus from Ann Arbor separated
this performance and 49 consecutive
May festivals (1936-1984), and the
famous lush tone that Eugene Ormandy
cultivated was no less apparent long
after the conductor's departure.
An honorable mention should go to
the Oslo Philharmonic, which arrived
in December with conductor Mariss
Jansons and pianist Yefim Bronfman,
to give excellent renditions of Bartok,
Ravel and Shostakovich.
Also, 1994 was a memorable year
in the realm of chamber music. A week
in January honoring Dmitri
Shostakovich featured a University
symposium and his 15 String Quar-

tets, performed by the Borodin String
Quartet. The exhaustive but fascinat-
ing series was particularly authentic
given that many of the quartets had
received their premiers by the
Borodin, which is still active in keep-
ing the flame.
Yo-Yo Ma also had a productive
year, with two new recordings of 20th
Century music and a few world tours
(including a spot on David Letterman).
Through all of this, Ma managed to
open the 1994 May Festival with his
typical energetic flair, along with the
equally impressive Orchestra of St.
Luke's, conducted by Robert Spano.
Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade
gave an absorbing recital to a nearly
sold-out Hill Auditorium audience in
November, joined by pianist Martin
Katz. There were several great mo-
ments that Sunday afternoon, particu-
larly in songs by Debussy and Ravel.
Other fine performances come to
mind in assessing the best of 1994,
including those by James Galway and
our neighbors, the Detroit Symphony
Orchestra. All of this would seem to
indicate that, at least as far as Ann
Arbor is concerned, there are many
good things happening in the world of
classical music.

The Philadelphia Orchestra was an important visitor this year to Ann Arbor.

Short attention, .
'Seasame Street'
and you
Earlier this month, the Michigan
Theater exhibited "Rebel Without a
Cause." This 1955 landmark film,
which due to the recent death of lead
James Dean was instantaneously
~~ Scott Plagenhoef
mythological, introduced the nuclear-
era teens to the inaugural symbol of
youth culture. In turn it also, in com-
bination with the film "Blackboard
Jungle" and the Caucasian repackag-
ing of black soul music by Bill Haley,
Elvis Presley and the like, introduced
youth culture to Madison Avenue and
corporate entertainment. It has never
since been returned to the youth them-
selves.
James Dean's mesmerizingly
complex, tough yet vulnerable turn as
Jim Stark, a confused, lonely teen-
ager from a family disconnected with
his emotions became an instant icon
to a socially displaced youth who
identified with each display of bewil-
derment. Today exists "Reality Bites,"
"Threesome" and such tautological
and melodramatic claptrap as "Pretty
in Pink" before that.
Even the most accessible art form
*for individuals to empower them-
selves free of corporate ties, music, is
trapped at the most mainstream lev-
els. "The Planet," 96.3, the Detroit
market's local Top 40 trendy chame-
leon has as its slogan, "the next music
revolution is here." Which of course
acknowledges that their current for-
mat is only the next in an ongoing
series of revolutions dependent not
upon integrity or quality, but profit.
Or in other words, we'll sell you this
stuff now, but no matter if the next
trend is house music or jugband blues,
we'll sell you that too; anything to
keep you trendy and us rich.
Film is not as simple either in its
position as youth culture or its ability
or willingness to attempt to manipu-
late it. 32mm cameras are simply more
difficult for Janie and Johnny High
School to come by on their food ser-
vice jobs than guitars. Yet each gen-
eration since James Dean has had
celluloid icons attempt to define them-
selves. This decade's rediscovery of
young adults and teenagers as a niche
in society to be labeled and defined by
the media has begot instead only a
new means of film marketing.
Recent corporate youth films, such
as "Reality Bites," "Threesome" and
the soon-to-be-released "S.F.W."
have as much as their marketing fo-
cus as the film itself the soundtrack.
Entire advertising spots for these
works focus on the film's rosters of
such avant-garde musicians as
Radiohead, General Public, and, gasp,
Julianna Hatfield. The film seems al-
most peripheral.
Similarly, the MTV montage style
of editing has also infested filmmak- *
ing. Scenes such as the opening post-
graduation rooftop celebration in "Re-

ality Bites" are increasingly preva-
lent in film. Snippets of conversa-
tions used as a shortcut to character-
ization.
In this case, because the footage
wasshot by a hand-held camera pur-
ported to be documentary footage,
yet still spliced beyond the recogni-
tion of nonfiction, it is even more
ironic.
The short-attention span of our
youth films has as its origin the most
unlikely of sources: "Sesame Street."
A large portion of the show's success
and appeal to children can be traced to
the fact that ideas and images change
so quickly, often without logical tran-
sition. Apart from being a nearly
invaluable source for children to de-
sire to learn, the program also ensured
that our generation would never have
to combat our short-attention spans.
"Reality Bites" in particular seems
to regard cultural recognition skills
and nostalgia as youth-defining ele-
ments. Witness the number of refer-
ences to childhood memories from
"My Sharona" to Schoolhouse Rock
to Easy-Bake Ovens. Corporate youth 0
inventions all. This was how we are
raised. These are our shared experi-
ences. Even film works of actual qual-
ity, such as "Clerks" has existential
discussions of pop-culture references
at heart.

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