Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Birth of a Misnomer?

When Jennifer Koh made her San Francisco Performances visit last week at Herbst Theatre, I prepared a preview piece for her, partly to get out the word that she was doing the program without an accompanist, and then filed my review shortly after the recital itself. The program featured a visual interpretation of a composition entitled "Lachen Verlernt" by Esa-Pekka Salonen by video artist Tal Rosner. The advance material from which I wrote my preview referred to Salonen's composition as a concerto for solo violin. I appropriated this language and saw that it also appeared in the program book. However, when it came to listening to the music, which was only about ten minutes long, the classification struck me as a bit peculiar. So, when I wrote the review I decided to dig for background material beyond what the program book provided. In the course of a first-order Web search, I discovered several sites on which Salonen, in his own words, called the composition a chaconne. This made a lot more sense to me, particularly since it anticipated that its performance would be followed, after the intermission, by Johann Sebastian Bach's D minor BWV 1004 partita, best known for the monumental chaconne that concludes it.

How, then, did "Lachen Verlernt" come to be called a "concerto?" Pushing a bit further with my Web searching, I discovered that the word "concerto" appeared only on Web pages describing Rosner's video. Rosner himself never seems to have used the word, so my guess is that it was a product of one of his public relations writers. Things being what they are, it is not difficult to imagine a publicist who does not know the difference between a chaconne and a concerto! (This reminds me of my favorite joke about why I am such a big fan of Linda Hunt on NCIS Los Angeles, which is that she portrays a character who assumes you know the difference between Rainer Maria Rilke and Theodore Roethke!) The problem is that the efforts of this somewhat confused (and unedited) publicist have now penetrated cyberspace and taken over the high-page-rank sites! This leaves me wondering whether Salonen is aware of what has happened to how people now talk about this composition and whether he has any thoughts on the matter!

No comments: