Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On not Being Two Places at Once

I find it slightly amusing that, after yesterday’s “diachronic speculations,” I should now be reflecting on the most important impediment to synchronic thinking, which is that none of us can ever be two places at once.  These reflections were triggered as I read my print edition of the San Francisco Chronicle this morning and realized that Music Critic Joshua Kosman spent Sunday evening at tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s recital in Zellerbach Hall on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, while I was taking in pianist Yefim Bronfman’s recital at Davies Symphony Hall here in San Francisco.  Now, as a student, I used to read Winthrop Sargeant’s music columns for The New Yorker and tended to get annoyed when he would write about leaving one performance at intermission to hop over to another.  I have no idea whether or not his editors condoned or approved of his practices, but they struck me as consistent with the sort of lifestyle that the magazine was trying to encourage.  On the other hand those were days when less attention was given to trying to establish some logical coherence when one prepared a program for performance, so there was less risk of jeopardizing the event by considering parts without accounting for the whole.  Still, I felt there was an arrogant subtext to the practice, saying:  “We can do things like this in New York;  and, if you are reading this in any other American city, chances are pretty good that you can’t!”

Nevertheless, there are bound to be occasions when one has to make difficult choices about how one commits one’s time;  and I can even confess that I have been known to change my mind about such a commitment on the relatively short notice of a few hours.  On the other hand the writing I do for Examiner.com is pretty much a matter of “flying solo;”  so there is nothing I can do once the commitment has been made.  Thus, I have no problem with Kosman being one place and my being at another.  Furthermore, given my personal preference for attention to listening, rather than enthusiasm, reading the opening sentences of Kosman's account assured me that I had made the right decision:

If the world of classical music has a Justin Bieber, it can only be tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who drove the Sunday night crowd in Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall into paroxysms of frenzied applause - all before he'd even opened his mouth.

This is to take nothing - or at least not much - away from Kaufmann's singing, which is forthright and often arresting, albeit in a rough-hewn, muscular sort of way. But presumably an audience that doesn't even wait for the music to begin before roaring its approval has more than just Schumann on its mind.

In the context of this opener, I have to say that I derived considerable satisfaction from Kosman’s focus on how Kaufmann approached the vocal repertoire of Robert Schumann and Richard Strauss, perhaps with even greater interest because of the prominent role that Schumann had played in Bronfman’s recital.  In the terms of a quotation from Plato that I invoked on one of my more speculative Examiner.com pieces, Kosman acted as a judge who was not learning his verdict from the audience.

Still, the question remains as to why the Chronicle must also limit its attention to only one event on any given night.  We all know the answer, and it has nothing to do with the performing arts or the skill of writing about performances.  As they say, “It’s all about the money.”  Regardless of what happens on their Web site, the number of pages on my breakfast table continue their steady monotonic decline, if not from day to day then certainly in a long-range trend.  While the Web-based version does not have to worry about the total number of available column inches, management has to worry about paying for the content it provides, even when it involves freelance contributions.  The result is that, here in San Francisco, one has to turn to other Web sites for a more thorough account of what takes place across the many venues this municipal area has to offer.

On the other hand I have to be careful about disrespecting the Chronicle too much.  After all, look what I found at the bottom of the Web page after reading Kosman’s piece:
There was a link to the review I wrote last week about a boxed-set collection of the complete piano works of Schumann, given higher ranks than other reviews of Kaufmann no less!  My guess is that it was Schumann’s name that triggered the selection of that link, if not its rank on the list.  I suppose I had better check my latest Google Analytics report to see if the Chronicle is actually blessing me with an increase in page views!

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