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Emerson Quartet and William Bolcom Clean Up

The results for this year's classical Grammys are in, awarded hastily before the televised coverage even began. William Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and of Experience won all three categories in which it was nominated, including beating out Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre (on which I was perhaps a little harsh) to win the big one, Best Contemporary Classical Composition. The Emerson Quartet's recording of the complete Mendelssohn string quartets won two awards. Kudos for single awards to conductor Mariss Jansons, whom Ionarts will be seeing at the podium of the Royal Concertgebouw Monday night, for his DSCH-13; Colin Davis for his Falstaff; Claudio Abbado and Martha Argerich for their Beethoven concerti; Evgeny Kissin for his Scriabin/Stravinsky; Pierre Boulez and Ensemble Contemporain for Le Marteau sans Maître; and Thomas Quasthoff for his Bach cantata disc.

This week I have been leading my 10th-grade Humanities students through a full reading of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, along with selective but generous listening to Bolcom's setting. Incredibly I find myself defending the composer's mixture of classical and popular idioms, which to my surprise did not impress my students at all.


Charles T. Downey said...

Alex, I'll have to try to get them to articulate what they didn't like a little more clearly, as that is not the strength of most teenagers. I thought that hearing that mix of styles would be an instant selling point, but they found the juxtaposition jarring and strange. Of course, they have not yet heard the concluding reggae song, but I'll try to get them to give me a full impression once they've heard more of the piece.

Charles T. Downey said...

Margarita, Slatkin is mentioned in my review of the work, linked here. I could have also mentioned all of the performers on the album. Obviously, I didn't, as this was only a quick announcement.

Charles T. Downey said...

Well, my students and I finished our little section on Blake and Bolcom today. By the time we got to the reggae song that ends the cycle, some of them said that they liked the mixture of classical and popular styles, that they would rather listen to this CD than a strictly classical one.

However, many students thought that the popular parts of the cycle mostly rang false, an attempt to dress up a classical piece with something it was not. Those parts stick out like sore thumbs from their classical surroundings and yet at the same time are not really pop songs either. I did my best to explain that the poetry is what led Bolcom to mix the styles together. Most of them agreed that Bolcom captures the spirit of Blake's poetry very well.