Monday, 17 September 2012

Sisyphus, reporting for duty

Greetings, minions.

Sorry. It's induction week, so my authoritarian tendencies are coming to the fore. I keep thinking of the driving instructor's assertion to Cher in Clueless (my favourite Jane Austen adaptation, sadly not available on Youtube): 'as far as you're concerned, I'm the Messiah'.

However, despite the myriad opportunities to terrify new students, the week is actually going to be one of semi-controlled panic, and very little blogging. We have multiple meetings with the freshers and with our colleagues (none of whom could possible be described as 'fresh') and a mind-numbing set of administrative duties. I'm not sure what the collective term for academics is, but 'a grumble' will do nicely. Just ask one about electronic module guide formatting and retire to a safe distance.

Anyway, I prepared for the onslaught by going to a mighty fine concert on Saturday: the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus playing some Richard Strauss and Mahler's Symphony No. 2, The Resurrection. The Strauss was fairly unremarkable: glutinous late-Romantic stew despite being composed well into the 20th-century, but the Mahler was magnificent. Being a fan mainly of dissonant 20th-century classical music, I was surprised by the modernity of the symphony. It was 19th-century in the massive scale of musical forces: eight double basses, a contrabassoon, multiple percussionists, French horns, more instruments off-stage and ('at last') Tubular Bells, but there was a lot more light and shade than I expected. The soprano (Sarah Fox) and mezzo-soprano Mijoko Fujimura sung with total control, and the delicacy of the CBSO Chorus in the pianissimo section was breathtaking - about 1.13.25 in this version:

Some sections of the symphony meandered a little - not the orchestra's fault but the composer's - but the final movement is a monster, and I could understand why the ovation was one of the longest I've ever seen: so long, in fact, that many of the rather senior crowd might well lose their disability benefits if anyone from ATOS was there. I also enjoyed spotting the sections which have been lifted wholesale by Hollywood soundtrack composers. Too be expected, I suppose: most of the studio musicians were German refugees with similar training and an ear for the dramatic. In recent years, I'd wager Howard Shore was listening to a lot of Mahler and Dvorak's Requiem Mass when he wrote the Lord of the Rings music, and there's a Mahlerian air to some of Alexander Courage's Star Trek theme (the show's creator Gene Roddenbury ripped him off by writing lyrics which were deliberately never used, thus claiming 50% of the royalties).

Right. Time to do some more work. Laters!


Emma said...

Out of curiousity I googled the collective noun for academics which is boringly a faculty when you compare it to the term for bakers which is a tabernacle.

I'm having a quiet work week.

The Plashing Vole said...

I can tell! A tabernacle. Bizarre and impressive.