Most Ridiculous CD Cover
Lang Lang and his handlers obviously wanted to make a strong impression, in the bicentennial year of Franz Liszt’s birth. But who came up with this utter nonsense, and called it art? It looks like the celebrated Chinese pianist is stoned on some kind of orange hallucinogenic drug.
After a decade of absence from public view, cellist Ofra Harnoy played a program of Bach, Beethoven and Franck in Toronto, accompanied by pianist Anton Kuerti. It was a fine recital – but it wasn’t clear if the event was intended to mark the beginning of a sustained return to the concert stage. We’ll see what does (or doesn’t) follow.
Most Promising Initiative for Opera in Canada (if that’s what it was)
In November, at the Canadian Opera Company’s sparsely attended annual general meeting, COC general director Alexander Neef mentioned that the company was actively pursuing the goal of presenting HD simulcasts of COC operas in cinemas. While making no promises, he said that there were “hurdles to overcome,” but that the company was “in the process of working it out.”
Best Failed Artistic Collaboration
This year, conductor Claudio Abbado and pianist Hélène Grimaud did not release a recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23. Briefly stated, the reason is that they couldn’t agree on the cadenza: Grimaud wanted to play one written by Busoni, and Abbado preferred Mozart’s. This is, I think, encouraging news: it’s nice to know that there are still some artists out there who are willing to make a deal-breaking stand on artistic issues. Too often, the need to “co-operate” and “produce results” becomes an imperative that imposes a regime of compromise on artists. I congratulate both Abbado and Grimaud for their uncompromising positions.
Biggest Tempest in a Teapot
Pianist Yuja Wang attracted plenty of attention when she appeared in several concerts (including one in Toronto) in a skimpy little dress and high heels. I was one of several critics who wrote about this, and you can see my comments here. But looking back on the flurry of discussion that followed, I can’t help thinking that the conflation of a concert-attire issue into a major “controversy” says more about the current state of classical music than it does about Ms. Wang. Today, the classical music world aspires to a kind of pristine issuelessness – at least, that’s what the managers and publicists seem to want (although, ironically, they also want lots of media coverage). As a result, very little that is genuinely controversial is said or done. As a further consequence, critics grasp at the thinnest of straws, and turn every minor departure from convention into a big deal.
Most Dubious Use of Technology in the Service of Art
Several contenders for this award came to my attention in 2011. But I feel I must bestow the laurels on University of Toronto computer scientist Steve Engels. He’s working on a computer program that can write music – and the results are more bizarre than anything that even the craziest living, breathing composer could produce. Two audio samples can be heard (here), and listeners are invited to vote on whether or not they were written by a human. It’s hard to say which of the two sounds less human.
© Colin Eatock 2011