So Yo-Yo, Itzhak and gang were string synching and what we heard on TV was Memorex.  Misleading? Unethical? Biggest scandal since we found out that those adorable little Chinese kids were lip synching the opening ceremony of the Olympics?  Or, no biggie.  Give the nice folks a break, nobody could actually play under those frigid conditions.


18 thoughts on “The Horror. The Horror.”
  1. Dang. I knew I should have looked that one up…of course, the performance was in between the swearing in of the Vice President and the President.

  2. Jeez…

    – The military trumpets could afford to be out of tune (which they were)…artists of that caliber could not, especially at that point in the ceremony. When you’re playing in front of 2 million people (live) and probably a hefty fraction of the planet – you make damn sure it’s going to come off well. If it sounded bad, we all would have sounded bad, in a sense.

    – It’s different from the others because of ability (as opposed to M.V. & Simpson) and necessity. An artist like Pavarotti can cancel a concert due to health reasons. Not so for weather conditions during the most highly-anticipated Presidential inaugurations in half a century.

    – In most of the reviews of the performance, everyone seems to enjoy jumping on the bandwagon of “OMG! Williams used a folk tune that Copland used! How unoriginal!” This misses the mark on two points. First, how many 19th century folk tunes does today’s public know? Not many. “Simple Gifts” was a part of our history before Copland used it and it still is a part of who we are musically as Americans. Williams intentionally used the tune, not only because of it’s public recognition but also as a nod to the debacle at Eisenhower’s inauguration where Copland’s work was dropped because of the Red Scare. Personally I think a lot of this has to do more with biases against Copland’s populist music as well as composers who write for film, but that’s for another day.

    The second and more egregious point that most seem to have missed is this: on this special day, with the world watching, what did the bigwigs decide would be the one event that would occur between the swearing-in and the address? A music composition. Written by an American composer. Utilizing both new material and borrowed material from our past. In a performance that highlighted the cultural/gender/age diversity of our American concert musical (albeit traditional) landscape. This fact should have been lauded and emphatically celebrated by organizations that supposedly support the notion that incorporating new American music into everyday life would be a good thing. Instead, we have the equivalent the circular firing squad, squabbling over the details and losing sight of the big picture. We in the composing community (small that it is) won a victory that day – I hope a few of us take time to realize it and put it to good use.

  3. Lisa,

    I’m saddened to hear that you’re ‘bummed out’ about the use of concert music as part of the inauguration. Concert music is an important and vibrant part of America’s cultural tradition.

    Long-standing too. William Billings, choral composer, was creating music during the Revolutionary War. Louis Gottschalk concertized throughout the nation in the years leading up to the Civil War.

    Yes, Copland arranged Simple Gifts, but what a memorable way to bring the tune to millions who’d never heard it. I was less enthused by John Williams’ arrangement, but grateful that concert music played a part, even dubbed, in the festivities.


    PS He spelled his name Aaron Copland.

  4. Elder Joseph composed Simple Gifts. I grew up singing it long before I got into Copeland and heard his rip.

    What bums me out the most is the decision to use concert music at all. There are too many wonderful musical traditions in the US that are designed for the outdoors and a variety of conditions. But really, it doesn’t really matter.

    But David, how is this different from Milli Vanilli and A Simpson?

  5. Jerry —

    That’s because there was no actual Copland in the piece. Williams simply used “Simple Gifts”, which Copland obviously didn’t compose — just popularized.

    It was clearly said by the committee (and listening to the music) itself that Williams “arranged” “Simple Gifts” (the choice of which was an homage to Copland), but he didn’t arrange any actual music by Copland. Thus, there was no need for him to be mentioned.

  6. Who scheduled this? You don’t have to be a weatherman to know that its gonna be too cold in January to play strings outside.

  7. David,

    Indoors would have been a great idea. Feed the performance through the giant screens and speakers (whatever they’re calling them) with shots of Obama and crowd reaction w/ flag for the propaganda icing on the cake would have worked. Why the players didn’t ask us, David, that’s simply befuddling.

  8. Personally, I’m not sure why they bothered going through the motions outside. Either play (and I’m sure that folks like Perlman and Ma can easily deal with a broken string or two during a concert or having to adjust for crappy intonation), or else just play a recording and have the musicians take a bow at the end. MIDI would have been just as good.

    While this certainly is not Milli Vanilli or Ashlee Simpson, it seems superfluous and perhaps disingenuous, despite the best intentions. If it’s too cold to perform, then don’t perform. If the music is necessary for ceremonial purposes, then play a high-quality recording and attribute it to the performers. But doing string-synching is strange, at least to me. I’m in agreement with JC.

  9. Most professional orchestras have clauses in their contracts which stop outdoor performances at a specified temperature (somewhere in the mid to low 60’s). At least they made the source tape and were playing along with themselves. (Although I suspected originally watching Perlman’s bow.) It only makes sense. If the intonation was bad due to fighting the piano that was probably going every which way but 440, people would be complaining about the intonation delivered by artists of such calibre.

  10. What a joke. Artists at the top of their game…. They should be embarrassed. Injecting Copeland into the score was bad enough, this just makes it that much worse.

  11. What irks me is this insistance on turning such occasions into Disney-esque displays of perfection. In this age of Jumbo trons and simulcasts, why not have the quartet play in the Congressional Rotunda, making music in the moment? It just seems a bit too staged and I worry when the government becomes too concerned with the “appearance” of art.

  12. brass,winds, and percussion 1; strings, piano (and clarinet) .5

    I had imagined such; and thought that Mr Ma was using a shiny carbon-fiber cello, which was announced on the station we watched. (NYT says this was not so.)

    What about those cute text-messaging/iPhone gloves that cover all but the finger tips, and have the fold-over mitten feature?

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