<< Front page Commentary March 19, 2004

Orchestra member’s reply to Sarah Carsman article

I was shocked and flabbergasted by Sarah Carsman’s review of last week’s orchestra concert, in which I played trombone. Not by the praise or criticism of the players, which is part of standard music snobbery.

Actually, what really ticked me off was that Ms. Carsman decided to go psycho on Ottorino Respighi, deceased since 1936. She referred to several orchestra members’ grumblings about Respighi’s pieces Fountains and Pines of Rome, as full of “Disney-esque cheesiness.” Excuse me, but what is Disney-esque about dead souls rising from underneath the earth, about marches to war and about Italian fountains? That’s what the piece was about, and to paraphrase my youth orchestra conductor Joseph Primaveri, “This is the best piece of Italian music ever written. It represents the soul of Italy, its whole essence, its whole being.” He cried almost every time we played through it. Later he added, “And if you dare disagree with me, I’ll rip your fucking head off.” He was not a nice man.

Also, as a note, it’s probably a bad idea to judge a piece on anyone’s grumblings. There were plenty of musicians and critics grumbling after Beethoven’s Ninth, Tristan und Isolde, or Rite of Spring, and fortunately those pieces lived on. Later Carsman qualified the applause that we received, saying that it was “exaggerated by the crowd-pleasing nature of the work.” Because, as we all know, if a piece of classical music is accessible, it is obviously tawdry, unsophisticated, childish, perhaps “Disney-esque.”

You know, I’m studying to be a classical musician and I enjoy when people have an emotional connection to what I do. To say that enjoyment of a piece debases the music somehow is just elitism to the point of absurdity.

Carsman then went on to write about Respighi’s “John Williams” use of “surround sound” brass. If her references to John Williams and surround sound were comments on Respighi’s revolutionary orchestration, fascinating orchestral colors and heart-pounding use of offstage brass, then I agree.

Unfortunately, the writing comes across as insulting and belittling of Respighi’s music as “gimmicky.” I think repertoire is fair game for music critics, but I’m a little surprised when such an established and renowned piece is attacked, especially on the grounds that people like it!

–Ben Zilber
Double-degree first-year


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