Friday, April 01, 2011

A Seventh Grader With A Thesaurus

Three weeks ago tomorrow night, Joshua and I went to Jordan Hall to hear the Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin play music of Bach, Handel and Telemann.

The concert was not good.

Intonation was poor. The Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin has been performing for thirty years; there is no excuse for such a long-established original-instrument ensemble to offer impure intonation.

Balance was an issue all evening. Balances were generally odd if not outright peculiar. Both wind instruments and string instruments would often overwhelm the entire instrumental ensemble, then virtually disappear from the orchestral fabric.

Voicing of instrumental lines was absent. Musical phrases would start and stop, without clear notion of how phrases might be tailored to the requirements of instrumentation and maintenance of musical line.

The Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin has always played without a conductor (except for a handful of special performances tied to recording projects). The engagement of a conductor would immediately address the group’s intonation, balance and voicing deficiencies. Remaining conductorless has hampered the group’s level of ensemble—which in turn hampers the level of music-making.

Playing was not neat and sparkling, as we have come to expect from British original-instrument ensembles. The quality of sound was not sweet and beguiling, as we have come to expect from Italian original-instrument ensembles.

Indeed, much of the evening was simply a mess. The group left the impression of a devoted but hapless college faculty ensemble, composed of eager but not-quite-first-class musicians at a small college in Kentucky.

The concert began and ended with Telemann. The Overture (Suite) In F Major got things underway; the Concerto In E Minor For Recorder And Flute concluded the proceedings.

In between were Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 2 and Handel’s Concerto Grosso, Opus 6, Number 2.

To my taste, the group’s music-making was unduly physical—the musicians “acted out” the music as they played, telegraphing the emotions of the music with their bodies and faces.

I do not embrace “dumb show” music-making, but on the evening of March 12 I was in the minority: the Boston audience ate up such antics. The more the musicians mugged, the more the Boston audience responded.

Myself, I wished the quality of music-making had matched the intensity of the elaborate mime show enacted onstage.

An excerpt from Rameau’s “Dardanus” was performed at the conclusion of the scheduled program.


The Boston Globe has become a laughingstock—assuming the newspaper has not always been a laughingstock, which very well may be the case. Globe music coverage grows worse by the day.

The Globe review of the Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin concert had to be seen to be believed. It was the work of a stringer, Matthew Guerrieri, who clearly is the world’s biggest fan of romance novels written for the trailer-park set.

The breathless yet meaningless hokum offered by Guerrieri was incessant, coming in wave after wave of hoary cliche: “the multifariousness of the past”, “historical vectors coalesced”, “Bach in a cutting-edge mood”, “the cutting-edge Handel in an old-fashioned mood”, “the performance stylishly plundered elements from across history”, “an artful imagining of the era’s foreshadowings”, “a cornucopia of approaches”, “a Renaissance-bucolic Passepied”, “an ambient-frozen Plainte”, “populist splendor”, “posited as a plausible forerunner of Romantic virtuosity”, “dexterously mediated between the ensemble’s comping and [the] harpsichordist’s flamboyance”, “furiously buzzing, harpsichord-hero shredding”, “historically informed astringency conjuring modernist bleakness”, “a tight session of traded motives”, “a work that builds entire edifices out of busy, form-following-function passagework”, “limpid, percolating proficiency”, “moved blocks of sound around with frictionless ease”, etc.

One feels the need to vomit after wallowing in such hog-slop.

Does not Guerrieri know the difference between the word “mood” and the word “mode”? And what, precisely, does “an artful imagining of the era’s foreshadowings” signify? And what is the meaning of “harpsichord-hero shredding”?

It is easy to understand why Guerrieri is unemployed (Guerrieri is supported by his wife): anyone who writes so atrociously is bound to have difficulty landing a job.

Guerrieri’s writing is the work of a seventh grader with a Thesaurus.


  1. I think the Globe should give Hansi Knoteck a try as a stringer.

    I believe she is still alive.

    She CANNOT be worse than Matthew Guerrieri.

  2. Sounds like your concert analysis is spot on! I live in Germany and hear the AAM Berlin all the time and find their manneristic style atrocious. It is a mock up of Musica Antiqua Köln without the driving force of Goebel. Too bad, actually...