[classical] Sophie Anne-Mutter and the birth of no stars

This was written in 2014 and never published.

As I was walking to the metro stop after the concert, I reflected how distinctive Mutter’s sound is. Even in the tenderest of moments, Mutter projects rock-solid confidence. Her violin is crying? But no, if I look closer, her mascara isn’t running– at all. She still looks perfectly coiffed and oddly composed despite all the tears. Mutter’s violin is aggressive.

IMG_20141123_195459

Anne-Sophie Mutter performed with The Mutter Virtuosi at the Kennedy Center on Sunday, November 23, 2014. The Mutter Virtuosi is a 14-member string ensemble that is comprised of talented young string players who are fellows in the eponymous Mutter Foundation.

First up was a dandy of a piece for violin and double bass: Ringtone Variations by Sebastian Currier, a recent composition dedicated to Ms. Mutter. On a technical level, Mutter and the double bass player, Roman Patkoló, were evenly matched; perhaps Mutter was a little more dominant due to her overwhelming stage presence, instilled by years of making amazing music and being recognized for it. The piece itself took its inspiration quite literally from a cellphone. Thus, it had annoying, repetitive motifs with many pauses and stops; at times, the violin and bass seemed to be playing completely different pieces. As such it was difficult for me to enjoy this piece no matter how many arpeggios and double stops Mutter and Patkoló could amaze us with.

Next was Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, in which Mutter naturally played first violin. It was a stereotypical “nice” Mendelssohn piece, but Mutter spicily drove along the tempo. I have seen my fair share of chamber music, but never have I seen one so driven by one performer. Rather than an octet, it could have been more aptly named soloist plus seven accompanists. Of course, the first violin does have the melody most of the time, but many instruments still could not get in a note in edgewise, even when they briefly had the melody. The violas especially were barely heard. In my musician gut, I felt that if The Mutter Virtuosi had mustered the verve and aggression to be Mutter’s counterpart, the octet would not have been as lopsided.

The capstone of the night was Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which incidentally is a violin concerto– giving Mutter at last the space to be an actual soloist. Finally, one player responded to Mutter’s verve and matched her energy– ironically it was the harpsichord player, who is not a Mutter fellow. Turning his head almost 45 degrees to the right, ignoring the sheet music in front of him, Knut Johannessen frequently had long periods of eye contact with Ms. Mutter, while still deftly playing his own part from memory. The first violin and the first cello also tried and played confidently but still, somehow, they both could not parlay with Mutter on equal terms. The cello had a hard time overpowering the harpsichord, despite the impassioned movements of the instrumentalist, more rock cello than classic cello style. Overall, it was a breathless and starry-eyed performance, yet I would not characterize it as particularly moving. While Mutter’s delivery and phrasing are always a work of art, I suspect her group intrinsically did not want to upstage her, and so they remained, in the background.

The encore included a rehash of Summer and a Bach in G major.

Advertisements

[review] SHINee’s DxDxD

You know you’re behind when the mini-album was released on January 1, 2016 and you’re starting the review on January 2, 2018.

1/ DxDxD

This is a typical Japanese release for SHINee, very busy sonically, very upbeat both in tempo and vibe. The bass is quite notable, as it really lays the foundation for the song and its infectious mood; one can notice this during the bridge, when the bass is really pared down, the song all of a sudden feels too empty and lost. Besides the bass, I find it quite straightforward, not that much interesting harmonies or vocal lines, a kind of lead song that’s chosen somewhat because it’d pair well with visuals.

A style of rap interlude that I do not like begins at 1.15s. There is little variation in rhythm and the rhyming is rather weak, though Minho, Onew, and Key try to hide that by varying their tones and delivery. Unfortunately, this type of “straight rap-speak” has become more and more common in SHINee songs.

2/ Wishful Thinking

Funk and jazz-influenced, Wishful Thinking recalls the Sherlock and Dream Girl eras. However, the instrumentation recalls a more “refined” TVXQ than SHINee’s youthful exuberance during then.  Continue reading

Featured

Dear Jonghyun

Dear Jonghyun,

The first time I ever heard your voice was on a Last.fm station in 2008, which played Love Like Oxygen. I remember thinking about your breathy intonations. I followed SHINee loosely afterwards, though I really lost interest in the Ring Ding Dong era since it was a terrible song. I admit, I did admire your bleached orange hairdo (but looking back, it was not a good look after all). But Lucifer changed it all for me in July 2010. I started this blog shortly afterwards in August.

I was first an Onew fan. I watched Hello Baby and thought Onew was so funny. You were really funny too, but Onew’s humor just stuck with me then. But slowly, you started to capture my attention. Your journey of musical maturation struck a chord with me, someone who was also beginning to find her way as a musician. We moved beyond the rote–what we had been taught–and tried to find our own unique style and become more involved in what we perform. We both desired to perfect our craft, in a holistic and thoughtful manner. You were so beautifully emotive as a performer, and looking back, you probably couldn’t express everything that you ever wanted in words. But in music, you could.

We were kindred spirits, in a way.

When you committed suicide, my first raw emotion was disappointment. We would never get to see you again perform anything live, or new. What we had was all you had left us. So many possibilities were instantly gone forever. You were something rare in the kpop industry. We all know there are idols you could swap out and you wouldn’t notice the difference. They are content to do what the company asks, and stay within the lines. But you pushed the envelope, you did your best to create, and you succeeded. You were so good, you were so willing to learn, you were so humble…

You did well, Jonghyun, so much more than I can ever express in words.

Love, Michelle

 

Thoughts on SHINee World V in Dallas

Only a week ago- but it almost seems forever ago. In the frenzy of randomized ticket-buying, my friend and I were lucky enough to score (slightly off center) front row tickets to SHINee World V in Dallas, happening on March 24, 2017.

IMG_20170324_222330_203

Some thoughts (things may be added as I think of more)-

  1. SHINee really looks as good up close as they do on the screen. That’s surreal.
  2. Sitting on the sides isn’t bad actually- when members are doing their solos or want to show a little extra love to people who aren’t in the good seats, they’ll do it on the sides. I got to see a lot of up-close Jonghyun.
  3. Minho is an incredibly happy character, and he was continually making eye contact with fans and acknowledging it (he made eye contact with me twice). I may have forgiven Minho a little for being the useless member- at least he loves concerts and literally basks in the cheers.
  4. Key hasn’t aged a day.
  5. Key’s English is getting better and better, and the most entertaining talking moments were his. Everyone else said what was proper- Taemin was the most dour-mouthed. They all stood awkwardly around a few times after they exhausted Key’s funny talking bits and the bits they rehearsed when they were trainees in SM. Unfortunately, it’s all too apparently that they’re still not really comfortable with energetic and enthusiastic audiences like you’ll see in America.
  6. Jonghyun (and SHINee) was all right live, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the singing at all, even in such a small venue as the Verizon Theatre. It’s really the vibe of the concert and the visual (of which there is a lot to be sated by!). Also, American fans tend to be quite raucous even during ballads, so it’s not really possible to concentrate so much on the sound. I am not knocking on American fans- I’m one of them- but it definitely would be a nice experience to be able to go a Japanese concert and listen to the ballads in earnest.
  7. SHINee are undoubtedly veterans, but I felt that especially Onew and Taemin are getting tired of the grind. No doubt they’re all disillusioned to different degrees, but that night wasn’t their night. Onew’s only real spontaneous spark of emotion was when they sang the encore song and the entire audience held up signs containing lyrics that Onew had penned. A dead fish had more personality than Taemin.
  8. Apparently Jonghyun read my sign about economics PhDs loving him.
  9. It’s disappointing that the show was shortened for the tour in America. It was blamed on the venues, but it just feels cheated to me. I’d happily pay for the difference ($30 per person?) to hear the entire SHINee World V setlist- SHINee never comes to the US so having higher ticket prices won’t price out many people.
  10. The show was not completely full. There were a good 100 seats in the upper balcony on the sides that were not filled- with good reason- I have seen photos taken from the sides, and the stage can be up to 1/3 obstructed. SHINee chose the right venue for the area, but I feel that if SHINee had done a stop on the East Coast, they would have been able to fill a larger venue with a larger number of people. The amount of people who would casually buy a SHINee ticket to attend are more concentrated in the East Coast and West Coast. There were very few locals around this concert- most had driven their cars, taken buses, flights (like me) to be there.
  11. I had the biggest, stupidest grin for 90% of the show, and I had this low-key horrified refrain running through my mind: “Oh my god, I hope it’s not a creepy one.”
  12. Other nagging thoughts I had-  “Wow. This is capitalism. Paying $230 to stare at five men’s faces. And they’re okay with that.” I had to remind myself that it was okay to stare, because that is the career that they chose.
  13. It was simply beautiful to be in a concert venue with all the lightsticks alight.

brief thoughts on EXO’luxion in Newark, NJ

Surprise! Michelle isn’t dead as a kpop fan. To the contrary, she spent $80 on a ticket to see EXO on February 21, 2016 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. Worth it? Yes. Bone-tired? Yes. Going to make a random bulleted list because I can’t be bothered to write a coherent article? Yes.

(May be updated as I think of more things. Feel free to ask questions.)

IMG_20160221_205302

  1. Michelle-Patricia shippers alert: I did go with Patricia. I feel sorry for the teenagers around us having to listen to our sarcastic sniping and a lot of my ironic laughter.
  2. Never have I felt so strongly that Chen is my husbando.
  3. The songs were all sung in Korean, which was irritating, because especially in their earlier songs, Baekhyun gets all the (high) parts that Chen would normally sing in Chinese. So while Chen did feature quite prominently in the concert, would frequently be at the front of the dance formations, he actually didn’t sing as much as I’m accustomed to hearing.
  4. The production quality of the video interludes was pretty fantastic. There was this one interlude that showed them dancing to dubstep which accented their “abstract” dance moves with geometric shapes. As someone who loves that sort of geometric nonsense, it was quite cool.
  5. Chanyeol talks a lot and tends to go on (and on). He was also obsessed with throwing the confetti around and you could tell some of the members weren’t having it. Suho and Chanyeol seem to know the most English (they spoke the most in English), but it wasn’t really much beyond the standard “What’s up New York?” We’re in New Jersey. “Are you ready?” Rabid fangirl screams all around. There was a translator, and from what Patricia told me, was not that good, more like a random person on the SM team who spoke English the best.
  6. Chen had this really terrible compliment at the end, “You are all beautiful like skyscrapers.” Yeah, totally my husbando- someone who mangles praise but smiles and then you know the world is somewhat not evil.
  7. Upon reflection, I realize that the EXO show isn’t actually that fancy. There’s the lights, standard confetti, some props (piano, a stage on top of the stage, a few chairs, “changing room”), but it’s quite minimal of a production. It’s more about the band members, really, rather the whole set taken together.
  8. It was really hard to hear the singing- even when they were lip-synching, the voices were hard to make out. It quieted down some during the last few ballads but the crowd was extremely noisy.
  9. Girls screaming at the crotch grabs during Call Me Baby. #always
  10. FYI. EXO’lution doesn’t allow backpacks- even small ones. I think it’s safe to assume this for all SM concerts in the future.
  11. Chen had the best high note. Not that he’s my bias, or anything.
  12. Kai is ridiculous at dancing. Even from so far up, you could still tell how sharp his movements were. Sorry, Sehun. There’s a reason why you’re in the back. It was actually sort of funny to see the comparatively more sloppy choreography for things like Playboy which they don’t do as often as contrasted with things like Growl which they know so well.
  13. I would actually pay good money to hear EXO in a smaller, more intimate space. DO and Chen are some of my favorite singers in the kpop industry right now, and it’s a shame to hear fans screaming over their lines (I love Chen too, all right? But think of him seriously as a singer first).
  14. One of the video interludes ambiguously/tangentially mentioned the leaving of the three EXO members. Surprisingly, despite my salty self, I found it touching and was ready to wave money at EXO’s souvenir stands. The video said cheesy things like, “We are grateful to receive your love- we won’t rest until we’ve returned all your love to you.” Then the end of the concert dragged on for another 45 minutes, and I wasn’t ready to wave my money away so much after that.

mindless pop alert: Years & Years

I cannot get over how mindless and deliciously numbing Years & Years’ debut album is.

Michelle reacts to Jonghyun’s “Crazy”! // update: will be removed Jan. 16, 10PM EST

Bit of an advance review. It’s unlisted for now, but it’s totally possible that I remove it (I don’t like my face out there so much), so I’d watch as soon as you are able. If you like it, and want to see more, let me know. It was fun doing this video, and if there’s demand, I would definitely consider scaling up the quality. Thanks for watching!