Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Maestro" on danish television: Episode #1

I just watched the first episode of that show "Maestro" which is now airing on danish television, and here are my thoughts: (here's a link to the show, in case you wanna practise your danish)

In brief, "Maestro" is entertainment at the expense of culture.
It is akin to "Survivor", "X-factor", "The Eurovision Song Contest" or any other generic Friday Night Entertainment Show. Granted, it's almost as entertaining as "Paradise Hotel", so congratulations Danish Radio, you really nailed it!! (*beep beep* sarcasm alert).

Honestly, it is a stupid, shallow, groping, sensationalist, misconstrued stab at 'making classical music popular'.

There is, at this point in the program series, nothing to suggest, that the 6 hours of primetime television "we have finally been rewarded"* will reveal anything in support of any of the true governing elements of classical music: profound insight, joy, spirituality, erotiscism, endurance of hardship, reward through hard work etc etc.
So I hate it - so far.
(*many reactions to "Maestro" from professional musicians in Denmark is similar to this: "I'm just so happy we're on tv!")

"Maestro" is most certainly a humorous program. By which I mean, it is humourous at the level of "Benny Hill", "Jackass" or the "Man gets hit in the groin by football" Simpsons meta-gag.
At one point though, I did laugh along with (most of) the orchestra, when one contestant completely screwed up the ending to Griegs: "In the Hall of the Mountain King". But it was not a laugh of joy, it was a laugh of relief, embarrasment and condescending: "Yes we all recognise you are awful...ha ha".
Oh, what a relief to finally be able to point and laugh at someone for being horrible in a classical music world that never ever offers that kind of public catharsis. Sure, we talk about our colleagues in a condescending manner in the coffeebreak or in personal facebook messages etc., but never are we allowed to simply say to a conductor or to another member of an orchestra: "Man, you really suck!"
So if "Maestro" can be said to have any redeeming qualities, it is that frustrated musicians have finally found an outlet for their repressed rage and jealousy.
So I laughed, but it was not a laugh of joy, but of relief and maliciousness, and I felt a little bit embarrased.

Worse than that was the moment when the presenter asked a member of the judge's panel, the orchestra's (truly brilliant) principal flutist Ulla Milman: "So, I imagine it must be a big thing that the orchestra gets to vote off a conductor every week?"

Her reply: "It's a complete dream situation. We really should do this in general...ha ha"  (looks around to gather applause for that joke)
...
Not funny.
Why?
Because, a sly remark like that reveals that there is apparently a quite serious underlying issue.
Besically, the joke translastes to: "I don't like most conductors but I have to play with them anyway" and I find that quite disturbing. Are there really so many bad conductors? Does one of the most prestigious orchestras in the country really have it that bad? Where do the millions of euros in the conductor budget go to make her feel that way?
I know, it's just a joke, but such a fleeting remark about a problem with a million underlying causes makes me cringe, also because there is no room anywhere in the system to really talk about that issue.


- INTERMISSION -

 I once almost did this...
- INTERMISSION OVER - 

I am left with a few nagging questions, and will attempt to answer in different ways. Choose which answer you think is appropriate and...no wait, let me do that for you. I'll  just cross out the ones I believe to be false.

Q: Why choose music for the show that is so extremely overfamiliar as is the case with In the Hall of the Mountain King", Hungarian Dance no.5 and "An Der Schönen Blauen Donau". 

A1: To make it as easy as possible for the orchestra to follow the contestants in a realistic fashion, we make sure they play repertoire they really know well. WRONG!
A2: The enhance that feeling of recognisablility with the audience, and make sure we stay at the level of the lowest common denominator. We would surely scare people away if the music involved wasn't from the top 10 list of all-time-most-played. CORRECT!

Now, I have no insight into the planning of the show, but I'm guessing they're gonna do at least some of the following pieces as well: 'Tango Jalousie' by Jakob Gade, Beethovens 5th, Smetana's "Moldau", Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik", Carmen ouverture, "Nessun Dorma" etc. etc.

Q: Why include the element of ELIMINATION? (I put that in such a dramatic font to entertain you!) 
A1: To actually push the celebrity contestants to excel by way of competition. WRONG! 
A2: To desperately attempt to ride the wave of elimination-style reality tv that started 15 years ago. We don't really know what else to do. CORRECT!

The 'elimination format' is so extremely vomit-inducing and gutwrenchingly horrible in all it's manifestations, that this alone is enough to make me angry at the creators and proliferators of this program.


Here's how the presenter Nikolaj Koppel (a former accomplished concert pianist and once my employer for several concerts when he was director of the Tivoli festival) left us with a 'teaser' for next week's show:
"I promise you it will be classsical music in a new and very different way".
And I promise you, it will not.
Because music is music, and nothing else.

- Jesper

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If you could magically create your dream conductor, but he/she could only posess one quality, he/she should preferably be...