music, technology & life in pasadena, california

The Rest Is Noise

I don’t know how this one got by me, but Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, lists his picks for top live performances in 2007 and the first one is Esa-Pekka Salonen and the LA Philharmonic’s performance of John Adams’ Naïve and Sentimental Music on January 20, 2007 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Wow!

I wrote about playing this piece with the Philharmonic (see here and here) and the incredible rush it was for both the players and the audience. I happened to meet Alex at rehearsals for the piece, as he was in town gathering material for a subsequent New Yorker profile on Esa-Pekka called The Anti-Maestro.

In October of last year Alex’s book, The Rest Is Noise was published and since then it has been on everyone’s Best of 2007 list. It’s a brilliantly written survey of classical music in the 20th century, all at once fresh and original in a way not usually experienced with books on this subject. I highly recommend it. Also, in a brilliant stroke, Alex has a collection of web pages that have musical examples illustrating the book’s contents chapter by chapter. It’s one of the most interactive, symbiotic and useful examples of pairing traditional publishing with the web I’ve seen that is elegant in its execution; a simple Flash/Java media player that maintains focus on the original page.

Alex will be appearing at the 2008 Ojai Music Festival in Ojai, California on June 6, along with conductor David Robertson and composer Steve Reich for a discussion of new music. I’m looking forward to attending this event while performing at this year’s festival. It’s always a fun and fresh way to start the summer. If you’re anywhere nearby, you absolutely owe it to yourself to come down and check it out.

February 28, 2008 | Link to this entry

Closer To The Cloud

As municipalities, utility companies and even Google duke it out over the infrastructure, ownership and other workings of a long-dreamed-of ubiquitous Wi-Fi cloud, AT&T last week announced its own plans to extend the reach of being connected by an order of magnitudes.

AT&T will team up with Starbucks to offer “hot spots” at all 7,000 of its domestic US stores beginning this spring and rolling out until the end of the year. Starbucks has had a six year program, now ending, with T-Mobile whereby customers paid $6 per hour, $9.99 per day or up to $39.99 per month for access to their in-store wireless connection. AT&T’s deal trumps that by a huge margin. Current AT&T broadband customers will have unlimited free access under the new deal, plus any Starbucks customer who uses a Starbucks card for purchases will automatically receive 2 hours of free access per day.

AT&T has had a “hot spot” program in place for a while that includes most McDonald’s, Barnes & Noble and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations, however this latest deal with Starbucks is a breakthrough not only because of the sheer number of locations but also because Starbucks is seen as a center of community in many neighborhoods.

We all know how hard it can be to find access while out and about, many times coming up short. Now, access is as close as the nearest Starbucks and that can be pretty, pretty close, to paraphrase Larry David. As the married couple in Christopher Guest’s Best In Show describes their first encounter, “We met at Starbucks…not the same Starbucks, but two Starbucks across the street from each other. I saw her in the window…”

February 20, 2008 | Link to this entry

Herbie Loves Joni

Once in a while the Grammys get it right and last night was one of those nights when Herbie Hancock walked away with the Album of the Year. (I’m so glad they haven’t changed the name to CD of the Year or added a category for Download of the Year!) Herbie won for his love-letter to Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters. It’s been 43 years since a jazz record won that award and in light of the fact that it has sold only 40,000 copies, it is truly shocking to me. And heartening…

Jazz (and classical music) has always been the ugly stepchild of the commercial record business during most of the last 50 years, getting shunted aside during the Grammy broadcasts in favor of the flavor of the month, many times to the embarrassment of the Grammy establishment. Can you say Milli Vanilli?

So, it is an incredibly joyous moment when someone with the talent and integrity of Herbie Hancock is recognized for something other than being popular and selling a few million copies. Maybe there is hope for the Grammys…on the other hand, during the post-show reports the talking heads of the music business bemoaned the state-of-the-industry once again blaming illegal downloading for the claimed 36% drop in sales since the year 2000. I’d say that’s not too bad, since the aggregate list of nominees seems to show a drop in talent and creativity of at least twice that.

February 11, 2008 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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