Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better
Saturday, September 25, 2010
The Fiddling Idiot On The Roof
On Canada Day this week I got into a concert by the National Arts Center Orchestra, led by the outstanding conductor and violinist Pinchas Zukerman. The maestro is at the top of his field, engaged in the community, bringing classical music to the city, the nation, and to youth in particular through the various programs he's instituted during his tenure. We're lucky to have him. Oh, and the orchestra's take on the latter half of Beethoven's Fifth was particularly joyous.
Now then, I'm not going to spend this time talking about a great man and a great orchestra. Not with a title like the above. I'm going to talk about a "conductor" who you might be acquainted with. He certainly shows up on PBS a lot during pledge drives with his latest special. I'm talking about the long haired "flying Dutchman", Andre Rieu.
"Andre Rieu is to classical music what McDonalds is to fine cuisine, a parody without wit or artistic value."
Very accurate words. I found them while preparing this. Along with this, where he appears to be wondering if the lady is choking. Or maybe the dazed expression in his eyes is just his natural setting.
He's been around a few years now, unfortunately, and he heads up his own orchestra and musical routine that plays around with classical music and puts on lavish productions meant to evoke the days of Strauss (even carrying Johan Strauss' name on the orchestra; the whole family must be rolling in their graves), but really... it just ends up looking like a Disney-skewed version of Strauss.
I should say that I do love classical music. That's credited to my mother, who exposed me to a lot of it as I was growing up. Certainly not to my father, who actually loves the albums and DVDs that this guy cranks out all the time. For some inexplicable reason.
What Rieu plays is not classical music.
A real conductor, above all, respects the music. They don't play games or fool around, or stage supposedly spontaneous goofy moments on stage. They don't turn it into a spectacle. The music speaks for itself. You don't need spectacle. Rieu is all about spectacle. All style, no substance. Oh, and the hair.
I suppose my first impression of the man was the grinning idiot on television, playing away at the violin. To irritate Dad, I used to suggest that the real violinist was a hideously scarred freak playing backstage, while Rieu was the grinning handsome guy on stage pretending to play.
My impression of the man has not improved. He's got his audience well trained in how to behave in his concerts. That means clapping like trained seals through the music. Constantly. Another strike against the man. Audiences aren't supposed to do that with orchestral music. It's just rude. You applaud after the music ends. You don't slap your hands together like that through an entire concert. Unless you're mentally unbalanced. Maybe that explains the vast majority of his fans.
And so Rieu charges on, touring the world with bigger spectacle shows for his army of trained seals. He continues to go about mangling music that in and of itself should be fine, but not in his hands. For me, the proverbial last straw was an altered version of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. You know what that sounds like. As far as I'm concerned, the entire symphony is the closest a human being has ever come to achieving perfection. But Rieu being Rieu, he apparently thinks he has to improve it. And so he went and mangled it into a barely recognizable version for one of his concert videos.
Unfortunately he's not going anywhere. He's got that whole army of fans who know what they love. And he's got lots of classical music to mangle yet. As for me? My idea of Hell is being stuck with Andre Rieu and his orchestra for eternity, watching and hearing this idiot mangling Take The A Train while grinning like a brain damaged buffoon.