Subjective Greatness

6thFeb. × ’08

Through the usual channels of circumstance I scored tickets to last weekend’s Celebrity Series gig at Jordan Hall, being told only that it was a Gershwin something or other. I can’t exactly say I’m a musical theater man, but despite not having had the chance to crack Alex Ross’s book I’m familiar with its opening vignette. Turns out the thing was a lecture-recital by Rob Kapilow, a jack-of-all-trades who has clearly found the meth stash in the PBS Kids hosts’ lounge.


My immediate reaction was to fold my arms like a hipster, but Kapilow does hit on that age-old question of how to sell concert music to the masses. And this guy was doing it. His tricks are probably familiar to anyone who has heard his “What Makes It Great” programs (unlike me, who I realize appear to live in a complicated network of Afghani caves) but he had an audience doing phrasal analysis and apparently enjoying it. And this was a very polarized audience, I would assume that we were of the few audience members between the ages of 10 and 60.


I maintained my arms akimbo stance until a point where Kapilow pointed out a riff in “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” that Gershwin knicked from Beethoven, a classical theme that Gershwin slaps some altered chord tones on. Not only did this jam home how much Gershwin was getting the chocolate in the peanut butter but I noticed that this was Kapilow’s one foray into musiclogical esoterica that he seemed always on the verge of spinning off into. His ethusiasm and depth of knowledge were clearly sufficent to roll with the big boys, but he kept it restrained if you can use that word to describe him. It was remisicent of fiery instrumental playing at its best. A train that seems bound to come off the tracks, but never. Actually. Does it.


Watching the success that Kapilow connected with the crowd made me consider that the line between accessibility and jargon is not where I think it is. (i.e. the path to appreciation is significantly different than that of most theory/history cirricula) Whereas he went into phrase structure with detail, other topics were dealt with thusly:

Q: What kind of chord is that?
A: An awexome one.


My only question is that I saw him work this show with Gershwin songs, works that no one would percieve as “inaccessible”. The thorniest work his website offers is “Death and the Maiden”, so Xenakis and Andriessen will have to wait for their champions. Nonetheless he’s coming back in April to pimp out the Waldstein sonata, so I might have to check out how he treats a work that’s a little less immediately digestible.

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