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Sweetness and Light (Plus Some Vinegar)

Wynton Marsalis leads musicians in a funeral procession for jazz great Lionel Hampton in New York in 2002. (Chip East / Reuters)

Recently, I was writing about The Abyssinian Mass, a work composed by Wynton Marsalis in the late 2000s. It was performed the other night at the White Light Festival, which is a project of Lincoln Center in New York. I said,

The Abyssinian Mass has some 20 sections, to which Marsalis has given various styles: jazz, gospel, and other styles. For example, I thought I heard a touch of New Orleans funeral music. If you don’t like something in the mass, wait a minute: another section will be along soon.

Above, you see Marsalis in a funeral procession for Lionel Hampton. Marsalis was born and raised in New Orleans.

He figures in the latest episode of my Music for a While. So does The Abyssinian Mass. So does a piece by James MacMillan, Miserere — which was also performed at the White Light Festival. (MacMillan is a Scotsman, born in 1959; Marsalis was born in ’61.)

In my podcast, I quote from a little piece I wrote in 2015. This piece addressed the question, “How’s music doing?” and “Where is it going?”

Most days, I don’t sweat the future of classical music, which has been sweated forever: Charles Rosen, the pianist-scholar, said, “The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest tradition.” Music is one way in which people express themselves. It is also a way in which people praise God (and such praise has resulted in some of the greatest music). The creative instinct is unkillable. Beauty, though it may be suppressed, is unkillable. And genius will out.

But may more of it out, soon, please?

In addition to Marsalis and MacMillan, my latest episode includes Bach, Saint-Saëns, and Sibelius. It also includes some rude words about cello concertos (not all of them, but two of them). You need a little vinegar, to go with your sweetness and light.

P.S. If you’re not music’d out, here is my “New York Chronicle” in the December New Criterion. And here is a review of a New York Philharmonic concert: bringing Jaap van Zweden and Daniil Trifonov in Tchaikovsky and Scriabin (obscure Scriabin).


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