February 27th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY SSCA: Check out this inversion of the Parental Control system

CANBERRA OBSERVED Barnaby Joyce likely to give Cabinet a kick-along

ALCOHOL Studies confirm benefit of earlier nightclub closures

HISTORY OF TAIWAN Post-WWII Japan's loss is Chiang Kai-shek's gain

SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT Welfare of children at heart of surrogacy inquiry

EDITORIAL Syria agreement first step to ending the carnage

EDUCATION Discounting Christianity in schools denies history

WORLD CONGRESS OF FAMILIES Diversity's American dream: genderless parenthood and apple pie

ENVIRONMENT Harry Butler: a victim of deep-green politics

EUTHANASIA Legitimate denial of choice at end of life (Part I of two)

ACTIVISM Safer schools or a radical Marxist sexual revolution?

UNITED STATES Big Brother v the Little Sisters: Obama takes nuns to Supreme Court

MUSIC Oppositions reconciled in logical harmony

CINEMA Of heists and hedge funds: The Big Short

BOOK REVIEW Alarms and arms

BOOK REVIEW The human factor


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Oppositions reconciled in logical harmony

News Weekly, February 27, 2016

The New Goldberg Variations

By Joe Chindamo and Zoe Black

Alfi Records


Reviewed by David James


At first glance, the Baroque aesthetic and Post-modernist aesthetic would seem to be deeply opposed. The Baroque world was based on the certainty of a divine order, which became the solid basis for a level of ornateness and organization that has rarely been matched. Post-modernism is based on fluidity: the conviction that everything is contingent, perpetually unresolved.

But in one sense there is a commonality, at least in terms of method. In the art of both eras there is a tendency to produce layers, or meta-levels. The great composers of Baroque music, especially J.S. Bach, created multiple contrapuntal layers with a coherence that has never been surpassed. Post-modernists typically create an extra layer above the ‘real’ – including familiar works of art -- to undermine any sense of the concrete and objective.

Joe Chindamo’s ambitious reworking of Bach’s Goldberg Variations can thus be seen as being at once Baroque and post-modern. Chindamo has written an extra violin line for his partner, Zoe Black; he plays the piano. They have become a new voice in contemporary classical music, performing around Australia and in New York’s Carnegie Hall, where their album was launched. 

On the Baroque side, Chindamo’s offering is entirely authentic. His extra part is always well integrated, avoiding clutter. A variety of melodic strategies are used. Sometimes it is a layer of space above with the violin. Sometimes it is an extra layer of time. Usually, the violin is in the foreground but sometimes it is used more in the background with the piano taking prominence.

The approach to melodic sequence is fascinating. Sequence is crucial to Bach’s art – it is the means by which he provides his exquisite mix of the expected and the surprising, in sublime progression. The great distinguishing feature of Baroque music is its logic; the emotion is generated through the subtle breaking down of the predictable while simultaneously being reassured that all will be resolved. The background is the predictable logic; the foreground is what actually happens, which must be in part unpredictable to be effective.

Chindamo, by sometimes follo­wing the shape of the original and sometimes creating new explorations,  creates a constant moving between the expected passages of the original piece and the surprise passages he has added. Listeners who are familiar with the original score are encouraged to explore new layers of surprise. In effect, a new background and foreground is created. The background is what Bach wrote; the foreground is what Chindamo does with what Bach wrote. It represents a fresh way of dealing with the classical canon, a departure from simply interpreting the original, which is the usual method of classical performers.

Chindamo takes a number of approaches with the new layering. Sometimes the violin is prominent, sometimes decorative. Sometimes the violin creates a contrasting lyricism, sometimes there is adroit use of inversions to counterbalance the piano’s sequences.

For the most part the violin lines reveal their logic over a long span of time, which balances the development of the piano sequences.

The style is very much classical, but there is a jazz spirit behind it. Chindamo made his reputation as a prodigiously talented jazz improviser. He now prefers not to call himself a jazz player, but in many respects what he is doing is at the leading edge of the genre.

Jazz is also entering a post-modern phase. The newer generations of players cannot avoid looking back to the giants of the form’s past: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, the great piano players such as Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. So potent is that tradition, new players find it difficult to avoid looking over their shoulder, hoping to add an extra layer to what has already happened. Just as post modernism looks back to modernism, so modern jazz players look back to the pioneers of their genre.

In such an environment weighed down by history, Chindamo’s choice of a lateral direction is an intelligent one. He has retained the creative spirit of jazz. His reworking of Bach is an approach not far removed from the reworking of popular songs in the playing of jazz standards.

But stylistically he has departed from the jazz genre, and his adventures create great emotional complexity. To take a few examples, Variation 16 has a sad, elegiac quality in the original. But the added violin part has a more balanced, explorative character, which creates a regal, meandering tension between the two instruments. Similarly, the violin part in Variation 20 introduces a powerful assertiveness, balancing the melancholic reflectiveness of the piano part, almost as if the violin is trying to lift up a wavering piano.

In Variation 22, the violin augments the lament established by the piano; alignment rather tension. In Variation 26, which has a stately and poignant piano part, the effect is one of solitude intensified as the violin weaves in its lines. What emerges is music with some original ideas. In the cluttered environments of classical and jazz music, that is no small thing.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
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