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Sondheim and the "unharmonious trend"

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MCfan2
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joined:4/29/06
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Sondheim and the "unharmonious trend"#1
Posted: 4/16/08 at 1:11pm
Saw this in the "Washington Post" the other day and thought some of you might like to read it.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/11/AR2008041101151.html
BkCollector
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re: Sondheim and the 'unharmonious trend'#2
Posted: 4/16/08 at 1:24pm
This article is kind of ridiculous when it compares Gypsy and South Pacific to much younger shows.

It's the style to use smaller orchestras, they create a tighter, more intimate sound, that in my experience, draws the audience towards the drama more.

Like a huge opera house proscenium, large orchestras distance themselves from the audience nowadays. Designed to highten the artform to that of religion, it is supposed to dwarf the individual and make whatever the art being performed seem larger than life.

Who wants that anymore. it's no longer in fashion. People want intimate performances that we can connect with. It's why Doyle's work is so great, to get rid of the "phantom" orchestra, somehow omniscient and never seen, and give the power of the music to acotr/musicians who also handle the power of the drama is to synthesize the artform into a cohesive whole that grabs the modern discerning theatergoer. Same thing with the smaller voices used for the Sweeney Movie.
jrb
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re: Sondheim and the 'unharmonious trend'#2
Posted: 4/16/08 at 1:59pm
I have to say that I think there's a happy medium.
SITP seemed to go a little too far. And while South Pacific is 30 players strong, it still felt intimate to me.

Also, I don't think that the whole "younger show" / "Older show" argument really works. You say that the article is ridiculous because it compares "classics" with much younger shows - implying that newer shows don't use the same orchestral "oomf" as older ones and that, thus, it is unfair to draw comparison. Yet in the cases of Sweeney, Sunday in the Park, and Company larger pits were were used when they opened oringinally.
It's not the modernity of shows or composers that dictates this more intimate orchestration as much as it is the directors. So to draw comparison makes complete sense. After all, Doyle could have just as easily taken South Pacific and done it with 5 players...he just happened to choose Sondheim.

And while I do agree that smaller pieces and more intimate arangements are wonderful, I still see many modern composers sticking to larger orchestral sounds. I don't see the trend as much - save with pop/rock pieces like SA and Passing Strange - and in all honestly, pop/rock shows have always had smaller ensembles.


Interesting arguments. Volitile subject.
BkCollector
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re: Sondheim and the 'unharmonious trend'#3
Posted: 4/16/08 at 2:19pm
JRb:

Well said. But while I don't feel that "oomf" is exactly what I was trying to describe. What I meant was, that when those shows were originally written, it was pretty standard to have a larger orchestra for any type of musical, especially on Broadway. Now there are more choices. It's like when people say "You should always play Bach on a harpsichord, because Bach didn't have a piano"

To which I always reply "If he had had a piano, he would have used it"

What I mean is, to compare the artistic merits of a show based on orchestration alone is unfair, since we have more options now.

Am I being clear? Tell me if I'm not. Usually I have so many ideas racing in my head that I try to get through them quickly and don't always explain myself as well as I should.

And while larger pits were used in the cases of Sweeney and Sunday, and Company, that doesn't mean that they still weren't de riguer at the time. In fact, I think it proves it. I can't think of a lot of High Profile Broadway Musicals that were successful in the 70's and 80's and used a small orchestra. I'm sure there are a few notable exceptions, though.

And when you say it's not modernity but the directors that dictate the smaller more intimate orchestrations, aren't the director an example of modernity in this sense?

I don't think Doyle just happened to choose Sondheim either. I think Sondheim's work lend themselves to the Doyle form because the music and lyrics are so well connected, unlike a piece like SP, which while it has great music and great lyrics. I don't see the same kind of tone painting that goes on in Sondheim's music.
jrb
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re: Sondheim and the 'unharmonious trend'#4
Posted: 4/16/08 at 2:36pm
Clear as a bell, BK. And very true on all counts.

You're correct - Sondheim does lend himself/itself to orchestral minimalism much more so than other composers. It's also evident that Sondheim's first love has always been the lyric, so a smaller orchestra allows for the highlighting of that very aspect of the production. Heavy orchestrations would take away from the point of the piece.
And yes, damn straight Bach would play piano...and most likely he'd be a Jazzer.

I just wish that Doyle had managed to create a solid, minimalist, interpretation of the scores. The problem I find with his productions is that you end up with a cast of individuals who can act pretty well, sing pretty well, and play intruments pretty well. You don't many folks who can do one of those things brillianty (save perhaps, those few who aren't bogged down with an instrument so that they can deliver key performances).

But hey, I'm all for chamber musicals and pop/rock shows that use authentic instrumentation. They give you a connection to the show that something like POTO or Ragtime will never be able to provide. They smack of realism and I am all for it. Perhaps this trend will influence the composers of larger orchestrally accompanied shows and we'll wind up with something grandly intimate and intimately grand.
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re: Sondheim and the 'unharmonious trend'#5
Posted: 4/16/08 at 4:33pm
it's also to save money...