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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH
ponders on the purpose of concert reviews,
and fields questions on tamagotchi
and ice skating

Dear Alice,

Why is it that sometimes when I read a concert review, I wonder if the critic was at the same performance? He doesn't seem to like much of anything our local orchestra plays. I usually think it's grand, though. So why does he persist in this if he really doesn't like it so much? He says this was too loud or that was too slow, but he uses lots of foreign words that most of his readers don't even understand. Is he just trying to show off how much he knows? Or thinks he knows? We here in our town are very proud of our orchestra, even if most of us don't know much about the music. It sometimes seems like the more we like it, the less he does! Don't you think he'd be happier doing something else? I've heard that he was a musician once.

Frustrated in Flaxley

Dear Frustrated music-lover,

I think the clue is probably in your last sentence. The number of reviewers who were once players is pretty hefty, and these can be especially irascible and hard to please, for obvious reasons. I don't know, of course, what your job is, but if you were teacher, for example, you would have developed extremely strong views on all kinds of teaching issues. Were you yourself then given the chance to go around fourteen local schools and print your personal opinion of the teaching therein, it might well be that some of your views might be fairly poisonous about the teachers in question. (The same thing is obviously true of electricians, plumbers etc -- at least, judging by the number of times you get one in and he sighs expressively while explaining to you how your brain-addled (if not actually psychopathic) electrician previously went so tragically wrong.

Where some music critics (not always those who had been -- or tried to be -- performers) excel, however, is in (if not name-dropping) knowledge-dropping. There are plenty of reviews where the reviewer seems so anxious to prove that he or she has done his homework on the opera in question, for example, that anyone interested in learning how enjoyable the performance was can frankly look elsewhere. (This includes showing off foreign terminology or previously-seen productions.)

An interesting point, especially here in Europe is, what exactly is the function of a concert review? I mean, you've missed your chance to hear it -- if the programme is repeated at all, it'll be taken abroad. Whereas a good review of Hamlet or Guys and Dolls may be of active benefit in encouraging people to fork out and go experience it, what purpose does a concert review really achieve?????

Yours provocatively,

Ask Alice

Do you know how to use the old tamagotchi?

Dear Salina,
A bit.
Which is to say, my kid was too young to want a Version One Tamagotchi when they came out, but I have occasionally been forced to babysit her friend's Version one, and it is a right pain, mainly because it doesn't have a 'pause' button. (I'm sure that it was the howls of agony from parents accused by their offspring of murdering their tamas that caused the change). The games are especially frustrating on Version Ones, because they all seem to end in tears, thus obliging you to stuff snacks down them as the only way to get rows of happy hearts. This stupid snack routine, incidentally, still works on Version Two computers, which is seriously bad practice, teaching as it does impressionable kids aged 5 to 12 that the way to happiness is simply to stuff unhealthy snacks down tummies, thus leading to worldwide obesity, global warming, etc etc.

So, my advice is to remove the battery and pretend it's broken.

Yours in sympathy,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,
Are you enjoying the Winter Olympics?

Dear W

Am I enjoying the winter olympics?? Am I ENJOYING the winter olympics? Am I enjoying the WINTER OLYMPICS???!!!!!!

What's not to like? But of course, the best bit is over: Evgeny Plushenko's incredible win in the men's figure skating. He is an extremely ugly man, but so charismatic that one can't not watch him: and so full of character that he's just amazingly attractive. Everyone talks about his jumps -- and he seems to be jumping for the sheer joy of it -- but he's also intensely musical: he coordinates his skating with the music brilliantly well; he creates stories on the ice; he pulls you into what he's trying to express. He is part-actor, as well as one of the world's greatest athletes. He's got his own website (not surprisingly, given the numbers of screaming teenager girls who follow his performances) and these are some of the things he says on it:

Before I always wanted to win and be first. It has changed. Now I compete with myself in a first place and only then with others.

I try not to think about marks, the first place or gold medal. The most important thing is to show what you are capable of on ice. The rest will come on it's own.

I just adore jumping. I do the rest as it supposed to be done.

Of these, the first is what I think all great artists (musical or other) would claim, and the third just expresses in words what is so obvious and so enchanting when one watches him. It's the second statement that seems to me to be absolutely the attitude to strive for. To show what you're capable of -- what could be simpler than that? -- and then to see what (if anything) follows out of that. I will give the last word on this phenomenon to Ilia Klimkin, who won the silver medal behind Plushenko in last year's Russian national competition.

Zhenya Plushenko can lose only if the judges are not fair. When will I be able to beat him? Well, only if I jump higher than my head and flip several times!

Copyright © 24 February 2006 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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