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Thread: Classical Music and Figure Skating Events at the 2014 Winter Olympics

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    Classical Music and Figure Skating Events at the 2014 Winter Olympics

    As a typical American female of a certain age, I’m a sucker for figure skating events at the Winter Olympics (though you can keep the summer counterpart -- gymnastics-- with the cringe-inducing contortions.) I know very little about the technical aspects of figure skating and couldn’t for the life of me distinguish a lutz from a salchow. Moreover, I like to think that I’m “patriotic” but not so jingoistic that I obsessively compare the medals won by my nation’s team to those earned by Olympians representing other countries. Nor am I a big fan of scandals, least of all the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan flap in 1994 in Lillehammer. And I ignore the controversy associated with the scoring process; since the combination of athleticism and artistry necessarily requires “subjective” scoring, the results of which occasionally generated fevered controversy over the years.

    What appeals to me about figure skating is the aesthetic aspect: the balletic, gliding movement of arms, legs, and feet; the graceful lifts and leaps, and the powerful defiance of gravity when the only force preventing the skater from crashing down unto the hard, cold surface of the ice is a thin edge of a blade. All of these features are painstakingly choreographed within a strictly-timed performance -- or “program” as it’s called -- set against a carefully-selected passage of recorded music.

    At times the specific musical accompaniment is moot, especially when the skater’s presentation is spectacular. Yet it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of matching the right piece of music -– usually conventionally “classical” -- to the specific program. For long-time tv viewers of the Winter Olympics the most memorable examples of this are Torville and Dean, the winners of the gold medal in ice dancing at the 1980 winter games in Sarajevo. The British couple’s performance was a blend of technical perfection and emotionally spell-binding artistry, earning these ice dancers record-high scores from the judges . Part of the reason for Torville and Dean’s unprecedented success was their steamy interpretation of Ravel’s Boléro.

    As I post this in February, 2014, the Winter Olympics are now playing in Sochi, a resort town in Russia, a country that is a homeland of a host of classical composers. But the ice skating events haven’t seemed to tap many Russian musical works, the usual suspects of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake notwithstanding.These “perennial favorites” (a charitable way of saying “old chestnuts”) still can be heard on the ice more often than the motor of a Zamboni. At least no participant (so far) has embraced the “Skater’s Waltz” cliché, though it plays in the background for a current local ad for a personal injury law firm–“If your neighbor fails to clear his sidewalk, and you fall on the ice, call us.” I guess that’s probably why we don’t hear Rhapsody in Blue playing behind Olympic ice skaters anymore –- United Airlines has copped it for its commercials.

    This year one contingent of pairs skaters competing for Russia use music by Khatchuturian, but refreshingly, it’s his “Masquerade” and not “The Sabre Dance,” another familiar piece frequently put on the ice. This same duo scored high points by skating to excerpts from Jesus Christ Superstar.

    That choice obviously worked for them, but seems incongruous in the host Olympic venue which happens to be homeland of great classical composers. It’s a generational thing that’s part of a trend for skaters to choreograph their programs to Broadway musical scores and movie soundtracks – the aforementioned Jesus Christ Superstar by a British composer, Les Misérables by a Frenchman, and the way-out-in-left-field, oddball but nonetheless amusing choice of The Addams Family, a movie soundtrack by an American, Marc Shaiman.

    But I do wonder why the ice skaters – the Russians especially – don’t consider using excerpts from some of the great 20th century Russian composers: the bombastic brass of Shostakovich, the witty and accessible modernism of Prokoviev, or even the breathtaking –and irresistibly romantic–music of Rachmaninoff, such as “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.” That particular piece has some technical “degrees of difficulty” of its own, such as essentially flipping the main theme “upside down.” While I’m not suggesting that figure skaters contort themselves (like gymnasts), this piece might be just the one to be playing when they’re skating backwards!

    Finally, I haven’t thought about this in years, but this personal anecdote dates way back to when I was impersonating a teacher. My students were young adults, some having recently arrived in this country. One young man originally hailed from Russia, but apparently he was learning the language relatively quickly, picking up colloquial expressions with ease. When I mentioned that he was undoubtedly proud of his home country because of all of its beautiful music, he replied “Nah. I hate that classical crap.”





    http://voiceofrussia.com/2013_09_05/...classics-0316/
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-16-2014 at 12:16 AM. Reason: titles in italics/line breaks

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    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    To my mind, there are few things more beautiful than women ice skaters, especially at Olympic level.
    Possibly the greatest of them all is the South Korean Yuna Kim who will be skating next week at Sochi.
    At 23 she will have tough competition from Russian wunderkind 15-years-old Julia Lipnitskaia, but it's
    unlikely that her performance at the Vancouver Olympics 2010, skating to a programme of Gershwin's
    piano concerto, will ever be equaled.


    http://youtu.be/IH7vsyqiVjk
    Last edited by Emil Miller; 02-16-2014 at 07:58 AM.
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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Unfortunately thanks to the mass media, there is something of a Pavlovian effect when it comes to the development of musical tastes. Individuals grow up continually bombarded with the latest pop music through the mass media. As adolescents this is combined with the pressure of fitting in with the tastes of ones peers. Even among the (one would assume) more educated members of LitNet or the Art site that I frequent, there are few who have gone beyond the popular music of their time and seriously explored other musical genre... be it classical, jazz, blues, bluegrass, Indian or Persian music, etc... It is intriguing to find that those members over at the Classical Music sites I frequent have far better tastes and knowledge in Literature and Art than do those at the Literature and Art sites with regard to music. I used to wonder about this... but I have come to recognize that the impact of the mass media is far less prevalent when it comes to the visual arts and literature.

    But I do wonder why the ice skaters – the Russians especially – don’t consider using excerpts from some of the great 20th century Russian composers.

    Beyond the reason I suggested above, I suspect that a great many athletes are not among the most culturally educated of individuals.
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    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    When it comes to great 20th century Russian composers, there are really only three that fall into that category: Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Khachaturian who isn't strictly Russian, having been born in Georgia.
    In the case of Prokofiev, his compositions are quite often complex and probably not suitable for skating. There are certain passages from Shostakovich such as the 2nd movement to his piano concerto No.2 or the slow movement of symphony No.5 that might provide a programme for skaters but, as with Prokofiev, much of his music would not.
    Khachaturian on the other hand is more adaptable to the skating rink and such works as Spartacus and Waltz Masquerade have been used by various skaters. There's little doubt that the great Russian composers of the 19th century still provide the kind of music that allows skaters to shine on the ice.

    http://youtu.be/zsz1Rws1pgw
    "Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September 11th - malicious lies that attempt to shift blame away from the terrorists themselves, away from the guilty." George. W. Bush

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Alexander Glazunov, Reinhold Glière, and Stravinsky all penned major works for the ballet, which would certainly lend itself to the possible use in choreographing a skating program... but I agree that you would do far better to search among the 19th century composers... Russian... but also French and Viennese.
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    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    I agree that Stravinsky's Firebird might make a suitable skating programme but heaven forbid that someone gets the idea that The Rite of Spring could be used notwithstanding its balletic origin.
    As for Khachaturian, this peformance of Waltz Masquerade has to be seen to be believed.

    http://youtu.be/9CRK7w3ru-E
    "Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September 11th - malicious lies that attempt to shift blame away from the terrorists themselves, away from the guilty." George. W. Bush

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    I spent all afternoon working on a follow-up to this thread, but "fouled-up" when I accidentally deleted the file!


    The Canadian couple, Virtue and Moir, used a selection from "The Seasons" by Aleksandor Glazunov for the "long program," at least doing the host country the courtesy of using a Russian composer. The Americans Davis and White's long program used a Russian composer as well--Rimsky-Korsakov's "tired" and true "Scheherezade." Gee, they skated to victory (as is said), but did the American pair ever play it safe with the musical choices! Sunday's short program featured the foxtrot, thus used some American jazz standards, notably Virtue and Moir's medley of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. But Davis and White ice-danced to excerpts from the crowd-pleasing My Fair Lady, a Broadway musical which Dwight MacDonald considered "mid-cult."

    In that maddeningly missing file, I mentioned Dick Button, a gold medalist and ground-breaking figure skater who was a perennial commentator on every Winter Olympics until retiring a decade or so ago. I said he was a nice guy, especially for all this charity work for the benefit of brain-injured people, but as an Olympic analyst I often found him to be unforgiving and picky-- "ice-picky?" I said that Dick Button was the Simon Cowell of ice skating. This year Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir were not only adorable but knowledgeable about their subject matter. Mr. Weir was especially witty, remarking after a certain all-out performance, the ice dancing pair skated "like the rent was due tomorrow."

    I also commented on the ice-dancing itself, though what I don't know about skating and ice dancing couldn't fit into Yankee Stadium. For instance, I have no clue what a "Finn point" is and up until recently I thought "twizzle" was a little plastic stick you use to stir fancy-schmanzy drinks.

    So it's just as well I lost that file forever. But really, watching the ice skating competition from Sochi this year was lots of fun.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 02-21-2014 at 05:43 PM. Reason: "twizzle"

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