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Updates and Revivals

I’ve become a fan of Steven Moffat’s show “Sherlock” on BBC. It’s fast paced, well acted, and has a good feel of proportion. I’ve also read a few of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, and so I appreciate the nods the show gives to the stories that serve as their inspiration. The Five Orange Pips was cleverly worked into the season one finale, The Great Game, to name one. This is what I appreciate about the show – it is simultaneously old and new at the same time. Not a simple retelling of Sir Doyle’s classic tales, yet not something entirely new either. It really feels like new Sherlock Holmes stories are being created here.

This sense of the past is why I was mildly surprised to see the description of the show on Sherlock’s IMDB page. It reads as follows.

A modern update finds the famous sleuth and his doctor partner solving crime in 21st century London.

Huh. A modern update. Really? The most common place I think most of us see the word “update” is in regards to our computers, or phones – update your software to gain these terrific new features that will make your device run faster and better than ever! Don’t worry, it will be so much better than your old operating system, you’ll fall in love with your phone all over again!

The other word that Hollywood really loves these days is “reboot.” Remember when Star Trek was rebooted? How about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Reboot is another clear cut, definitive word – take all of the nostalgia about that thing you used to love, cut out all the stuff that just looks silly now, add a little Michael Bay, and you’ve got an instant winner!

So what’s updated about Sherlock? Well, there’s a 21st century visage. Sherlock is pretty constantly using something with a screen, first to embarrass London detectives by pointing out all of their mistakes in public, then later on using his website to send messages to a villainous figure. But aside from that, everything seems the same. Incredible deductive reasoning skills? Check! Slightly grating on the nerves? Check! Doctor Watson? Check! Violin? Check! There is a distinct awareness of where these stories come from, even as they’re entirely new. Sherlock Holmes is not so much rebooted as revived here.

This concept of revival is one of the things that I love about classical music, and which, with rare exception, I only receive from this particular genre of music. One of Beethoven’s earliest compositions, his Electoral Piano Sonatas (WoO 47), were an assignment from his first composition teacher. He was to learn the works of, and then imitate, one of the composers who was to serve as his earliest model – Mozart. Later, one of his first compositions in Vienna would be to compose a series of variations on a Mozart aria. Theme and variations – particularly someone else’s theme – symbolizes this thing that I’m attempting now to articulate. A theme and variations takes something old and makes it new again, which is what all the best composers do. It’s said that my profession is steeped in the past, but this spirit of revival and progression is what separates the great composers from the good ones.

This is why I’m greatly anticipating tomorrow’s concert in Syracuse. It’s full of this spirit of imagination and revival. The main showpiece of this casual concert is Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons, an invention, as well as a reflection of Antonio Vivaldi’s famous creation. Of course there is an abundance of tango material here, as one would expect with Piazzolla. There are also passages like this.

That sounds awfully Vivaldian, doesn’t it? Passages like this are peppered throughout the concerto, fully integrated with the rest of the writing. It’s definitely Piazzolla… But somehow, it’s more than Piazzolla. It’s Piazzolla and Vivaldi, side by side. No simple rebooting of Vivaldi’s masterpieces, this is a revival.

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