The figurative language of Alex Ross…

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I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about some fine work by music writer and cultural critic Alex Ross….

I was a 16-year-old when I went to my first opera, dragged by a friend. I think the initial appeal was that going to opera made me feel extra grown up but, eventually, I fell in love with the art form and bought season’s tickets for many years.

After a hiatus of several decades, in which I had neither the money nor the time for opera, I returned to the theatre. My son had become a music major, studying opera at university, and our highlight was seeing him perform in The Bartered Bride, in a glorious opera house in the Czech Republic.

Now that our son has graduated and chosen to pursue other interests, I am mostly content to read about opera. A recent piece by Alex Ross (pictured above) in the New Yorker — headlined, Chaya Czernowin’s Darkly Majestic Opera “Infinite Now” — illustrated for me the great skill required to write about music. Observe how Ross does it:

  • It begins in near-silence, with faint bass-drum rolls, a tremor of gong, fingernail scratches on drumskins, and breathy noises from the strings. Emanating from a large orchestra, such sounds create a sense of depopulated vastness.
  • In the final few minutes, a quadruple-forte avalanche of brass and percussion is unleashed—a musical equivalent of the butterfly effect, in which slight changes trigger cataclysms.
  • Up to this point, a characteristic Czernowin mood of tense expectancy has prevailed, with stretches of rustling and whispering interrupted by spasms of orchestral fury.
  • At times, the harmonies brush against traditional tonality.
  • It all builds to a sonic hurricane—one of the most awesome storms in musical history.

Alex Ross has been on the staff of The New Yorker magazine since 1996. He is also author of the books The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007) and Listen to This (2011).

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