"Classical music is dead!" proclaims the latest self-anointed "genius" of the next musical era. She comes to us in the persona of a heavy-metal guitarist named The Great Kat -- a scantily clad blonde playing the part of guitar shredder, classical violinist, sexual dominatrix, and computer nerd. It might seem like an unlikely combination, but she brings these facets together into a ferocious blitz of dense sound released to the public in small doses. Her latest CD, Bloody Vivaldi, has only four tracks totaling less than eight minutes, but this is more than enough to have some insight into her bizarre personality.
Bloody Vivaldi is so named for The Great Kats two-minute arrangement of Vivaldis The Four Seasons scored for small string ensemble and rock band. Bringing the venerable Vivaldi into the sphere of a guitar dominatrix isnt as painful as it sounds. The third movement of the Summer concerto is bloodied, but left standing. The solo violin part is now an interaction of guitar and violin solos played at an impossible tempo. The string ensemble and synthesized strings are barely audible over The Great Kats impenetrable guitar tracks, as are the bass and drums. Less overdrive guitar might have softened the effect of the piece, but would have provided more interesting musical interaction between all parts.
The Great Kats furious violin solo on Sarasates Carmen Fantasy transforms a piece that is sexual and seductive into one which is purely demonic. She separates the piece into a few sections that seem unrelated, but all are played at breathless tempos. All the famous themes from Bizets Carmen are here, sometimes with raging bass and drum accompaniment.
Both arrangements of Vivaldi and Sarasate are innovative, but fall short of musically breaking new ground. What sets these pieces apart from ordinary heavy metal, however, is the fact that they are not approximations of the original pieces. They are recordings of the actual music transcribed and re-arranged. The Great Kat had to study the original scores and carefully consider how to distribute the notes to her ensemble. Unlike that of her anarchist heavy-metal peers, her treatment of the music is clever and , in fact, very classical.
The Great Kats own songs -- there are two on this CD -- are not as well conceived. Her lyrics border on the ridiculous, spewing violence, blood and sado-masochism. Her vocals are snarled, screamed and whooped, and her guitar tracks are so thick that it is hard to hear anything else over them. The brevity of her songs is part of a cyber-based philosophy that the human attention span is diminishing. It also could be that beyond sensationalism she has little to say.
The Great Kat is an unfortunate hostage of her unabashed self-promotion and hype. "The worlds fastest guitarist," "genius personality," "the High Priestess of Guitar Shred," and "systematically changing the face of classical music," shout her press releases. The reality of the Great Kats music is far less outrageous. In the early 1980s, The New York Times reviewed her debut recital while she was still Kathy Thomas -- a violin student at the Juilliard School. The reviewer, after praising her strong technique and ideas, mentioned her "overstated" performance of the Carmen Fantasy. On this new CD, she overstates this same piece, only now in a different milieu.
She also claims to be the new Ludwig von Beethoven of the 21st century. Unfortunately, she is not that forward-looking. Her music is built too much on pretense, and continually returns to the music of the 18th and 19th centuries. Would a 21st-century Beethoven continually look back to Vivaldi, Sarasate, and Rossini for material and inspiration? In fact, she disproves her own pronouncement of classical musics demise. It is precisely artists like her who are keeping classical music alive. Rethinking Vivaldi and Sarasate is not as bold as she would have you believe. Composers and arrangers have put their interpretive spin on the classics for centuries, and although she probably would be loathe to admit it, she is keeping that tradition alive.
Still, The Great Kat has created an unmistakable sound, and her intimidating personality reaches for the jugular of any concert-goer or listener. Her new CD, although short, is a valid musical statement from one of the stranger characters on the heavy-metal scene. It would be to her musical advantage if she calmed down her own hype. But as one of the very few women in heavy metal, maybe she has to make the most noise in order to be noticed
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