Friday, September 21, 2012

Thoughts On Attending a Classical Concert

I was reading Vigilance by Julian Barnes and encountered this: "When you're in a concert hall, having paid money and taken the trouble to go there, you listen more carefully...However the state-of-the-art your system, nothing can compare to the reality of a hundred or more musicians going full tilt in front of you."

That motivated me to, this evening, replace my listening to a CD or YouTube video through my wonderful Klipsch computer speakers with a live concert. 

Here are my notes:

I arrive at 7:55 and the orchestra is tuning up and practicing: Cacaphony, loud cacaphony. It's wrong that they should subject an audience to that. Tuning up for a moment is one thing but they should be practiced before they come on stage. I needn't listen to that when I listen to a CD, and that's free and in the comfort of my home. We were subjected to that until 8:10, when the 8:00 concert began.

Another concert ritual I don't understand: Why do the musicians all wear tuxedos, black and white suits, etc? Unnecessarily stuffy if you ask me. Classical music is stuffy enough as it is.

Reading the program reminded me of how academics can destroy even music by overintellectualizing. Here's a quote from the program notes: "Unabashed chinoiserie is heard from the outset, in the form of a pentatonic scale whose properties as a subset of the diatonic and octatonic scales Stravinsky exploited to create an ingeniously shifting polytonal landscape."

The first two pieces on the program were Stravinsky's Song of the Nightingale and Bartok's Dance Suite. As far as I'm concerned, both could be accurately described as interesting but annoying tonalities amorphous. Yet somehow I liked them.

The quality of the orchestra--which consisted mostly of UC Berkeley students--to my professional-pianist ear--weren't that much worse than the professional recordings of those pieces I listened to before I went to the concert. Much credit must go to David Milnes, the conductor, who does have a killer resume.

Listening to the Brahms 4th Symphony reminded me that the classical orchestra is a manifestation of humankind at its finest: 150 people having worked for years to master their instrument, weeks together to coordinate their playing of masterworks, all so we audience members can, for a pittance ($5-$16,) experience all of that live in a beautiful venue, or free on the Net. Speaking of which, here are links to YouTubes of the concert's three pieces, performed by professional orchestras:

Song of the Nightingale  (Berlin Radio Orchestra, Lorin Maazel conducting)

Dance Suite by Bartok (Dresden State Orchestra, Bernard Haitink conductor)

Brahms Symphony #4 (Vienna Philharmonic, Istvan Kertesz, conductor)

I came away glad I went and sad that classical music isn't more popular. At the risk of sounding like an old fart and, heaven forbid, a judgmental one at that, most classical music that has stood the test of time,  is simply better, yes, better, not just different, than so much of the currently popular music.


Tom B said...

Great point about the over intellectualization of music. It's a real problem so I try to stay away from academic analysis beyond the historical but when I do read an author's take, I always wonder if they would dare conduct a presentation to the composer himself if alive? Can you imagine that scene?

I'm a fanatic about composers from the late 1800's forward and don't believe I'm missing much by not reading academic analysis. Don't get me started on how ridiculous visual art critics have become.

Anonymous said...

So, Marty, I couldn't tell. Did you walk away thinking that a live concert performance is a greater experience than what comes out of your home speakers? Just wondering.

Marty Nemko said...

Ir was, as I wrote, a mixed experience. I'll certainly mainly do my listening at home but, I'm guessing that a couple times a year, if the program intrigues me, the location is convenient, and the price is right ( is good here), I'll emerge from my cave.

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