Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Classical Music -- Dead or Alive

I was listening to Ottorino Respighi's "The Pines of Rome" a little while ago, and it reminded me of a performance I attended a few years ago. I was seated behind a couple of elderly matrons at the concert, which, in my opinion, was very well-played, but kind of tame. As I recall, there was a Beethoven overture, the Respighi work, and then a Mozart piano concerto in the second half with a guest pianist.

As we all made our way to the exits for intermission, I overheard most of the discussion of these two die-hard music lovers (as they characterized themselves). In their opinion, the Beethoven was a little edgy, but Respighi was just over the top! It was too loud, it was too crazy, it was too... everything. It was just too modern. Why couldn't the symphony stick to nice music anyway?

Now at one time "The Pines of Rome" was indeed (moderately) wild and modern -- like when it premiered in 1924. The work was actually about the same age as my blue-haired music critics. But it was still far too outré for their tastes.

Beethoven and Mozart? Nice. Nothing like music that's almost two centuries old to make one feel relaxed.

I'm not necessarily faulting those ladies -- classical, like any other musical genre, means different things to different people. And for many, classical music equals pretty Muzak.

But really. Is it true that the only good classical music was written by composers all now long-dead and safely buried? Nope. There's plenty of new, relevant music being written, performed, and enjoyed -- but you'd be hard-pressed to find any of it on an orchestral subscription series. It's being done in chamber music series, festivals, museums, performance art spaces, and many other small venues. And it's reaching an audience that would never consider going to the Symphony.

So I'm not really worried about classical music. Like it's done throughout the ages, it's changing, growing, adapting. I do feel sorry for those matrons, though. They wanted to keep classical music frozen in time. And in the process, they shut themselves off from a wild, wonderful -- and vitally alive -- world of sound.

Classical music is only as boring as you want it to be.

- Ralph

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