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"I don’t really know the first thing about Classical Music."
March 20, 2014 7:56 AM   Subscribe

The Anfield Wrap reviews the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
But the Elgar. Let’s talk about the Elgar. Crashing Elgar. What did I hear? Well I definitely heard. I heard a great many aspects at the most spectacular volume, crashing in and out of each other. By Christ it is loud when it wants to be. I heard drama; I saw drama, great swaying, soaring playing full of determination and vigour, its pace never letting up. (I’m stunned how still the rest of the audience appeared to manage to sit. My head had gone a bit I think).
Mahler - Blumine
Strauss - Horn Concerto No. 2
Elgar - 2nd Symphony, LSO 2013 PROMS
posted by the man of twists and turns (21 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
What a great review. Go. You will be filled with music.
posted by hawthorne at 8:08 AM on March 20


this music is neither dead nor dying.

I've never heard the sentiment that the reviewer rebuts seeming to refer to the value proposition of the musical experience, only to its popularity. And in that respect, it is dying, in terms of audience size and the steadily increasing average age of that remaining audience.

It is and looks to remain a niche genre, and unless Beethoven returns from the grave to compose a 10th symphony or contemporary composers start getting on the charts, the repertoire will remain voluminous yet finite and closed.
posted by Gyan at 8:21 AM on March 20


this music is neither dead nor dying.

But is it relevant?
posted by thelonius at 8:36 AM on March 20


I saw this go down in real time as I follow Atkinson on twitter (he's really good if you like LFC stuff). He kept retweeting all the "OMG football guy writes about classical music" tweets that came his way.

I think there was a comment about being his most popular post ever.
posted by sauril at 8:58 AM on March 20


this music is neither dead nor dying.

But is it relevant?
Is Louis Andriessen relevant.. he is old..

So how about Kathryn Alexander, Jason Eckardt, they are young?

I guess relevant to whom is a more relevant question.
posted by snaparapans at 9:15 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Classical music (and by extension, classical musical performances) can be good, bad, or indifferent, just like any other type of music. Sounds like this reviewer caught a great orchestra playing great music on a night when everyone hit their marks, and it came off brilliantly. Good on him! The music made him think, which is really all a composer or performer can ask of their audience. Nice review, too!

My wife plays violin in a community orchestra, and in the last 20 years I've been privileged to enjoy a steady diet of almost-always-new-to-me classical music, with new pieces being practiced and then performed every 6-8 weeks. Her current orchestra is fantastic and routinely chooses challenging pieces, skewing probably 60% post-20th century / 40% pre-20th century. And they play it well, especially for a community orchestra. Her previous orchestra, which was also a community orchestra, was much less ambitious and played a lot of familiar composers' second tier works, and it definitely colored the performances and the overall enthusiasm with which they approached the music. If a musician isn't excited and doesn't invest enough practice time to really learn a piece of music, well, you don't need to know "Classical Music" to know that the resulting performance will be meh. Your ears and eyes will tell you that. There's a reason why we pay to see professional actors and musicians perform -- any high school drama department can limp through "Romeo and Juliet" or "Hairspray", but a professional troupe will take the words as they are written and make them come alive. The same is obviously true with music, especially classical music: when a professional musician dedicates themselves to learning a piece of music and performs it with other professional musicians in a concert hall purpose built to showcase the performance of that music, and when that whole ensemble is then led by a conductor who has also dedicated himself to leading that herd of musicians through the piece with vigor and, at times, startling delicacy, well, hold on to your socks! The results will bowl you over.

I'm still am a newbie at appreciating classical music, but I have been well schooled in the language of what constitutes a good performance of classical music. The latter is a lot easier to enjoy than you might think, and the rewards are immediate and long lasting. If you've never seen your local community or professional orchestra play a concert, GO! You may be in for a very happy surprise.
posted by mosk at 9:17 AM on March 20 [4 favorites]


This is an interesting topic for me as a working semi-pro classical musician. My mother has been roughly at the same point as me, married to someone who valiantly tries to play along but has no real connection to what she performs.

I feel like I have to drag my mom to some of my concerts, even though as a fellow performer -- sometimes in the same group -- she should by rights appreciate the work we've put in and the beauty that comes out.

But when my husband (garage punk drummer) or my dad (who can play "Muskrat Ramble" on the trombone... on a very good day...) come to my concerts, their honest reactions bring me so much pleasure. Their analyses include much more than the structure and form of the piece, or (as is so often the case) "oh, I sang that one in high school."

Everything is new to them. They love to hear the low, low bass (Dad has a huge man-crush on poor Jim); they like some pieces more than others, but they do so for different reasons. They remark on the reactions of their fellow audience members. They revel in the acoustics of one hall against another. They listen to me complain about a hard part or about how the stupid tenors never get their entrance right, and then they tell me how it turned out.

My husband and my dad are the kind of people we need to reach: those "weak ties" people who show up on a lark or for a favor to a friend, then find themselves enjoying the experience much more than they'd expected. Meanwhile, us classical snobs are sitting here wondering why people would bother sitting through yet another performance of "Bolero."
posted by Madamina at 9:28 AM on March 20 [6 favorites]


I've never heard the sentiment that the reviewer rebuts seeming to refer to the value proposition of the musical experience, only to its popularity. And in that respect, it is dying, in terms of audience size and the steadily increasing average age of that remaining audience.

You might want to read this piece by Alex Ross. As Charles Rosen famously said: "The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition."
posted by yoink at 9:28 AM on March 20 [4 favorites]


So strange. I love Mahler and thought I had heard it all - even his early piano quartet. But I was totally unfamiliar with Blumine. Thanks for the post just for this link alone.
posted by fremen at 9:31 AM on March 20


This is great and fun.

From the article:
It is music of soul searing passion, not smooth, not relaxing, not the soundtrack to a drive home or a commercial or a Hollywood film, not supplementary to the product but there, THERE! – demanding your attention, your contemplation, your catharsis.

This is one of the things I love about seeing classical music performed live. You're there in a dark hall with nothing else to do but listen. You're not supposed to be preparing those reports, reading a textbook for class or paying attention to guests and you're not casually checking social media, you're actively listening. Or, at least, the set up encourages dedicated listening.

I wonder what inspired him to go. I feel like there are a lot of people - not everyone, of course - who would get this much out of attending similar concerts but don't due to various misconceptions about classical music along with various realities such as the cost.
posted by mountmccabe at 9:41 AM on March 20


various realities such as the cost

Classical music--at least symphonic music, choral music, organ recitals etc. (anything that really fills the hall with sound)--is actually a pretty cheap evening out. If your enjoyment doesn't depend on seeing the action (as with opera or ballet) or being reasonably close to the players (as with chamber music) you aren't necessarily paying significantly more than you'd pay for a movie. If you keep an eye out for deals (goldstarevents.com and such like) it's by no means a rich man's preserve.
posted by yoink at 9:49 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I've got to say, as a non-musician who loves Elgar's Second and has listened to it many times, what this fellow says about it rings true. He's done a good job of grasping what this music is about.
posted by in278s at 12:35 PM on March 20


And in that respect, it is dying, in terms of audience size and the steadily increasing average age of that remaining audience.

Not to disagree with you entirely but to offer a different perspective. I've recently been doing commissions for people, regular folk, composing classical-style piano pieces for them (Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods) or more accurately for their loved ones. These are all people who know little to nothing about classical music and not only are they paying me but they are loving the results. I have no idea what this means and obviously the personal touch (having a piece of music written for you as commissioned by your S.O.) goes a long way but I've now become convinced that the music itself (and by this I mean music from those periods and not just my cheap imitations of them) can still be appreciated by contemporary audiences. The problems to be overcome are many having to do with perceptions and education, but there is some room for hope.

And so far most of these commissions have been for people in their 20s and 30s. But again, that they like my piece does not automatically translate to them liking a Beethoven piano sonata or a Chopin Mazurka and attending a piano recital. And while orchestral film scores do share some similarities with traditionally composed classical music and people seem to like those film scores, again there does not appear to be any movement toward classical music from fans of film scores.

And now that I'm thinking more about it, there was a thread on /r/classicalguitar (Reddit) wondering if classical guitarists should embrace Spanish music or distance themselves from it in order to increase their audience. People were split pretty evenly on it (I won't bore y'all with the actual arguments) which told me that we (classical folk) have absolutely no idea what to do to save our art form or help it grow. It's such a massively rich tradition that needs to survive but that by itself is not enough.
posted by bfootdav at 3:34 PM on March 20


Contemporary classical composers get on the charts ALL THE TIME. All the time! They do it by scoring movies, is all.
posted by KathrynT at 3:46 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


But is it relevant?

While not everyone is, if you are lucky enough to be able to truly appreciate classical music, then yes, it'll possibly become one of the most relevant things in your life.

It's like the difference between a fling and an enduring romance. Or like an old friend whose visits are usually welcome, who charms and informs and uplifts. Moreso nowadays, when those visits don't require you to suit up, travel and sit in a stuffy venue.
posted by Twang at 6:54 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Classical music--at least symphonic music, choral music, organ recitals etc. (anything that really fills the hall with sound)--is actually a pretty cheap evening out. If your enjoyment doesn't depend on seeing the action (as with opera or ballet) or being reasonably close to the players (as with chamber music) you aren't necessarily paying significantly more than you'd pay for a movie. If you keep an eye out for deals (goldstarevents.com and such like) it's by no means a rich man's preserve.

Yeah, I was just looking at the price of the lunchtime concerts on the Phil's website:

These 45-minute concerts feature musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and start at 1.05pm. All tickets are £6.

Will six quid even buy you lunch at McDonalds?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:27 PM on March 20


Enjoyed this. Thank you for posting.

(I've been lucky enough to perform at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall a couple of times, and it's a cracking venue. If you're local and you haven't been - go!)
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 1:47 AM on March 21


Heh, I'm off to the Phil tonight with two fellow Tranmere Rovers fans. Sibelius No. 3, Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Stenhammar's Excelsior!

I'm not a fan of any of those composers, or much classical music that isn't filed under 'contemporary' or 'experimental' or 'absurd hooting noises for bespectacled Wire readers', but, as the review points out... it's up the road, the tickets are insanely cheap, and I'm absolutely sure to have a good night, even if I don't enjoy listening to this kind of stuff at home.

it's by no means a rich man's preserve.

It's certainly a lot cheaper than the football.
posted by jack_mo at 3:34 AM on March 21


it's by no means a rich man's preserve.

I think the balance can be poor in the very front and I do get enjoyment out of seeing the players but I agree. Seeing live classical music certainly isn't just for the rich.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is very affordable with tickets for a regular show ranging from £13 to £36. ($20-$60). I checked Phoenix Symphony prices and found seats for $18-$79. I'm in NYC so for me it's the New York Philharmonic up the road with seats from $30-$89 for a regular performance but they do have deals and there are many, many other classical performances to see including many for free/cheap.

I'm not sure I'd consider the cheapest seats for any of those orchestras (though I haven't been to Liverpool Philharmonic Hall) but no matter prices are cheaper/comparable to seats for many major sporting events and rock concerts and other such entertainments. But I guess I just consider them all expensive.

My perspective may be skewed from living in NYC, my current focus on opera and wanting to attend everything!
posted by mountmccabe at 7:11 AM on March 21


If we're talking about cheap seats -- I can only speak to Benaroya Hall in Seattle, since that's where I perform and the space I know best. But the absolute best seats in that house, acoustically, are the third tier, back row, dead center, with your back against the wall. We were up there to do the celestial chorus in the Planets several years back and I was absolutely whomperjawed at the clarity of sound and the perfection of the balance. Now that's where I sit when I attend the symphony, too.

Also, every month or so they do a free organ recital on the massive Watjen pipe organ at Benaroya, Mondays at 12:30 PM. Looks like the next one is April 7. If you can be downtown for an hour in the middle of a Monday, it's a great use of your time.
posted by KathrynT at 9:19 AM on March 21


My perspective may be skewed from living in NYC, my current focus on opera

Well, I did except opera, which just can't avoid being an expensive pursuit. I'm an opera fan and just have to compromise: we get tickets that are further from the stage than we'd like and it's also our biggest entertainment expense of the year. The sound is good where we are, but we don't get the full effect of the staging and some of the finer details of the acting are lost on us. I sometimes think about paying twice as much and going to half as many operas. Then I decide to stick with plan A which is winning the lotto and not having to worry about such things.

But for non-opera classical music: I think a lot of people who don't go would be surprised just how affordable it can be.
posted by yoink at 9:22 AM on March 21


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