Thursday, March 11, 2010

recital musings

In putting off the two or three assignments I have due tomorrow, I've been instead going over ideas for my upcoming recital (April 10th at Northwestern!). A theme in this blog's short life, if you haven't noticed, is dissatisfaction with the current state of performance practice in the world of "art music." I recently wrote an article all about this for my friend's supposed magazine (ALISSA ARE YOU READING THIS?), but I have no idea if she'll ever publish it. I might have to just post it here eventually.

Anyway, for now, watch this video instead, which was helpfully pointed out to me by my mother. It's a TED talk by conductor Benjamin Zander, who as you'll see, is a charming guy who really likes to listen to himself tell stories. However, to his credit they're pretty good stories. He also believes, as do I, that most people's aversion to "classical" music is more a cultural, societal, or "meta-musical" phenomenon than anything. He takes this idea a bit too far, but his basic point is right: 95% of people (give or take) who grow up in Western culture unconsciously acquire the necessary pitch categories and hierarchies to "understand" (on a basic level) the majority of Western music written between 1700 and 1900, because they naturally acquire the necessary pitch hierarchies from exposure to popular music.

But "classical" music is still much less accessible to so many people than pop, probably for a variety of reasons. Pieces are longer, harmonies are generally more complex and varied, there are usually no words, and people often aren't as familiar with the specific harmonic or textural language. I mean, I've loved classical music when I was a kid, but it's still hard for me to enjoy lots of pieces the first time I hear them. This was even more true when I was younger and was less familiar with what I was dealing with. I can only assume a similar phenomenon is behind a lot of people's general aversion to the classics.

In the video Zander gets his audience over that general aversion by familiarizing them with a few simple concepts, and playing a couple of examples from Chopin's e minor prelude. Long story short, I'm pretty settled on doing the same kind of thing for my recital, only shorter and with less British charm. But I'll do it somewhat apprehensively because I know that kind of thing can fall really flat, especially when targeting a mixed bag of listeners. I recently went to a CSO performance where Michael Tilson Thomas talked about Berg's orchestral piece op. something-or-other for like twenty minutes, and for latter fifteen I was really hoping he would get to the point. But I want to familiarize people just enough with what they're going to hear so that they'll have something to grasp onto as they're listening. Let's hope I don't screw it up!

1 comment:

  1. You hit the nail on the head with the thing that kind of bugged me in that Zander video -- I think (for better or worse) that it often takes a bit of training/work/time put in to be able to enjoy, let alone appreciate, a lot of so-called "classical" music.