A classical music website by Tim Mangan
Critic’s notebook: A cornucopia of concertos to explore. Orange County Register, Dec. 6, 2014.
photo: Mats Bäcker
December 7, 2014
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Hear, hear! The greatest scandal and crime of the classical music industry is the lack of effort and imagination by orchestras. conductors and musicians and the related ignorance of audiences of the astounding variety, quality and depth of the classical repertoire. The former will blame the latter for this state of affairs, of course, but I wonder. Are concert hall seats empty because ‘classical music is dying’ or because no one in their right mind would pay $100 to hear The Usual Suspects yet again.
Wonder no more because the answer is obvious: it is precisely those “Usual Suspects” that most potential ticket-buyers would much more readily “pay $100 to hear” rather than for some unknown music they don’t know by some obscure composers they never heard of. Do you really doubt that there will be fewer empty seats in any large concert hall when Beethoven Ninth is being performed than for an all-Albrechtsberger program? There are usually valid reasons why the “warhorses” are as popular as they are. Does that mean that other music should never be performed? Of course not! A healthy mix is the best option.
That’s part of what makes concertos such an interesting case for expanding the repertoire. It doesn’t have to be either/or. You can play Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto and Beethoven’s 9th (in fact that might be a nice pairing). You can play a piano concerto by Litolff and Tchaikovsky’s 5th. Or, as with the Czech Philharmonic recently, you can play Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto (inspired by Litolff, btw) and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. I doubt the public would object to those programs and I think they’d sell just fine, depending on the performers.
That is what i was trying to suggest by “a healthy mix”. But if we call anything by Haydn with Beethoven’s Ninth or anything by Liszt with Dvorak’s New World “expanding the repertoire”, then we are really in trouble.
One obscure concerto I’d love to hear again is “Harlequin” by Larry Lipkis, written for bass trombone and orchestra with a major obligato part for musical saw. I saw the world premiere with Salonen conducting the LA Phil and Jeffrey Reynolds playing the solo part.
I remember Mr. Reynolds during the pre-concert lecture saying that E-PS looked at the score with its notes that should have been outside the instrument’s range (including the lowest A on the piano) and multiple-octave jumps, and asked him, “Are you sure you can play this?” Of course, he completely slayed it.
I remember liking the Lipkis concerto very much. It was kind of cheeky, if I remember right, turning the bass trombone into Till Eulenspiegel.
Agreed on hearing more unusual fare. I do like that Thibaudet pushed for the Khachaturian concerto. I think when famous soloists are able to advocate for the new and unusual, that’s a good sign. Didn’t he also play the Saint-Saens 5th a season or two ago in LA? That’s one that doesn’t get around much.
Yo-Yo Ma used to do this with a bunch of new concertos he premiered awhile back (not sure he does that too much now) and people would pay to hear him play regardless of the concerto. The concert hall would fill up and a new piece would be given an outing.
I also appreciate Leila Josefowicz because she plays almost exclusively 20th-21st century rep (and brilliantly too) with no lack of orchestras lining up to hire her.
I’m all in favor of a “healthy mix” — some warhorse to drag them in, with the two other pieces actually requiring some imaginative thought programming-wise. The following seems a curious statement to me: “There are usually valid reasons why the ‘warhorses’ are as popular as they are.” This implies (a) that most audiences know why Beethoven’s 5th is ‘better than’ Zemlinsky’s 1st, which I seriously doubt, (b) that warhorses are in fact ‘better music’ than much music that is not played at all, which I would dispute, and that (c) because we like something we should be bombarded with it repeatedly (Beef Wellington may be my favorite dish but I don’t need to eat it more than once every two years). Warhorses *are* good music (however you want to define good music) but the primary reason people like to hear them is because (a) they aren’t aware of the quality of the unprogrammed alternatives and/or (b) humans like what is familiar to us because it is familiar (familiar tunes have positive emotional associations etc.) and we dislike the unfamiliar because it is unfamiliar.
None of the three “implications” described by kitsunebi is anywhere near the letter or the spirit of my comments here. Indeed, many listeners often do not know the real reasons for liking certain pieces, and i never said that they did. It is certainly true that not all warhorses are necessarily “better”, and i would never say that all of them are. Being “bombarded” by anything is not my idea at all, and i did not say any such thing either. All i actually said and/or implied was that USUALLY there are real objective reasons for popularity and that warhorses should not be ignored – mostly in response to the statement that audiences do not want to pay for hearing them, which is rather oxymoronic by the very definition of the word “popular”. The two “primary” reasons described by kitsunebi are certainly real, but i doubt they are “primary” – that distinction, at least in “classical” music, should, and does, belong to the actual musical qualities of those pieces.
Meanwhile, I’m reviewing a concert tonight with the daring program of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto.
A very interesting (and I suspect profoundly vulnerable) assertion that the classical music programmed or popular is a function of its objective “actual musical qualities” rather than subjective vagaries of taste, fashion, human/organizational inertia etc. Pardon me if I don’t take that assertion on faith or on your personal authority (estimable though it doubtless is)….
First, not “rather than” but to a greater degree than. Second, fortunately for all of us, being marginally wrong about something is not a crime and probably not even a sin; but just in case, you may consider yourself fully pardoned anyway.
And fortunately especially for you. 🙂
A smiley face at the end of a hilariously funny comment (ROFLOL) is a brilliantly intellectual touch, but somehow it does not convince and fails to support any argument.
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