Monday Smiles – 1/19/2015
I am the unofficial social chairman in our household. When I am an energetic social director … and the local venues cooperate … our Date Nights can be a cultural smorgasbord. Other times … well, it’s movies-movies-movies. With a new year in hand, the social director is indeed energetic and Goldstar Events is cooperating by offering interesting weekend events at half price. Saturday night, we went uber-cultural, taking the roughly 50 mile drive to Ambassador Auditorium to hear McGegan’s Brahms, performed by the Pasadena Symphony. Not to be elitist, but do you realize that that one date puts us in very sparse company? Less than 10% of Americans attend classical music performances on a yearly basis. And, by the way, only 2.8% of album music sales in the U.S. are classical recordings. Such statistics lead publications like Slate to say, When it comes to classical music and American culture, the fat lady hasn’t just sung. Brünnhilde has packed her bags and moved to Boca Raton. Classical music has been circling the drain for years, of course.
On the other hand, Matthew Kassel of the New York Observer suggests that the Slate article is narrow-minded and that, The stale idea that classical music is dead has been repeated so many times that it’s not really worth being bothered by anymore. His point is that a number of art forms, including serious painting and jazz, are and have always been appreciated by a relatively small percentage of the populace. Yet jazz and classical music have a lot in common, he says, not only because they are genres with small audiences, but because they are often misrepresented by those who wish to write them off as moribund despite that they are doing pretty well—albeit on a small scale. Without getting involved in a cultural argument way above my pay grade, I’d offer that I’ve been listening to classical music since high school … and I’ve never found many kindred souls among my acquaintances.
Of course, the Ambassador Auditorium was full of them. There was a time I felt a bit intellectually out of place at classical performances, surrounded by over-dressed gray-hairs that talked about adagios and counterpoint and the history of Brahms Symphony Number 2. Perhaps the intellectual elitism keeps people away and the cost of tickets doesn’t help. On the other hand, nobody’s complaining that a good (??) Katy Perry ticket costs over $500. And listening to classical music takes commitment … there are no 3 minute songs … or dancing your seats during numbers. Brahms second takes about 45 minutes and there’s the somewhat arcane protocol. The first violin walks out and everyone claps. Then the orchestra tunes up. Then the conductor appears. More clapping. Clapping between movements … BAD … after the symphony ends … GOOD, with extensive curtain calls whether warranted or not. It kind of annoys my wife, Muri, whereas I find it entertaining. There were a fair number of younger couples among the nicely dressed oldsters Saturday, including quite a few Asian families with their kids (Slate magazine asks, Can Asians Save Classical Music? because it remains very popular with Asian Americans). Off to our right was a grandma with her eightish granddaughter … it turned out her Daddy works backstage and came out to see her at intermission. In front of us was an attractive fiftyish couple who couldn’t keep their hands off each other (Muri wondered, What are they doing here?). Not surprisingly they bailed in a heated rush before the last movement ended.
Oh, the music? Enjoyable and interesting. The first piece was An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise by Peter Davies. Apparently, there is a LOT of drinking at Orkney Weddings, because as the piece goes on, the music begins to go off key and out of time. It was an odd little piece but listening to professional musicians play badly on purpose was fun, as was the emergence of a bagpiper in full regalia from the back of the auditorium to join in the finale. The Brahms Symphony was perfect Symphony Orchestra fare, with solemn string passages and an exuberant finale with lots of brass. For me, the gem of the evening was a Concerto in D-minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Francis Poulec. The pianos were arranged face-to-face center stage and played by Korean mother-daughter team, Esther and Mihyang Keel. All in all, with it’s sudden mood shifts and its dialogue between the playful and the serious, says the program, the Concerto for Two Pianos sounds like a score for a silent film. The last movement even sounded a bit like jazz, a plus for Older Eyes. Here is a performance of the piece from YouTube in case you like classical music or want to see what I’m talking about.
After a concert, I sometimes wonder if more people wouldn’t like classical music if they heard it live. But that’s probably not going to happen, so I so I try to be grateful that I enjoy it as much as I do. It’s Monday … I’m smiling.