In which the New York Times asks several artists to provide an entry into classical for non-classical listeners. An idea which I’m sure has been done to death, but which is kind of irresistible anyway. And which in fact syncs up nicely with my own recent mission to finally explore the stuff. My exploration is two-fold—and I’m not sure how possible it will be to attain the second without the first:
1) Will I ever simply understand and be able to follow classical composition? (I have a brain, I assume I’m capable, but will I maintain my interest long enough to do so?)
2) Will I in fact arrive at a place (a state of mind) where listening to classical is no longer just work but is in fact deeply pleasurable?
I arrived at that aforementioned place with jazz a decade ago (though a great deal of it, including some of the stuff I love, still confuses the hell out of me), and this was after two previous decades of effort. Ditto Captain Beefheart. So I assume this is possible with classical, too. However, jazz and rock—or anyway, the jazz I ended up gravitating towards and the rock that’s always been there—do not seem nearly as distant from one another as classical and rock. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but the trajectory seems to me to be one-way: all sorts of pop and rock “incorporate”—yuck—classical, but so what? Pop and rock subsume (take on? eat up?) everything, ultimately. But where is the rock or the pop in classical? Can I hear pop flowing in the other direction? Is there pop music in the DNA of, say, Bach?
I’m not a total novice. I have some classical favourites, though most of them are 20th century, and mostly the sort of thing that upends a listener’s ideas of “classical” (is it even referred to as classical?). Again, it tends to be stuff with an obvious link to pop (start with some of the minimalists and work your way out from there).
Next month I’m attending, with a friend who has become my guide to the stuff, my very first symphony, a performance of Mahler’s 5th. Twenty-five years ago, I saw my first opera and I think I lasted 15 minutes before squirming wildly in my seat for the next 12 hours. Sub-titles didn’t help. I don’t recall which opera it was.