unhinged rantings of a symphony attendee

So Beep and I were invited to attend the Modesto Symphony with mes parents this last Saturday.  I had mixed feelings about this.  Some classical music is very exciting, challenging, inspiring stuff.  Some of it is dreadfully boring, and some of it is so syrupy sweet that I’m ready to puke rainbows and unicorns by the end of the first movement.  The program:

  • Felix Mendelssohn– Overture, “The Hebrides, or Fingal’s Cave”, Op. 26
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart– Concerto in G Major for Flute & Orchestra, K. 313
  • Ludwig van Beethoven– Symphony No. 6, “Pastorale”

I wasn’t keeping notes or anything, and I can’t very well nitpick in retrospect if I don’t remember the finer details of the event…  With that said, here’s my one paragraph synopsis of what went down:

The Hebrides Overture was very nice, I don’t think I’d heard that one before…  There was a guest flautist for the Mozart Concerto, and while her performance was technically proficient I think I would have enjoyed it more had she been wearing riding pants and boots and hopping around on one leg like Ian Anderson… The Pastorale was the Pastorale; pleasant, not particularly fiery or exciting like some of Beethoven’s other stuff, but pleasant all the same.

Ok, let’s get on with it.  Why do I have such a love-hate relationship with classical music though?  It doesn’t really have anything to do with the sounds that are produced by the orchestra on the stage, or anything else that’s really “wrong” with symphonic music.  I think it boils down to my own experiences as a musician (classical and otherwise): specifically, the observation that playing classical music (or in cover bands for that matter) was akin to being a factory worker on the assembly line– performing the solidly Baroque-Classical-Romantic repertoire season after season like a GM plant churning out SUVs.

Seriously…  How much effort does the average symphony orchestra devote to playing “new” compositions (or even those written in the last 100 years)?  Very, very little– if any– is my guess.  I’m sure that a lot of this has to do with donors and whatnot and the politics of orchestral music (scary thought); people want the familiar composers, the “classics”, music that’s familiar and comfortable and isn’t going to challenge them too much.  Sad, for sure, but not altogether surprising.

That’s enough ranting for now.  After reading this, you may be surprised to read that I did actually have quite a nice time at the symphony; as glad as I am that I decided against pursuing classical music as a career (thank you free improvisation!), this excursion was a nice reminder of my college experience as a percussion major and the classical works I had the privilege to help replicate on the assembly line– even when my contributions were only triangle hits and cymbal crashes.


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