Monday, July 16, 2007

EarPlay - 5 Alternate Titles for Your Summer Outdoor Concert Listening

The Washington Post reviewed a couple of free family concerts by the National Symphony at Carter Barron Amphitheatre. I've been to a number of these around the city, and I think they're a great idea. The Post points up some problems with outdoor concerts in general, and posits that a more tranquil setting would be a huge benefit to developing a classical music audience. I see the problem as one of conservative musical programming. I've heard the Tchaikovsky, Bernstein, Rodgers, Copland, Grofé and Williams pieces a million times. These warhorses of the summer classical repertoire, while fantastic music, are not the only thing out there. Why serve up the same old tunes all the time, when there are other works with just as much spunk, tunefulness, dynamics and fun as the well-known pieces. Here are five:

1. Le Tombeau de Couperin - Maurice Ravel
Four short, dancing movements of orchestral color: a flying, spinning Prélude, a jokey, lurking Forlane, a smooth, elegant and modern Menuet, plus a bouncing, jumping Rigaudon for a finale. A combination stairmaster, treadmill, and nautilus workout for your ears, with a stretch and water break 3/4 the way through.

2. Joyeuse marche - Emmanuel Chabrier
Marches usually don't sound like this. Instead of laying down a steady beat for the troops passing in review, Chabrier's "joyous" version is all sudden starts and stops and the beat's all over the place. Tons of fun and much too short.

3. Concerto in F - George Gershwin
Sure, Rhapsody in Blue is great. But this is better. The first movement is practically an entire concerto itself, as it goes to all kinds of places.

4. Five Tudor Portraits - Ralph Vaughan Williams
A huge work set to poems by John Skelton (1460-1529), with three truly accessible movements for a neophyte audience: The Tunning of Elinor Rumming, My Pretty Bess and Jolly Rutterkin. This one's got variety to spare, with complex rhythms and colors for chorus and orchestra. Why not couple the orchestra with one of the area's choral groups? Sure, it takes more planning, but you get much more sound. And most of these non-professional but infinitely talented groups would do it for for free.

5. Capriol Suite - Peter Warlock
More fun rhythms jammed into a relatively short amount of space and time.

Why am I passionate about this? Because more people need to listen to this stuff! I credit classical music for improve my writing, generating my ideas, blowing the cobwebs out of my brain, or even just improving a part of my day. Now before you go thinking "he's going to tell me to listen to more Mozart" I'll tell you this: I can only take so much Mozart. The music I'm talking about was (almost) all written in the 20th Century. It's got intense color, incredible movement, and spiky syncopations. I'll be posting more examples in the next week or so; some of the pieces will tell stories, and others are totally abstract. Taken together, they comprise what I would counsel anyone to listen to if they want to expand their choice of iPod downloads.

No comments: