You know, it dawned on me that I don’t think I’ve gone to a nightclub venue since…well, probably since before I moved down to New Jersey in 2005, come to think of it. I used to head to various shows in Boston all the time back when I was in Massachusetts, and didn’t think twice about driving that seventy miles, hanging out int some smoky basement dive with too-loud music, and having to leave a tad early so I could make the last Red Line train out to Alewife where I was parked.
Over the years since we’ve been here, our showgoing has pretty much remained with the San Francisco Symphony and the SF Opera. It just sort of happened naturally, as they were well-known ensembles we were looking forward to checking out when we moved out here a decade ago. And over those last ten years, I’ve really come to appreciate classical music a lot more than I ever have in my life.
I won’t lie, for years the extent of my classical knowledge was pretty much tied in with Warner Bros cartoons such as What’s Opera, Doc?, The Rabbit of Seville, Long Haired Hare and so on. There’s also the 80s Hollywood movie such as Platoon (Barber’s Adagio for Strings), Apocalypse Now (Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (R. Strauss’ ‘Morning’ from Also Sprach Zarathustra).
I wasn’t completely ignorant of classical music; it was just a genre that I didn’t follow as closely as I did others. This of course has changed over the years; I used to really like Copland back in my college years but find his work kind of thin nowadays…I now find Tchaikovsky one of my biggest favorite composers.
There are certain pieces that I find absolutely stunning and will try to get to a performance if the SF Symphony is playing them. Such as:
Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ completely blows me away every time I hear it, whether it’s the orchestral version or the original string quartet version. I love when music has a deliberate flow to it — each melodic phrase is given time to complete itself without hurry. It’s like breathing.
Maurice Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ is so much fun! It starts off so quietly and unassumingly, and yet by the end, every single instrument in the house is bleating, banging and barking so loudly that the entire audience whoops with cheers when it finishes. A silly Italian movie called Allegro non Troppo (a self-professed “low-budget” homage to Disney’s Fantasia) got me hooked on this piece in college with its unique take on planetary evolution.
Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony (‘Pathetique’) is probably my favorite piece of all right now. I was thinking of it the other day when I was watching David Bowie’s final video, “Lazarus”…one kind of got the feeling that David knew the end was coming, and had decided to go out on a final creative note — a denouement letting us know how much he’d enjoyed his time in this world. I feel the same whenever I hear the Pathetique because it was Tchaikovsky’s last piece in much the same manner…I think he’d finally come to terms with his life as well as his mortality. This is also why I love the way the ‘big finish’ in this piece is actually in the 3rd movement and not the final; the final 4th movement ends up being more of an exhalation, a release.
Mason Bates’ The B-Sides is a relatively new piece — written by a composer six years younger than myself, I should add — and I can totally see the future of classical music heading in this direction, with a mix of analog, digital, and found sounds (check the ‘instrument’ used about three and a half minutes in!). Bates is somewhat of a local hero here, as he’s both a nightclub DJ (as DJ Masonic) and a composer of a large number of wonderfully creative pieces that he often performs with the SFS. Bates also recently released an album with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project called Mothership, which I highly recommend. I have high hopes for this one!