I don’t think I need to go into how vastly popular Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is, do I? We’ve probably all played a measure of it at some point during our lives – whether on a piano, fiddling around on a violin, or even blowing through the standard second grade issued, ever popular recorder. We’ve whistled it, we’ve offered up some silly pun on the name. A quick Google search of “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” spits out about 1.13 million hits. (Consider that Dvorak’s New World Symphony only spit back about 401,000 hits.)
The popularity of the tune is not a debate.
So, let’s fast forward to last Saturday night’s performance of the aforementioned classic.
Now, before we go on, if you want a very detailed, very concise, very first-hand experience about last Saturday night’s show, stop reading right…now. I wasn’t there. (Long story.) But, let me assure you, I do have a point.
Moving on…I wasn’t at the show last night, but several friends of mine went and very much enjoyed the performance. It was a show that they could “understand”. By “understanding”, I’m assuming they meant that they were familiar with what was going to happen next. They didn’t get lost in all the key shifts and codas and every other thing. They knew exactly what to expect, and therefore, didn’t feel like they were straining to keep up with the song, but rather, that they were moving right along with it.
I asked them to expound. They did. Listening to their opinions on the show, it wasn’t surprising to hear that they thought that Andres Cardenes was “amazing” or that the PSO as a whole was “awesome.” It wasn’t surprising to hear that out of five friends, four of them liked the first movement of Spring the best. Most people do. I personally LOVE the third movement in Summer. It’s gorgeous and fast and brilliant. Anyway…I suppose what did surprise me about what my friends had to say was the only real reason they liked the Four Seasons concertos is because it was familiar. Easily accessible. As one friend lamented, classical music, to him, is like trying to sing along to a song when you don’t know all the lyrics. You get lost, confused, and inevitably, frustrated. (And yes, I am referring to you, Ms. Lady Gaga. For crying out loud, ennunciate when you sing.)
A small part of me understood what he was saying. Classical musical certainly doesn’t follow the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus pattern that we’re all so used to. Classical music unfurls rather than coils around it itself. While there are always exceptions to this rule, most pieces, as composer Marvin Hamlisch once explained, travel. They start at one point then fly to another. Pop tunes kind of just remain in air. But hey, I’m no composer, so perhaps I’m wrong about the structure of orchestral pieces. Correct me if I’m wrong. Tell me if this whole blog post is inaccurate. I’m always open to learning. Point is, my friends seemed to enjoy the concert, actually sought out tickets for this show and not any other this season so far, because they knew what to expect.
So…expectations. Is that the key to get people into the music halls? Play only what they’re familiar with? Play only Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, or Ravel’s Bolero? To me, that’s not really the solution. I think people just need to find a way in. They need to be able to feel like they can access such a vast and enormous thing.
I think the PSO has it right: a world-class symphony needs to play those classics of the classical canon, but also play the lesser known gems. They need to cater to the newly inducted, but also delightfully surprise the seasoned. The PSO is superb at finding that balance. And they are superb at really making even the roughest of diamonds shine.
To sum up: my friends enjoyed the concert on Saturday. Out of five of them, three want to definitely go back. See? Looks like they just needed to have that easy access. :)