Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Learning to love classical music (if you like pop music)

Two years ago a pair of clever, aesthetically sophisticated artists asked me to help them begin to like classical music.  It wasn’t so much that the desire was not there, but rather that with contemporary culture’s focus on the immediate and the new it’s easy to avoid exposure to classical music altogether, and therefore not quite know where to find the way in.   

I asked for advice from various composers and music professionals – saying to them that the one thing I was not looking for was a chronological introduction – more important was music you could relate to if you knew all about pop music.  I was thinking in part back to how my love of classical music started, which was in about 1984 with Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” – which seemed to me at the time to share much with the dub reggae I was then listening to – and from which I worked my way backwards over the years to Bach, only to find then great similarities between Bach and Reich in terms of compositional structures.  

I've spent the last 15 years on my own journey, with great delight filling in the gaps for everything between the Baroque and the Contemporary, discovering the pleasures of Shostakovich one year, and Chopin the next.

This is the order of the music to which I introduced my artist friends to start them on their own journey:

1. Purcell - Dido and Aeneas (if possible the version with Janet Baker singing).
2. Jóhann Jóhannson – Englabörn.
3. Beethoven's 5th symphony
4. Arvo Pärt – Litany 
5. Steve Reich – music for 18 musicians (original version)
6. Satie – Gymnopédies
7. Debussy – La Mer
8. Stravinsky – the Rite of Spring
9. Louis Andriessen – De Staat
10. Anything by Hans Abrahamsen
11. Iannis Xenakis – Jonchaies
12. Morton Feldman - Piano and string quartet   and/or Piano, violin, viola, cello
13. John Cage - Sonatas and interludes
14. Bach Cello Suites – Fournier version
15. Varese  - Ameriques
16. Turnage - Drowned Out
17. Mahler – 2nd and 5th symphonies
18. Strauss - Alpine Symphony 
19. Ades - America
20. Britten - Four Sea Interludes
21. Ades - Tevot (Berlin phil/rattle)
22. Charles Ives - songs (Aimard/Susan Graham)
23. Schubert's string quintet

I felt that once they had experienced the music above they would be pretty much ready for anything classical music can offer.  As they listen to music in their studio via Spotify, I could see what they were playing ... and I knew they arrived when one of them became addicted to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons".  

If you are on a similar quest, happy listening!

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