Rock Out With Your Bach Out

Besides putting these posts up for the general Internet to see, I also call attention to them on Facebook, because us youngish people don’t surf the regular Web anymore and need to have stuff pointed out to us. In response to the BSO review below, Maura Lafferty, who blogs engagingly at La ci darem la mano about the concert experience and other stuff, wrote the following on Facebook:

i love that you want to just rock the hell out to scheherazade, because that’s how i feel every time i go to a concert. down side is that live shows are better than recordings for rocking out purposes. solution? make orchestra concerts more like rock concerts.

A goal shared by many, and one whose spirit I commend. And yet, in execution, I think some problems would arise. Specifically with regard to me and Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov, I just played the last movement of Scheherazade here in my apartment, and I’m pretty sure no one wants to see me jump around and punch the air like that for ten minutes. I’m actually sweating, and my pants began to fall down several times due to the sheer force of my gyrations and exertions. Canny classical presenters would encourage me to do that and then get everyone else in the hall to pay to have me ejected. What’s fun for me would not be fun for everyone, is what I’m saying.

For another thing, orchestral concerts, and classical concerts in general, have some decided advantages over rock concerts, even granting that problems associated with people talking over the Adagio could be smoothed somewhat by discreet amplification. Two of the more memorable concerts I have attended this year were the Mosaiques Quartet at the Library of Congress and the Wu-Tang Clan at the 9:30 Club. (It’s just a special bonus that the Wu-Tang Clan seems to be an emerging meme on this blog.) As an imaginative exercise, let us see what the Mosaiques concert would have been like had it been almost exactly like the Wu-Tang concert:

  1. The concert would have been listed as beginning at 8, but the actual playing of music would not have started until 9. In the meantime, the sound system would play recordings by various other string quartets, and I would drink Yuengling.
  2. At 9, a quartet would begin playing, but it would not be the Mosaiques; rather, it would be composed of their less talented homies from Vienna. They would play in a style similar but distinctly inferior to that of the Mosaiques.
  3. Then more waiting. The audience would be getting tired of standing. I would check my watch repeatedly and make nervous comments about how many hours of string quartet recordings the Library of Congress had on hand. Also, more Yuengling.
  4. Occasionally, Christophe Coin would emerge from the wings and look stonily at the crowd, which would applaud in an effort to gain his or her acknowledgment. None would be forthcoming.
  5. A hush would come over the crowd as someone began setting up the music stands and laying out the sheet music.
  6. That process would take about a half-hour, somehow. Additional Yuengling.
  7. Finally, the Mosaiques Quartet would come out and begin playing Haydn. Well, sort of. It turns out Anita Mitterer would have decided not to come on the tour. One of the less talented homies from earlier would play her part. Eventually, the Mosaiques would get tired of the substitution, and Andrea Bischof would simply play both Mitterer’s part and her own, with occasionally bizarre results. (Yes, I was there when the Wu, without Method Man, performed the song “Method Man,” which as you might guess prominently features Method Man in normal circumstances.)
  8. The quartet would frequently ask the crowd whether it enjoyed that [redacted 13-letter gerund] real Classical music, capital C, straight uncut raw dope. They would also give much love to D.C., generally, while asserting the primacy of Vienna as the spot where the real grimy period-instrument performers go to work. (The Mosaiques, to my knowledge, do not have a dead former member, so I cannot work in all the Ol’ Dirty Bastard discussion, but trust me: there was a bunch of that too.)
  9. Despite all that, the Mosaiques would deliver some pretty awesome performances. Then someone would announce that there would be an after-party at the 18th Amendment, and a freestyle session would begin. (Note: I would pay a great deal of money to hear the Mosaiques Quartet in an actual freestyle session.) But eventually, the Mosaiques would retreat towards the wings of the stage, leaving the spotlight for the less talented homies from earlier. These less talented homies would really stink up the joint, so much so that Erich Höbarth would start laughing at them in full view of the audience. Then the lights would come up.
  10. The performance having lasted well after the Metro stopped running, I would have to walk over to 7th Street to catch the 70 bus home, a journey that would take 5 million years in subjective time.

So clearly we don’t want classical concerts to be too much like pop concerts, although the dearth of Yuengling at classical concerts should be a concern to presenters everywhere. (I don’t like wine, dammit!) What we want is for classical concerts to have some of the fire of pop concerts, for Robert Spano and the BSO to be able to whirl up the climax of Scheherazade’s shipwreck and feed off the energy of the audience at the same time as they stoke it, the same way Raekwon got fired up by our ecstatic screams and blasted through “C.R.E.A.M.” And for me to be able to move a little bit in my seat, at least, and for others to move their bodies too. I have some inchoate thoughts on why classical concerts, by and large, don’t do that; I’ll try to whip them into coherence in the next post in this series.

(Note: You, too, can totally be my friend on Facebook, but I have to warn you that I don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about classical music on there, other than to promote this blog.)

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5 Comments on “Rock Out With Your Bach Out”

  1. mlaffs Says:

    Also, in hindsight, the noise of a rock venue would not be ideal for those exquisite quiet hold-your-breath moments that make the rocking out part so much better!


  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Maura Lafferty and Maura Lafferty, Silas Pradetto. Silas Pradetto said: Rock Out With Your Bach Out « DMV Classical http://bit.ly/VRMuQ [...]


  3. Your writing is really fantastic. I’ve been doing my best to incorporate your embrace of both popular and classical music in my teaching (History of Pop, right now). Keep it up, it’s good to see other people willing to bridge the gap.

    • Andrew Lindemann Malone Says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I have at least one more semi-lengthy post coming up (in the next month or so) contrasting the classical and pop concert experiences, so I hope you’ll come back occasionally to check for it.

  4. Gunnar Says:

    Here’s one key: pop music concerts never, ever start on time (except KISS. KISS concerts are on-time, to the minute). Classical music concerts generally start on time.

    Here’s another: pop music concerts are loaded with phony encores, where the band walks offstage, tags the stage door or something, and walks back on to play some more. (“Hmm, the Sex Pistols left without playing ‘Anarchy in the UK.’ Wonder if they’re coming back on.”)
    In classical music, they sometimes do the phony walking on & off, but they rarely play any extra music.


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