Classissima My classical music



October 3   -   Wordpress Sphere

Adieu, Maestro

Contrary to popular belief, classical music is far from dying, even if it finds itself confined to the public radio waves in most places. The music is kept alive by the interpretations of conductors who view scores as more than dusty pages, but as plays with sound waiting for the right performers – and direction. The music is kept alive by the efforts of great conductors, and Sir Neville Marriner was among the greatest of his generation. Marriner passed away yesterday at 92. Sir Neville will be forever associated with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, an ensemble he founded in his living room with friends. Even in the 1950’s, who starts a classical music jam band? Yet from this beginning, the Academy went on to record hundreds of albums, with Sir Neville credited as conductor on over 200 (I say “credited,” because the Academy is supposed to be a “conductorless” orchestra). The Academy achieved rare popular acclaim for its soundtrack to the 1984 film Amadeus, which won Academy awards (and Golden Globes) for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (F. Murray Abraham, though Tom Hulce was also nominated). Yet through the superb performances by actors and director and film editors, the music really shines. I was growing up in a part of the Midwest with friends who were into Quiet Riot, Ratt, Def Leppard, Motley Crue – and the best concerts were at the State Fair. None of this moved me as much as the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor at the end of the Amadeus soundtrack; my parents were happy to indulge me by picking up bargain bin Mozart cassettes, which was a welcome respite for them from hearing “Message In a Bottle” for the 200th time. I’ll admit, listening to Wolfgang Amadeus made me feel intellectually superior to my peers (as if I needed anything to add to that), and I suppose I adopted a classical punk stance akin to Alex in A Clockwork Orange (the book, and later the film). What I didn’t realize is that listening to Mozart would connect me to a tradition spanning both continents and centuries. And Sir Neville Marriner was my gateway pusher. From Mozart, it was an easy leap to Beethoven, though I rejected Haydn and Handel, and was slow to warm to Bach. Classical Punk turned to Classical Goth in college, and I became obsessed with my “Dead Russians”: Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov – especially Rachmaninov, and I found the dark tones “sounded like death”; of course, every liberal arts college kid of my time has a copy of Orff’s “Carmina Burana” in his collection, even if we rarely get past “O Fortuna.” I moved east from my dark Russians to the lighter strains of the Scandinavians, Grieg and Sibelius, and as I seek a greater calm in my own life in my middle years, I find myself drawn to Vaughan Williams and the English countryside so easily heard in his compositions. Sir Neville also made me pay attention to conductors as well as composers, and I next sampled some Karajan, always was aware of Bernstein (but not immediately aware of his significance, as I tended to dismiss, in my youth, the Americans as inherently inferior to European conductors), moved through Solti, Previn, Maatzel, Szell, Furtwangler, Abbado; and today will pick up Slatkin, either Jarvi (Neeme, or son Paavo). I may have looked forward to releases in Gardiner’s Brahms symphony cycle the way most of the industry waited for the new Taylor Swift or Beyonce albums. Osmo Vanska is my favorite, as his Beethoven cycle opened my ears to music I thought I knew by heart (and has replaced Karajan as my favorite symphony cycle), and made me a believer in Sibelius. So often when classical music is thrust into the spotlight, the style is forced to overwhelm the substance. Even after the immense popularity of the Amadeus soundtrack, Sir Neville and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields never compromised on the quality of their art. As Sir Neville and the Academy were my introduction to Mozart, I still look to their recordings as the definitive interpretation of most of Mozart’s works. The Maestro has laid down his baton. For his contributions throughout a life dedicated to his craft, he has well-earned a standing ovation. Rest well, Sir Neville.

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