I think I was 15 when I heard a live symphony orchestra for the first time. It was in a church and my high school boyfriend's mother played violin in this group. I never forgot that sensation, that tickle in my ear upon hearing live stringed instruments. There is no other way for me to describe it but live music especially violins, violas, cellos, basses...taps into something deep and is unlike any other experience. Also as a non-musician, I acknowledge the extent to what I absorb of the classic masterworks is small. The complexity and emotion is apparent but there is so much more.
This realization was reinforced when I tried to play a violin recently. Our friend Mika is among other things a talented violinist and let me try it. Just holding the bow was an eye-opener. It looks so simple but there is this "peculiar" way to position one's fingers. I felt like I would drop it at any moment. Then figuring out how hard to press the bow on the strings--those musicians make it look so effortless. But it is the exact opposite. The life-long dedication, talent and achievement distinguish them from the rest of us. I suppose they are like athletes that way. So as I've grown older, I have made efforts to have some small, ongoing exposure to the symphony.
Last week, my husband and I went to the Seattle Symphony and saw the new music director/principal conductor Ludovic Morlot. He is 37 and his influence can already be felt. Granted we attended the Sonic Evolution program so we were expecting a different type of crowd. The program paid homage to Kurt Cobain, Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix then featured KEXP darling Hey Marseilles with the backing of the orchestra so the audience skewed way younger than I have ever seen it. And the energy was electrifying. To have people our age and younger all around us was a rare treat at the symphony.
But another rare experience was having three living composers provide works that were debuted in front of a live audience and then have them come up on stage and take bows. That was how the masters in the Classical music collective did it, I guess. But let me be honest: modern composers have such a plight not to be derivative of the masters, yet push the symphonic construct to the edge and be distinct. It's a tall order when you consider a lot of brilliant, listenable music already exists in 2011. So they create musical landscapes that are layered, discordant and unique--only as far as no one with musical education has thought to put these certain sounds together. But they are not memorable or warrant repeated listening. My musically-trained husband suspected that these pieces will not be what people want to listen to again and again 50, 100, 150 years from now. Excuse my vulgarness, but the three pieces--especially the Jimi Hendrix and the Kurt Cobain tributes--seemed like musical masturbation. Formless, self-indulgent and not nearly as satisfying as the real thing.
Still, it is a triumph to have new blood, new attendees, new interest and new music filling Benaroya Hall. Hey Marseilles, amply backed by the full orchestra, was breath-taking even if it might be a bit unorthodox. Despite my opinion though, I fully support Maestro Morlot for taking chances and making the old new again. I look forward to more that will probably test my comfort level and expectations.