Monday, May 31, 2010

late night music with felix mendelssohn

One of the great things about growing up in Winnipeg is the arts.

I well remember the first time I went to the symphony. The gleam of the brass section, the rich wood of the stringed instruments, the black dress of the musicians, this and all the other instruments such as drums, a harp, oboes and a piano, it all combined to give me an overwhelming sense of beauty and anticipation.

The first album my brother gave me as a gift (he is an artist and teaches at the University of Manitoba) was not The Rolling Stones, though we both liked the band, but Bella Bartok. It was an LP. On the flip side was Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. Though I knew the regular tunes we're all supposed to know when it comes to classical music (The Moonlight Sonata, Fur Elise, The Beautiful Blue Danube, The Nutcracker, The 1812 Overture, etc.) I did not know Bartok or Stravinsky. The album opened up new worlds of the senses and the imagination.

I have hundreds of classical CDs now. I was just listening, for instance, to Rachmaninov's Vespers, a piece I have used to help get me in the mood for writing a novel set in mid-20th century Russia and Ukraine. If I walk over to one of my stashes of classical CDs, which is arranged in alphabetical order in a tower, I come pretty quickly to Bach, one of my favourite composers (someone many of us might never have known but for Felix Mendelssohn introducing his works to the world).

I used to think, well, one rendering of a piece is sufficient. If I haul out my CDs of Bach's unaccompanied cello suites you see an interpretation by Janos Starker done in his golden years, magnificent, my current favourite. But I liked Yo Yo's early interpretation too (I gave the double set to a friend who could not afford a copy but not before I downloaded it into my iTunes). I have Peter Wispelwey's take on it. Also Haimovitz with his three disc set (because he plays at a slower tempo). I want to get Gastinel and Queyras (his treatment of Britten's unaccompanied is marvelous). So you see? This makes me, I fear, something of an audiophile.

Pianists? The list would be too long. But in Bach you see Angela Hewitt and Glenn Gould whose version of The Goldberg Variations (the slow one made just before his death) is still the one I prefer. If we glance over all of the CDs we see Lang Lang and Argerich and Aimard and Volodos. And violinists. And trumpet players. And different conductors doing different interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Sibelius and Shostakovich.

Okay, enough already. My point? People have different takes on the Bible and we need to listen to them before we agree or disagree. People prefer different translations of the Bible - I enjoy The Message but I have a friend in BC who teaches English Lit who detests it. So? Make room for Gould and Hewitt and Aimard. On my shelf I also have JB Phillip's translation of the New Testament, made for his young people while London was being blown to bits in World war Two, still a fine rendering in my opinion. There is the NEB and the REB and the ESV and NRSV and the NIV and . . . yes, some in Greek and Hebrew as well. They all have their place but I prefer some over others just as I do in my classical music.

But I'm not blogging this just as an appeal to variety in Biblical translations or to ask others to respect a friend's opinions or a stranger's views when it comes to Biblical interpretation or the arts.

I'm saying YES to classical music. It's deep, complex, melodic, all-enveloping, overwhelming and extremely satisfying. I've already blogged about how I enjoy other forms of music, such as the blues. If I can be caught up in jazz or the blues and then come along and get caught up in Prokofiev's wonderfully intense piano pieces, why can't a few more of us? Hey, I open a drawer at my computer desk here, right now (events occur in real time, Kiefer) and there is Ryan Bingham nestled up to Steve Earle who is cozy with GKB (Glenn Kaiser Band) and shoulder to shoulder with them all is Rachmaninov and Shostakovich and Stravinsky. Why not? It's all good.

But classical takes you to some incredible places and I fear, in this day and age, a lot of it is being lost and forgotten just as Bach was for 150 years until Mendelssohn brought the stuff out of hiding and touched a million souls.

Classical remains soul music today. Try some at your local Soft Classic Cafe and see how it goes down. Want something with even more fire and darkness and breaking light? The Hard Classic Cafe is just down the street.

It can take you to another galaxy and back. But not back as the same listener.

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