I don’t do modern music

Modern music always seems to be very meaningful to those who compose and play it, but somehow I have never engaged with it.  It always seems to be without any discernible form, without any singable tune, and frankly not that musical.

So it was with more than a niggling doubt or two that Anne and I accepted an invitation to attend a recital of modern music last Tuesday.  It had been a musical weekend, with a concert of classical music on Sunday and one of Baroque delights on Monday, never mind the events on Friday and Saturday that we might have attended had we not been otherwise engaged.  Anyway, there was no charge for tickets and the recital was in a good cause, so, as we were free, it would have been churlish not to turn up.

We had been told to expect something with a violin and lots of percussion.  And that turned out to be a very accurate description of a Concerto for Violin and Percussion, composed in 1959 by Lou Harrison. 

It took some time to become accustomed to the sound-scape of a single violin and five percussionists playing a bewildering array of instruments, including earthenware plant pots, drums from car braking systems and a recumbent double bass.  Then the music became really rather enjoyable.  Gradually, form and shape emerged, with build-ups and climaxes produced very effectively by both violin and percussion.  There were four clearly distinct movements.  Whereas a classical composer might have marked them, say, Allegro, Scherzo, Andante and Allegro Vivace, without seeing the score one could imagine instructions such as Boisterously, Whimsically, Pensively and Hyperactively.   The third movement was very moving, flowing seamlessly up and down like the silhouette of a mountain range against a pure blue sky, and finishing with a resolute sense of peace.

Half an hour passed very quickly as the music flowed relentlessly, waxing and waning, stressing and relaxing, always engaging for the audience.  Despite there being no tunes to take home, the music was clearly a work of art, carefully crafted by the composer and imaginatively realized by the performers with an extraordinarily high degree of technical skill and clear innate musicality .

The young violinist was Noam Yaffe, a student at the Con and Naomi Roseth’s grandson.  He thanked us profusely for helping to create an audience for his final year exam recital.  It was impossible not to counter with our thanks to him and his percussionist colleagues for introducing us to a completely new world of music which we would have otherwise allowed to pass by unnoticed.

So…..maybe I might do modern music in the future – well, some anyway.