(Here is the second part of my latest outrage. I got hate mail from a conductor in Munich. Mein Gott!)
On the other hand, some of this "classical" music is totally exhausting. For example, I checked out Schostakowitsch at the Wiener Konzerthaus. The Orchester des Mariinski Theaters St. Petersberg, conducted by Valery Gergiev, was playing his Seventh and Twelfth Symphonies. I thought, ’Jesus, there sure are a lot of sounds to be heard at a concert hall.’ It was amazing to be in this big-ass hall—all gold-trim and funky chandeliers—and to be able to hear every little squeak the musicians made. You could hear a tiny drum roll, or a little ripple of strings on somebody’s fiddle--you could even hear if some guy across the room rustled his program. Because everyone was totally silent and listening super carefully to the music! It’s amazing that in the time it took me to write one sentence, the orchestra could go from way-quiet to full-on wailing. It was also amazing how much better people smelled there than they do at a Machine Head concert.
After they started playing “the Leningrad”--which is called that because Schostakowitsch wrote it when there was a war or something going on-- watching the orchestra was like watching a really weird fungus grow. They sort of evolved and shifted, then they boiled and bubbled. The symphony started out sounding like a nice day in Lenin-town, but then it got really agitated, totally ballistic! When a melody from the Allegretto came back at the end of the Moderato, it was all lame and fucked up. Maybe it had a Fatal Accidentato.
Anyway, after awhile, I felt kinda pummeled. I had really enjoyed this concert, but I couldn’t handle anymore crescendos. I thought, ‘That guy with the cymbals needs to stop!’
Finally he did, so I went home. But I had to listen to Iron Butterfly for awhile just so I could fall asleep.
I went back to the Konzerthaus to hear the singer Georg Nigl and pianist Gérard Wyss rock some songs by Mahler, Berg and Pascal Dusapin, who is a guy who is still alive. It was awesome. Nigl can go from honey-sweet to raging bull in about four seconds, and when he bellows, his face gets really red, way redder than Henry Rollins. Wyss was also pretty smoking—it seemed like entire carnival and calvary charges were coming out of his piano. Whenever the two of them paused, the whole audience would exhale.
Sometimes classical music is like a one night stand, because you might not remember any of it in the morning. I thought, ‘No way am I going to be able to whistle any of these songs after the show.’ But I guess that’s okay. Pop music plants hooks in you, but classical is more like art. I’ve gotten used to music that’s like a sledgehammer, but some music is more like a ghost. It bothers you for a while, then it comes back later to bug you some more. And that’s pretty cool.
I’ve noticed that men at the opera houses here like to walk around with their hands clasped behind their backs, like extremely serious monks. It must be contagious, because now I’m thinking I’ve been over-thinking this whole Classical versus Pop deal. Opera and ballet and twelve tone music isn’t more important to Europeans than to Americans. Stravinsky isn’t less important in the twenty-first century than he was in the twentieth. You don’t have to choose between Bela Bartok and Cradle of Filth. That would be like making a movie called King Kong Versus Godzilla. And who would do that?
At the very beginning of his book, which by the way is called The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross relates this scene where George Gershwin came here to Vienna to visit that old sourpuss Alban Berg. Gershwin started to play Berg some of his jams, but then he got all nervous because he was afraid Bergie wouldn’t think his songs were heavy enough. So Berg looks at him and says, “Mr. Gershwin, music is music.” In other words, it’s all good, G.