ROUND TABLE: A year of classical music heads to fine finale

In March I wrote a column, “Rock On, John Field,” about the start of my year-long regimen of limiting my active musical listening to classical music and its cousins. Irishman John Field wrote energetic music that, while 225 years old, just rawks.

Throughout 2013 I have continued that mission, listening to classical romantic, and modern — basically anything up to and including Gershwin, but with a heavy emphasis on the 16th through early 19th centuries.

As I near the end, I can say that Brahms, Vivaldi and other “long hairs” also rock.

I have twinges of wanting to hear the Beatles and Mark Knopfler and Gerry Rafferty, and some pop, rock, jazz and Celtic have slipped through the cracks, but never for long.

I’ve worked my way through all but the last of Beethoven’s symphonies, and I will savor the amazing Ninth on the Bonn Vivant’s birthday, Dec. 16.

It’s been a year of hearing music by composers I’d never heard of: Anatoly Liadov, Heinrich Biber and Colin Brumby.

Favorite composer name: Alfonso Ferrabosco.

Biggest surprise: anything by Ottorino Respighi: amazing stuff. Stories told in notes.

Few and far between have been live performances of music, but I made a point of attending Columbia Gorge Sinfonietta on Oct. 20 at Wy’east Middle School performing arts center. Director Mark Steighner and his musicians did an excellent job performing “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokofiev, with wonderful narration by Gregory Smith of Columbia Center for the Arts.

I had also heard the Sinfonietta on Feb. 24, with its excellent rendition of Beethoven’s Eroica.

(Sometime this summer I read that one study found people are more likely to uncontrollably cough during a classical music concert than any other time. I was getting over a cold on Oct. 20, and had to leave early, unfortunately.)


Here, in no particular order, are more notes on my further musical experience this year:

n I heard Brahms’ first symphony, long a favorite, for the first time in full, and enjoyed its complex, multilayered structure exquisite melody.

n I’ve decided this year I don’t like waltzes, but hearing one by Dmitri Shostakovich, the Russian feel of it stood out.

n On June 1 I forgot about my regimen and tuned into “Deep Tracks” on Sirius radio without thinking about it; I quickly turned it off.

n I went out for a beer one night at Double Mountain to hear the local Liberty Bond Jug Band play, and halfway through the beer I said to myself, ‘Wait, I’m not supposed to be here.’ But I finished my beer and listened to two more songs anyway.

(It’s not that I exclude anything other than classical. Recently my wife Lorre told me a radio segment on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, among my favorite albums, was playing, and I listened. Albeit a departure, it was great to hear Van for the first time in 10 months — but they never played any of his songs in full so I’m okay.)

n Back on June 14 I heard lutenist Ronn McFarlane play the Vivaldi lute concerto: the largo is my favorite melody. I heard it again on July 21 for guitar, and was completely taken by Eduardo Fernandez and the English Chamber Orchestra.

Listen to enough classical and you get some great history lessons, too.

I learned that composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was arrested as a suspected spy after a boy reported seeing him making musical notations while observing ships in Margate harbor in 1915.


But my year of classical is doing nothing more than reminding me of the purity of my quest:

Listening to Beethoven’s piano concerto is the musical equivalent of looking at cathedral stained glass.

On a stormy night in September I sat in the dark and listened all the way through to Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, an almost spiritual experience.

By Sept. 13, I had come to the realization, when a piece of music would lead me to tears, that what I seek — and find — in classical music is beauty; simple beauty where I know I can find it.

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