Friday, October 18, 2013

Haydn in the Pub

Now and then I check in with the online music magazine Sinfini to see what's happening in the UK. Right now they are running an article about a series of concerts held in pubs of the music of Haydn played by members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. There seems to be a global initiative to take classical music everywhere you wouldn't expect it: pubs, night clubs, subway stations, public plazas, mall food courts and so on. Paul Morley writes:
Can Haydn fit in here – fancy, cerebral, delicately attractive chamber music without words glowing with specific period presence, lacking the basic sense of beat, crude catchiness and volume that music usually requires to survive in such an abrasive setting?
Apart from the mischaracterization of the music of Haydn as "lacking the basic sense of beat"(!!), yes, one might think that the music of Queen would seem more appropriate. The article says that Haydn works really well, due to the charming presentation of the musicians. The problem I have with the article is that the writer, while disparaging "strained, ugly attempts to make classical music cool, accessible, hip, fashionable" engages in a somewhat embarrassing one himself. He says of this kind of presentation:
It is not frozen inside a concert hall and played as if to breathe in response is an outrage, and to have any sort of audible emotional reaction a social embarrassment.
What is embarrassing about this is that the implication is that all conventional string quartet concerts, such as the ones at Wigmore Hall, for example, are "frozen". Again, I get the feeling that some of the people who seem to be supporters of classical music are actually our worst enemies! Mr. Morley is as much as saying that all concerts of string quartets by Haydn would be better in the pub.

Another problem I have with articles like these is that they are mere propaganda. This is not a news article that tries to report what happened when these musicians took Haydn on a tour of pubs. Were that the case we might have heard that halfway through op. 33 no. 2, a group of yahoos stumbled in and shouted out, "wat the fook kinda music is dis?" Actually, at no point in the article does Mr. Morley even mention what pieces by Haydn were played.

I would have appreciated an objective account of exactly how well the tour actually went. Instead we have a puff piece saying how wonderful the whole idea was and how wonderfully the musicians brought it off. No indication of how it was actually received, how many people turned up and so on.

Obviously we need to hear a Haydn string quartet now. Here is Op. 33, No. 1 in B minor:


Rickard Dahl said...

It would indeed be more interesting if the results would be presented. Maybe they can be found somewhere else?

Rickard Dahl said...

Actually I found a more detailed description with some audience reactions here:

Bryan Townsend said...

Good job, Rickard! Interesting that they came up with the same title that I did--I promise that I did not know about this article before. Yes, this is much better written and gives us a good sense of how the concert went.

There is one thing in this article that I vehemently disagree with: "Contrary to some accounts, audiences are neither dying nor confined to the over-60s, but it is true that anybody who makes it through the average concert needs an unusual degree of commitment, and it's equally true that most musicians make it as hard as it can be for the audience to follow and enjoy what's going on."

Most musicians certainly do NOT make it hard for the audience to follow and enjoy what's going on!! But it is true that a lot of concerts could be presented better. However, it always comes back to the music. It is particularly infuriating for the artists to chat with the audience if they are not very good at it or don't have anything interesting to say. Especially if the subsequent performance is lackluster. Better to simply walk onstage and play really well!

But from this description, it sounds as if the OAE musicians have really worked out a good presentation. More power to them!

Rickard Dahl said...

I actually searched for "Haydn in the Pub" on Google to find the article. Yes, better have the music speak for itself and indeed it's an interesting concept. I've read about a kind of similar thing in a Swedish classical music magazine called Opus a few months back: Musicians playing classical music at a club. In fact not one but two clubs (Klubb Krinolin & Classic Longue) with with live classical music.