This was an interesting experience.
First of all, full disclosure: for the most part, my understanding of classical music is what I believe kids these days would refer to as ‘basic’. For me, like most Canadians, classical music is the stuff that comes out of the car stereo speakers if I accidentally tune into Radio Two outside of standard commuting hours — it’s not entirely unpleasant, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to it. I’m not entirely uninformed — I do have my Grade 8 in piano, something I find as hard to believe as you probably do — but I’m not exactly a font of knowledge, either.
Thanks for starting me with a string quartet. It seems like the most accessible way into this sort of thing. The string quartet seems to be the least pretentious of the various classical tropes. It’s not a huge orchestra with dozens of players and it’s not a virtuosic soloist in whose glory you’re supposed to bask. It’s just four dudes. I like that. It’s a familiar setup.
Quartets also seem to be the only ‘hip’ way to be a classical musician to anyone outside of classical circles. Even with my limited knowledge, I still know who the Kronos Quartet are. Quartets seem to be allowed to get away with a lot boundary pushing that more traditional orchestras seem uncomfortable with.
To wit: the first movement of the first piece on this record, ‘The Game’, is one of the more striking bits of music I’ve heard in recent memory. Its lilting rhythm and odd time signature drive it along as it dips its toes into all sorts of genre palettes. At times it almost felt like something you’d here in an old-timey Wild West-type saloon, at other times almost like swing jazz — in fact, it struck me as being not altogether unlike something like ‘Tired of Waiting’ from NoMeansNo’s Wrong, in that sense. At several points in the Culai piece, there’s even something that sounds pretty much exactly like a pick slide. This is cool stuff, I was thinking to myself. I can get into this.
I have to admit, though, that my interest was waning by the time the Bartók came on. Maybe it’s just a result of my listening strategy? If I’d planned a little better in advance, my I could’ve listened to the album in three parts to avoid the fatigue that was setting in? Or I don’t know, maybe my Millennial attention span just can’t handle anything longer than a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus pop song.
(I actually want to talk about how I listen to new music generally speaking at some point, but here I go talking about the actual music I listened to, so I suppose it’ll have to wait for another week.)
All said, this was pretty much exactly what I was hoping for when we started this project: being intrigued by something completely outside my wheelhouse. This is fun. I’m very interested to hear what else you have lined up for me.