Music Blog: Classical Music – Why So Serious?

By: Tom Moore / Published: 25/02/2012

With news just in that composer Steve Reich will be transforming two Radiohead tracks into a new work, not to mention the addition of Classical Music Editor Georgie Ward to the Inter:Mission team, it feels like now is the time to tackle what’s probably the single most irritating misnomer around: that classical music is boring.

To those of us who were lucky enough to stumble into the world of classical music by default, it seems criminal that such a vast and dynamic genre is going virtually unnoticed by every generation that’s too young to remember the death of prolific composer Shostakovich (in 1975, in case you were wondering).

Pay a visit to one of the many classical concerts at Colston Hall, and you’ll likely find yourself feeling very young indeed amongst a sea of white hair and Kleenex tissues. That’s certainly how I felt last time I went to watch young violinist Nicola Benedetti perform, in a recital so faultless I was left blubbering into my sleeve.

So why the stigma? Put bluntly, the assumption seems to be that classical music revolves around dead composers for nearly dead people, but this barely tells half the story. Reich isn’t the only classical composer still breathing; Bristol University alone is home to some of the most exciting composers around, albeit hidden in the guise of conductor-stroke-lecturers.

And on that note, here’s the opening of Pickard’s 1995 piano work, ‘A Starlit Dome':


Catherine Marshall

Music Editor

Discussion: 1 comment

  • You’re right that the ‘classical music is boring‘ is the biggest misapprehension around – and can only be held by those with really very little understanding of classical music, and that is possibly the biggest problem.

    We may well have lost a generation somewhere along the way, but there are lots of concerts for children going on these days (the Bristol Ensemble do a lot, Bristol Concert Orchestra stage an annual free concert for children, and we have recently started an annual ‘Mini Messiah’ family concert that will mean the upcoming generation understand more and develop a love for music that will hopefully bear fruit in terms of audiences in 10-20 years time.

    It should also help people to realise that, no matter how good a recording or your equipment, classical music is something best experienced live – there really is no sound on earth quite like a live full symphony orchestra/chorus in full flow.

    It’s not as simple as dead composers = boring and living = interesting (Mahler 8, Belshazzar’s Feast spring to mind as particularly adrenaline-fuelled works by ‘decomposing’ composers….), but there is a huge variety all sorts of stuff out there by living and dead – whatever you’re looking for it can be found in the ‘classical’ music repertoire somewhere….

    We find the ‘younger audience’ situation at the Colston Hall not quite as bleak as you felt – we know there were more than 100 aged 25 & under at our Mozart concert in October (less than half that for our Christmas Oratorio with Mark Padmore though), and this Venue review of the Bristol Ensemble’s Beethoven Piano Concerto cycle with Freddy Kempff from last year mentions the audience’s ‘hearteningly Goths-to-grey-hair diversity’.

    There’s always room for more though, and with the Colston Hall offering tickets for under 26s at £8 for their classical concerts, why not try it out and see what you’re missing? Stephen Hough with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra this Thursday (1st March), Bristol Ensemble start a Beethoven Symphony cycle (which would be a great way to get and idea of where the symphony went in the true ‘classical’ period) with various cello concertos on 14th March, and we have a big one on 31st March – more than 300 singers and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra – Faure Requiem (which you will know at least part of, even if think you don’t) and the massive Berlioz Te Deum which is a rare treat for this part of the country. Even better, BCS tickets for under 16s are just £5…

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