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same so that we may rub elbows with the upper echelons of society and become wealthy and influential, too. One of the things that wealthy people seem to do is attend symphony concerts. Today, we will examine what sorts of things one will hear at symphony concerts when one is awake and what one can read about in the program during the intermission after one has woken up. First of all, a symphony orchestra is a group of musicians and people who make their living playing musical instruments and a man, almost always, who tells them how to do that. He stands in front of them and is usually foreign or an American who might as well be. There are French horns and flutes and way too many violins. Sometimes there is a guest performer who is a baritone and who sings or plays the piano or flute but not at the same time. He is a guest soloist. He is usually foreign too, as are the female singers who are not baritones although they have sometimes have lower voices than the visiting tenors who are not baritones. Much of the music was written by Germans before they died too young, but if you are unlucky that night it will be by a Dane, who did not. Sometimes, there is a piano concerto by a Russian, which is a shame and very long. Often there is some Mozart and usually an intermission and program notes and wine, if you drink which you shouldn’t. Everyone dresses up, thereby providing you with a splendid opportunity to observe how the wealthy dress for a night of culture and edification.(Or at least what they are wearing after they have dressed.) Many of the wealthy don’t attend the concerts, but do support the symphony financially so that upper idle (sorry) middle class people will think well of the wealthy and of corporations. Let us now examine in depth the sorts of pieces you might hear at a symphony or that, at any rate, will be performed at concerts that you attend not being wealthy enough yet to donate but not attend. Sometimes a concert will open with a concerto. A concerto is usually a piece in which a solo performer performs with a whole bunch of other people, which is a little confusing but not to the musicians. For example, there is the Double Concerto, Op.102 (there are abbreviations galore in classical music) by Johannes Brahms which features a cello and a violin played by two different people at the same time. One plays one, I mean. And the orchestra supports them. Musically, I mean even though the orchestra members are paid much less and aren’t as famous. And the conductor leads everyone in case they get lost which would be his fault, seems to me. A concerto often opens a classical music concert and an overly long symphony often closes it. Beethoven, Mozart and, unfortunately, Rachmaninoff wrote piano concertos and some of them are even pretty. Symphony orchestras, then, are musical ensembles that play many kinds of things including symphonies. They might, for instance, play a tone poem, which is an evocation of a literary work or a physical locale or an attempt by a composer to distil a certain emotional state, usually one of his. Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and Franz Liszt (18111886) wrote tone poems, also called symphony poems and not so nice things by people
who didn’t like them. The pieces. Liszt himself seems to have been a likable person (he was very kind to Brahms, for instance), but Strauss seems to have a swine. But both are considered great composers or at least great musicians in the case of Liszt. So, you might hear a concerto or a tone poem. There is also what is called a suite. This consists of snatches of a longer piece, like a ballet (like Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite) or an opera (like Kurt Weill’s Three Penny Opera Suite). A suite is a quick and easy introduction to the longer work, which you might decide to avoid after hearing the suite. It is often cobbled together by someone after the composer’s death who doesn’t make any money off it. The piece. The composer. An overture is like a suite in that it features snippets of a longer work--often one that bombed at the time, was never produced, was a smash hit but which is never performed nowadays or was produced after the composer's death though the music was composed before that. Overtures are usually pleasing, certainly compared to say a symphony by Nielsen, Bruckner, or Mahler. Let’s see, concertos, symphonies, tone poems, overtures, suites. What else? There are various other forms, such as symphonic dances and great big choral works which you usually hear when someone you love is in the chorus and you catch glimpses of him or her in Handel’s Messiah, the Mozart Requiem and Carmina Burana, which you have heard--trust me. Now, what sort of composers will you hear on various programs? Generally, conductors try to balance things out so that the audience isn’t pounded into a big depressed blob by too much heavy stuff. Mendelssohn cheers you up right before the deadly Shostakovich. Haydn lightens things up before the Mahler; same deal with Mozart and Bruckner. Sometimes, a whole program will be devoted to the work of one composer like say, “An Evening of Elgar,” in which case you had better like that composer or things are really going to drag for you kid, oh boy. It is at times such as those that program notes are a godsend, as at least one can educate oneself about the circumstances surrounding the composition of the music that one is not enjoying. Usually, there are 2-4 pieces during a typical symphony concert played one at a time before and after the intermission. A tone poem, a suite or an overture might be preceded or followed by a concerto. A concerto is usually fun because it is exciting to see big name performers and wonder whether they will screw up in some dramatic fashion or perform beautifully, which is usually exciting and sometimes spellbinding. The evening often winds up, as noted above, with a symphony and it is a good idea to check in the program to see how many movements there are so that you can tick them of as they go by and plan your exit from the hall, traffic being what it is these days. Symphonies to be avoided include all of those by Bruckner, Mahler, Brahms, Sibelius and Schumann who was a nice man, though. Dvorák's Fifth Symphony seems to be nearing its conclusion around five times, but things keep getting revved up again.
It is at such points that you sigh and fidget and tell yourself what a blessing it is to live in a society that has such grand cultural institutions as symphony orchestras. Part of the cultural mission of symphony orchestras is their repeated attempts to program new music by living or recently dead Americans. Nobody, not the audience nor the orchestra members and probably not the conductor, actually likes this music. But everyone feels obligated to do what he or she can to further the careers of members of the home team and so pieces by Americans are duly programmed and played once or twice by major orchestras and never again, duty having been done and everyone can go back to enjoying the Mozart and the Haydn and bad orchestrations of Beatles hits and crowd pleasing Johann Strauss nights. The key thing is that classical music organizations are patronized by the cultural elite. Therefore, you should go to symphony concerts whether you want to or not. The experience is culturally enriching and the more cultured you are the richer you are likelier to get as philistines don’t get anywhere and a familiarity with classical music endows one with a veneer of cultivation, which is virtually money in the bank.
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