Depending on who you’re talking to, the words “classical music” will either elicit sheer joy or utter terror. The genre, so rich in history and complicated with vastly varied styles, can be confusing and downright intimidating for those who have not had the opportunity to enjoy its study.
In a respectable move aimed at bringing insight into the history and music that create the LA Philharmonic season, the organization this month hosted its first series of music appreciation classes within the acclaimed walls of the orchestra’s home at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Presented by KUSC’s knowledgeable Alan Chapman, the series of two classes—beginner and intermediate—offered attendees the rare privilege of getting “Inside the Music” (as the series was aptly named) of the LA Philharmonic orchestra’s programming. Engaging eclectic audiences comprising pre-teen to senior citizen and all in between, Chapman kept things lively with humorous slideshow presentations and videos mixed in with his lectures.
Night one, intended for those with little or no background in classical music, presented a broad historical timeline of the eras associated within the genre. Comparing classical-era differentiations to the timeframes between Elvis and Justin Bieber, Chapman broke down the following: Medieval Gregorian Chant (Landini, Machaut), Renaissance (Gesauldo, Tallis, Palestrina), Baroque (Bach, Handel, Monteverdi, Vivaldi), Classical (Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert), and Romantic (Brahms, Bruckner, Debussy, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Wagner). Chapman made his love of the music clearly evident in his passionate breakdown of Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40 in G-Minor, Allegro Molto” by explaining the composition’s A-B-A structure of repetition in the first movement as he plucked away at the hall’s Steinway, describing how the piece gets broken up, then returns home to the original musical key.
On night two, geared toward those with intermediate classical background, Chapman delved deeper into the construction of what constitutes “classical” compositions, be they antiquated or modern, by virtue of tempo. He laid out how musical terms notated on the score [allegro (joyous speed), andante (walking pace), empo semplice (regular speed, plainly] are (not surprisingly) interpreted vastly differently by the Maestro at task by supplying audio examples of the same piece from varying orchestras, provocatively exemplifying how said interpretations markedly change the feel and intensity of the music. Again using Mozart as example, this time Chapman used the fourth movement of “Symphony No. 40 in G-Minor, Finale Allegro Assai” to further explain the compositional structure of movements within a symphony, and how starkly different symphonies can perform the same piece.
Presenting a conundrum famously put forth by New York’s late composer/conductor Aaron Copland, Chapman shared this quote attributed to the famed Maestro: “Is there a meaning to music? My answer would be, ‘Yes.’ Can you state in so many words what the meaning is? My answer to that would be, ‘No.’” In a light-hearted moment of the evening, he then proceeded to share Maestro Gustavo Dudamel’s “secret” by which he conducts with no physical score: https://vimeo.com/23383641
Based on the rousing applause and extended Q&A sessions elicited by the crowds both evenings, I anticipate with optimism the LA Phil Association will continue presenting these classes to further layman audience appreciation of the LA Phil’s repertoire.
– Linda A. Rapka