The NZSO and Keeping the Flame

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2015-09-21 01:52

In my essay, Music of the Gods, extolling the supremacy of the Romantic genre in music, I noted:

... in the Romantic period (nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) composers and performers pushed the boundaries of every musical element, primary and secondary, achieving an unprecedented emotional expressiveness while avoiding the descent into the atonal anarchy that followed. New instruments, bigger orchestras; new forms, and the expansion of old forms; the coming of age of opera and ballet; virtuoso stars, like our modern-day “celebs” only with talent; the cult of the conductor; more inventive melodies using bigger intervals between notes; greater dynamic range—fff (fortississimo: very, very loud) to ppp (pianississimo: very, very soft); more daring harmonies (chromatic and dissonant, without recourse to the sabotage or assassination that became de rigueur later); more frequent modulation into other keys; more rhythmic variety, including greater use of syncopation, rubato (bending of the rhythm), accelerando (speeding up) and ritardando (slowing down), changing of the time signature within movements, etc. They honored, but were not straitjacketed by, the formalism of classicism, stretching but not eschewing the rules that make music cohere. They knew with their predecessors that coherence was integral to integration, integration to harmoniousness, harmoniousness to beauty. They exercised freedom within the rule of law—the perfect mirror of what was going on politically.

Thus did they bring individualism to music—they were each distinguishable from the other; each imposed his distinctive stamp upon the form without going out of it (at least not to the point of disintegration). They united the idiomatic with the idiosyncratic, reason with emotion, Apollo with Dionysus (albeit with a leaning towards the latter, via, it must be admitted, that villain Rousseau). They transformed the “universal language” into an individual language. ...

[Romantic music] speaks and appeals to the best within us. It awakens our capacity for rapture. It is appreciated and adored by the passionately enlightened. It is inspired by and inspires the most intensely life-affirming value-swoons possible to man. If the expression, "total passion for the total height" means anything, it finds that meaning in Romantic music. In terms of what went into it and what can be taken out of it, Romantic music is simply the best.

With Classical Hits, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is currently touring the country playing some familiar lighter pearls from this genre (plus an item not strictly from the genre, Aaron Copland's Rodeo—Four Dance Episodes). The orchestra's performance on Saturday night at the Michael Fowler Centre duly spoke to the best within us. Maestro James Judd displayed total passion for the total height, both as conductor and MC. The passionately enlightened were enraptured. There was an orgy of value-swooning. Life was affirmed intensely. This reviewer, however, was disconcerted by some broad considerations not of the orchestra's making but troubling in their implications for its future.

First, the hall was only about two thirds full. For the best that civilisation has to offer! A headbanging caterwauler would no doubt have filled the Westpac Stadium, let alone the Michael Fowler Centre. Has humanity really sunk to so low a point, I wondered, that the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture will lure very few out while sub-human filth screaming "suck my d***, B****" and the like will pack 'em in? And as the irresistible strains of The Blue Danube filled the air, I reminded myself that this was the "rap" of its time: how infinitely superior a time culturally that must thus have been!

Second, the age of the humans who did attend. I looked down on a sea of grey hair on heads that were otherwise bald. And that was just the women. I counted all of two "millennials" there, and they were both with me, and not typical of their generation. If the orchestra repeats this programme ten years from now (and I hope it performs many such programmes between now and then), will anyone go along? As a rule, "millennials," thanks to the postmodern atrocity that is our "education" system, are as culturally uncouth and sociopathically Narcissistic as they are technologically precocious—a truly apocalyptic combination. In a future in which these aliens have fully taken over, will there be an orchestra? Will there even be a future?!

Third, if there is still an orchestra, will it have to survive by having players deconstruct their instruments rather than play them? Or play compositions backwards? Will "melodism"—discrimination in favour of tunefulness—be the latest politically incorrect anathema (if it isn't already!)? Will all Western music have been dismissed as a "macro-aggression," the creation of Dead White Males with sexist, racist, etc. agendas? Lest anyone think my concerns are overblown, reflect on the fact that human speech has now, in the name of the self-same prevailing politically correct theology, been significantly supplanted by sub-human quacking and droning all over the western world; equivalent decoherence must surely be inevitable in music.

In the meantime, thankfully, there remains every opportunity to savour the grandeur that the best of humanity once composed. Residents of Rotorua, Hamilton, Auckland and Whangarei can still get to hear Rossini, Offenbach, Johann Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Wagner (yes, he wrote tunes too, on occasion) and Elgar (Nimrod is to die for, and people frequently do—it's very popular at funerals). One suggestion I'd have for the orchestra: be more generous than just one encore when, as was the case on Saturday night, there is a clear clamour for more. That way you can do even more for the preservation of musical landmarks. And since the Maestro likens the occasion to Last Night at the Proms, why not make the last of those encores Pomp and Circumstance? Yes, I know, P and C is un-PC, but, as already discussed: all the more reason to include it! Civilisation's faltering flame will burn brighter for it, and the future of civilised things like symphony orchestras might just be that little bit more secure!