It's all a matter of taste.

Music I thought I was beginning to suffer from Prom fatigue. This isn't how festivals are supposed to be heard. People don't go to Glastonbury to see everything (well they can't, not without a time machine) they pick and choose what they think they'll enjoy most, what they're a fan of. I'm sure most proms audience members do much the same. That's why when I tuned in to Prom 25 late last night, the assembled crowd sounded thin.

But I've made a pledge, a bet with myself so I sat through every excruciating note of Pierre Boulez's Derive 2 even though if you'd included a light show it would have been a perfect brainwashing tool of the kind seen in The Ipcress File. Earlier in the evening, during Prom 24, after Varese's Ecuatorial, the visiting expert on BBC Four made the quite reasonable point that people tend to be far more forgiving of experimental paintings and they'll happily give Picasso a glance but won't give twelve minutes of their time to Varese.

I'm sure if someone explained to me what Boulez was attempting with his work I'd probably be more open, a fan even. I mean I like the kind of modernist architecture from the 60s which is being demolished by the brickload across the country, so I'm really open to ideas. But last night, having enjoyed the sublime Le Mer from Debussy, which certainly did sound of the sea and offered the blue print for a dozen other scores related to the ocean, Derive 2, just sounded, and I know I've used this phrase before but I can't think of another one, like random musical noise.

Helpfully, Verity Sharp who was covering the Radio 3 concert, and the Proms website offered a few pointers. It is, apparently, "an essay in notions of time" in which "harmonies march pretty well all through, while the surface activity may be dazzling, surprising, exciting and, at times, graced with the less common trait in this composer’s music of humour. The work proceeds like a river, sometimes dashing through rapids, where the instrumental lines crash against one another and break up, sometimes entering pools of harmonic reflection. There are passages where the beat is strong and others where movement is flexible." Which sounds amazing, but I couldn't hear it. That in fact sound more like a description of La Mer than what I heard later.

On the occasion of the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni, Noel Murray writes at The AV Club about having a blind spot when it comes to certain film directors, no matter how hard he tries he simply didn't get their work. At first he thought it was because he simply wasn't clever enough to grasp the nuances that, even after much reading, it was simply about him. Then it occurred to him that he simply just didn't like the work that much, that he just wasn't a fan. I feel much the same about this Boulez piece (and some of the abstract noodlings that have graced The Albert Hall) -- it's not that I'm stupid because I don't enjoy this stuff. It's just not to my taste. And that's OK.

Because essentially it means that this musical odyssey is doing one of the things I wanted it to -- develop my musical taste -- or help me to decide what I actually like. I just need to find a way of making the most of what I don't like. Odyssey being the operative word probably in relation to the other piece last night Harrison Bertwhistle's Neruda Madrigales which sounded for all the world like the alien chorus that greeted the appearance of the monolith on the moon in 2001.

Which brings me back toProm fatigue. After last night's Prom, I also wondered if I'd simply reached a limit. Certainly turning off my Prom 3 catch-up two thirds of the way through this afternoon, possibly the most spectacular of shows (the bit with the coat rack -- how funny was that?), would suggest that perhaps I should walk away and get back to the visual and verbal narratives I'm used to where music is secondary to the cause, and to a place where I'm not writing sentences quite like this one.

Then, of course Prom 26 got me right back on track. If the Gyorgy Kurtag's Stele had me reaching for yet another filmic reference again -- Alien this time -- very Jerry Goldsmith -- Mahler's Symphony No. 9 just drained me. What I'm discovering is that I have a taste for music that isn't just an intellectual experiment; that I like music which has a story attached, either within its fabric or which led to its composition. In this case:
"His daughter Maria (known as Putzi) had died of scarlet fever in July 1907; indeed it was when the doctor visited to minister to her grieving family that he gave Gustav a check-up and discovered his heart murmur. Most parents are far more consumed by the deaths of their children than the anticipation of their own demise. and if Mahler was indeed working out his grief over Putzi in the Ninth, he could not have left her a more lasting or more loving memorial."
I'm sure that what I was tapping into - this was certainly the work of someone surrounded by death; listening I'd at least noticed the loss and loneliness (I suppose you always identify the emotions you can most empathise with) and although right now I can't recall specific details, couldn't hum to you any of the themes, an echo of what I felt whilst listening is still here. That I like too.

Still no Mozart though ...


  1. Hopefully Saturday night's concert, which I'm definitely going to, will thoroughly rekindle your interest. It's being shown on BBC2, but I don't think it's properly live, which is a bit weird. Still, make sure you've got the volume turned up for part two.

  2. I will. Actually, I haven't lost the religion. I was there again tonight for Debussy, Prokofiev, Ravel and the surprisingly good Matthews premiere. I think when I write my round-up two of the big discoveries I'm going to emphasize are requiem masses and Debussy.

    Hope you enjoy the concert -- I'll see if I can spot you in the crowd.