So, I’ve always been suspicious of orchestral music. I’m no musician (no kidding) but I love music and a long time ago I decided that orchestral music was all together too bourgeois for me, too big and industrial in scale. Orchestral music in the nineteenth century mold – hierarchical, formal, un-ironic (capitalist, black tie music, I used to call it) – made me uncomfortable and I took refuge in much more direct and emotional chamber music from the same era (Schubert, Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelsohn…). But, obviously, you can’t ignore the orchestras and their repertoire. They’re a presence, an unarguable cultural force, even in these difficult times for classical music.
So I tuned in to tonight’s big prom: The Philadelphia Orchestra’s epic double header attempt at the fifth symphonies of both Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. First of all, watching it on the TV, the Beethoven was so awesome and so honest and the whole orchestra so committed that I was totally won over. Then, in the interval, Christoph Eschenbach, the orchestra’s super-charismatic conductor (the kind of guy you’d really want as a boss) was interviewed and he was so fascinating and his involvement with the music so complete that I decided I’m now definitely over my aversion to orchestral music.
The second half was the convincer. I’ve never liked Tchaikovsky, a composer from the wrong (flabby, pre-modernist) end of the 19th Century, lacking the rigour and intensity and broody, Middle European grit of the early classical stuff that I love and the scary atonal stuff that followed. Yes – obviously, I suppose – the Tchaikovsky was amazing. I don’t have the wit to describe this quite amazing, muscular, emotional material but you can listen to the performance (and, I hope, Eschenbach’s terrific interval interview) at the Radio 3 web site for a week after tonight. Do so.