Classic Case of a Musical Drama; This Week the Birmingham Post Has Joined Forces with the CBSO. as Well as Running Competitions and Offers We Will Be Printing a Series of Features Aimed at Newcomers to the World of Classical Music. Today Arts Editor Terry Grimley Recalls the Beginning of a Lifelong Enthusiasm for Orchestral Music - and the Part Played in It by Sibelius's Second Symphony
Byline: Terry Grimley
Memory can play strange tricks, and here's one it has played on me: when I look back to my early days of CBSO concertgoing, it seems to me that the same music was played at every concert.
This never-to-be-improved-on programme began with Richard Strauss's Til Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (a work which I have always detested, so that it is difficult to account for the number of times I sat through it), followed by Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2. After the interval this was invariably followed by Sibelius's Symphony No 2. Yes, I know I'm exaggerating. Occasionally the changes would be rung so that we would hear a Beethoven symphony, Elgar's Enigma Variations or Respighi's Pines of Rome. Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paginini would sometimes stand in for the concerto and once a year the boat would be pushed out for The Planets.
I'm still exaggerating - a bit. But there is a serious point here. In those days - I'm talking about the early to mid-1960s - those staple works did come round with great regularity. Forty years ago the repertoire was extraordinarily narrow compared to today. In fact, it is still a lot narrower in many places than it is in Birmingham, where the Rattle revolution opened the city up to a much more adventurous range of music than can still be found in most British cities.
Back in the 1960s I can recall the frisson of excitement when the CBSO tackled Stravinsky's Rite of Spring for the first time - a mere half-century after its first performance. This was said to be the event which persuaded elderly timpanist Ernest Parsons to hang up his sticks.
Today, young people at classical music concerts are in scant supply. What persuaded me to give it a try as a teenager?
I'd been through the same phase as most kids of thinking classical music was dull and stuffy. It didn't help that school was so keen to push it down your throat.
At junior school we used to listen to music broadcasts with an accompanying booklet containing pictures of people with names that sounded like bits of doors or washing powder who wore odd clothes and wigs. But at the end of the booklet was a photograph of a man called Walton, who was wearing a pullover. For some reason, the idea that you could write classical music while wearing a pullover seemed weird and unconvincing.
However, I was fortunate enough to have an outstanding teacher in my final year whose passion for music did rub off. Saint-Saens's Danse Macabre strikes me as a pretty terrible piece now, but it was the first one I really loved.
My musically-inquisitive older brother introduced jazz and classical LPs into the house and somehow found his way to CBSO concerts which, strange as it may seem, then used to take place on Sunday evenings. The fact that it was the night when you least felt like going out gave the concerts all the perverse attraction of cough medicine.
Typically, we would decide at the last minute to go to a concert. Being impecunious schoolboys we would naturally sit at the backof the Town Hall, easing into our seats just before the familiar opening bars of Till Eulenspiegel. Interestingly, this particular Strauss tone poem seems to have succumbed to the swings and arrows of outrageous fashion, rarely turning up in concert programmes nowadays. …