Classical Music

Classical music is a very important part of my life. Indeed, it could be argued that I do everything else I do to sustain my music habit!

Long before I knew anything about assessment, learning or teaching (or even science) I became passionate about classical music, and this has remained a major part of my life throughout. My father played violin, and made several too, as well as teaching it. He taught me how a violin worked, and I grew up to the sounds of his pupils trying to make violins work, after which everything sounds good!

I started buying ’78s as a kid, and later collected thousands of LPs, and now have thousands of CDs. I always carry lots of music around with me on iPods, and good noise-cancelling headphones. I love the ‘shuffle’ function, as it frequently throws at me pieces I wouldn’t have picked off my CD racks, and widens my range of favourites.

My tastes are quite wide, focusing on orchestral, instrumental and chamber music, everything from Bach to modern music. I don’t go much for choral music or opera, perhaps because I don’t sing! I particularly love a big orchestra playing loudly, and would like to be a timpanist next time round – or better, a conductor!
I’m delighted that my local orchestra is now the Royal Northern Sinfonia, and get to as many of their concerts as I can in the wonderful acoustic at The Sage, Gateshead. I was at their very first concert in the City Hall, Newcastle with my dad, way back, and there with him also enjoyed Barbirolli, Boult and Fistoulari among many others.

One of my favourite things is to listen to the radio or a shuffled iPod, and try to work out what is being played and who is playing or conducting it, (then check with Shazam sometimes when it’s a published recording).

On my travels, I always try to go to at least one concert, and have enjoyed several in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw as well as at Melbourne, Dublin, Wellington, Gothenburg, Sydney, the list goes on.

In recent years, I’ve been sharing my passion for music in residential weekends at Madingley Hall, Cambridge, and have run programmes on 4th Symphonies (‘Augmented 4ths’), 5th Symphonies (‘Fabulous 5ths’), 1st Symphonies (‘Fantastic Firsts’), ‘Magnificent Ninths’ at Madingley.

Desert Island Discs
I would cheat, and take an iPod with hundreds of recordings on it. Some I would hate to be without include:

Beethoven: 7th Symphony: I couldn’t survive long without this. Claudio Abbado with the Berliners does it splendidly. How could one not include the exposition repeat in the 1st movement – he includes it.

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique: Sir Roger Norrington with the London Classical Players – the most exciting modern version I know of this masterpiece – and with the 4th movement repeats intact as they should surely be. But for my favourite version, please follow this link:  returning-full-circle-1.docx (792 downloads)

Shostakovich: Symphony No.4: Rudolph Barshai with the NDR Symphony Orchestra – there’s so much to discover in the 4th. More recently the Liverpool Philharmonic with Vasily Petrenko has done wonders with this too.

Beethoven: String Quartet Op.131: The Italian Quartet – I never tire of this.

Dvorak: 3rd Symphony: Vaclav Smetacek with the Prague Symphony Orchestra. I like Dvorak a lot. This is in my view by far the best performance ever of the 3rd – I’ve got most of the rest!

Stravinsky: the Rite of Spring: Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Dorati really gets to the ‘pagan’ in this elderly recording, which still sounds great, and is better than most later ones.

Schubert: String Quintet: The Aeolian Quartet with Bruno Schrecker – possibly the one piece I just couldn’t live without.

Janacek: Sinfonietta: Sir Charles Mackerras with the Vienna Philharnonic: full of life, and optimism.

Schumann: 1st Symphony: Rafael Kubelik with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra – to put a spring in my step! Kubelik was a great interpreter of Mahler, Dvorak, Janacek and many other composers.

J. S. Bach: the Cello suites. Just sometimes, there’s nothing else which will calm one down like these do.

And I’d have to have all the stereo recordings made in the late 1950s and early 60s now re-issued of Bruno Walter, Fritz Reiner, Charles Munch, Paul Paray, Antal Dorati and Leonard Bernstein. It continues to amaze me how well these recordings now sound, and the strength these conductors brought to the classical masterpieces.

For sheer pleasure of sound, I love the 35 CD box celebrating Charles Dutoit’s  20 years with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, especially in his great vision of French music.

My piano
Sally gave me a (digital) piano for my 65th birthday, aiming to keep me at home for longer rather than wandering the country (and beyond) as I still do. I’d not had access to an instrument for decades.  I can already play all the right notes, but not yet in the correct order. I enjoy struggling through favourite bits of Beethoven, Schubert and so on, at least finding out more about how the great composers brought ideas to reality, even if never aspiring to play anything when anyone else is listening!