Let’s Get Classical

TOMMY SHANE explores classical music in Cambridge, and implores you all to not knock it ’till you’ve tried it.

Beethoven Classical fairy queen john cage Kings College Chapel Music Opera Philip Glass spanish tragedy

I have never been to a classical concert. The music that reigned for 1600 years is becoming a distant echo of irrelevance, as we all become increasingly saturated with auto tune. Now, to be fair, I don’t actually think that this is all that bad: computer produced music is infinitely democratic, and who wants to spend 10,000 hours mastering one instrument?

But there’s something sad about the dwindling audiences all around the world, constituted of an ageing population. Each year that goes by, the average age of the audiences gets older.

Now Beethoven might not be your cup of tea, and that’s fair enough. But there is a lot of neoclassical music that is rarely heard outside of movie soundtracks, but is often really, really good. Philip Glass is an obvious figure to pick out, as his music is so popular and recognisable:

If nothing else, this is perfect music to work to: with no words, you lose the temptation to start screaming out the lyrics at your desk (or awkwardly mouthing along to them in the library).

This is just one way of trying out some classical music. But it is easy to forget that we are in Cambridge, and musical performances are everywhere, annoyingly publicised only within a very small circle.

For example, on the 7th of November the Endellion String Quartet will perform Hadyn, Mozart and Schubert in a concert that is half price for students. The opportunity to see such accomplished performers for so cheap (£12) really is something we’ll probably only get to do while we’re here.

Operas also abound in Cambridge. On the 2nd, a brand new re-imagining of Purcell’s ‘Fairy Queen‘ is being performed at West Road Concert Hall; and, just a couple of days before that on the 29th, there will be a production called ‘Lost in the Fitzwilliam‘. Each scene of this opera moves into a different gallery, as the audience follow the performance through the museum. Operas immediately have such provocative connotations, including pretence, ostentation and boredom. But many productions like this are trying their hardest to break these stereotypes down.

And this isn’t even including the countless choral performances in some of the most impressive chapels in the country. King’s College Chapel is on our doorstep – and evensong is completely free.  And, what’s more, the chapel will even play host to a performance of ‘The Spanish Tragedy‘ later this term. Heloise Werner and Mark Seow will use the chapel to command choral scholars, violinists, cellists, percussionists – and will even be making use of the organ, in what promises to be a unique production.

If all this appears a bit too much too soon, then maybe just check out the upcoming movie ‘The Late Quartet’, released in a few weeks’ time. It tells the story of the breakup of a string quartet following a member’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s, and follows their final performance. Their final piece is Beethoven’s Opus 131 String Quartet in C-Sharp minor, one that is so incessant that their instruments will unavoidably untune during performance, leaving a crucial element of the piece up to chance.

Whatever your experience of classical music, your hatred or your ignorance, it is simply foolish not to take advantage of the wide range of classical music available in Cambridge, even if just once. Classical music can all too easily become unheard if we don’t expose ourselves to it, and like John Cage’s 4’33”, our musical past will become silent.