Still more

From Janet Shapiro, who with her husband Philip Byrd produces fine TV films of classical performances:

I’m not sure exactly how this fits into what you’ve been discussing on ArtsJournal these past few days re the Boston Symphony’s programming under Levine, but I thought I’d share something that happened just last night.

In an effort to avoid the State of the Union speech while cleaning up the kitchen after dinner (oh, what a domestic goddess I am!) I turned on WNYC-FM and was shocked to hear a performance I’d taken part in.  It was Messiaen’s 3 Petites Liturgies, and I’d sung it with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the BSO under Seiji Ozawa back in the 70’s.  Immediately I was engulfed by a wave of nostalgia – I remembered woodshedding the notes at my apartment in Watertown with two of my best friends.  And drilling the French text ad nauseam at rehearsals – after almost 30 (gasp!) years I could still recite a lot of it.  And I fondly recalled the woman who sang the choral solo.  She was pregnant with twins at the time, and she threw up after the audition.

After wallowing in those Proustian responses for a few minutes, I started to really listen to the music.  What struck me at once was how accessible it is now. And yet in the mid 70’s it seemed to be a very difficult piece both to sing and to listen to.  It was a recording of a live concert, and the sopranos had problems with some of the lines (I of course am an alto) and I don’t know if that would be any different today – difficult lines are still difficult lines –  but I’m pretty sure that the conservative BSO audiences would be far more receptive to the piece now than they were then.  Thirty years ago it was a thorny piece of work – last night it was affectingly easy.  My ears have certainly changed in 30 years.

But wait, you say!  The work was written in the 40’s.  So 30 years after it was written it still seemed hard.  It took an additional 30 years to soften it to my ears. Yeah, I know – I haven’t heard the piece for 30 years. It might have seemed easy 25 years ago. – that we’ll never know.

Is it OK that it can take 60 years for a work to ripen?  I leave that for you to decide. You’re in the business of pontificating upon such questions and I’m just an interested bystander.

I wonder if the number of years matters. And for whatever it’s worth, I once saw a Friday afternoon audience in Boston (those Friday audiences are, notoriously, quite conservative) respond with avid warmth to a fairly modernist Dutilleux piece. They brought him back for several bows.

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