Listen To This

By Brian McCreath

"The best kind of classical performance is not a retreat into the past but an intensification of the present.  The mistake that apostles of the classical have always made is to have joined their love of the past to a dislike of the present.  The music has other ideas:  it hates the past and wants to escape."

Those words were written by Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker and author of a new collection entitled Listen To This.  If you have this evening free, you might consider stopping by the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge to meet and hear from Alex Ross.  (Details on the event at the Harvard Book Store site.)  A few years ago, his The Rest is Noise, a wide ranging tour of the development of music through the 20th century, won all kinds of awards and acclaim, and to me, it was a truly brilliant work because it placed the often encapsulated and insulated academic history of music in the context of the wider cultural history of the last hundred plus years.

Now, in Listen To This, readers and listeners have a chance to take in Ross's ideas and narratives in essay form, which might be the ideal way to get in touch with one of today's most perceptive observers of music and its place in our culture.  And what better way to learn about the book before buying it than by meeting the author in person?

During this afternoon's program on 99.5 All Classical, from 2-4pm, I'll touch on a few themes from the book, including the title essay, in which Ross describes his initial reaction to Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica."  Also, in response to a chapter on the rock band Radiohead, we'll turn to a recent performance from our Fraser Performance Studio in which the piano duo Anderson and Roe performed their arrangement of Radiohead's Paranoid Android (you can hear it on demand below, too.)  And to kick things off at 2pm, listen for music by Henry Purcell, one of several composers included in a chapter called "Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues," in which Ross traces the trajectory of what is commonly known as a chaconne from its 16th century Peruvian roots through Bach, Tchaikovsky, and on to Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin.  To see a bit more about that, check out this video Ross made with a few friends:

Anderson and Roe, from the Fraser Performance Studio, Oct. 2010:


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