I'm in the smug position of having a long-term, adoring friend who likes concerts. He pays for most of them. I go to too many concerts. Morning rehearsals for the NY Phil, chamber recitals, piano, various stuff at Carnegie. Sometimes the opera.
I lived a life, when I was young, where almost all my musical information came from records, radio and my own attempt to learn piano lit. (and school music programs, later). So I well remember my first orchestra experience, 4th grade. And my first $5 tickets in college to hear the Jacksonville Symphony.
I've been in NYC for much of the time since 1985, and I am thoroughly spoiled, even as I live on $750 cash, per month. I came here for the music more than anything, so I naturally took to concert attendance.
And I've composed off/on since the late 70s. At 48, I think I have a fairly good idea of how things sound in various situations. I played in bands and orchestra, too, which helps understand the thing from the inside.
I often hear the Philharmonic play not so perfectly, since I go to so many rehearsals. Sometimes I don't like it, and other times I'm glad to hear passages repeated, various conductors' styles - a chance for a composer to hear a difficult area once again. (Dohnanyi stops too much: avoid his rehearsals!)
I had an experience which was odd: I took a CD from my friend's thousands of them collection. I chose a Prokofiev symphony, #5, because it was there. It turned out that the next day that I would hear it live (yesterday).
I was listening critically two days ago to a CD version, good quality. The symphony was muddy and not very easy to grasp. My jazzer friend and I discussed some of the harmonic choices, and I asked why it was so hard to listen to compared to jazz scores of the same period. We talked too much: too relaxed to study.
The next morning, I heard the Prokofiev live. I was still not terribly enthusiastic in my heart about the frist movement. The 2nd, the scherzo, was already known to me from years ago, as well as the day before - it is entirely unforgettable. The theme sounds like a TV jingle, but Profofiev makes a lot of it. And that interpolated violin response that is utterly romantic - some will know what I am talking about has been trapped in my head since.
I fortunately borrowed that CD, and this morning I listened to the whole symphony while I lounged in bed, which is sort-of work for me. I paid attention, and asked why he wrote this/that, and what/who might be his sources.
The symphony is great - not the kind of great Mahler's 5th might be assigned: Prokofiev is more lean and compact. But for cleverness, no one in the 20th matched him, when you consider the whole body of work he left us.
That symphony is full of harmonic ruses. But it retains bones of a classical symphony, a sense of 8 bar phrases and other nice things to hang on to, so one is really never terribly lost. And while he chooses to take his harmonies elsewhere, they are astonishingly "romantic" and "lush" in many places. He had a Soviet regime to impress, and he did his job and more.
What was obscured this morning on my CD player was remembered yesterday in the concert hall. And it got me to thinking: how many composers who write symphonic lit really go to a lot of concerts?
I hope many of you do, because these computer programs are not very close to what sounds in the real halls. The mistakes that Prokofiev made, and Bartok for that matter in orchestration were apparent yesterday, as well as the orchestra's balance issues. CDs and TV, radio would mic things just so, and rebalance to cover up for the facts of live performance (strings are sometimes lost when the textures get aggressive in the winds/brass/percussion) from where we sit.
In orchestrating myself, which is not something I do often, since it's an enormous effort for a moderate return, I can hear better what something might sound like in my head owing to this real experience. I check it against the notation program - it just can't tell me anything true about how instruments really mix in a hall. I have to rely on my gut, and what I know from years of listening as a concertgoer.
This ties into music as an art, itself. We write, and that is good. We hear things, never a bad idea. When we hear things live, it is as if the pitches thrown out by the individuals are seen flying across the halls I visit. In this sense, music comes to life, and may be capitalized Music, as if it were a god/goddess.
It is the difference between B & W and color television, for those who remember the changeover.
peace to all, as we work hard in the mid-winter.