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To begin I would like to remove all pretence from this article by informing you that although I am a musician, I know absolutely nothing about classical music. I am familiar with a few pieces that I enjoy listening to whilst doing work or just before I go to sleep, but I do not consider myself a “big fan”. This concert included 3 pieces by 1800s Viennese composers Strauss, Brahms and Schoenberg all performed by the Royal Northern College of Music. Before the show began, there was a short talk that put the pieces and the composers themselves into some context. As boring as I expected this to be there were many comparisons to be drawn to modern music, for example how a composer who openly stated that he derived inspiration from both Wager and Brahms, as Schoenberg did came under great criticism. The public were very much divided between the two camps just as in the late 90s and early 00s brit pop fans were forced to choose between Oasis and Blur. In a similar way Schoenberg came from a poor background, he learnt music through a monthly subscription to an encyclopedia, and therefore his success was incredibly surprising to many; the Snoop Dogg/Biggy Smalls of his time you might say. Early pieces were once deemed too “out-there” or niche for the general public until they warmed to him, very much like Ed Sheeran. Moreover, the composers all knew each other, in fact Brahms and Strauss actually paid for Schoenberg’s cost of living in the early days. They were to him, what Usher was to Justin Bieber.
The first two pieces were performed by string sextets (Two violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos), the last a full 80 piece string orchestra. To clarify, 80 incredibly talented musicians were on the stage at the same time, almost outnumbering the audience. It’s a difficult feeling to describe when you watch live music like this. Within the few notes, the first thing you realise is the warmth of the instruments. The sound is fuller than you will ever hear through any headphones you can buy. The music itself, even without any knowledge of its composition, is impressive beyond belief. You can consciously shift your focus towards different intricacies depending on which musician you watch at any one time. The pieces performed by the sextets were beautiful, truly they were, but after the short intermission, coming back to 80 string players blew me away. It’s rare that you find string orchestras of this size, and I can only imagine the difficulty it would be to get this many talented musicians outside of a music college setting but it was really worth it. The sound was huge yet simultaneously intricate and in places fell to a mellow but full and flowing piece.
As I said to begin, I do not wish to pretend I know anything about these pieces, or the classical genre, but I feel that it was because of this that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Listening to modern, popular music is so repetitive, predictable and at times frankly boring. I consider myself to be a music enthusiast and I implore you broaden your horizons and go to a classical gig. Enjoy phenomenal melodies and repeating motifs that you don’t understand. Enjoy the intricacies of a large quantity of talented, specialised musicians playing different rhythms and melodies simultaneously creating a multi-dimensional sound. Enjoy listening to the culmination of years of each individual musician, practicing until they are good enough to get together and create something truly magical. You might even enjoy it more than the stuff they churn out every week at Sugar. Maybe not, but it’s worth a try.