Sibelius – 7th Symphony

Chico Chica have a tour coming up later in the year as well as an album launch. As a result, marketing will form a major part of my management duties. I know the basic principles. The most important is to describe a product’s benefits rather than its features.

But when it comes to listening to complex music, it’s best to start with features. This is more than merely the naming of parts such as Development and Re-capitulation. It is noticing what the melody does, how for example, the flute may take it in another direction, the french horns may play a variation, there could be a tempo change here, a modulation there. After a while, as I become familiar with the lay of the musical landscape my admiration for the craft gradually evolves into a love for the art. Now to describe this emotional response would mean reaching for the thesaurus and using adjectives – but they’ve all been used and over-used so much I can’t bring myself round to doing this. It’s why I’ll never make it as a music critic.

There is an LSO programme at the Barbican called the Half-Six Fix. The concert lasts an hour and tickets starts at a meagre £12 – that’s for a world class orchestra under the baton of none other than Sir Simon Rattle.

The programme is aimed at some who don’t want to get home too late and others who like to go on to do other things while the night is still young. It also suits those who, after a hard day’s work, may find it hard to concentrate for much longer than an hour.

And with classical music, concentration is the key. How can my brain process the relentless succession of musical ideas as it cascades into my consciousness? Music is meant to trigger thoughts but a wandering mind inhibits a deep, sensual appreciation. Listening to music is not as straightforward as we like to think but with practice and time, we become experienced listeners. It is an exercise in mindfulness and for me – a kind of substitute for meditation.

thMy appreciation is enhanced if I make sure I already know the piece well before I see the concert. Luckily I live a mere 15 minute No 94 bus ride to Music and Video Exchange in Notting Hill. It’s been there since the late 70s. As a streaming-averse listener, I’m so pleased the shop is still thriving because I rely on it so much. Downstairs is an extensive and well categorised collection of classical second hand CDs. The pricing is in the form of a Dutch auction so CDs are reduced by a pound every month. For £5 I bought Sibelius Symphony No 7 and Brahms Symphonies 2 and 3 – all are to be featured in up-coming Half-Six Fix programmes. My Sibelius album (pictured) was by the same orchestra but with Sir Colin Davis conducting.

 

On emerging from the classical basement I heard Captain Beefheart playing. I was amazed, firstly because I hadn’t heard that music since the seventies and also because I remembered it. There’s something about the sixty somethings who inhabit the Notting Hill Gate and Portobello Road that is still imbued with the memory of the seventies and with good reason, in those days W11 was the centre of things – at least it felt like that. I could almost smell the patchouli oil.

At home I listened to Sibelius 7 through my 1970s Philips speakers (these details are important) at every opportunity. That is, whenever I was at home and not writing, sleeping, playing guitar and working. But mostly it was me on the sofa giving the music all the attention I could muster. The music inhabited the rooms of my mind’s internal architecture so when I arrived at the Barbican last Wednesday, I was ready.

With the new bite-sized format, Sir Simon gives a short talk before each piece. He’s a natural at this task. He has an easy charm and humour as well as knowledge and emotional commitment. The first piece was a Berlin Philharmonic commission, Let Me Tell You by Hans Abrahamsen – a shimmering and restrained song cycle and then came Sibelius’s 7th Symphony. Jean Sibelius has set up camp in my musical memory and it will stay there forever. Thank you Jean.

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