The Well-Tempered Ear

Want to kill classical music? Talk too much talk and use the wrong kind of program notes | August 29, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

I’m all for artists discussing the classical music they are about to perform. It helps to educate listeners and often seems to relax the performers. Even seasoned listeners can find remarks about interpretation both illuminating and entertaining.

In Madison, I am particularly fond of pre-concert remarks by UW pianist Christopher Taylor, early music specialist Trevor Stephenson (below, explaining a fortepiano action) and Token Creek Festival co-director and composer John Harbison. All are incisive and witty presenters and well as first-rate performers.

Leonard Bernstein was perhaps the model of The Explainer.

But a good thing can be overdone — and is.

You can, in fact, kill classical music with too much talk. Or with esoteric and jargon-filled pre-concert lectures, radio commentary and program notes designed more for musicologists than for the general public.

Here is an interesting story and analysis I found on the Huffington Post web site:

Read it and see if you agree or disagree.

And let me and other readers know your opinion about the story and about what makes for good pre-concert remarks.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. I write this not out of disrespect, but please consider the following potential dilemma: if I wish to see and hear a concert of Bach cantatas in a wonderful venue like Grace church, but realize that the only way to get a seat is to go forty five minutes early and listen to Trevor Stephenson, will I have second thoughts about spending twenty bucks per (hard) pew foot?

    Comment by Richard Day — August 29, 2010 @ 11:17 am

    • Hi Richard,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      Perhaps you could go early to get the good seat and put down a coat or something else to hold your place, and then go take a walk or do something else.
      But, I quickly have to add, from what I have heard Trevor say in the past, you would be likely to learn things and be engaged if you stayed to hear his remarks about the cantatas, which are far more complicated thank many people think.
      It is a dilemma only superficially, I suspect. There should be a way out of it.
      Plus, the performance of the three cantatas alone would be worth the price of admission from what I’ve heard the Madison Bach Musicians do in the past.
      I don’t know if that answers your question to your satisfaction, but you can tell me what you think?
      Does the pre-concert lecture indeed give you have less incentive to go?

      Comment by welltemperedear — August 29, 2010 @ 11:45 am

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