Thursday, December 11, 2003


Charlotte Higgins on the vexed question of concert encores:

"Perhaps we should be thankful that spontaneity is generally an illusion. The best encores are often the most considered. On September 12 2002, a day after the anniversary of 9/11, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra gave a concert at the Proms.

"For an encore, instead of dredging up some predictable signifier of grief or contemplation, such as Barber's Adagio, the orchestra, under Sakari Oramo, played a little-known work by Charles Ives called 'The Unanswered Question'. A tiny, exquisite, palpitating study in ambivalence, with no obvious musical or emotional resolution, it was cliche-free and utterly apt."

I've never thought of 'The Unanswered Question' as obscure myself. It's a lesser repertoire piece, for sure. But it was, after all, the founding musical text for Bernstein's classic Norton Lectures on the innate grammar (or otherwise) of music in general and tonality in particular. I agree with Higgins' general sentiments, though.

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