Traumatizing (or awkward first impression) Modern-classical pieces you've heard

October 9, 2009 at 04:59 PM ·

For me, it was a piece titled Final Alice by David Del Tredici, and it was on one of my favorite programs on classical radio to listen to back in the day, the Saturday night Philadelphia Orchestra concerts which were pre-taped. Ordinarily, I'd listen to almost any piece by any composer from any period back then (I was young, I had am impressionable mind :)), but Del Tredici's music had a dissonance that I wasn't prepared for, and to me it sounded like very jarring with a loud orchestra and a half-spoken word, half-sung soprano part--It made me quite uncomfortable, so I changed the station! I don't recall ever doing that any other time while listening to classical radio, and definitely not during those concert broadcasts, so it was too much for me back then--I'd probably like it now, though!

Replies (22)

October 9, 2009 at 07:57 PM ·

I don't recall the composer's name off the top of my head, but she had a world premier that our symphony played, and no one seemed very impressed with it.  I remember wondering how much she got payed to come up with that.  Every time we rehearsed it, the final chord left us all feeling like we'd just publicly stuck our foot in our mouth.  At least, I know that's how I felt.  Judging by the audience's response, they felt the same way.  The write-up in the newspaper really ripped her up. 

Actually, I'm not sure if it's good manners to mention her name, now that I've written that.

October 9, 2009 at 08:55 PM ·

Ginastera's violin concerto. Couldn't stand it. An awful piece. I listened for 10 minutes or so, put it off and in a few days sold the CD.

October 9, 2009 at 09:04 PM ·

Dissonance is very akward in a peice if you are not familiar with it. Hear is a recording of a lecture I stumbled upon that makes you really understand dissonance vs. concenance and how to get beyond "they are random, ugly notes".

This is a recording of Marvin Wolfthal lecturing at a public library in Weston, Mass.

October 9, 2009 at 09:32 PM ·

Webern string quartets make my skin crawl... I just haven't been able to like them yet.  I always want to a dead run...but have always been trapped.  However, I recognize their challenges and have really respected the players I've seen.

Anne-Sophie Mutter's Penderecki concertos CD on full volume caused me to cower in the bathroom until it was over once when I was young and home alone.   :-P  Scared the living daylights out of me.

October 11, 2009 at 05:17 PM ·

The worst thing about being in an orchestra is that you have to play some of this stuff! And of course, just like "modern art", if you deride it you're told that it's because you don't understand it.

One of my colleagues tells a story from his college days - doing one of these "modern" compositions. The composer wrote at one point "viola solo ad libitum". So, at the rehearsal he gave the expected rubbish - then come the performance he played either a G major scale of God Save the Queen - can't remember which! The composer went for him afterwards and accused him of ruining the whole piece, at which my friend told him "If you wanted something different, you should have written it".

October 11, 2009 at 08:06 PM ·

Hi, I couldn't leave because I'm better brought up than this : )    leaving in the middle of a symphony concert... Well I'm not telling it would have been a crime to do so but I respectfully stayed all through the concert.  It was a concerto specially written for the German violinist Viviane Hagner by a corean composer.  I don't remember the name of the composer but what was cool was that it was a female composer (quite famous in the "modern composition" world) But this particular piece was not my cup of tea... ouch!!!  Ufourtunately, by seeing the faces of all those around me, it wasn't just "outch" for me... It was quite of a collective unanim ear reaction!!!   Fortunately, she played a wonderful Saint-Saens Introduction and rondo capricioso (sorry if this is not the exact title speling) after and left on a wonderful note!  

I think there is wonderful modern music but also a few more... "odd sounding" or non conventional pieces nowadays. It's pretty hard to please the majority of people with these because usually (don't kill me if I'm wrong) I think that the human ear seeks harmony and beauty rather that fight and dissonance or "atonal" stuff no???   But this is another debate...


October 12, 2009 at 01:07 AM ·

Schoenberg violin concerto.  It was probably a fabulous performance by Zvi Zeitlin and the Rochester Philharmonic back in the 80's.  I wanted to leave, but my teacher was playing a flute concerto (Mozart, thank goodness) on the second half.  I had tickets to both performances, and liked the Schoenberg better the second time.  Still not a piece I would listen to for fun though.

October 12, 2009 at 01:34 PM ·

I was at an outdoor concert listening to some computer-generated music.  The audience was sitting on the lawn and there were big screens all around with colors that went along with the music.  It was supposed to be a multi-sensory experience, but it was really *COLD* and the "music" sounded like random noise.  We left before we froze to death.

October 12, 2009 at 02:55 PM ·

It's not modern, but Pachelbel's Canon is one of the few pieces I've heard (and heard and heard and heard) that makes me reach for the dial.

October 13, 2009 at 05:11 PM ·

The Sibelius violin concerto makes me cringe every time I hear it.

October 13, 2009 at 05:56 PM ·

Marina, was that a joke?  (sorry...couldn't tell if it was serious or not...not trying to be rude)

October 13, 2009 at 11:56 PM ·

It's not a joke, I don't like that concerto.  It can't be played well, and it's anti-climactic like all of Sibelius' music.

October 14, 2009 at 02:22 AM ·

Sorry, I don't know the meaning of anti-climatique??? Do you mean cold?   Well you can't discuss tastes.  I've known someone who hated Mozart... Imagine, hating Mozart!!!


October 14, 2009 at 03:16 AM ·

"anti-climactic" means "much less powerful/important/meaningful than expected."

If you want to characterize Sibelius's music that way, okay.  I thought he was asking if it was a joke because the thread asked about modern pieces.

October 15, 2009 at 01:07 AM ·

We played a world premier John Luther Adams piece a couple of years ago that perfectly resembled a growing migraine.  It was incredibly difficult to play anything else after we finished. 

Getting up to leave during a concert is one thing if you are in the audience, but an entirely different thing for someone on the stage.

October 15, 2009 at 01:38 AM ·

It was quite a few years ago, when I encountered my first modern music. We were a chamber group and the 'instructor' gave us music to sight-read. It probably wasn't meant to sound nice (hopefully, because it would have failed if it was..) Although I don't know the name of the piece, the rythm was primarily dotted eighths, eighths, and quarter notes. Oh i forgot to mention, the tempo was 40 to the eighth note. It was the slowest piece i've ever heard. "resembled a growing migraine" is a great way to describe this piece.
So after we tried playing it, we complained and the instructor played it... it wasn't any better. If I remember correctly, she had a recording she had us listen to. Again, not any better. So my experience was.... not good.. :P

October 19, 2009 at 01:31 AM ·

A Ligeti string quartet provoked a sort of primal fear in me.  Not sure if that was the intent.

I am warming up to Schoenberg and Webern.

October 19, 2009 at 03:47 PM ·

Malcolm - that's a wonderful story about the violist.   I'd love to do something like that!

The only time I've wanted to walk out of a classical concert was at a contemporary music concert featuring electronically manipulated sound.   It was abnormally loud, I mean loud to the point of painful to the ears.  It wasn't music.  We could have been sitting listening to a road drill and a jet warming up for all the aesthetic effect it had.  

I wish now that I'd walked out, but just didn't have the nerve to do so as everyone else seemed to be listening so intensely or perhaps they were all wearing earplugs?   Then at the end there was loads of applause and all these scholarly bearded types wearing sandals swarmed out the hall to raid the vegetarian food only buffet saying how wonderful an experience it had been.  I was just digging in my bag to find some headache pills.    When this particular festival went bust a couple of years later - I felt a quiet satisfaction...!  

October 19, 2009 at 11:18 PM ·


I played in the world premiere (probvably the last time) of Douglas Younsg`s cello ccnerto with the brilliant soloist Rohan de Saram.  It was in a huge Roman Amphitheatre and swelteringly hot.   The arena was packed with thousands  at the beginniing . Twenty minutes later (just warming up) there were about five people left.  Presuambly not Italian......  Funny thng is I actually like DYs music a sa rule.  His work `Rain Steam and Speed`  appealed to me a great dela althouhg the orchestra I played it with christened it `Wind, pi## and Sh$$`   for some reason.

Recently I was very deeply disturbed by Gualbulindualindualindias violin cocnerto as permeired by ASM.  Raved about t to my Czech composer friend Daniel Forro.  Alas,  he wasnt impressed although he did like the idea of no violin section.....



October 19, 2009 at 11:41 PM ·

"Gualbulindualindualindias"   What a name???   He wouldn't have wide ennough shoulders to write it if he was an hockey player!  I don't know his music but isn't it pretty hard to be famous with a name that is impossible to spell or remember!

Sorry to interupt this interesting discussion!


October 20, 2009 at 12:16 AM ·


October 20, 2009 at 02:55 PM ·

Ah sorry I was talking in general!   In french, we say "he" when we don't know the gender of someone.  Quite confusing!


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