I used to hate brussel sprouts. My mother would glower at me across the table as I carefully positioned them on the side of my plate. I was careful not to let me knife and fork touch the vegetables in case the rest of the meal would be tarnished. My mother always threatened to “liquidise” them if I didn’t eat them. Somehow I always used to avoid both the threat and the vegetables. I’m not entirely clear how.
Since I’ve grown up (and yes, I have grown up) the childhood fears I had regarding brussel sprouts have dissipated in a similar way to my reaction against modern music. A-Level studies were full of excerpts from “key 20th century works”. I found it difficult to get my head around it. I didn’t get what all the fuss was.
In the past ten years however, my mind has changed. I rather relish the opportunity to listen to repertoire I’ve not heard before. Give it a go, I keep telling myself. Try it, you might just like it. So it was with the Berio at last night’s Proms. I listened to it and enjoyed it despite one Baroque music fan initially describing it as nothing but a load of “guff”.
I was gee-ed up for an evening of relatively modern music this evening too. The opening number was a world premiere of a work by Sam Hayden. Delayed by work because of pesky non-Proms related things, I found myself mentally preparing myself for the concert on London Bridge station platform. I hadn’t done my reading or my researching or anything. I wasn’t ready. I wouldn’t be able to give Mr Hayden’s new work the due attention it deserved especially if, as I feared, I ran the risk of sitting next to a sweaty, short-sleeved middle-aged man with no concept of moving his legs to one side so that I might get to the only spare seat on the train. Not only did I fear it, it actually happened too.
The Hayden work Substratum was a brilliantly ordered cacophany of sound. Dramatic, spikey, aggresive and engaging. The moment was made all the more exciting when, prior to the beginning of the performance an announcement was made that the BBC Symphony Orchestra would only be playing the second half of this world premiere. The reason? It had not been possible to prepare everything in time. Sounds to me like they missed their deadline. Tut Tut.
I’d made it home in time to be ushered into the relatively safe world of Leonard Bernstein’s orchestrations, pulsating rhythms and big fat sounds. This too was a new work to me, one which I felt immediately comfortable with. It comes heartily recommended.
Not so with Charles Ives’ Symphony No.4. The playing may well have been good – I really wouldn’t be able to tell – but by the end of the final movement, the brief respite offered up by a languid slow movement had all been forgotten. I found myself shaking my fist at the radio.
Daring and bold as I am, sometimes I am in need of a little variety. A plate full of brussel sprouts would be way too much for me to digest.