THE NATIONAL CONCERT HALL

A ripple of applause ran round the ground. The batsman tucked his bat under his arm, took off his gloves and walked towards the pavilion. What happened him? asked the spectator who had just arrived and missed the fall of the wicket.His friend replied: ‘The spinner at the far end got him middle and off with a googly that only barely turned.’

Now if you don’t know about cricket this is likely to be Double Dutch to you.  If you do, it communicates an interesting account of some of the finer points of the game. Neville Cardus, one of the all-time great commentators and writers on cricket was a music critic of equal stature. I know about cricket, but, unlike Cardus, I know almost nothing about music.

As a boy I learned the piano, but when I arrived in boarding school the music teacher was neurotic. He always wiped the door knob before opening the door. Before sitting down to play something himself to demonstrate how it should be done, he would take out his handkerchief and wipe the keyboard, and if he detected that you had even the hint of a cold he would conduct the lesson from the other end of the room. More importantly music lessons got in the way of games so I gave up.

As an adult I know the music I like but I don’t know much about it.  When I read a booklet accompanying a CD I usually can’t relate what I read to what I hear, and yet I enjoy the music.Some friends have season tickets for Friday nights at the National Concert Hall, and if they can’t go my wife and I sometimes use them.   As we wait in the foyer before going into the auditorium, I sometimes wonder if I’m the only philistine present.

On stage I’m always fascinated by the arrival of the principal performers.  As soon as the orchestra is seated the leader arrives, and before he or she has done anything they get a round of applause.  The leader is followed soon by the conductor who again, it seems to me, gets a round of applause on credit.I haven’t yet been to a performance in the National Concert Hall that I haven’t fallen asleep. This is not a commentary on the concerts performed there, because on one occasion in Chicago with the great Georg Solti conducting The Chicago Symphony orchestra, I fell asleep too.   At one symphony concert recently we were sitting in the front row and I almost jumped out of my seat when an unmerciful crash of drums woke me.  I looked around quickly; nobody had noticed.

When the music begins, unless I am fascinated by the contortions of a particularly athletic conductor, my mind soon wanders as I watch the motley crew of players.   To me very few of them look like professional musicians.  I find it impossible to know if a work has been well or poorly performed.  However, at the interval we almost always meet someone we know who says something like: ‘wasn’t that wonderful?’ They never say ‘good grief wasn’t that awful,’ or even, ‘a bit pedestrian don’t you think?’  To someone, the height of whose musical accomplishment is to play the tune ‘Clementine’ on the piano with one finger, I marvel and keep my counsel.

What really fascinates me is the performance at the end when the music is over.  The audience inevitably goes into a paroxysm of applause.   The conductor takes three or four bows and disappears out the door at the side, not to his dressing room, but to wait in the passage ready to come in again.  He shakes hands with the leader, who has obviously done something of merit of which I have been entirely unaware and then signals to the orchestra to take a bow when many of them look mildly embarrassed.

The last item one night was Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring.’  I found it tuneless, discordant and unpleasant.   It didn’t surprise me, as the programme told us, that the first performance in Paris in 1913 created a famous riot, when blows were exchanged, the orchestra was drowned out and the performance ended in chaos. The audience in the Concert Hall gave it a rapturous reception.  I was fearful that one man at the front of the balcony standing up and clapping frantically would fall over. I bet he didn’t know the first thing about cricket.

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