Classical music has a formality problem that frequently discourages the young and the otherwise curious from exploring its treasure trove of inspirations. There are unwritten rules about attire, when to clap, posture, attitude and how much knowledge you bring to the experience. Taken to its logical conclusion, you wind up with an audience of stuffy, self-important septuagenarians.
To its credit, the Minnesota Orchestra is doing its part to rebut that self-defeating dynamic by opening avenues for folks to learn about the classical canon without fear of intimidation or otherwise looking stupid or silly. In particular, conductor Sarah Hicks has sought to popularize the orchestra’s fare by blending pop songs with orchestration (noble efforts that too frequently result in watered down music that doesn’t do justice to either pop or classical forms), and, more successfully, by staging concerts such as the ones occurring tonight and Thursday night.
Specifically, the Minnesota Orchestra’s “Inside the Classics” series enables newcomers to hear quality renditions of well-known classics, bracketed by detailed, informal discussions about how and where the music fits into the classical canon, its evolutionary chain of influence, and, at a fundamental level, how it came to be.
This latest edition will focus on Debussy and perhaps the early 20th century French composer’s two most well-known compositions, “La Mer,” and “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” The former is an impressionistic piece that is far more caught up in unique harmony than in developing melody — it’s like a compendium of tone poems that collectively conjure up notions of the sea. The latter is an idyll featuring the flute. Together they comprise just 33 minutes of music. The remainder of the time will be spent first receiving the context of what will be heard, and then talking about the music after the performance (for those who choose to stay) with Hicks and the engaging violist Sam Bergman, a 1-year veteran of the Minnesota Orchestra. Bergman has also hosted many community-oriented Young People’s and Close to Home concerts, as well as participating in the ever-popular Sommerfest events and sharing an “Inside the Classics” blog with Hicks.
Listening to “La Mer” and “Faun” in this format is a good a way for those still wet behind the ears to get those listening orifices newly awashed in the splendor of orchestral music. But you don’t have to be a neophyte to appreciate a dose of familiar Debussy.
Here is a performance of the first movement of “La Mer.”
Here is the London Symphony Orchestra performing “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.”
Minnesota Orchestra “Inside the Classics” series, at Orchestra Hall, tonight and Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.; tickets $20-$45.