Blast from the Past

by Richard Brookhiser

So I was at a concert at the 92nd St. Y on the Friday before Memorial Day (odd scheduling, that, yet the hall was full). Pianist Yefim Bronfman was performing with musicians from the New York Philharmonic. They did Schubert, Brahms, and a modern piece — a trio for violin, clarinet and piano. 

The modern number was a lively thing. The clarinet can be soothing and mysterious — and also comic, squeaking and squawking like a duck. The composer took full advantage of its racket-making moods.

The “modern” piece was “Contrasts,” by Bela Bartok, commissioned by Joseph Szigeti and Benny Goodman, first performed in January 1939. My ears are so old that I have trouble listening with pleasure to anything composed after World War II. That goes for both jazz and music played by artists in suits and gowns. Popular music kept its listenability longer — musicals, country, rock, reggae — but it burns itself out at a great rate. The last performer that caught my attention was Amy Winehouse.

I confess to laziness. I simply have not put in the time to listen to, say, Arvo Part. But am I wrong to think there is less to hear? We can perform the greatest hits for centuries. But is the music that Guillaume Dufay began teasing out of the spring soil over?

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