Saturday, August 6, 2011

Changing Tastes

I remember hating olives as a little kid--especially the green ones.  Swiss cheese?  Ugh!  Sour cream?  Cream cheese?  Onions?  All absolutely inedible to me then.  (Interestingly, I liked liver, but I didn't like the onions that went with it.  For years I ate lox on a bagel, but always with butter because I didn't like the cream cheese.)

I eat all of these things cheerfully now and indeed look forward to most of them.  I think of them as scrumptious.

Something similar may be happening to my musical tastes.  I remember hearing Haydn's The Creation in my twenties and thinking it was a pretty silly piece--all that chirping and twiddling!  It seemed sort of saccharine and naive to me.  It was certainly not a piece I had any ambition to conduct.

Still, for a lot of very good reasons, I scheduled it for my summer choir.  I had come to like the choruses a great deal, and I thought the rest of it might be worth a second chance.  I am conducting it tonight in concert for the first time in my career, and I am looking forward to it enthusiastically--I now think it is a great piece.

Amazingly, I like it for the very qualities I found foolish before, but I have a new way of thinking about them.  The chirping is really clever and witty text-painting, and there's quite a lot of it.  To me now, it seems more like a fun game (how many hidden pictures can you find in this drawing?), like hunting for all the amusing details in the carvings on a Gothic church facade.  What struck me as decorative and uninteresting before now seems charming, and most of all, what seemed naive before now is at the very heart of the genius of the work.  Haydn's achievement in The Creation, it seems to me, is his remarkable way of presenting everything for the first time:  the sunrise is the very first sunrise; the chirping birds are the first birds ever to chirp; the roar of the lion breaks the air for the very first time.  And we watch and listen to it all with a child-like sense of discovery and wonder.

That Haydn still had that "gee whiz" sense in his middle sixties is part of the brilliance and charm of the work.  That he could portray it in music is even more remarkable.  I guess maybe I had to get to a certain age myself to appreciate that for what it is.

So what's that got to do with olives?  Well, my palate changed, and apparently so has my musical taste, which I probably shouldn't find as surprising as I do.  After all, it's probably a good thing that not all  of my opinions and judgments are carved in stone.

So if you haven't done it lately, give The Creation a listen--best of all, come to our concert tonight or tomorrow in Bar Harbor!  And try an olive, too.  You might surprise yourself and discover you like something after all.


  1. "palate"... sorry, I'm a-r :-)

    I really love reading what a conductor thinks about pieces, it's interesting insight. And I would love to come but of course I am in Chandler! Have fun and I trust it will go well.

  2. Thanks for the catch, Gordon! I fixed the typo -- I wouldn't want to make any off-color or tasteless remarks by confusing a palette with my palate!