• I love opera, bluegrass, burger joints and fictional detectives. Mostly, but not always, in that order. Formerly of Dunedin, formerly of Sydney, now travelling the world with the tenor in my life (Stuart Skelton) and blogging as I go.
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Sunday, February 24, 2008



«I support pre-performance talks, but I've never been to one. I know what I want to know (and what I don't want to know) about the music I'm about to hear, and I go in search of it myself if necessary. That works for me. It doesn't work for other people, and that's fine.»

I'm all with you on the talking during performances thing. Whether well done or ill, there will always be people who wish to hear the music as a program of music with neither didactic nor populist commentary. (I'm not talking here of semi-theatrical presentations that put concert music in a dramatised context.) Therefore such commentary should be voluntary, not enforced on the audience during the concert itself. When such commentary promotes popular "mythconceptions" it's all the more irritating.

I really just want to respond to your observations re pre-performance talks and your rationale for not ever having gone to one. (Really? Not one? Ever?) It's interesting that you say you know what you want to know and that you can find this out in your own way. I empathise with that.

BUT, what about the things that you don't know that you don't know? And what about the things that you might not necessarily be able to find out so easily alone. In particular (and this applies perhaps more to concerts than to opera) I'm thinking of such things as programming rationale and underlying themes and other ideas that are not necessarily historical, or technical or musicological but are to do with artistic vision.

I would argue that a really good pre-concert talk (and not all talks are like this, and not all concerts lend themselves to such treatment, but enough are and do) - that a really good talk will not rehash the things you could have learned from your own research and listening but will provide advocacy for the rationale and motivation behind the programming. A good talk will also explore the connections and relationships between pieces, including those that might not be obvious just from looking at the program listing. This is what makes a successful talk something that will be as interesting and stimulating to a well-prepared connoisseur as it will be to the thirsty-for-knowledge novice.

So I would say: go to some pre-concert talks this year (you don't even need a ticket to experience them, although at the Opera House you need the gumption to say your ticket is at the desk). You evidently have some clear and insightful views on the subject of concert presentation. So don't let your in-principle support of pre-performance talks stop short of your critical activity. I'm sure your readers would be interested in what you have to say on the subject.


I agree with everything, However, falsetto is what it's called. How else do you know what is being talked about?

I don't go to the pre-concert talks either, unless friends drag me there. I like to be surprised.


I'm with Thomasina on this. Not wanting to know what you don't know is a wee bit narrow. But then, pre-concert drinkies and all the rest of the 'getting there' drama conspire to make a good idea hard to realise.

Why not pre-record a/the pre-concert talk and post it on the net. The SSO are posting programme notes on their website to be read comfortably at home.

Intra-concert talks are another matter and rightly deserve censure. You didn't stand up and turn your back did you?


"I know what I want to know" was probably a poor choice of words. "How much" and "when" would perhaps have been closer to the truth. Frankly I'm as disinclined immediately before as I am during, which I think is a temperamental thing rather than a lack of thirst for knowledge.
On the other hand, what I would LOVE is a post-concert talk. That's actually the point at which I'm dying to know everything possible. I can come home from a concert and spend several hours discovering more.
But nobody's going to do a post-concert talk when the concert itself runs practically into the middle of the night.
So lyrebird's suggestion, something to be read/listened to at home at one's leisure, I like. And where it happens, I do take advantage.


Thomasina — upon rereading, excellent point - ticket not necessarily required to get to the talk. Which in theory means I could do the talk on a different night to the concert. This I might keep in mind.
And it's not that I've sworn never ever. Just that so far the urge has never taken me. Who knows about the future.


I read this again. The purpose of musicology and lectures by musicologists is to tell you what historical practice was. I may be completely off about this, but I don't think there is any historical justification for countertenors. Everything was sung by castrati or women. Countertenors arise from English religious practices.

Inviting a musicologist to provide any sort of justification for Scholl is nonsense. The justification for countertenors is that you like them. Scholl in particular is quite nice. If you don't like them, no amount of arguing is going to fix it. The really fabulous women in this Fach, like Marilyn Horne and Vivica Genaux, are far more wonderful than the best countertenor, but there aren't many of them to go around.

A musicologist could provide interesting facts about the frequency of women vs castrati in any given period. I think there were a lot more castrati to go around in the Baroque than there were later.

Please note careful avoidance of word f......o.

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