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Old Masters for a New Year

Happy new year to all of our readers, who may have noticed in the news recently the survey apparently showing that the most popular new year resolution for 2013 is to read more books. A laudable aspiration no doubt, and one that can surely be just as easily applied to listening to more music. For my own part I am quite keen to become acquainted with (through playing where possible, though mainly through listening) as much previously undiscovered as music as possible. The difficulty of course is that each year the amount of music one has time to listen to, often enough to learn and know, is comfortably exceeded by the vast plethora of composers and works who make themselves known and, in time, become added to the imaginary “to listen to” list, which always seems to grow however much is crossed off it.

The question is, who or what should be made a priority? To fail to approach the task of discovery in an orderly manner is to risk failing to make the most efficient use of time available. An obvious starting point this year is Wagner, on the occasion of the bicentenary of his birth. Wagner is exactly the kind of composer who demands a dedicated and methodical approach; his is, generally speaking, not the kind of music to dip in and out of. And big milestone anniversaries such as bicentenaries guarantee a level of exposure conducive to winning new recruits. This logic is likely to be supported this year by that other giant of nineteenth century opera, Verdi, who also marks his bicentenary in the year ahead, and by way of reward is to have every one of his manifold operas played on Radio 3 (and, entirely separately, his Requiem performed at the Sage in April by the Newcastle University Symphony Orchestra and Bach Choir, to which I am most looking forward to being involved). At the same time though there is so much more to which I am eager to get round: Hindemith, the Beethoven Piano Trios, the symphonies of Prokofiev (and no doubt by June there will be even more examples). Then of course there are the old favourites, for which you still want to make time. It is likely to be no easy task.

Happily I have already managed to make a promising start, having enjoyed for the first time the urgent, insistent tenth string quartet of Shostakovich, and the quite wonderful two string quartets of Borodin, the first of which was entirely new to me, the second of which I was privileged to hear played live by the Edinburgh Quartet a couple of years ago but which, as is in the nature of these things, I could not recall in detail, having only heard it once. So the early signs are good; but the tendency of course is for new year resolutions to lose their edge as the year becomes progressively less new, so I will be trying hard to guard against this.

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