Letter from Simon Kelner: How the Planets sent me reeling


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The Independent Online

Call me a Philistine, but classical music has never really moved me.

I admit that I've never fully understood it, with the consequence that I feel the same about it as I do motor racing or ventriloquism: I can admire the virtuosity and can appreciate how and why it engages the emotions, but it never reaches my core.

It's not that I haven't been properly exposed to classical music. When I was growing up, my father would always have an opera, or some Tchaikovsky playing on the gramophone (yes, I'm that old!) and I would come into the room when, say, Tosca was on, and mock what he'd say when Top of the Pops was on. "What are you listening to that for?" I'd say. "It's just a noise. And you can't even understand the words."

Even as I've got older, I haven't felt the need to forsake Springsteen for Schoenberg, but every year I go to one or two Proms in the hope that, one day, something will click, and a whole new cultural vista will open up.

I have always thought there is hope for me, because I do find something aesthetically thrilling about seeing an orchestra live. I love it when the violinists' movements seem to create waves across the stage in the lyrical sections, and then appear to move like an army on the march when the music turns rousing.

But that's not quite enough, I'm afraid. I still get that childish feeling when I'm crossing the road to get to the Royal Albert Hall that, if was going to get knocked over, I'd rather it were on the way there than on the way back. It doesn't help, of course, that I'm an ignoramus when it comes to classical music. "Didn't you like the Birtwistle?" my companion asked me this week. "Truthfully," I said, "it's not my favourite instrument."

But then I came up against Gustav Holst's Planets Suite. Clearly, this is a more accessible piece of work than Birtwistle, but from the dramatic opening of the Planets that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let you go to the final, melodic disappearance into infinity, I finally got it. And, as I looked round one of London's great buildings, and saw a packed audience rise up as one to acclaim the performance, I found my emotions were well and truly pricked.

Whether this is merely a passing flirtation or the start of something more meaningful remains to be seen. Meanwhile, it's live music of a more contemporary nature this weekend, at Alex James's Harvest Festival. Follow that, Kooks! Have a tuneful weekend!