How to listen to “classical” music, a 20-second guide

When I was in college, I went to NCUR (’94, I believe) presenting a paper I wrote for music history on Baroque performance practices on modern recordings, using Handel’s Water Music as an example, and specifically comparing an $18 CD by an ensemble that specialized in Baroque music with a $5 budget CD by an anonymous orchestra.

Today I went looking for Debussy (not Baroque, that’s not the point) in Apple Music, and… ugh. Not saying you should judge a book — or a recording — by its cover. But when that’s all you have to go by, it can still be fairly effective. There is so much anonymous garbage on the streaming music services now. (Granted, Spotify is orders of magnitude worse in this regard than Apple, but both are plagued by it.) I feel like I need to write an updated version of that paper for 2022.

Hint: Don’t waste your time listening to an album with a generic landscape cover and a title like “The Most Famous Classical Music” or “The Best Classical Music.”

Although I was hoping to hear something new today, I ended up settling for the same album I have owned on CD for ~25 years. This one is excellent.

Hey, I know that guy!

By now, especially if you ever watch sporting events (since it seems to be in heavy rotation during them), you’ve no doubt seen this clever American Express commercial:

I’ve enjoyed this commercial since I first saw it, I guess because I am always inclined to see faces in inanimate objects anyway (the front ends of cars are really like this for me), and it’s an inventive way to play up this idea.

The commercial is also memorable for the distinctive cello playing. That’s J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major for those in the know. (Me, I knew it was Bach, but I had to look up the rest.) But who played that cello piece so distinctively? A virtuoso, to be sure. Was it Yo-Yo Ma? Can you name another cello virtuoso?

Well, here’s a name for you to file away in your brain for later reference: Robert Burkhart. He’s been a part of the classical music scene in New York (and toured the world) for the past decade. But I’ll always know him as Bob — the high school orchestra director’s son and one of my most entertainingly eccentric friends in high school. Bob is a great guy and I am absolutely thrilled for him over his growing success in the music world. Way to go, Bob!

If you like what you hear, Bob recently released a CD with pianist Blair McMillen. I picked up two copies — one for myself and one for my parents. It’s called 20/21. Check it out!