Exploring CAVATINA: Haydn, Schubert and the Youth of Today

By Alastair Cooper

To describe my experience of classical music as limited would be generous. It would be more honest to describe myself as woefully ignorant to anything beyond my experience of pre-pubescent piano lessons and the build up to Champions League football. I can’t differentiate Bach from Brahms or Beethoven from Bizet. In all honesty, I would struggle to separate Satie and Sade. Yet last week I was asked to sit in on one of Brighton Dome’s Coffee Concert series. I immediately questioned the logic of sending somebody who needed to Google Haydn twice before spelling it correctly to review a morning of chamber music. Apparently this was entirely the point. I, alongside what can often feel like the entirety of Brighton, am between the ages of eight and twenty five, and therefore qualify for the CAVATINA scheme, set up to raise the attendance of young people at chamber music concerts. Keen for an excuse to remedy an embarrassing and increasingly evident dearth of knowledge, I visited the Brighton Dome ticket office and collected two tickets immediately.

Come eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, I entered the Corn Exchange and it became abundantly clear as we took our seats that there is good reason for this drive to integrate younger people into chamber music audiences. Aside from the musicians – students at the Royal Academy of Music – it was difficult to pick out any ‘youths’ in the audience and I was struck by how classical music seems predominantly the preserve of an older generation. It is worth saying I might be wrong. Perhaps this audience might have been raised from an early age on a diet of hedonism under the ‘live fast/die young’ mantra, that they had applied via the CAVATINA scheme, and that the Corn Exchange at eleven on a Sunday morning was simply an unlikely point of congregation. However the odds are against this.

What was immediately striking was the silence in the room. There is a recent trend of talking during gigs, attendees seemingly more interested in what they have to say than whoever they might have shelled out to see perform. Therefore it was refreshing to sit amongst a group of people who have no intention of breaking the unwritten rule of quiet. This is to the extent that during a break between two movements I began to whisper something only to face the scorn of a neighbouring audience member’s evil eye.

Far from this restricting my enjoyment of the performance, this only served to aid it. The rarity of experiencing music in total silence whilst surrounded by people buoyed my appreciation of the music enormously, providing a particularly calming influence. There is a reason why McDonalds have started sound tracking the post-club fast food trip with classical music. It is fantastically relaxing and almost impossible to imagine fighting to (Dambusters aside). A soundtrack of unfamiliar classical music proved truly superb way to spend a peaceful Sunday morning, and I developed an appreciation that, although not cultivated by vast swathes of knowledge of classical music, was nonetheless borne from both the music and the proficiency of those playing it. A rendition of the aforementioned Haydn’s String Quartet in C took us to the interval, where we drunk a quick cup of coffee. A look around saw a sporadic glass of red wine amongst the concert goers - adding weight to my live fast/die young theory as my watch still read AM. We returned to the venue, for a performance of Schubert’s Octet in F, in which the original four were bumped up to an eight, with the addition of a double bass, a French Horn, a clarinet and bassoon. What was remarkable was that at no point did I check my watch, and was thoroughly surprised to leave the venue and discover two hours had passed. Although hopelessly uninformed about classical music, I am able to confirm that this is the result of a great deal of ignorance, rather than a question of taste, and I can thoroughly recommend chamber music as an excellent way to while away a Sunday.

You’re only young once, so make sure you get your fill of free chamber music while you can.

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