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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Motorcycle String Quartet

Yesterday I watched a classical music programme on television. I hardly watch tv, so this one was rather new for me - which will probably mean you know the programme for years.

Anyway. It was one of those programmes which tries to sell classical music as hip. A young presenter, not necessarily with a classical music background, presents young musicians playing classical music. As the programme itself says, "Virus is about classical music, but for once in a completely different manner. Virus is free, moving, exciting and refreshing. Not the historical dates but pleasure and experience will be central. The audience can immerse itself, glass in hand, in beautiful, fascinating and spectacular live performances."

The copy-writer certainly knows how to tap into the Experience Era. That the text rubs in all the clichés about classical music once more and won't do much good for regular classical music ticket sales (I guess after reading the text you may want to go to the "different" Virus experience, but not to the standard classical music performance next door) doesn't really seem to matter. And the fact that the presenter this time asked us to vote for Virus to gain a broadcasting award, "in order to show that even classical music programmes can win competitions like that", makes it even more sure that we get the picture: classical music is boring - unless served by Virus.

I'm fine with that, actually. It doesn't bother me. Basically, the world is not about what people say, or how they present themselves. The world is about what people do. So what did the Virus people do? This time, they presented the Matangi string quartet, famous for experiments in gaining a broader audience, accompanying the well-known Dutch eastern-region dialect singer Bennie Jolink. His band, Normaal, is a phenomenon already for decades. They play Farmrock in an endless succession of praisesongs and party anthems for non-city life. Beer, mud-wrestling topless women, tractors, and more beer. And: extremely funny lyrics and great musicians.

So there was Bennie Jolink, singing the archetypical Normaal song - their first big hit, about guys having a motor cycle accident after drinking too much. Oerend Hard. Rural life.

Did it work? Of course it did. The string quartet is a powerful apparatus, its sound always works great in rock songs. (Let's make a list. Eleanor Rigby? Yesterday? Or aren't they string quartets? Send me suggestions.) And Jolink is a great singer.

Jolink is also a great communicator, And he was having fun. Watch him here. And also watch Matangi. As I tell my students: watching musicians is nearly as important as hearing them. There's a huge difference, I think. Matangi is mostly ín the music - eyes closed, or watching the score, the instrument, or the floor. And Jolink is ín the audience.

Virus whatever you want, glass in hand or not; the difference between being in music or being in the audience explains more to me than any copywriter can express.

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