By John Mauceri, Special to the Los Angeles Times
June 16, 2012
(Editor's note: The Hollywood Bowl begins its summer season on Friday. John Mauceri is the founding director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.)
In the days of Confucius, the Chinese did not think of music as an art. It was part of the Department of Public Administration, and the reason was simple: Music affects the way we behave. It can, therefore, control society. The ancient Greeks knew this too and found certain musical modes to be inappropriate because they might encourage "a man to passion."
It is therefore not an unreasonable question to ask musicians what we listen to to affect our behavior. The problem is that we are so busy affecting other people's behavior with our music that our brains are activated all the time, analyzing and attempting to understand this extraordinary alchemy.
So, what do I run to? I used to work out and run to my recording of John Adams' "The Chairman Dances." It just chugs along in such a cheerful way that my body could not resist its pulsing good nature. Lately I run to Sir John Barbirolli's complete symphonies of Jean Sibelius. Although this is a far more complex series of sensory messaging, one is never far from the great Finnish composer's great finishes. (The conclusion of the first movement of his Fifth Symphony, or the entire first movement of his Third are particularly inspiring.)
At the other end of the classical-popular spectrum is the complete restoration of George and Ira Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band" — both the 1927 and 1930 versions, which I had the privilege of recording over a decade ago. The latter version was just released a few months ago. This is a personal choice, of course, but reacquainting myself with something I did years ago and have not heard in many years is just fun — and funny. I heard myself laughing as I negotiated the paths of Winston-Salem, N.C., for the morning run.
Relaxation music? I am afraid that is simply not possible. Music can make me sad, can uplift me, can confound me — but it does not relax me. Immersing myself in the center of Act 2 of Siegfried puts me in a state of timelessness. Listening to Stravinsky's Agon takes me back to being a teenager when this music was new, and every note Stravinsky was writing was being recorded and issued on Columbia Records. Tuning in to Sirius XM's Metropolitan Opera station encompasses my entire life: Hearing performances I attended as a teenager, singers I "just missed" from the earlier years of broadcasts and the astounding performances of the recent decades.
I suppose that's the point: Music just embraces my life. New things make me sit up and "work" — attempting to decompose and deconstruct and find common denominators. Old friends stand before me and sing as if no time had passed at all. And those recordings I made make me smile gently and wonder at the amazing life I have led.
John Mauceri has recorded more than 70 albums and is the chancellor of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
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