I have just been to the last concert of the season with my music society. The Systems Administrator asked when I got in whether I'd enjoyed the concert, and I had to reply that I didn't know, which is not an entirely encouraging response to any artistic event, though better than hating it, or worse still finding it boring.
We ended the 2015-16 season with the Baroque specialists Red Priest. They are to Baroque Music as the late, great, lamented Bellowhead were to folk music, which is to say they play around with their material, introducing musical jokes and odd segues between composers and genres, and use sound effects. They dress up, leap around, make faces, and camp it up. Throughout, and this is the important bit, they have enormous technical command of their instruments and deep knowledge of the material they're messing about with.
So why didn't I like Red Priest as much as I liked Bellowhead? I love the Baroque, which put me one step ahead of the friend sitting next to me, who confessed to not liking Handel, or Vivaldi. Perhaps my cultural expectations for classical music, including the Baroque, are that it should be taken seriously by performers and audience alike. Musicians larking about with New York Gals are one thing, but inserting a scrap of The Irish Washerwoman into Vivaldi is quite another. But why should that be so?
Maybe it was slight embarrassment about the setting. Red Priest seemed very close, standing on their little stage at the front of the church, and brightly and plainly lit because the violinist needed to see the score. Perhaps too close for comfortable clowning. When I saw Bellowhead live they were on a full sized theatre stage and we were quite a long way away up in the balcony. There was a light show, and I rather think there was imitation smoke. The whole setting was more theatrical, which made the jumping about seem more natural.
Or perhaps it was just that the joke ran thin. The concert was billed as a family concert, with the hope that people would bring children along to experience the excitement of live classical music, and the clowning was partly designed to appeal to children. The leader of the group had previously done school workshops with several hundred local children, which apparently went down very well. Perhaps I'd have enjoyed the odd musical joke, but the cumulative effect of having every piece messed about with was wearing.
Maybe it was simply that it was the first time I'd ever seen them. People tend to like what they are used to. If I saw them several times until I got used to them maybe I'd be a huge fan.
But I wasn't bored, and it set me thinking about why we like some things and dislike others, and whether I take classical music too seriously when I'm perfectly happy with literary parodies or visual puns. And if a work of art makes you think then it has succeeded.