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Beethoven Meets Salsa

I’ve never found classical music to be boring.  Perhaps it is partly because my father played it on the stereo when my brother, sister, and I were infants.  He played classical music, alongside Satchmo, Harry Belafonte’s Calypso, George Gershwin, the music from Pinocchio, and the Sound of Music.

It is probably also partially due to being born and raised in Los Angeles, during the 60s and 70, when the LA Philharmonic had Zubin Mehta as conductor, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, recently built, became a world class center for performance arts.  LA always had Hollywood, but the term, we knew, was often used derogatorily, and that New York and “Broadway” had more class.

But I remember seeing Mr. Mehta conducting the Philharmonic as though it was a single instrument at his fingertips.  I was all of around 10 years old at the time, but I remember wanting to be a conductor of an orchestra someday.  I remember, too, when Seiji Ozawa conducted with the LA Philharmonic as a guest; for Japanese Americans like us, that was a wonderfully proud occasion.

Another factor, I’m sure, was a performance I saw of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.  The Overture, of course, is well known for its special instrumentation, in celebration of the Russian defense of Moscow from Napoleon’s military advance.  The climactic instrumentation includes 16 cannon shots, which are sometimes played with real cannons.  To a 12 year old, learning to enjoy rock’n’roll music for the first time, any music that uses real canons as a feature deserves some attention!

So despite my upbringing in East Los Angeles, home then to Chicano and Chinese and other gangs, a shifting range of minority groups who formed a majority of the student population – but not the faculty – I thought of classical music as exciting, fascinating, and beautiful.  But I was also influenced, of course, by the Latino music in my neighborhood, as well as the psychedelic, hard rock, progressive, disco, soul, and other popular music of the times.  Gradually, I found myself listening much less to anything classical, because it seemed to reek of the conservative, moneyed, and uptight elders that I frequently found myself rebelling against.

But through the years, I’ve found myself migrating back occasionally to classical music.  The excitement created by a nearly violently vibrant conductor such as Zubin Mehta, the soothing quality of a Bach Cello Concerto, the flowering beauty of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, all contain sounds that nourish my imagination and remind me of the joy of living.  Still, something is missing in much of classical music to excite youth.  Orchestral music often lacks the immediacy and intimacy of rock and pop music, or the rhythm that pushes kids to get up and dance in clubs and halls throughout the world.

In spite of the snickering of a snobby elite, who cherish the “purity” of a meaningless tradition, there are occasional glimpses of some wonderful fusions of classical music and other music, as well as the reaching out of classical musicians to play in a variety of non-traditional settings.  In this light, I’ve been a fan of the Kronos Quartet, Yo Yo Ma, and the Ahn Trio.  I’ve also been a fan of the festival “La Folle Journee” in Nantes and in Tokyo.

But I’ve recently discovered a track that has already had more than 350,000 views on YouTube.  It is gradually exploding into a major Internet phenomenon.  Certainly not yet on the scale of the “Pacabel Rock” phenomenon, but still well worth noting.  Give it a watch and give classical a rethink.  Updating certainly has its merits!

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