Last night the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in tribute to Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, the most famous of Russian composers. The performance of Piano Concerto No. 1 was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening, followed by the 1812 Overture and the Nutcracker Suite. Unfortunately, Swan Lake was excluded from the program in favor of two completely forgettable pieces: Capriccio Italien and Eugene Onegin: Polonaise.
Overall, the experience served to reaffirm two deeply held opinions: i.) that Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is one of my all time favorite piano concertos and ii.) that musical performances are best appreciated in an intimate setting where you can stand in close proximity to the performers, not in a massive arena like the Royal Albert Hall, which has a maximum capacity of nearly 5,300 people. When sound waves have to conquer a huge expanse of space, they are mercilessly subjected to the inverse square law and the overall experience leaves much to be desired. This is especially true of classical music, which relies only on natural amplification and acoustics.
More importantly, there is something deeply alienating and dehumanizing about being part of such a large crowd. The multitude strips your individuality away. It silences your voice and reduces you to the status of just another consumer in a vast ocean of flesh and bones. On this feeling of alienation caused by great multitudes Epicurus once wrote: “I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve and what they approve I do not know.” Funny thing is that these words could just as easily have been spoken by Kurt Cobain. Profit maximization has been instrumental for the success of the modern capitalist society. It just hasn’t done much for artistic integrity.