Toronto pianist Gregory Oh, who is devoted to commissioning and performing new music, makes a startling admission in a little essay included in the printed programme for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Mozart@256 festival this week: He doesn’t like everything he hears or plays.
Oh is a man of action and few words, but he chooses them well.
His little essay makes an eloquent case for giving the TSO’s New Creations festival, which starts March 1 — and all new music — a try with an open mind, and an attitude that unfamiliarity can be your friend, not an aesthetically mortal enemy.
Here are the last two paragraphs of Oh’s piece, where each sentence speaks directly to how and why we listen to music:
I mentioned at the outset that I don’t like every piece of new music. I find that when you truly engage with new music you gain the freedom of honestly informed opinion. When you open yourself to new sounds, and even question those sounds, you may find yourself transformed. Classical music has always relied upon the fundamental ‘audience participation’ of listening; when you take the time to listen, you become as essential to our critical legacy as the creators themselves. As the Group of Seven pre-emptively wrote in their 1920 catalogue:
“The artists invite adverse criticism. Indifference is the greatest evil they have to contend with. But they would ask you — do you read books that contain only what you already know? If not, they argue that you should hardly want to see pictures that show you what you can already see for yourselves.”