Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Classics Explained; Gresham College; Anti-heroes


Classics Explained – in this case the 1812 Overture

WHEN Covid is done with and audiences come back to concert halls (please God), the nationwide rejoicing will be qualified by one thing: the near-certainty that, looking round the auditorium, there won’t be many children and young people there. It’s become almost a truism that until you’re into mortgageable mid-life you don’t do classical music. As though Mozart has nothing to say to anybody under 40.

Truth is, he has a lot to say, much of it life-changing. The problem is that he’s behind closed doors that need to be flung open – and that isn’t happening for young people in schools these days, where music gets lost the curriculum and is at risk of vanishing completely in the current crisis.

So what do you do? Well, one answer is search online, where there are projects running to open up the classical world to young minds. And a brilliant example I’ve just come across is Classics Explained – a growing library of short cartoon films that focus individually on a well-known piece of music and do as promised. Explain.

The explanations are delivered entertainingly, with jokes that actually make you laugh. The cartoons are a joy – think Horrible Histories with an orchestral soundtrack. And while most of the films to date play safe with easy repertoire like 1812 Overture, New World Symphony or Pictures at an Exhibition, they’re striking out into the more demanding territory of Rite of Spring and Wagner.

Still better, they’re all free to access, at, so there’s no excuse not to dip in, even if you don’t entirely qualify as youthful. It’s a state of mind. Indulge it.

For anyone whose requirements for self-education during lockdown are more advanced, a useful port of call is Gresham College which has a long history of free public lectures, and a new season now issuing online.

Running through winter/spring is a lecture-recital series on the great tradition of Russian keyboard music, presented by Cambridge academic Marina Frolova-Walker and the celebrated pianist Peter Donohoe – a specialist in Russian repertoire whose career began by winning the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

The series launches 6pm, Jan 21, with a talk/performance about the exotic mysticism of Scriabin. Available on demand thereafter. Details:

• It’s human nature to want decent, honest people in our lives because they tend to be reliable and probably won’t kill us.

But onstage it’s different: villains are more interesting. And operatic villains are the best of all (at a safe distance on the far side of the footlights). Which is why we celebrate them, and why the New York Met is dedicating a week of online opera screening to their dreadful deeds.

Under the broader title Anti-heroes, which allows in some more softer characters, it starts Jan 25 with Don Giovanni, runs through to Macbeth on Jan 31, and includes a luxury-cast Faust with Jonas Kaufmann and Rene Pape on Jan 27. All free-access. Details:


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