Wheels of Cheese #1: Wheels of Cheese

Gramophone Magazine: Milos Karadaglic

Chillingly Handsome

As anyone who knows me will tell you, there is only one thing I have ever really care about, and that’s money. It’s the reason I sat down a few years ago and wrote a disjointed faux-postmodern tale about an unremembered time in Ethiopian history, told by a morally dubious narrator who is dying horribly of cancer. If there wasn’t money in that, I thought, then there wasn’t money anywhere.

Unfortunately, despite a few pockets of muted critical acclaim the anticipated riches failed to pour in – obviously the world wasn’t ready for my particular brand of niche – by which I mean, I guess,  Nietzschean (I am an untimely man) – genius. But, also like Nietzsche, I am nothing if not persistent – what does not kill me and so on. So I betook myself to thinking – what can I do next that will really get the cash rolling in (here Nietzsche and I part ways of course – he was rubbish with money). There seemed to be only one answer – I would write an obscure blog, hidden away in the depths of my website, about that most popular of artistic forms – classical music: a field in which I have absolutely no expert knowledge. (I am reminded here – as I’m sure are you, of Edward Gibbon’s rationale for writing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ‘Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in art of composition, I resolved to write a book’).

Determined to choose the easiest plan I could to tap into the moolah, I have, therefore, come up with an idea that is both complex in its simplicity and simple in its complexity. I have purchased, from my local newsagent a copy of the June 2012 edition of Gramophone Magazine, featuring the chillingly handsome classical guitarist Milos Karadaglic on the front cover. Over the course of the next few months – or, possibly, years – I aim to listen to, and write about, every single piece of music mentioned in this edition – starting with Sir Simon Rattle conducting a four movement version of Bruckner’s Ninth (as advertised on the inside of the front cover by EMI) through to Caligula by the totally-obscure-to-me Detlev Glanert, which is being performed by ENO from May 25-June 14 at the London Coliseum.

To make things easier, and more interesting, I will not necessarily listen to the version mentioned in the magazine – that way I’m not tied to recent performances. As far as possible I will listen in order, using the combined sources of cd, tape, vinyl, youtube, spotify and live performances, plus whatever new technologies are introduced in the next few years. I also reserve, and indeed celebrate, the right to digress, go off on complete tangents, and give up at any point through sheer bloody laziness. These rules are mine, and can’t be taken away from me.

The idea, while obviously insane, does have a serious purpose – I came to classical music late, quickly becoming completely addicted. My reason for seeking it out was sheer bloody-mindedness. It seemed to me that here was a field of human endeavor that was enjoyed by a great many intelligent and, dare I say, good-looking people, about which I knew nothing. I have long regarded myself as intelligent and good-looking. I wanted to be part of the club. Also classical music, it seems to me, annoys the right sort of people. And annoying the right sort of people is one of my greatest pleasures. What I quickly found was that I enjoyed reading about classical music as much as listening to it, and often as a substitute for doing so. So I wanted a project that would force me to engage in that increasingly maligned activity – sitting still, shutting up, and really concentrating on something, especially something which appears to have no social utility in the corporate sense. So that’s what I’m doing. Let God have mercy on our souls.

A Word About the Title

I guess for many people the title ‘Wheels of Cheese’ might not be the most obvious one for a blog about classical music. Some of our older listeners may, of course, believe that it refers to some of Stokowski’s earliest vinyl recordings – his Wagner reductions being particularly moot – which in the derogatory parlance of the 1930s were referred to by other elitist conductors (I am thinking here, of course, of Furtwangler and Bruno Walter) as ‘Giant wheels of cheese!’, or in German grosse kaserader, as in ‘Bring me the grosse kaserader Wilhelm, I could do with a good laugh at the expense of the conductor, Leopold Stokowski!’

But nothing could be further from the truth (except perhaps a picture of an egg!). A few years ago I was at a Covent Garden watching a particularly rubbish performance of Parsifal (thanks for nothing Bernard Haitink!). Staggering out to the Covent Garden Market at the interval I was astonished to see the flagrant mane of Sir Simon Rattle bobbing its way through the crowd. I followed, as one does. Rattle, looking neither left nor right, strode up to the counter of a local fromage vendor and proceeded to buy – in cash- two enormous wheels of cheese, presumably not Tesco brand brie. They were boxed, French and expensive. The image has haunted me ever since I felt like I had glimpsed into a hidden world. Was this how the great conductors live? Flinging about cash in exchange for giant wheels of cheese? Do they bathe in fortified wine and eat sultanas as big as a man? Or was Rattle buying such gargantuan cheese against some future disaster, unknown to we mere mortals. How much cheese does one man need? And how big the crackers?

So ‘Wheels of Cheese’ it is. It seems apt therefor that the first recording I shall be listening to is Rattle himself conducting a new four movement edition of Bruckner’s Ninth. Most people, for over a hundred years, have of course settled for the three movement version of Bruckner’s final work. Not our Simon. As cheese, so Bruckner. Which, coincidentally, is thought by many to be the great composer’s final, inscrutable words…

Launch of Wheels of Cheese

 Gramophone Magazine: Milos Karadaglic

Chillingly Handsome

Tired of classical music blogs written by ‘experts’, with their ‘insight’ and ‘understanding of the art form’? Well look no further! On my website to day, I launch Wheels of Cheese, a new classical music blog written by someone totally unencumbered by ‘knowledge’ or ‘musical training’. Over the next few years or, possibly, decades, I will be attempting to listen to every piece of music in the June 2012 edition of Gramophone magazine and reporting back my findings to you, the people. Insane? Quite possibly. But who are the truly insane – those we call mad, or ourselves for doing so? I tend to think the former, thanks very much, Mr Foucault. But I digress – let the journey begin…