GUEST POST — Exploring a Subtler Style of Music with Rick Phillips

Hello and welcome to Classical Pursuits 2014. I am Rick Phillips and I’ll be leading the seminar Impressionism in Music. I have been at Classical Pursuits for years now, and it’s a highlight of every summer.

I’m really looking forward to this seminar. Perhaps it’s a crude analogy and a sweeping generalization, but I’ve always somehow linked the great art and music of European countries with their cuisines. There’s very little food I don’t like, but when I think of Italian cuisine, for example, I think pasta primavera – fresh, lively, open and with bright colours, like a Vivaldi concerto. When we think of German or Austrian cuisine, we think of potatoes, dumplings, gravy and beer – heartier, like a symphony by Beethoven or Brahms. Yet when we think of French cuisine, something like white asparagus tips with hollandaise sauce. It’s a dish that is more subtle and understated, like a Debussy prelude. All are delicious, but join me in July for the latter and a week of elegant, refined, subtle, understated musical cuisine.

Ravel at the piano, 1912

Ravel at the piano, 1912

This late 19th/early 20th century movement, attempted to create a new style of music that more hinted or suggested at rather than stated. It used new influences and borrowed from other cultures, including Asian, with the goal of appealing more to the senses than to the mind.

As in the related movement in painting, more important than the subject itself, was the feeling or “impression” that the subject aroused in us. I love Impressionism in music because the trend was so different from the mainstream Austro-German fare, by the likes of Beethoven or Brahms. It’s music that is as intangible as the changing light of day. You can get a taste of these characteristics by listening to “Prelude à l’après-midi d’un faune” by Debussy and “Jeux d’eau” by Ravel.

Most of our week together at CP will be taken up with background information, listening to a wide variety of musical Impressionism from recordings, and discussing. Since everyone will come with a different degree of musical knowledge and experience, my job will be to establish a level playing field for all of us. Therefore, the shared inquiry method will be in place, but in a modified way. I will provide context and background, present the recordings and guide the discussions, but I’ll expect you to participate with comments, observations and ideas. There is no right or wrong. As always at Classical Pursuits, we will learn from each other and through discussion. Above all, come to our seminar with an open mind, leaving preconceived notions, opinions and musical tastes behind. For that reason, there is no prior required reading or listening.

I look forward to meeting and getting to know you. Our week together will be a stimulating voyage of musical discovery and reward for us all!

For more information on our Toronto Pursuits seminar, Impressionism in Music, click here.

Warm regards,


photo-rickRick Phillips has been a popular seminar leader with Classical Pursuits for many years. Rick hosted and produced SOUND ADVICE®, the weekly guide to classical music and recordings, heard across Canada on CBC Radio every weekend. As well as broadcasting and webcasting, he is also a busy freelance writer and reviewer, lecturer, panel moderator, consultant, musical tour guide, artistic director and concert host.

(Photo credits: Rick’s headshot from Sound Advice)



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