Guilty Pleasures: Nicholas Cords' Massenet 'Meditation'

This week, we're admitting our musical guilty pleasures. Today, Nicholas Cords, violist with Brooklyn Rider, contributes a confession. Have music you're embarrassed to love? Tell us all about it in the comments section.

Some dismiss the music of Jules Massenet as "fluff" — but not Nicholas Cords. i i

Some dismiss the music of Jules Massenet as "fluff" — but not Nicholas Cords. Wikimedia Commons hide caption

itoggle caption Wikimedia Commons
Some dismiss the music of Jules Massenet as "fluff" — but not Nicholas Cords.

Some dismiss the music of Jules Massenet as "fluff" — but not Nicholas Cords.

Wikimedia Commons

For a long time, I took great pains to conceal a guilty pleasure. Throughout middle school and high school, I loved classical music but rarely told anyone about it.

I was a closet violist! Why keep it a secret? Simply put, school culture has a way of discouraging the off-the-beaten-track, and a desire to fit in didn't seem compatible with a love of classical music. And because my school system had no orchestra program, the secret was relatively easy to keep. Of course, when my senior year came around, it seemed oddly satisfying to drop the bomb that I was going to Juilliard.

Fast-forwarding a bunch of years, I have to admit that amid certain circles of classical musicians, I am extremely reticent to admit that I love to listen to indie/alternative rock. To say that I am a huge fan of a band like Deerhoof can be a real conversation killer. Part of the intense culture of the classical music cognoscenti makes it feel like a sin to love anything less than a bona fide masterpiece. I even know plenty of people who cast dispersions on Dvorak for his sentimentalism!

YouTube

Violinist Mischa Elman plays the "Meditation" from Massenet's opera Thais, recorded in 1913.

But one wonderful thing about maturing as a musician is that all of these outside opinions matter less and less. The pressures in my teens which made the viola seem like an uncool thing, or the rarified classical culture of the three B's (Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms) have all fallen by the wayside. Nothing wrong with the three B's, but life is too short to make grandiose judgments. Now I'm left with a playlist that includes something of everything and I can simply take delight in the incredibly creative outputs of the past and present.

One of my many listening passions lies in golden age recordings, where the technology and the tastes of the pre-war era dictated a lot of shorter works. Some would call it fluff, but I certainly wouldn't. One of my favorite guilty pleasures is the "Meditation" from opera Thais by Jules Massenet. And it doesn't get much better that this extraordinary recording by violinist Mischa Elman, made in 1913.

Nicholas Cords is a violist and member of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble.

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