Attending concerts is a lot like visiting a museum. A musical work in the concert program is comparable to a painting in a curated exhibit. While it is perfectly acceptable to wander the museum and look at the pictures, a guided tour gives a deeper understanding of the history, context, and subject of the artwork you viewing. At a good concert, that opportunity to really understand and appreciate what you are listening to is typically available when the pieces performed are discussed by the conductor or artists.
After the Bach Festival Orchestra’s Concertos By Candlelight concert, horn player R. J. Kelley talked at length about the history of the horn and Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4, which he performed. To my surprise, only about a dozen members of the audience stayed and took part in the intimate Q&A session with him and Dr. John Sinclair, the conductor and artistic director of the orchestra. I could not understand why so many people would give up such a worthwhile opportunity to have a discussion about what they heard by such a distinguished artist. The discussion revealed that the piece was originally to be performed on a natural (valve-less) horn, but it is not performed that way any more because this would require that all the instruments would have to tune differently to reveal the historically accurate sound. The experts also discussed how our perception of musical dynamics, what is considered loud and soft, has evolved as the public has been exposed to sounds of modern industrialization. Knowing these details about this piece suggested that other pieces from that era also sound different today than when they were written.
In the same way that a museum docent explains how the lighting, perspective and depth evolves through art history, learning these details puts music in context and allows you to better interpret music in the future.