The New York Times got 18 responses from professional musicians and critics to "5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music". True enough, as Lisa Irontongue has pointed out, that there's no excuse, out of such a group of 18, for only 4 to be women. I'm curious about the premise of the choices: most of the listeners chose pieces that had socked them personally, rather than the more dreary answers of what they thought might most appeal to hoi polloi. (You can see the latter in the comments, which are full of suggestions for Romantic schmaltz. Good pieces, mostly, but boringly obvious as choices for a list.)
These answers were, for the most part, more interesting. Two of the four living composers were unknown to me, but otherwise I was familiar with all the composers, though not necessarily well with the individual pieces. However, the Ravel song and the selection from Der Rosenkavalier are the only pieces I didn't care for (I like these composers, but not these particular works), and some - the Beethoven, the Janacek, Reich's Tehillim - are long-time favorites of mine.
But what would I have chosen? Hmmm, tough. If, like Anthony Tommasini, I went for what thrilled me at age 12, I'd have to name the work that initially sold me on the heavy classics, the ultra-basic choice of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth. If you've never heard it, which at the time I hadn't, it's a real stunner, and the challenge for a performance today is to try to re-capture a little of that.
But I'm more attracted by Michael Cooper's idea of picking a work that suited one's melancholia in college. Sure, his pick of the Beethoven Seventh allegretto is a good one, and I love that music, but the particular sad music that most kept my sore heart company in those days was the Andantino from Sibelius's Third.
But if I want something that truly thrills me, my choice would have to be the coda from the first movement of Bruckner's Sixth. I don't know how well this works without knowledge of the build-up (you can listen to the whole symphony if you want), but the coda goes like this:
Turning abruptly from music I know to music I don't, there's John Scalzi's list of 20 songs he's enjoyed from the last 20 years. Folks, I'd never heard any of these performances before. I was even familiar with the names of only 4 of the 20 performers, and I didn't know much about them. My brief listening-to-popular-music days ended more than 20 years ago, and while I'm quite aware that good songs have been released since then, apart from a few performers I have a particular fondness for, I just haven't bothered to seek them out. But I listened to these, or began to: those which began or quickly moved into aggressive distortion or feedback I turned off quickly. Even if they were good, and one or two of those were, I can't abide listening to an entire song like that.
The ones I liked were quieter, and the ones I liked best were those that reminded me of other performers I liked. I liked "Cut Your Teeth" by Kyla La Grange because it sounded rather like Tori Amos. I liked "On the Radio" by Regina Spektor because, even though her singing style is very different, after some cogitation I realized that the distinctive instrumentals reminded me of Enya, particularly "Wild Child". I also particularly enjoyed listening to "Something That You Said" by the Bangles (surprise! a group I'd heard of, though only because they were prominent rather more than 20 years ago) and "Won't Give In" by the Finn Brothers. Though I don't think I would have rushed out to buy a recording of any of these even in my most pop-listening days.
The last item on Scalzi's list is a ringer: Petra Haden's cover of "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys. God only knows that this is much, much better than the original – I know this is heresy, but I hold that the Beach Boys could not sing worth a damn. But if Scalzi wants a slam-dunk stunner of a recent cover of a classic 1960s song - and I left a comment telling him so - nothing is going to out-do in power or impact this.