Although fascinated by machinery, Nancarrow was more concerned with emotion than technique, however, and although I had once found him crazy-making, after just a few days of repeated listening, I came to love his freewheeling spirit and atonal overlaps. (Sadly, my wife, a doctoral candidate who adores modern classics, refused to stay in the room while it played.)
Throughout this experiment, I also grew more attracted to Stravinsky's serialist ballet "Agon" (1957). I attribute this to an intense love for Stravinsky's more popular tonal and nonserial atonal works, which rendered me engaged for life to his instrumental textures in any context. So this admittedly was a biased choice, although I remember despising "Agon" at 19 when I'd first played Stravinsky's neoclassic "Pulcinella."
What I still cannot digest, however, is the work of Italian composer Luciano Berio, an electronica pioneer, easily represented by his Sequenzas for solo instruments. I listened to a good lot, including "III," for woman's voice (1965) and "X," for trumpet, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1984. The latter is a tour-de-force for virtuosic trumpeters who flutter-tongue and doodle in the highest registers, but even on repeated listens, I found it too random; devoid of narrative or emotional sense.
Sadly, I can't say this experiment changed my feelings about much of what I crave.
I try to consistently challenge my ears, but as we age, we gravitate to replaying what we fell in love with when our brains were spongier, and I already appreciate 20th-century music. Perhaps the best thing we can do, knowing that repeated listening will soften most of us to some sounds that push us away, is expose a larger audience to the language of contemporary music so that people won't avoid a John Adams concert because they didn't grow up playing Bach fugues or attending modern music history courses.
In fact, the new stuff, which we might not have without Schoenberg's pioneering spirit, mixes well with today's better popular music; let's mash up those radio and Spotify playlists more, listen to the similitudes. Take the serious (inspired) music of the young composer Mason Bates, who is also an electronica DJ. Or that of Nico Muhly, who collaborates with all kinds of musicians, showing little concern for categorical genre-holes.
Or take none of this advice: Obviously, no one, regardless of exposure, training or even a role as a public music appreciator, needs to like anything, and that's a sentiment that should be embraced more in the still-rigid concert hall. Hate Mahler's Seventh Symphony? Walk out like you would at the Viper Room. Find Liszt unbearable? Shout or fight about it. We're allowed to seize up to more than the thorny stuff, and a lot of these composers never suffered a fool or composer they couldn't stomach. Let's be human, real, about this subject, just like the people who wrote the tunes.
As for me and my musical stress test, it's exciting that I now genuinely adore experimentalist player-piano works at a time when the iPad has become the dominant living-room keyboard instrument — and if nothing else, I have new tactics to employ when a daring soul breaks my building's no-smoking rules.
Baer has written essays for NPR, Harper's and the New York Times, and reviews for the Los Angeles Times.